#festive500 2016

I’ve always been a fan of Strava‘s virtual cycling challenges. It’s not just the woven ‘swimming badge’ they sometimes offer as a reward or the kudos from fellow Strava-ists. It’s the sense of being a part of something global and accepting the challenge to ride that bit further or higher or commit to riding on an arbitrary day not knowing what the weather will be or how you’ll be feeling. I’ve taken crazy detours to and from work to top up my distance for the Spring Classics badge and taken the train to London to meet with complete strangers (now friends) to ride the Women’s 100 in the pouring rain on treacherous pothole-ridden roads. Even on the challenges I’ve taken alone, I’ve never been truly alone. One of the beautiful things about this time we live in means we can browse social media using hashtags and connect with fellow cyclists around the world. OK the wind on that #braverthantheelements was truly heartbreaking but damn! Those ladies in Canada on skinny tires in the driving snow! Chapeau!

Ready to go

The Rapha Festive 500 has been on my to-do list for a while but in the nine years since I moved to Southampton, I spent the first eight Christmasses on planes, trains and busses, dashing around family and friends dispersed across York, Newcastle and Glasgow, with my little troupe of bicycles taking a well-earned rest back home. This year however, was a bit different. My partner and I ended up stuck in Southampton over the festive period but we decided to turn a bad situation into a golden opportunity and made the commitment to ride the Festive 500.

The Festive 500 is an annual event taking place over the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. There’s no rules, no organised mass-participation course – all you need to do is get on your bike and ride 500km (just over 310 miles) during that period. Not a big ask in terms of distance but this is the time of year when everyone’s at their busiest and there’s the added risk of storms, floods and ice to contend with for those super-tough cyclists in countries where it’s actually winter. Lucky for us, since we would be visiting family in the New Year instead of over

All smiles on an exceptionally warm Christmas Day!

Christmas, we had little in the way of commitments. Out of the eight days, I would only be working two and although Storm Barbara threatened to blow our chances away it amounted to little more than a bit of wind on the first day.

The first ride filled us with confidence; although the wind was high enough to make some descents feel like an uphill struggle, it was relatively warm for December and we managed to get 129km in the bag straight away. By the end of day four, we had 411km under our belts and we were pretty confident. I had to go to work for two days but we still had December 30th and 31st to get those last 89km. That Festive 500 badge was pretty much a dead cert. Then winter arrived.

Is there anyone there?

Below-freezing temperatures overnight before our penultimate day had left a blanket of fog so thick visibility was limited to a matter of metres. No worries – the weather forecast predicted it would be gone by midday so we waited. And waited. And checked the forecast again. The forecast had changed – the fog wouldn’t actually lift until 16:00! In that case, we were left with one option. We had already agreed that riding the winding roads of the New Forest would be an accident waiting to happen so begrudgingly we made our way to the local park, riding laps and desperately trying to avoid the dogs and children weaving across the paths on their shiney Christmas bikes until the fog miraculously began to lift. Our confidence grew and we were losing patience with the busy park so we finally decided that we were ready to risk getting out on some real roads. However, the temperature was dropping again and as we rode out from the city centre I began to develop a thin layer of frost and started to lose sensation in my hands until I could no longer operate the gears or brakes. Defeated, we had to call it a day and arrived back home with only 62km to go and one day to do it. Having initially thought 500km  over an unusually warm Christmas period would be easy, I was reminded what a fickle beast the British weather can be and how seasons can change overnight and knock all your plans sideways in one swipe.

Wrapped in a duvet, only just able to grip my latte. Uh-oh.

New Years Eve had come around all too quickly and whilst things had gone so well in the first half that I had visions of triumphantly finishing on 600km+, things were suddenly starting to look uncertain. With another severe weather warning for fog in effect until at least 10am, we kept ourselves busy at the supermarket before embarking on the last leg. Things were looking good – visibility was already improving by 09:30. Hurrying home to get changed, we were feeling pretty confident. Until the fog started to roll in again. So close to our goal, there was no question that we would bail now so armed with our best lights we set out for our last ride of the Festive 500. We thought our worst fears had come true as we rode further and further out of town and the fog once more enveloped everything around us, leaving us with only 10 meters of good visibility ahead. Mentally calculating loops in the more sheltered suburbs of Southampton as a last resort, we rode on in the murk but once we reached the shelter of the New Forest, the fog began to clear and suddenly the forest was beautiful. The battleship grey of the sky with rays of light desperately punching through, skeletal trees in silhouette, verdant fields contrasted with the gold of the last fallen leaves of autumn. This is why we ride in winter and in those final kms the sun bathed everything in a golden light and reminded me what I love about this time of year.

