Thursday, November 01, 2018

Uphill Battle Tour

For their autumn tour Jack and Richard chose two Moulton bicycles to ride from near Oswestry, Shropshire to Lewes in Sussex. Rupert to join in for the second half on a Brompton.
Jack arrived at Gobowen by train, with Moulton. Collected from there. Abi curry in evening. Next day walk along the canal to breakfast at Village Pantry, Llanymynech. Explored Heritage Area, and estate. Couple of pints in Cross Guns that night, very quiet. Set off next morning about nine.
Jack's Moulton (fourth Bike-to-Work purchase!) is a 2013 TSR27, with SRAM Dual-Drive, ie 9 speeds on a cassette, with 3 hub gears. Much modified: telescopic Brompton seatpost for extra height; raised handlebar stem, straight bars replaced by drops. Replacement brakes to accommodate the new levers. Richard’s is an APB R18, ie 9 speed cassette, 2 chainwheels. The R18s were the final and best specced evolution of the APB model. Preceded the introduction of the TSR range.

Day 1 - 5 Sept 2018

Very big first day. No accurate mileage to hand but we believe circa 85 miles, breaking the all-time tour record. Extraordinarily hilly route selected by the satnav to Wenlock Edge. Much needed drinks in Bridgnorth. No route along the steam railway. Shoulder after shoulder of hills, quite dispiriting. Just like the hilly sections of the Vélo Birmingham were, and we are staying overnight in one of those parts, Bewdley, at the Mercure. Declaration of insanity to the hotel staff scored us a free pint. Jack had a very slow speed off, pulling away, in Shrewsbury, possibly the result of a pannier jamming the steering. Minor cuts but nasty bruise to thigh, exacerbated by Jack's insistence on wearing rubber pants. We ate in at the Bewdley Mercure and the Gloucester Sawmills End Ibis. Good fare at both, not over-priced. Both too exhausted to venture elsewhere! Mercure Bewdley, Heath Hotel, Habberley Road, Bewdley, DY12 1LA. 1 twin room: £98.11.

Day 2 - 6 Sept 2018

Bewdley to Gloucester, via Stourport, Ombersley, Worcester and Tewkesbury, perhaps about 60 miles. Stops at Ombersley (posh cafe) and Worcester (Severn Cafe). A number of hills, but with a purpose, taking one up onto ridges, not like yesterday's endless roller-coaster. Some light rain. Drivers well behaved. Gorgeous views of the Malverns. Unfortunate rear puncture on my APB just five or six miles short of Gloucester, but sorted in half an hour. Good digs at the Ibis. Ibis Gloucester, Sawmills End, Corinium Avenue, Gloucester, GL4 3DG. 2 rooms: £88.

Day 3 - 7 Sept 2018

Gloucester to Bath, in all likelihood about 70 miles. The toughest day's cycling, in terms of hills, I've ever experienced. As we exited Gloucester we went into the centre to Eastgate Cycles in order to replace the accident-causing pannier, with one which clipped more securely to the frame. £20. Friendly service from proprietor who told us how tough trading conditions were for a traditionally-run cycle shop. Lovely first section along the canal. In an effort to get away from the A38 we ended up climbing Frocester Hill, up the side of the Cotswolds Hills. At 10%+ this was a long slog of a walk. Lovely roads over the top though, including along the Fosse Way, quiet fast miles. Beautiful around arboretum.
Bath expected to be hilly, but not as much as it turned out. Utterly exhausted, up hill and down dale to get to the university. Devonshire and Combe Down railway tunnels, now part of a cycling route, fantastic pieces of engineering - the latter is over a mile long - but do not appear to provide access to the university, much as the geography suggests they should. Had to double back, down hill then back up. Long push up final Medlock Hill to the University. Jack exhausted. (A subsequent examination of Google Maps suggested that there may well have been a much gentler level route to the university from the end of the second tunnel - confirming Richard’s speculation at the time based on place names. Pity the locals we asked did not know about it!)
Believe we have done c.220 miles over the last three days. Day off tomorrow, with just a journey to Bradford-on-Avon and back. Rupert joins the tour tomorrow afternoon.

Day off - 8 Sept 2018

I am riding a Brompton six-speed titanium ‘M’ model from 2008. (Jack's first Bike-to-Work bike, kindly on loan from Andy Thomas.) I take the train Lewes-Brighton. Then 09:00 direct service to Bradford-on-Avon, via Southampton, arriving midday. Lunch at Ravello, 1-2 St Margaret's St, Bradford-on-Avon.
To Moulton Bicycle Club Rally at the factory, with the Moulton fundies. We manage to negotiate a reduction for me on entry at £5. Pump up the tyres on the Brompton, badly needed. Cycle to Bath University, Claverton Down, via Kennett & Avon canal towpath, pushing the bike up Claverton Hill at the end. Overnight in cheap and cheerful digs, grub and beers in Uni bar. Reminded me of the old days in Durham. University of Bath, Eastwood, Norwood Avenue, Claverton Down, Bath, BA2 7PD. £38 approx per bed night. Good value.

