Since moving to London, it's taken a little while to adjust to everything, cycling to work every day hasn't really changed but weekend cycling has changed a bit. I used to cycle something like 150-200km each week, half of which was commuting and the other remaining distance was group riding. I have a lot of fond memories getting up at the crack of dawn, watching the sun rise over the beach whilst whizzing by in tight, disciplined bunch of cycling speed. As much as I rode with this club and entertained the idea of racing, I never went racing. The cost of a racing licence itself was pretty steep which was one major factor. However I'm not really sure if I just enjoy more social rides which involves scenery and just riding out on the road.
I'd been reading and posting on the CTC forums for a while so I was aware of what they do and the type of cycling they do. For those who don't know, here's a summary of what they're about. I'd looked at the Central London CTC rides page and have been meaning to join them for a ride at some point. However I think out of laziness as well as other factors I've given it a miss, however this weekend I just decided to go ahead and do it.
The rides are typically rated by speed into four ratings, with one star being the slowest and four star being the fastest. I decided to start off with a two star ride around Essex just northeast of London, we started by jumping on the train to Romford. The group ended up being quite large, just under 30 people which is larger than usual so I was told. The group was quite mixed with some on road racing bikes and others on folding bikes, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.
There ended up being a pretty large gap between the fastest and the slowest of the group, after a few climbs where I ended up waiting with a few others for about 5-10mins. I knew the two star group was possibly a bit too slow for my liking. The countryside however, was delightfully foggy in your typical English winter countryside kind of way. The CTC rides are led by a predetermined ride leader who takes the group through the route and organises where to stop for lunch and other things.
There has been quite severe flooding in parts of the UK, this bridge we came across had people washing their horses in it. It definitely stopped us in our tracks, it was about 30cm deep or so which forced us to go around.
The thing about these CTC rides is that they tend to ride out to a cafe/pub or point of interest dawdle around and then cycle back, it's a lot like the kind of social rides I would do back in Sydney with my friends which I enjoyed a lot. I'm not exactly sure what it is, as much as I love racing I don't think I'd ever get into it that much. I do like riding at speed though, maybe less so in a competitive way and not at such a pace that I can't enjoy the scenery. Much of the reason I love cycling is the aspect of freedom and discovery of new places rather than sheer speed.
Bad luck struck however, and I got a slow leak flat on my rear tyre and my pump stopped working. I've not had good luck with the Paselas recently, I also got a flat last time I went cycling in the countryside. However I was able to do a quick roadside stop, everyone seemed to be content to wait a few minutes for me as it was at the top of a hill. Looks like the culprit was again a shard of glass that had worked it's way past the tread and kevlar belt and into my tube. Finally we got to the pub, now for some proper English stodge: Ham, a fried egg and chips downed with some ale. After a good rest and a chat, the obligatory 50p was paid to the CTC ride leader as a nominal fee and we were on our way again.
During the lunch I was told there was a three star group that was also at the pub as well and that I might enjoy hitching onto their ride. I managed to jump onto their group on the way back and found their pace a lot more to my liking. We rode a bit further on the way back instead to Upminster which is close Romford where I started. The pace was somewhere in the 25-30km/h zone on winding and undulating country lanes. Typical countryside back lanes are barely wide enough to fit two cars so you could sometimes have hairy situations with the odd 4WD or large van flying around blind corners. Still we managed to get to Upminster station and I caught the train back to London in one piece. Getting home my legs were tired and I was pretty exhausted, it's been a while since I felt that tired from a ride but it felt good to be back.