MADE IT! And the sun came out for us!
MADE IT! And the sun came out for us!

I started the Festive 500 feeling cocky. With an unseasonably temperate short-term forecast and six days ahead of me to ride 500km, I wondered if it would even feel like much of a challenge. When the weather changed after my two days back in the office, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t a dead cert at all. 500km in six days isn’t a challenge for me but getting through the changing British weather unscathed and riding even when I would normally think I’d rather not – that’s the challenge. Although it will probably be business as usual next Christmas and my bikes will be enjoying a break, I’m proud of my achievement this year and would gladly do it all again.

 

Celebrating beer in Copenhagen

It’s been a while since CBC and a lot has happened since then which has taken my attention away from writing this blog post. I actually started writing it soon after I returned from Denmark in May! I’ve devoted a lot of my time to training for my longest cycle-ride ever and decided to have a total career change which took a lot of procrastinating, research, debate etc.  I almost canned this blog post altogether but that would have been silly – I had written most of it before I got distracted by other things and I really wanted to share with you my thoughts on what I think has been the best CBC so far and some of the great new food and drink happening around Copenhagen. I hope you enjoy and maybe if you’re thinking of heading out there for CBC 2017 I can convince you and I’ll see you there!


It’s Tuesday May 10th and I’m on the 17:13 to Gatwick. ‘I’m beginning to regret bringing this beer’ says my long-suffering boyfriend. ‘Why?’ I ask. He replies with a serious tone ‘It’s fecking awesome but it’s going to break me.’ And so the journey to the fifth annual Copenhagen Beer Celebration begins. The beer in question? A rather exquisite 2014 Melange no.3 (16.9% ABV)from The Bruery. It had been on the shelf long enough; better to drink it now before the sheer volume of beer rarities and curiosities spoils our tastebuds once more. Bursting with dark fruits, this blend of Black Tuesday, White Oak Sap and Anniversary was aged on bourbon barrels to deliver a spicy vanilla loveliness. Perfect to take a while over on the Southampton to Gatwick train via Banham, possibly the stoppingest railway service in the entire UK, even the world. We weren’t in a hurry since we’d be flying the next day.

Landing in Copenhagen felt all too familiar. As a newcomer to craft beer five or six years ago, Mikkeller was one of my early discoveries; my first ever trip to The Cask was by chance on the same day as the Mikkeller Black tap takeover, with the keg lines given over to a selection of iterations of the Black series I have not since seen equaled. One sip of the tequila barrel-aged version was all it took and the Danish brewer had captivated yet another fan. Fast-forward to 2016 and I’m touching down for my third Copenhagen Beer Celebration and possibly fifth or sixth visit to Copenhagen (I’m starting to lose count).

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Since my first visit in 2013, CBC has grown almost at pace with the growth of Mikkeller’s empire in the city. 2016 was the first year in the new venue of the Øksnehallen in Halmtorvet, an impressive former meat-market conveniently located a short walk from the central railway station and more importantly my hotel. Despite the larger venue, high demand from beer nerds across the globe means tickets are difficult to get hold of, selling out in minutes for some sessions. It’s no wonder; each session promises an entirely different selection from the world’s very best breweries and the ticket price includes as many samples as you can drink in the allotted time-slot.

As well as the bigger, better venue, 2016 also saw even more incredible events popping up across the city which would make it worthwhile to turn up even without tickets for the festival including a death metal concert, themed dinners and meet-the-brewer evenings.

Dark Lord Day

Sleep-deprived and fresh off the flight what better way to get into the spirit of CBC than a visit to the original Mikkeller bar on Viktoriagade where they just happened to be celebrating a Dark Lord Day of their own, hundreds of miles across the Atlantic from the original event in Munster Indianapolis. Three Floyds‘s Russian Imperial Stout has become legendary not only for its huge flavors and expertly barrel-aged variations, but also for being a notorious pain in the arse to get hold of. It’s only available once a year at a festival held at the brewery and tickets sell out well in advance. This year, the ticket price included four bottles of the standard Dark Lord 2016 and only one of the barrel aged rarities. The opportunity to try four versions in Copenhagen was an opportunity that surely would have made aficionados back home weep then.

