London-Chilterns Cogal Report
Attention all hands, we have a cogal report! Thanks to @ChrisO for pulling this all together. We have no photos of the pint drinking but we’ll overlook that. Here is a link to the photo album. Chapeau lads.
A highlight for me was the transition that occurs between folks when you ride together. At the beginning we were all strangers (to me at least). Over the course of the ride, I had the opportunity to chat 1on1 to meet each of you….something that can easily be forgotten when one is hammering along all the time every ride. By the end the ride I felt like I got to know quite a bit about each of you and as I typically experience with most cyclists I meet, I enjoyed hearing about your families, work, riding and life in general
The transition from strangers was clear in how the group’s paceline changed over the couple hours as we got used to each other. Much tighter and more precise as we got to know each other. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day but ride camaraderie only took a couple of hours.
The route (thanks again Ephraim!), associated scenery, fashion-sense and weather were also all excellent..even with a bit of wet in the middle.
Blackpool Tower (James)
The Chilterns may not have pavé but by god do they have potholes. On some sections we were waving our arms to left and right like some under-rehearsed 90s boyband, signalling another onrush of deep, and generally rain-filled holes.
All, of course, part of the charm of cycling in the UK, along with beautiful woodland, irritable drivers and tea in bone china cups (sustained an Empire, don’t you know, etc etc). One hole nearly ended my ride altogether, though, as we sped away from Gerard’s Cross. I was riding quite close to the Velominatus in front and couldn’t react fast enough to his signal. I slammed into the hole so hard that my left hand shot off the hood it was holding and ended up involuntarily reaching through the bars and almost touching the fork. I had enough time to run through a mental cycle of panic > incredulity > existential angst in the second it took to unwobble myself and get back in a straight line.
I am choosing to blame this incident for bringing on my pre lunch mini-bonk. I’m not sure about the science but I expect I’m right.
The departures. That’s how I know.
When our group of eight arrived at the end of our hilly Buckinghamshire yatra the first goodbyes were to Chris L and James, unable to join us for the post-ride clinking of glasses on a job well done. Two rounds shared and it was Richard and David’s turn to leave our team as the rest of us caught the train back to London’s Marylebone Station, where handshakes are exchanged with Greg and Sascha. Then it’s just Chris O and I slipping through traffic before he turns off the Euston Road for home.
Alone again. Just me spinning up Pentonville Road towards East London. The last incline of a quality day in the saddle. How do I know the grade was made? The departures. Because just like a film studio that has a hit on its hands I’m damn keen on a sequel, fellas.
However, following an egregious communal lunchtime violation of Rule #91, it was as if the all-seeing Merckx himself had turned on the Roubaixian cold showers as punishment. But every adversity is an opportunity to surmount. The rain and sleet presented a Rule #9 test of this small but determined band of Keepers’ adherence to Rule #5. Like Hinault on the Haut-Levee in the 1980 L-B-L we scoffed at the inclement climatic conditions and pushed on up the steepest, gnarliest hills this corner of Buckinghamshire had to offer. To be fair, the hills presented very little challenge to the grimpeur, so little in fact that one Velominatus volunteered to ride up the highest one again in search of a prodigal Keeper who had gone astray. For the fuller figured puncheur (your correspondent), these hills required a liberal application of his grandmother’s gear ratio. On the other side of the hills potholes, gravel, mud and cars made sure that Rule #93 was observed in spades, as indeed was its second sub clause in the pub later.
Rule-keeping was not perfect. There were, shamefully, some violations of Rule #29 (I shall not cast the first stone), and, curiously, at least one violation of Rule #60 and one of Rule #66. However, the beauty of the Rules, like Scientology, is that there is always a higher level of Keeping to aspire to. If adherence was perfect, there would be no need for Rules #1, #2 and #3.
The number of times you hear people talking about Rule #5 suggests any gathering of Velominati should be cause for road closures and special trains. But this second London Cogal confirmed we are are the small worshipping congregation of a broad religion – a final roll call of 10, falling to 8 on the day through illness.
From the wrong side of London it was easier for me to ride to the first meeting point at Kings Cross where Ephraim (E-Digs) would lead half of us out to Gerrards Cross, a commuter town to the northwest and the official meeting point. I think that gives me claim to the longest ride of the day, with 170km by the time I got home.
As always it was great to meet and chat to Velominati as fellow cyclists and to highlight the different experiences we all have.
Greg (Gladoe) has put in some serious audax miles – anyone who’s done Paris-Brest-Paris is a legend. He says his helmet mirror is for safety but I suspect the real purpose is to see how far he’s dropping everyone on the hills. Ephraim looks so comfortable on the bike that at one point I remarked he rode like a courier. “Are you being funny?” he said. “Umm, no…” “Oh right, cause I am.” To be fair he’s pretty distinctive with his unusual dreads so he thought I might have seen him about, but it did explain his fluid style and slightly relaxed approach to road rules. James (Blackpool Tower) and I were both in our respective club kits and dreading letters to the club secretary. When in doubt blame London Dynamo.
