This blog was originally posted in April 2016, after Dirty Wknd founders David & Emma returned from a trip to Japan.
Cycling in a new and interesting country is a special kind of riding. The possibility of experiencing something completely new really fuels the desire to get out on the road. With adventure travel and active weekends growing in popularity, getting a ride in whilst you’re away is becoming easier, and the chance to ride in an exotic and unfamiliar location should never be missed!
How you go about researching, planning and executing that ride, however, is just as important as where you go. If you’re on holiday and are planning just one or two days riding, then it’s even more important to get it right. Recently I travelled to Japan for a two week tour of the country, and never has the importance of good planning been more apparent.
I’ve just had my bike stolen. In a time when most major cities are on high terror alert and human lives are being lost daily all over the world, I know that this by comparison is not a great tragedy, but I'm very upset about it. It is not necessarily the monetary loss, or even the hassle it brings, but more the feeling that I've lost a friend. It sounds silly I know, but we've been through a lot, my trusty Ribble and I.
A few things went through my mind when I discovered that the bike was gone. Firstly, I assumed that I must be mistaken; I must have chained the bike to a different set of railings, or not actually arrived by bike at all. Either way, there must have been some mistake. Then the rage comes! “Some bastard has stolen my bike, if I ever catch them…” I stood on the High Street, near to where the bike was locked, scanning the horizon, expecting to see someone casually cruising around on my beloved bike. What I would’ve done had I seen the culprit I’m not sure; given chase? Made a citizen’s arrest? Of course I never found out, as the bike and the culprit were long gone. After the anger subsided, I was left feeling empty and sad, as if a part of me was missing. It would be quite extreme to compare it to losing a limb; I'm sure I would be much distraught had I lost a leg, but a sense of great loss was keenly felt. Like the realisation that the family pet is going to be put down; you know things won't be quite the same for a while.
Such is the bond (obsession?) between cyclists and their bikes; we favour our bicycles over many other material possessions. Ask a cyclist what they would save first from a fire (after family of course) and 90% would say their bike. It’s an unusual bond; a piece of steel/aluminium/carbon that weighs nothing, takes up a lot of space and, to the dismay of our partners and families, most of our waking thoughts! It is true that most modern bikes are expensive pieces of kit, and for most not easy to replace; however for me the emotional loss far outweighs the financial one.
It is the memories of rides attempted, journeys made and challenges completed that really tug on the heartstrings! As I walked home, far too sad for public transport, I reflected on the above; London to Paris, London to Nice, Ride London, countless triathlons and sportives Tours of the Lake and Peak Districts and one epic week long ride around Scotland. One man and his bicycle. The two of us versus whatever the day could throw at us; wind, rain (sideways in Scotland), scorching temperatures and lung-burning climbs. The memories of the pain and the exhaustion come flooding back and brought a massive smile to my face! The last 30 miles of a 112 mile ride from Inverness to Portree on the Isle of Skye being the strongest memory. It had rained all morning, from Loch Ness to the Skye road; 3 hours of driving rain, the entire Loch shrouded in mist! The Skye road from Invermoriston to the Kyle of Lochalsh was one of the most incredible 3 hours of cycling in my life. Flying down beautifully quiet roads, Munros and mountains on either side, rounding corners to find giant Lochs reflecting their surroundings in the their smooth blue waters. It really was a glorious cycle.
Stronger in my memory however is the next 30 odd miles. After a quick coffee and a panini we rode over the bridge onto Skye, and straight into a world of pain! The road snaked up and down (but mostly up) as we followed the contours of the island over the Cuilins (a rather large mountain range) and into Portree. The exhaustion we felt was only matched by the relief of sweet rest, and the gratitude and love I felt for my bicycle! Like a willing servant it obeyed every command without protest; no creaks from the bearings, no squeak of the chain. The biggest climbs and the resulting descents were taken on with relish, spurring me on and galvanising my resolve to go faster, higher, longer. The bike became a part of me on these long rides and challenges. If the bike fails, then so do I. It never did.
I’ve never had a house broken into, but people who have often say the worst thing about burglary is having their personal space invaded, their inner sanctum disrupted. They live on a knife edge, every noise a possible intruder. Life goes on after having my bike stolen; I will buy another bike, and I will continue to ride as much as I physically can, however I’ll always feel a twinge of sadness for my poor old Ribble. Taken before it’s time!