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Dark Lord – not a bad start to CBC week

At 150DKK for a third and 15% ABV, this was going to be one to savor but I just about justified the cost by considering that the 50cl bottles start from 666DKK in Copenhagen and the only other option would be a slightly more pricey flight to Indianapolis. Between me and the boy, we managed to try all four. The base ‘Dark Lord 2016’ was an expertly executed imperial stout with a background level of bitterness and a hint of tobacco. Of the special editions, the stand-out for me was ‘Quit Hitting Yourself’ which had been aged in Porto and Madeira barrels and had a super-sweet, rich fruitcake flavor with a hint of peach. ‘Ronaldo,’ aged in Madeira barrels with tart Michigan cherries, benefited from a sour spike whilst retaining the Madeira sweetness. For those with less of a sweet tooth, the muscat barrel aged ‘Dwarven Power Bottom’ had more of a cacao bitterness but was still so indulgent you could probably stand a spoon in it. If you go to CBC and wonder why the Three Floyds stand generally has a queue running the length of the hall, you have your answer here.

Hill Farmstead Day

As if Mikkeller hadn’t already spoiled us enough by bringing the legendary Dark Lord to Vesterbro, the very next day Warpigs, the BBQ mecca co-owned with Three Floyds, played host to Hill Farmstead. Another unmissable event; normally the only way to get hold of this brewery’s world-famous beers is to go to their brewery in Vermont. This one had even more of a crazy buzz than Dark Lord Day. We arrived 20 minutes early and the queue was already an hour long! Creeping forward in the queue, slowly, slowly, it started to become apparent that this was not going to be a case of choosing from a carefully curated selection of five or ten. Between the main bar and the fire engine serving outside, there had to be a choice of 40 or more. We frantically started to search Rate Beer for advice but it seemed there was no sensible way to choose. They consistently produce excellent beer and scores are generally in the high 90s. The only way to do it was to choose the ones with the best names and buy a lot of them – there was no way we were queuing for another hour! Sadly my Untappd history doesn’t reveal what I actually tried and there’s way too many to remember but the stand-outs that I do recall were the abundantly chocolaty stout Beyond Good and Evil and the slightly spiced vanilla porter Twilight of the Idols, both chosen for their names which are an homage to mustachioed philosopher Friedrich Niezsche.

Copenhagen – beyond CBC

Over the years we’ve been coming back to Copenhagen, despite it already being one of the most awesome cities on the planet, we just keep finding new things! Whether or not you visit for the festival, here’s just some of my favorite places you can visit all year round:

The Mikkeller Empire

Ramen To Biiru Vesterbro

Ramen To Biiru Vesterbro

The next time somebody comes back from Copenhagen showing off about all the lovely Carlsberg they had at the brewery and telling me what a great place Denmark is for beer because of it and ‘no I didn’t see…Mikkeller…what’s that?,’ I may actually have to kick them so hard they go flying all the way back. How can anyone say ‘I love beer/I had so much beer in Copenhagen/isn’t Copenhagen great for beer’ and not at least have one Mikkeller beer?! OK, when I first made the trip back in 2013 there was only the original snug little premises on Viktoriagade and Mikkeller & Friends out at Stefansgade but in only three years they’re almost as ubiquitous as 7-elevens! The theme throughout the Mikkeller empire is still excellent beer but recent ventures have included a stand-alone bottle shop in Torvehallerne, ramen bars, a cocktail bar, fine dining at Øl & Brød, messy meaty dining at Warpigs and even a bar dedicated to Belgian Lambics.

Dat ramen tho

Dat ramen tho

If like me you’re a fan of Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies, Ramen to Biiru is simply a must-visit. Although both branches are fairly new, the dark furnishing and red neon lights add a ‘been-there-forever’ cosyness. Place your order on the friendly machine by the door and take your ticket to the till to pay – no chance of misunderstandings or that heart-sinking moment when you realize the waitress didn’t hear your request for 3 extra eggs. As is the case for all great ramen bars, the broth is unique to the chain and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret, but it’s rich and delicious and extra awesome if you order the yuzu special that’s frequently on the menu. Whatever you choose, you’ll get amazingly springy noodles and you can even choose the level of spice. As expected, there’s plenty of exciting beer to choose from including a light yuzu beer that comes in a frozen tankard.