Day 4 - 9 Sept 2018

For me the 'deep end' as I join the tour. We retrace our steps to Bradford-on-Avon via the canal towpath. Stop at Tourist Information for directions. Instead of continuing south-east to Trowbridge, we cut south-west to Farleigh Hungerford, where we see a motocross event and the ancient castle. A bunch of passing cyclists are headed to Longleat. We carry on to the Cross Keys pub at Rode, Somerset, where Pauline and Mark provide a free cup of tea. It is just amazing how fair people can be. "Come back and stay!" they say. A classic Bentley convertible pulls up to ask for directions.
I lose the boys on the A36 and turn off to Dilton Marsh, hoping they will catch up. I reach Westbury and cut south to Warminster on the unpleasant A350. I divert via Upton Scudamore in search of quieter roads. On the approach to Warminster a service area is disappointingly closed for repairs, so I head into town in search of money and grub. After cashing up at Barclays I stop at Coffee #1, 30 Market Place, Warminster for a snack - a cheese croissant is put in the microwave in error and turns out a sticky mess. I'm too hungry to care. The boys aren't far away as I head out of town looking for a turning to Sutton Veny. Beyond I stop at The Courtyard Café, The Ginger Piggery, Boyton - recommended. Despite phone contact the boys have got ahead and we meet up much further down the track at the The Royal Oak, Langford Rd, Great Wishford, where we sit in the garden opposite, dosing on ice creams, tea and cola. We carry on to Wilton.
Our route takes us into the centre of Salisbury where we stop briefly at the Cathedral. Many jokes about Russian visitors and Edward Heath.
I get tailed off on a long climb in the countryside and feel thoroughly discouraged (following National Cycle Route 24, drifting too far east.)
I reach Romsey in error where I stop to ask a man on a Brompton the way to Ower. He directs me on to the only route up a busy dual-carriageway. At the top of the hill he stops in his Honda in a layby to rescue me. I fold the bike for the short car ride to the Mortimer Arms, Romsey Road, Ower, SO51 6AF. An act of kindness by a Knight of the Road. 70 plus miles - too far for a first day. Booked table for excellent huge meal. 3 rooms reserved: £178.50.

Day 5 - 10 Sept 2018

Via Totton to Southampton, where a large cruise ship is docked. We cross the Itchen on the busy road bridge - I cycle all the way as I'm too frightened to stop. Shortly we are in aircraft country with many historic associations, monuments etc. Pitstop outdoors at Jenny's Cafe, High St, Hamble-le-Rice (in a cobbled street opposite The Victory pub).
First of three ferries from Hamble to Warsash in a pink tub. We head for the coast, past an airfield and hovercraft museum, to Lee-on-Solent. Pitstop at seafront Leon's Bistro, 15 Marine Parade W, Lee-on-the-Solent - pretty average, unfriendly staff.
Ferry from Gosport, across Portsmouth Harbour, to Portsmouth. We see Brompton Dock for renting Brompton bicyles. Then eastbound for Hayling Island ferry.
Shouts of "Man in the water" and "Man overboard." We are in the middle of a real life emergency. He hasn't fallen from our boat but he is in the water alright, in a vicious rushing tide. I make myself useful by signalling to him that we have seen him (not virtue signalling). I hold the rope while a crew member lowers a ladder and we haul the bloodied man from the water and rescue his upturned rowboat. We have to return to dock on the Portsmouth side to await an ambulance. A Mayday call to the coastguard has to be resolved. Eventually we reach Hayling Island and all is well.
We take the coastal Hayling Billy bike path to Havant, route of an old railway line. I marvel at the toughness of modern Schwalbe bike tyres for they are being truly punished here. (Havant was the jumping off point for the Broken Spoke Tour in 2016.) Welcome pitstop at Caffè Nero, 8 West St, Havant PO9 1PF.
Hard charging on A259 to Chichester. To the George & Dragon, 51 North St, Chichester, PO19 1NQ. £195 for three rooms, incl breakfast. Good value. Choice of real ales. Very welcoming chap at the bar.
Walk to Prezzo, 61 South St, Chichester. At Prezzo Jack works his magic whereby a special offer obtained by phone from the internet significantly reduced the bill.

