Two weeks ago I explained the build-up to a daunting 80-mile ride around the Cotswolds. Finally, underprepared but determined, the big day arrived.
I took the scenic route from Oxford to Witney via Farmoor, Eynsham and South Leigh. The B4044 is dangerous for cyclists when it’s busy. But at 9am on a Sunday it’s good riding, and five miles on, the winding lanes through South Leigh are a delight.
In Witney, my fellow riders are assembling. We eye each other’s bikes and gear. I look slightly ridiculous with my very battered 10-year-old Specialized with flat handle bars and a rear pannier. Next to me, multi-thousand pound carbon fibre racing bikes with modified chainsets and beautifully glossy paintjobs shimmer in the sunshine.
Our route takes us on a gentle climb north out of Witney via Charlbury and Chipping Norton to the Rollright Stones. I whizz like a drunken teenager down all the hills, legs spinning and teeth gritted in the wind, leaving the others behind. On the climbs, I’m left way behind.
Soon we hit the 25-mile mark – 40 miles for me as I’ve added 15 miles on to the start (and end) of my ride by riding from Oxford to Witney. I feel in fairly good shape as we stop for a posh and pricey lunch at the Plough in Kingham. From there, we climb again to the Rissingtons, across to the Barringtons and them seem to be cruising downhill for more or less 10 delicious miles.
We fly through Hailey and North Leigh, and back into Witney. There’s the offer of a lift back to Oxford, but I’ve done 65 miles or so and just about have it in me to make the final 15 back to Cowley Road. That’s the endorphins talking.
The A40 cycle path is direct but grim, with the relentless traffic trundling past apace. I lack the energy to take the scenic route back, so I brave it and find my legs keep going on autopilot at a decent cadence. I can’t imagine riding the A40 cycle path on a regular basis, but hundreds do – there’s even an A40 cycle path user group online.
Back home, the Strava app on my phone clocks the ride at 82 miles. I can’t quite believe how far I’ve ridden, and how sneakily that scary 50-mile ride stretched to so much further. Facebook saves me the trouble of shouting from the rooftops: “I just cycled 82 miles.”
Although the last five miles were a bit of a slog, I ache a lot less than after a 30-mile ride off-road, and the following day don’t feel as if my thighs have been tenderised with a wooden mallet.
So is this me, is this the future? Am I naturally gravitating from the thrills and spills of downhilling off-road, towards the more stately hobby of fast, long rides on narrow tyres? Am I? Or is this merely the psychological groundwork for an excuse to acquire yet another bike: a lovely carbon fibre racing bike with a beautifully glossy paintjob?
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