Mikropolis is the answer to a painful dilemma which many of us will have suffered; beer or cocktails? So many arguments over where to go next on a night out could be avoided if there was one of these in every town. This joint effort between Mikkeller and To Øl is a cozy haven with 10 ever-changing beer taps, an expertly curated bottle selection and a choice of ten delicious cocktails, some of which come and go with the seasons. Expect unexpected ingredients including combinations using beer as a mixer presented exquisitely with fresh garnishes. Don’t expect the average Pina Colada or Sex on the Beach because you won’t find them here. Chin chin!

Himmeriget

Himmeriget

Himmeriget

In an understated old florist’s shop on Frederiksberg, nestled beside the chic Avenue Hotel, you will find an unmissable but easy to miss bar owned by Mikkeller’s Evil Twin, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. This little gem retains the green tiles and is decorated with leafy house-plants here and there as a reminder of the unit’s former-life but instead of paper and florist-wire you will now see behind the counter ten ever-changing taps of incredible beer. Choose wisely because you’re really going to want to have a good long sit-down with the best bottle list you have probably ever seen. In fact, make sure you go with friends – you’ll probably not want to stop at one so it’s a good idea to have people to share with. Although Copenhagen can have a reputation for being expensive, the prices at Himmeriget are pretty keen and especially so considering the rarity of some of the bottles on the menu. We were excited to finally track down Prairie‘s Coolship Truck, a wild collab with Evil Twin that was made with the help of a mash-tun driven around on a pickup truck and was limited to only 800 bottles. As a barrel-age-everything kind of girl, I was also super-stoked to get to try the Pappy Van Winkle editions of Evil Twin’s Imperial Biscotti Break and Even More Jesus. If all that gets too much you are more than welcome to order a pizza to be delivered from the friendly local pizzeria.

Papirøen

Papirøen

Papirøen

Ever looked across the water from the The Royal Danish Playhouse and wondered why exactly are hundreds of people gathered around outside a scruffy old warehouse every day? Known as Papirøen (Paper Island), this one-time paper store now houses Copenhagen Street Food, a collection of 35 food outlets and bars serving exceptional food from around the world at ridiculously keen prices. Having spent the morning sight-seeing, we arrived hungry just before opening at 12pm but as we approached the building we thought we’d made a mistake. Some of the stands were setting up but where were the customers? Then suddenly from out of nowhere the whole of Copenhagen started to show up, filling every spare bench and deckchair and ledge with lively conversation and laughter. The space lends itself to sociable dining; tables are communal and the atmosphere’s informal with DJs playing upbeat music. They get sunlight from 11am to sunset so it’s no wonder their outside area is so popular during the summer months. It was difficult to choose just one thing but having spent a large portion of the trip drinking beer I was keen to eat something nutritious and wholesome. I was glad I picked a braised beef egg-roll from Brass. It’s a bit like a burrito but full of amazing meat, raw veg and sauce and instead of a tortilla the wrap is a thin egg omelette studded with onion seeds. I’ve literally become obsessed with perfecting the technique to make them at home. There’s also several cheesesteak outlets serving some of the best sweet potato fries I’ve tasted outside of Canada, sushi, Mexican, smørrebrød, burgers, vegan. It’s definitely somewhere you’ll want to go back to and now that the new Inderhavnsbroen bridge is finally open the trip is even shorter.

Torvehallerne

Seriously delicious tacos

Seriously delicious tacos

Being a bit of a caffeine-head, I made myself familiar with this temple of international foodie delights that is Torvehallerne on my first visit to CPH to visit the renowned Coffee Collective for a much-needed wake-up after the indulgence of CBC. It’s not a place you can just stop for coffee though; this indoor super market containing no less than sixty food and drink stands needs to be explored. Here, you will find traditional Danish produce such as the porridge bar Grod alongside innovative healthy food at PALEO and international delights from just about every corner of the world. If you love to cook and you’ve booked into a standard hotel, you’ll regret not having access to a kitchen when you see the beautiful fresh produce including hard-to-find ingredients from overseas. Make sure you don’t miss the food carts outside or you’ll miss Hija de Sanchez, the Mexican stand responsible for possibly the best tacos you will ever eat. The owner Rosio Sanchez was previously a pastry chef at Noma and the place had been highly recommended by Grand Tour Cookbook chef Hannah Grant when we met her in London. Recommendations or not, I challenge you to walk past and smell that masa without stopping for a snack. The seasonal menu changes daily but there’s normally three small dishes to choose from. While you wait for your order, it’s not too far to pop back inside to pick up a beer at the Mikkeller & Friends bottle shop, then enjoy at one of the picnic tables outside. Perfect.