Day 6 - 11 Sept 2018

A coastal run from Chichester to Lewes, via Brighton, pushed along by a strong westerly tailwind. A little rain.
We depart town via the Chichester Canal southbound for Bognor. Macaris Cafe, 46A London Rd, Bognor Regis, for coffee stop in a pedestrian area of town (indoors much like an old folks home). Then following the seafront where possible.
We get separated in an interminable housing estate, as I miss a difficult-to-see roadsign. Then I'm stuck on the A259 towards Littlehampton. Watching the destination boards on the buses for clues as to which way to go. I cross the Arun by the footbridge adjacent to Littlehampton Marina, via Ferry Road. Working my way eastward forced back to the A259. Cut south to Goring-by-Sea. Irritated by signs saying "to the station" - what damn station? Held up at level crossings. At last a sign for Worthing and I'm charging along the seafront to the pier when Richard emerges from a cafe on my left. We meet up at View Café & Bar, 70 Marine Parade, Worthing. Suitable.
We crossed the River Adur via the Adur Ferry Bridge, just after passing The Waterside pub. Jack is now in familiar territory and we enjoy the industrial vibe of Shoreham Port, crossing back over the river at the lock gates and proceeding along Basin Road South. Through Hove to Brighton where I get my first look at the British Airways i360, a tall observation tower. We reach Lewes by mid-afternoon. The stretch from Southampton to Brighton could occupy a pleasant week with time for attractions, museums etc.


1. To save weight, apart from a couple of local walking maps we did not take roadmaps for our route, especially the more difficult and exhausting first 3 days. We thought we could rely mainly on pre-planning and satnav. Mistake! When slightly lost, we ended up mystified as to the direction of travel in relation to signposted towns.

2. The National Cycle Network routes/signage are generally very useful but in some key places the signs completely disappeared (eg middle of Salisbury). There were also routes which were downright dangerous due to fast-moving heavy traffic.

3. The Moultons were excellent, and definitely more capable and comfortable than Bromptons, but the unaccustomed handlebar grips over such long distances caused Jack to have lasting numbness in palms and fingertips from which recovery has been slow.

4. The supremacy of Brompton luggage arrangements remains unchallenged.

5. Overall, a very hard ride!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

4th Hockley Valley Hill Climb Revival

Forty classic cars, mostly British, converged on 3rd Line in glorious sunshine on July 2nd for this fun event. There were 13 MGs, 10 Triumphs, 5 Morgans, 4 Jaguars, 2 Lotus, and one each of Porsche, Daimler, Mini, TVR, Mercedes and Allard. Oh, and our smart car Trudi plus various other spectator vehicles.
In attendance were several drivers who raced at Hockley back in the 50s and 60s including: Al Sands, Don  Albertson, Frank Mount and Don Haddow, the course record holder.  Many organizations including the Headwaters British Car Club, Georgian Bay British Car Club, and the British Saloon Car Club of Canada were represented.
Special thanks to organizer RLT, S. Morris for stepping into the role of official starter; photographers L. Hill, D.Woods; R. Jordan, P. Pontsa, and many others who made the day memorable.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

PARIS MOTOR SHOW: smart's local future unclear

The new ForTwo and Forfour promise to be better cars – but can they be cheaper too?
The third generation smart range made its motor show debut in Paris overnight, but the chances of the new ForTwo and reborn ForFour making it to Australia hang on "robust" negotiations that should be resolved one way or another by the end of 2014.

The Mercedes-Benz-owned city-car brand has been financially problematic globally and a misfire in Australia, where just 67 have been sold to the end of August 2014.

However, the new triple-cylinder, rear-drive, two and four-seat smarts, which were first shown to media in Berlin last July, shape up as a significant improvement compared to their predecessors, which is a key reason Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific is still trying to make a difficult business case work.

Read full article here. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Piaggio in the Piazzas of Italy

Better known in North America for its Vespa (Wasp) scooters, Piaggio has been making Ape (Bee) pickup trucks and panel vans since 1948. In Italy, they are ubiquitous at piazza markets and shops as their size and versatility are ideally suited to the needs of vendors and navigating narrow streets and tight parking spots.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

smart Roadster, Padova, Italy

smart produced about 43 000 roadsters between 2003 and 2006. Sales were meeting projections but warranty claims due to leakage problems halted production. This one we spotted in Padova, Italy has a removable Targa roof. An electric powered soft-top was another option available. With a six-speed automatic transmission and rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout the roadster's fuel economy is about 45 miles per Imperial gallon.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Business smarts 54: Sm+ools, Padova, Italy

Sm+ools is a private, gaming club in Padova, Italy.