Sunday, January 25, 2009

The shop ride

I know 3 weeks between posts is too long, but hey, I've been busy! Just don't ask what I've been doing, because, well, I really needed to sit on a couch for an hour, take my kids to the beach, drink beer, each cheese, drink wine, go to Dreamworld, have a nap in the hammock, eat dinner with friends (more beer, wine & cheese), and a few other things that I don't remember .... and that was just yesterday.

I've been on a couple of bike holidays in Europe. Fully supported. Expensive. 4 and 5 star hotels each night. All I had to do was pedal. And it didn't matter if I didn't want to do that, because there was always a guide waiting with the van to pick me up if I was a little tired, feeling lazy or drank too much at lunch - or all three. Great hotels, great meals, really good riding.

And the best thing - on the days we changed hotels, all I had to do was dump our luggage at reception in the morning and then the ommpa loompas would scurry away with it only to have it reappear in the afternoon in our room at the next hotel.

The guides were great - lots of local knowledge, and they didn't seem to mind that I have a near total inability to follow directions. I'm one of those cyclists that is never lost, he's simply looking for a different way to get where he's going. 

But the fully supported ride wasn't what I had in mind when I decided to bring my bike to Byron Bay. Sarah & I and the three boys (all future TdF champs!) headed north just before xmas for a month of doing as little as possible (see the first paragraph for an idea of a typical day). 

From past visits (without the bike - I've never travelled with it before) I sort of know the area, but I had no idea where was the good riding was.

So the morning after I arrived it was off to the bike shop to ask if they had a shop ride. A what? A ride arranged by the bike shop (good for business) or sometimes uses the bike shop as a start/finish point. Usually made up of a group of local riders - they know the good roads, and equally importantly, where the good coffee is. 

The bike shop in town looked blankly at me and said "give the shop at the industrial estate a try.

So I did.

"No shop ride mate, but there is a group that rides from the clock tower a few times a week - Tuesday & Thursdays at 6 am, Saturday at 6:30. Watch out on Tuesdays - it's very fast,  a real 'take no prisoners' ride".

So there I am, ON HOLIDAYS, it's 05:15 Tuesday morning and I'm stumbling around in the dark, trying to find my bike clothes without waking anyone so I can get out the door in time to get to the Byron Bay clock tower a few minutes before 6:00.

When I arrive there are maybe 8 or 10 guys there, all very friendly, everyone introduces themselves (I promptly forget all their names), they all ask where I'm from, where I'm staying, and how long I'm in Byron and then it's 6:01 and we're off.

For those of you not familiar with the Byron Bay geography, the road out to the highway is 6km long and fairly flat. The group is moving at about 28 ~ 30 Kph and I'm thinking "this is fine, I can hold this pace all day". 

Just before the freeway there is a little rise and suddenly I've gone from the front of the peleton to just off the back. No worries, crank it up a little, catch the back of the bunch as they head down the freeway on ramp - and that's when they really started pushing. 45+ Kph and we're only 6k into a 32k ride.

I hung on for a couple of minutes and then did the rest of the ride at my own pace - they're all quicker then me, and I'm on holidays, and they've all got a home ground advantage and all the other slow rider excuses. I had a great ride to Brunswick Heads. Rather than ride into town, I turned around at the freeway bridge, and headed back towards Byron.

The group, who had gone into Brunswick Heads, caught me just before they turned off the freeway for the 6k back to Byron. I did my best to put the power back on, but, as if to rub my nose in it, I was dropped for the second time on the same ride.

Thursday was sort of easier - the group takes the (undulating) Myocum Rd into Mullumbimby and then back by the freeway. 43K. 400m of ascent over maybe 3 or 4 climbs. I not only hung on, I managed to win a couple of hills.

Just an aside - these aren't races so there was nothing to win, but then no friendly sporting event that two or men participate in is a race or competition is it? Of course it's not.

The locals who were riding seem to be about evenly split between people still working and those who have given up the daily grind. Hence the early starts - it might be paradise around Byron, but people still have to get to work. 

Saturdays start a little later - 6:30 - and go a little longer - usually 80k - and finish with a coffee. Did I mention that it's hilly around Byron? Not French Alps hilly, but some great 3 and 4 km climbs, like the day we did Willson's Creek - 1,200m of ascent in a 75k ride.

Saturdays were much more relaxed rides, more chatting, easier pace, some incredible scenery, and a coffee in Brunswick Heads to give us strength for the ride along the freeway to Byron and the race from the freeway back to town. Remember it's 6k: don't go too hard too early!

And I settled into a nice rhythm - get left for dead on Tuesdays, a quick hill ride on Thursdays and a longer, hillier ride on Saturdays.

In 5 weeks I rode about 800k, climbed nearly 6k,  covering ground that I would never have found without local help. Great riding, a very friendly bunch, good coffee (and gorgeous girls working at Conti in Brunswick Heads) and because they know were they're going, very little traffic to contend with: we did most of the miles on quiet country roads.

A big thank you to John, Charles, Chris, David (who I kept calling Len), Len, Stuart (who crashed his new bike second ride out), Doug, Glenn (who I called Dean), Jason, Harry (don't try to out sprint him - he races A grade), George and a couple of others who's names I'm sorry I've forgotten. 

Wilson's Creek hill profile. A wild twisty, bumpy descent with speeds of upto  70kph. Only took Charles a couple of weeks to get over the road rash.

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