Brus

IMAG0714The new concept beer-and-food-lovers-paradise from To Øl puts some of the best things in life under one roof and it celebrated its launch during CBC week. The beautiful old iron foundry and locomotive factory has been converted to a bar, restaurant, brewery and general store so you can even take home exceptional beer and ingredients. Flowing from the 33 taps you will find a combination of beers from To Øl, Mikkeller and a whole host of friends as well as house-made sodas and Mikkropolis cocktails. The restaurant is already developing a reputation as one of the best in Copenhagen; I found myself wishing I hadn’t had a hotel breakfast after all when I met with friends for the ‘Hangover Brunch’ and enviously eyed up some of the best eggs and avocado I’ve seen whilst sipping on my Bloody Mary.


My CBC beer list

In case you were interested, here’s the list of what I tried at CBC 2016

Blue session

7venth Sun – Sebastian’s Saint Sunwhere (collab with Freigeist and Saint Sunwhere) Brett saison with peppercorn & grapefruit 7%

7venth Sun – Rum BA Mangrove – double IPA 10%

All In – I Milk your Drinkshake (collab with Loc) – milkshake IPA 6%

Arizona Wilderness – American Presidential Stout BA – Russian imperial stout 11%

Arizona Wilderness – Barley Wine 9.8%

Boxing Cat – Bare Knuckle Barleywine – BA Cognac 13.2%

Casita – Sopresa – Sour wild ale 4.5%

Casita – Bebe Me – Ale with orange, lavender and chamomile 5%

Cigar City – Good Gourd Almighty – BA Bourbon Imperial Pumpkin Ale 9.4%

Crooked Stave – Persica – Golden sour with peaches 6&

Cycle – Wednesday – Cognac BA Stout with cinnamon and hazelnut 10.5%

Det Lille Bryggeri – The Stay Puft – Imperial stout with marshmallows, coconut, chocolate and seasalt 13%

Faction – NYX – BA imperial stout 12%

Fonta Flora – Razzmatazz – Appelation wild ale with raspberries 5.9%

Ghost Brewing – Black Magic Vanilla Sky – Imperial stout 11.5%

Hoppin Frog – Infusion A – Peanut butter chocolate coffee porter 6.2%

Jackie O’s – Dark Apparition – BA Bourbon Russian imperial stout 11.5%

Jackie O’s – Dark Apparition – BA Bourbon Russian imperial stout conditioned on vanilla and coffee beans 11.5%

Modern Times – Monsters Park – BA Bourbon stout with coffee 13%

Omnipollo – Anagram (collab with Dugges) – Blueberry cheesecake stout topped with soft-serve 12%

Sahtipaja – Babushka Maria Ay Caramba – Imperial stout 12%

Surly – Nein – Dark smoked hefeweizen 10%

Tired Hands – Lemmynade – Oak fermented lemon saison 5.8%

Westbrook – Lemon Coconut Weisse Weisse Baby – Berliner weisse 3%

Green session

7venth Sun – Yule Shoot Your Eye Out (collab with Point Ybel) – Brett saison with spruce tips, orange zest and cranberry 5.8%

7venth Sun – Red D’or – Raspberry belgian golden 7.9%

All In – Hustle – Hazelnut imperial stout 9.8%

Arizona Wilderness – Superstition – Oatmeal coffee stout 6.5%

Boneyard – Suge Knife – Imperial stout 13%

Boxing Cat – Thrilla in Manilla – Fruited Berliner weisse 3.7%

Brewski – Buen Coco Para El Papa Vale – Russian imperial stout 12.5%

Buxton – Blue Wolf – Black sour with blueberries and blackberries 4.2%

Cigar City – Cubana Espresso – Brown ale with coffee, chocolate and vanilla 5.5%

Crooked Stave – Salvador Cybies – Dark sour ale with cherries 9%

Cycle – Tuesday – Maple cinnamon coffee imperial stout (ABV unknown)

Det Lille Bryggeri – Humlemord 13 Hops Kill – DIPA 9.4%

Gigantic – Ume Umai – Black rice with plum beer 7.5%

Jackie O’s – Turtle Fudge – BA bourbon imperial porter 11.5%

Lervig –  Blabaer Tonka Sur – sour ale with local organic blueberry juice and fruity Australian hops 7.8%