Finally I had made it to a Cogal. The previous UK based ones (Scotland, Shropshire and Surrey) couldn’t be attended but for this one I was good to go. A promise of a Casually Deliberate ride (23/24 km/h on the flats), some small hills in the Chilterns, and a route of ‘only’ 107km – what could go wrong?
Put a bunch of Velominati together coming out of winter and 23/24km/h is simply, how can I put it, too slow. My bike computer only worked intermittently, but when it did it kept showing 28, 30 and more (on the flats!). Surely some mistake? Small hills? To be fair ChrisO, Greg and Ephraim went up them as though they were mere speed bumps to be negotiated. For me, however, it was a case of head down, work hard, and see what happens.
What happened is that halfway up the longest uphill of the day I missed a turning, and promptly lost the group. When I realised what had happened, and headed back down the hill, I found a cross roads with a steeper hill off it than the one I had cycled that I felt sure had to be the route – after all, that was a theme of the day. “At all junctions pick the direction with the steepest incline” could have been the route instructions. Went up it, saw no-one, back down in case I was wrong, back up the original route…..
I believe mobile phones were invented for cyclists, to allow them to regroup. So a quick call later I linked up with ChrisO, and promptly wheel-sucked him back to the rest as
a) I was shagged after the extra up and down-hilling and
b) he’s a monster on a bike.
Another highlight of the day was getting a speed wobble on probably the steepest descent. It was interesting. The gravelly lane was a car width wide, pot-holed, wet and greasy. The vibrations from the handlebars meant I could barely see anything, which didn’t help me in trying to figure out how to scrub speed without hitting anything or locking. I’m so glad the car that came up the hill did so after I’d managed to halt still upright.
Bikes were a great mix of ultra-light all carbon affairs to a beautiful steel Peugeot, all ridden by a great bunch of guys. Rule violations? Sure, some, but you know what? The spirit of the rules was there in abundance. Would I do another Cogal?
This was my first Cogal and to be honest my prep hadn’t been going too well.
The bike had an annoying ‘click’ on each pedal stroke that had defied all attempts to silence it – it was driving me crazy!
In a last gasp attempt to save my sanity I had the drivetrain in bits the night before – the bike mechanic’s equivalent of ‘have you tried turning it off and on again? ’
Next day – grey and early in Gerrards Cross – we meet up at the (thankfully independent) coffee shop.
The ‘London crew’ arrive – damp but not dampened after riding out from Kings Cross.
Introductions made and caffeine imbibed we head on out – after obligatory pre ride snaps and a brief discussion on Rule #33 compliance.
Almost before we have left Gerrards X, I manage to drop my chain – serves me right for being a test drive dummy.
In the big scheme of things the Chilterns aren’t generally considered the stuff of cycling legend, but whoever mapped out today’s route has done their homework.
They’ve managed to find some taxing climbs and challenging descents down single track roads into lost wooded valleys – made all the more ‘interesting’ by a combination of gravel washed onto the roads and good old British potholes.
The wet gravel claimed a couple of victims before the lunch stop – punctures were repaired swiftly with no reason to apply the more draconian elements of Rule #84. I used one of the ‘puncture stops’ to adjust my front mech and avoid any more embarrassing chain mis-haps.
We descended on an unsuspecting Buckinghamshire garden centre for food – bikes parked in the play area. Sandwiches with tea drunk from finest bone china cups !
Back on the road and the sky has darkened – leading to the inevitable downpour.
The YJA rain jacket came out, but when I caught up with the rest of the group I found myself in a minority of 1 – everyone else was toughing it out.
The temperature seemed to have dropped with the onset of rain so ChrisO very kindly found us some hills to climb to warm us up.
Unfortunately, during one of the climbs, we managed to lose Dave – somewhat careless given that he was riding a Celeste Bianchi and wearing a San Pellegrino top. ChrisO dutifully backtracked to find him while the rest of us waited in the woods like a bunch of naughty schoolkids.
After a brief game of ‘name that tree’, an audit of the bikes revealed machinery as diverse as the personalities riding them: a brace of Colnagos, ditto Cannondales, an Enigma, a Giant a Bianchi and a Peugeot. Frame materials ? – carbon, ally, titanium and steel.
Chris returned with Dave in tow and we set off again down a fine and fast descent – Ephraim’s freehub howling like a banshee in front of me.
We wended our way back to Gerrards Cross through the Buckinghamshire woods. By now I had assumed the position of ‘lanterne rouge’ as my lack of fitness began to show – and I had only done ‘Cogal Lite’ compared to the London mob!
Back in civilisation and after Chris L and James had departed to get a train, it was beginning to look like we had organised the finish point in a pub free zone (!)
Luckily we found a place the other side of town (phew) – Black Sheep Ale for me please.
First Cogal !
Best bits: New people, new roads, Black Sheep
Worst bit: Glasses steaming up on wet climbs (age related myopia creeping in)
Next year? Have bike, will travel.
Sign me up!