My advice to any cyclists out there is to make sure your bike is insured, and make sure you are very specific with the insurance company or bank about how much you are insuring it for, not just how much it is worth. Also it is absolutely imperative that you note down the frame number, and get it tagged by the police. It was something I always meant to do, but never got around to. If I had, the chances of recovering my bike would’ve doubled. I won’t make that mistake again!
If you’ve got a cyclist in your life, you’ll know how hard they are to buy for. Bikes, components and gadgets are all highly personal to each individual cyclist, and clothes are a nightmare as the fit is often different depending on the brand. It’s a minefield; and there is nothing worse than watching your loved one pretend that the bib tights you bought them are ‘exactly the ones they wanted!’
However that is not to say that you have to steer clear of cycling gifts altogether; stick to our gift guide and there are many things you can buy for your cyclist. If you do want to make a statement, we suggest buying a gift voucher from your local bike shop or online, and allowing them to pick their own dream present. Less romantic we agree, but it is a fact that most cyclists love to geek out on the specs, reviews and variables of their purchases. You don’t want to take that away from them!
The best smartphone case and mount system we’ve come across. Incredibly well engineered, highly practical and, unlike so many other attempts, quite attractive! The Phone case is good quality and highly protective, and the locking mechanism is well made, simple to use, and does actually work (nothing worse than your precious iPhone bouncing down the road at 20mph!) Quad lock also provide a waterproof cover for adverse weather conditions so there’s no excuse not to ride in winter! With more and more mobile friendly GPS options available, cyclists no longer have to rely on expensive devices to navigate and track their rides. If your cyclist doesn’t have an on board computer or use their phone, this might be the answer; it will open up a whole world of new possibilities. From £19.95
You can never go wrong with socks! However giving your cyclist a pair of Pringle socks, whilst lovely, isn’t going to do the trick! Depending on your budget, there are a huge array to choose from. Whether you want to blow your sock budget on a nice pair of Rapha, or put a new pair of Dhb to go in their stocking, a nice pair of thermal socks can make all the difference on a winter ride! Call us traditionalists, but we love a good pair of dad socks! So why not combine both, and go for this stylish Castelli pair, with fetching pringle pattern! £15
Tyre pressure is one of the most important things you can easily adjust to improve your ride, and more often than that not a hand pump just isn’t going to cut it! A decent track pump is the most important piece of kit you can keep at home, and something every cyclist should own. Things to look out for when buying are the size and readability of the gauge, the length of the hose, and that the connection has both Schrader and Presta valves. At £20 the Joe Blow is a solid, well priced option, but if you want to push the boat out, go for the Axiom Annihilateair. It’s pricey (£85), but you can’t beat it for quality, and comes with a lifetime guarantee
Having a good set of lights is incredibly important whether commuting or road racing. Particularly at this time of year when fog and mist can fall at anytime, and it easy to get caught by the dark on a training ride. Blaze Laserlight and Burner, created in the UK and launched and developed on Kickstarter, is pioneering a new brand of cycling light. Waterproof and USB chargeable, it is the green laser that projects the image of a bike onto the road in front of you that sets Blaze apart. The heightened presence on the road makes the cyclist safer. The rear Burner light has the same powerful LEDs as the Laserlight, with the addition of a built in sensor so the light activates as dusk draws in. It helps that they are beautifully crafted and incredibly easy to use too. £135
Cyclists love to buy new kit; whether it’s a new set of wheels, the latest on board computer, or an extra tight pair of bib shorts! We justify the expense by claiming that the reduced weight, increased aerodynamics and extra stats will make us faster/stronger/better. There is no doubt that these things make a difference, however very few riders get a proper bike fit, despite it being more beneficial than all the gizmos put together. A fitting at Personal Bikefit will take around 3 hours and will adjust every aspect of your bike to fit you; from cleat and pedal position to stem length and bar width. The result will be improved performance gains, greater comfort in the saddle and an increased enjoyment on the bike. £240
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a good book, and Geraint Thomas’ new offering is arguably the best of the year. Thomas is the cyclist’s cyclist; a team man who is happy to knuckle down and do his job, and it is clearly a job that he loves! Not the team leader, Thomas gives a refreshing perspective from the peleton and life as a domestique, and a unique insight into his more well known colleagues, including Froome, Wiggo and Cav. As one of Team Sky’s original members, he has seen the team rise to it’s Tour winning heights, and he recounts the journey with humour and humility. £10
Bath is the perfect city to see in a weekend; intimate, but packed full of amazing history and nightlife. The incredible North Somerset countryside also offers excellent cycling and walking routes. At only two hours from London, it’s the perfect spot for a Dirty Weekend!