Magic Rock – Bearded Lady – BA desert imperial stout with cacao, vanilla and cinnamon 10.5%

Mikkeller – We Bleed Coffee – Blend of three coffee stouts made with coffee from Dark Matter, Coffee Collective and Koppi (ABV unknown)

Modern  Times – Aztec Mummy – Tequila barrel aged gose 5%

Omnipollo – Bianca Blueberry Lassi Gose topped with soft-serve 3.5%

Perennial – Abrazas – Imperial stout brewed with ancho chilies, cinnamon, vanilla beans and coco nibs 10%

Poppels – Double Oatmeal Stout Coffee Edition 10%

Side Project – Biere du Pays – Tart Missouri table beer 4%

Tired Hands – Motherboard Hovership – Imperial blueberry stout 12%

To Øl – Mr Orange – ESB style ale with grapefruits, tangerines and mandarins 7%

Westbrook – 2015 BA Mexican Coconut Cake – Imperial stout 11%

Chasing the sun

It’s 03:15 on a Monday morning, the rain beats at the window of my seaside Travelodge room. The room fills with an unfamiliar electronic melody. It’s not a dream – that’s my mobile phone alarm and there’s no denying it no matter how far under the covers I try to hide. I look at my trusty Lexi, my ever-faithful and long-suffering road-bike, sparkling clean with her new cassette, chain and tires, saddle-bag and pump attached, ready to go. On any other day I might tell her we’ll hang on till it brightens up but not today. Today we have a mission. Today we will chase the sun.

Back in January, it seemed like such a great idea. Watch the sun rise over the sea in Poole then ride over to Cornwall and watch it set over Widemouth Bay. Timing our ride around the summer solstice would guarantee maximum daylight and there would be a good chance of decent weather, right? Well, unfortunately here in this green and pleasant land of ours anything can and will happen, even in June. But we’re made of strong stuff here and I was glad to see all 17 of my fellow riders from Ordnance Survey kitted up and ready to go at the start, smiling, happy, even excited. We gathered on the beach for a ‘sunrise’ photograph, joking about the absence of any sun, determined that we would find it by the end of the day.Through the rain, into the head-wind, we started to head West.

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Raring to go

We spent the first segment pedalling through rain-slicked suburban streets, over countless roundabouts past still-sleeping households. The roads were blissfully quiet and thankfully relatively flat, allowing our half-asleep legs to gently wake up for the distance ahead. It wasn’t long before we arrived at our first pit-stop, a Waitrose in the slightly surreal experimental town of Poundbury. However, by that point we were thoroughly soaked, dishevelled, and ready for a nice cup of tea and then maybe back to bed. Feeling slightly apprehensive about inflicting our water-logged, mud-splashed selves on the pristine little supermarket, we were instantly put at ease and made welcome and even offered two-for-ones on hot drinks. Warmed and fortified with baked goods and coffee, we set back out with a renewed energy, ready to tackle the busy A-roads of the next stretch. We attacked the cat 4 Mutton Street climb with the incentive of the next pit-stop at the top. Or was it? Well…not quite… Post-ride Strava analysis revealed we had just stopped short of the end of the segment meaning that my time of 34 minutes and 17 seconds was never going to worry the reigning QOM at just over 7 minutes.

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Enjoying the beautiful summer’s day

Onwards West, 53 miles done, 87 to go, now we were getting to the fun bit. Hills, hills, hills, if we weren’t climbing, we were descending narrow country roads, brakes squealing round blind corners, cautious of the slippery wet gravel and inexplicable number of vehicles on this rainy Monday. We were stronger than the wind and the rain though. The miles melted away as we rode on side by side, chatting and smiling and laughing under dark grey skies, and maybe that cheer was wearing down that elusive sunshine. As the morning became afternoon, we started to notice the stubborn clouds began to part. At first just a snippet of blue, then a glimpse of sunlight. The rain had a few goes but simply couldn’t summon the energy to hang around. By the time we reached the third stop at the Crossways Tavern in Hele, we were sailing along dry roads. Although the pub itself was sadly closed, all we needed was water, bananas and a little something sweet to get us through the penultimate stage.

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On to Bude!

With 83 miles in the bag and only 57 to go, we were getting into the real hilly country. The flashes of sunshine interspersed with bouts of rain made the rolling patchwork fields glow all shades of green. As we finally passed the sign marking the edge of Cornwall, cheers rang through the peleton and we pushed on with renewed energy. It wasn’t long before we started to see our final destination of Bude appeared on the road signs. With over 100 miles in our legs, it became a case of simply getting to the next sign. Climbing and descending, climbing and descending, double-figures became single figures and suddenly we found ourselves looking at the most beautiful view of the day. At just the right moment, the summit of yet another climb, the clouds parted to illuminate a vast and glistening sea. More cheers. We were almost there, with less than ten miles to go. We were so near yet the more we pedalled on, the further it seemed; around every corner, yet another climb, short and sharp. Another climb, but as the sky cleared for the last time that day, I realised I could smell the sea and I knew that this was going to be my last climb. We had made it. Swooping majestically down a long descent alongside a jewelled sea, bedraggled and slightly dazed, we had arrived at Widemouth Bay. Settling down with well-deserved beers, we watched the waves and waited for the sun to set.

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Blue skies and beer

After months of planning, this was a ride I will never forget. I consider myself privileged to have shared the experience with such an incredible and determined group; some had never cycled even 100 km in one go until a few months ago. By the end of that day we had all completed 140 miles in adverse weather that would make most people stay at home. There’s no way we could have done it without our four amazing volunteers who gave their time to drive around after us and make sure we were safe and well looked after. So now the only question is, what’s the next challenge?

Members of the Ordnance Survey Cycling Club organised this ride as a personal challenge and as an opportunity to raise funds to support the excellent work of Solent Mind, a local charity working with people experiencing mental difficulties. It’s not too late to sponsor us through our Just Giving page. Thank you.

All photos by Alan Rolfe. See more of his work at alanrolfe.com .

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The sunset we rode 140 miles to see

Sheroes on wheels

This year’s International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, was themed around gender parity which no doubt resonates with women from all walks of life.

As a woman who cycles and a huge fan of both men and women’s professional racing, I’d love to say that my favorite sport is a utopia of equality and parity isn’t an issue. Sadly, the truth is quite the opposite. In professional cycling, the pay-gap is more like a gaping chasm. For example, at last year’s World Championships team time trial in Ponferrada, Spain, the winning men earned £26,500 whilst the women’s prize fund was only £8,500.

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At Velothon Wales 2015 – how many women can you count?

The world of non-professional cyclists also seems to be a bit of a sausage-fest. It’s always pretty disheartening to take a look at the start-list for a sportive and discover that only 5-10% of participants are female. For women who want to get serious about cycling, options to buy decent clothes and bikes have been pretty limited until recently. Even in the larger branches of the major high-street bike shops you’re lucky to find more than a handful of women’s bikes and the models stocked are normally at the lower-end. Clothes are limited to a small selection of baggy commuter hi-vis jackets and poorly-fitting jerseys.

However, the times are finally changing. Progress might feel slow but there’s a shift towards a more gender-balanced future for cycling. For professional cycling, the Women’s Tour is leading the way in TV coverage and by making the prize money equal to that of the men’s Tour of Britain. Some of the biggest brands are starting to look seriously at their women’s design. Liv and Cervelo are now working closely with their professional teams on innovative female-specific design which should encourage the rest of the industry to follow. Giant‘s stores are a shining example with Liv taking up roughly half of the floor-space. Even if your local bike shop is stuck in the dark ages there’s an ever-expanding choice online. If you don’t believe me just take a look at the incredible selection of brands available through the award-winning women-specific retailer VeloVixen.

Yes this is an exciting time to be a female cyclist, made all the more exciting by the inspiring women driving change forward. There’s too many amazing ladies out there (just look at the list of Strongher ambassadors) but in a belated Women’s Day celebration I’d like to introduce you to some of my Sheroes who constantly inspire me to kit up, kick ass and ride awesome.