There is also something magical about the Ancient Roman city during the festive period that makes now the best time to go. From the Christmas market surrounding the Abbey, to the quaintly decorated Georgian streets; Bath at this time of year will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
1. Visit Bath Christmas market
Bath Christmas Market is the largest in southern England with over 170 wooden ‘chalet’ stalls selling all kinds of craft gifts, over 80% of which are hand made by local traders. An afternoon in the market is an afternoon well spent; with the smell of mulled wine, fresh mince pies, and the sounds of carol singers to accompany you. And if you do need a little break from shopping, pop into the Apres Ski bar (new this year), and just drink in the atmosphere. The stalls surround the Abbey and the Spa in the centre of the city, so there aren’t many more spectacular locations for a Christmas Market. More info — http://www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk/
2. Cycle to Cheddar Gorge
Cheddar Gorge is one of the South West’s most beautiful sights, and is something of a pilgrimage for cyclists. Nestled in the Mendip Hills (itself an outstanding area of natural beauty), it is Britain’s biggest gorge, boasting cliffs of 450 feet. The road that runs through the gorge is an incredible cycle; it’s hilly and challenging, but the beautiful landscape will keep you going. We recommend storing your bikes at the visitors centre and taking a walk around — there’s loads to see and do, and a nice little cafe for a spot of lunch before the ride back. It’s a 25 mile cycle south west from Bath, so doable on an active weekend away; the outstanding landscape is well worth the effort! More info — http://www.cheddargorge.co.uk/
3. Hike the Bath Skyline walk
Bath is a great city to hike around, with incredible hills, history and scenery right on your doorstep. It’s compact size means that as soon as you get out of the centre, you’re basically in the countryside! The Skyline walk starts just south of the city on Bathwick Hill and heads out in a 6 mile loop over stile and through meadow, offering some stunning views of the city along the way. The route takes in an iron age fort and an 18th Century castle, with plenty of wildlife along the way. It is a challenging walk, with some steep hills, but it’s definitely worth it for the views. The route ends where it began, so you can wander back into the city for a well deserved drink. More info — Bath Skyline Walk
4. Climb at Cheddar Gorge
We really can’t recommend Cheddar Gorge highly enough! It offers so much to the active weekender, and is so close to Bath, you really can get the best of both a relaxing city break and an extreme weekend! If you’re not a cyclist, then Cheddar Gorge is a short drive from Bath with free parking at the visitors centre. Once there, you can hike the limestone cliff path, complete with incredible views of Somerset, or book yourself onto a rock climbing excursion. There are different level classes, so complete beginners can be shown the ropes, and more experienced climbers can tackle some of the gorge’s tougher climbs . If you’re planning a Christmas trip to Bath, then aim for the 4th December: Cheddar Gorge’s festive night! Carol singers and festive food and wine; all set in the beautiful surrounds of the gorge. More info — http://www.cheddargorge.co.uk/
5. Visit the Spa’s, old and new
No trip to Bath is complete without visiting the Roman and Thermae spas. One ancient; one ultra-modern, and both incredible experiences. Pick up aSpas Ancient and Modern pass and get entry into both spas, with lunch or champagne tea in the Pump Room. The Roman Baths are one of the most famous historical sites in Northern Europe, and the free audio guides make the tour incredibly interactive. You can even listen to commentary from Bill Bryson, the American best-seller, who lived in bath for a while. From the ancient history of Roman Britain, you move seamlessly onto the very 21st Century modern Thermae Spa. It is the country’s only naturally warm spa, and a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon, especially if you’ve cycled or hiked the day before. They have taken the ancient spa waters, the very same that the Romans bathed in nearly 2000 years ago, and housed it in a high-tech setting complete with modern architecture. So come to Bath, and do like the Romans do — spend an afternoon in the Minerva Bath, indulging in one of the spa treatments, or just relaxing in the roof top pool. When in Rome… http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/