Lizzie Armitstead

http---coresites-cdn.factorymedia.com-rcuk-wp-content-uploads-2016-03-Lizzie-Armitstead-world-champion-Boels-Dolmans-Troffeo-Alfredo-Binda-Cittiglio-pic-Boels-Dolmans-1020x716Before I saw Lizzie battle Marianne Vos at the London 2012 Olympics (a battle which saw Lizzie take the silver and the first of many GB medals that year), I had absolutely no idea just how exciting women’s road cycling could be. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’d even seen any women’s racing. On that rainy day, Olympic gold came down to an exhilarating sprint which had the whole country on the edge of their seats. I’ve been hooked ever since. This formidable woman from Yorkshire recently became only the fourth British woman in history to win the World Champion stripes on the road and since then has been almost unbeatable, taking the win in three out of her first four races of the season. Luck has nothing to do with it. Preparation, tactics, hard work, nerves of steel. This is what makes Lizzie a world champion. I’ll never forget the time I saw her being interviewed at an event not long after she earned her stripes. Summarizing Lizzie’s ride, the interviewer described how it looked like was putting herself in danger by letting the breakaways go and asked how it felt to feel like she was loosing. At this point I’ve never seen somebody look so deadly serious when she replied with a simple ‘I was always in control.’

archieKatie Archibald

As an accident-prone cyclist with color-changing hair myself, I have a lot of love for this multi-talented young lady. Not only is she Scotland’s first female track cycling world champion and a triple-gold medalist at last year’s European Track Championships, she’s also a fashion maverick who can convincingly wear two different-colored pairs of tights at once (see her frankly brilliant Instagram feed) and a refreshingly entertaining columnist for the Herald Scotland. Her latest column features the only response for prying parents wondering when you’ll settle down: ‘I’ve been with the same gal for years now and my mum won’t like it: she’s 6.9kg, carbon fibre and totally incapable of supplying a grandchild.’ I love cycling as a sport but it’s far more engaging to watch people who actually have personalities and lives of their own.Keep up with her adventures on Twitter and watch out for her at Rio 2016!

Sarah Connolly

As I type this blog post, the third race of the inaugural UCI Women’s World Tour, the  Trofeo sconnollyAlfredo Binda, is playing out in the background. Unfortunately, there’s no coverage in English language so I have a rather confusing Italian stream on my television. Confusing because a) my grasp of Italian extends to ordering a beer and b)
the only live images are broadcast from the finish line of the short course in Cittiglio which the riders cross four times and c) the broadcast keeps cutting to images from earlier parts of the race. As always, I have Sarah Connolly to thank for helping me to understand what the hell is going on. Being a fan of women’s cycling (even men’s cycling at times) can often be hard work but Sarah’s blog Pro Women’s Cycling makes it that much easier. Embracing all forms of social media to share her passion for the sport, from live commentary on Mixlr to insightful and entertaining Twittering, her encyclopedic knowledge of womens’ cycling hasn’t gone unnoticed. She’ll be bringing her indomitable wisdom to the TV coverage of the Aviva Women’s Tour later this year.

Alicia Bamford

QoM9156564_copy_reduced_height_75.originalLast year I was lucky enough to get a ballot place on the Ride London 100 sportive. Lacking enough knowledge of the area to confidently train alone, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a women-only training ride organised by a cycling shop in Kingston-Upon-Thames. Sadly, where I live in Southampton, I’m pretty short on female cycling buddies so off I went on the train by myself, anxious about being Nora-no-friends. What if they all knew each other? Londoners all have fancy bikes right? I bet they’re faster than me. Thankfully, my fears were entirely unfounded and as soon as I arrived at the meeting place I was chatting away like I was among old friends. This is when I met Alicia who initially stood out not only by being an Aussie but also by her ridiculously huge passion for cycling and infectious positivity. She convinced me that I was fast enough to ride in the front group and being able to keep up was a real confidence boost for the main event in August. It’s this encouraging, inclusive personality that she’s channeled into her Queen of the Mountains brand that will 100% make it a brand to watch. As well as creating a beautiful, well-thought range of coordinating pieces in stunning colors, Alicia has been nurturing a growing community of female cyclists in the London and Surrey area, facilitating rides for all abilities. Check out her website for details and maybe I’ll see you there sometime!

The Breeze Network

London to Brighton bikes 18.JPG.galleryBritish Cycling have pledged to change the culture of cycling and get one million more women on bikes by 2020. This isn’t something they can control centrally from within their organisation. They rely on hundreds of ordinary women from all backgrounds and cultures to share their own passion for cycling with other women. The Breeze network is facilitated by British Cycling who provide ride-leader training, kit and an online booking facility but it’s the hundreds of volunteers who run the show, organizing rides every day for all abilities. For women who are interested in cycling but nervous about where to ride, don’t have anyone to ride with, want some like-minded-buddies to share cycling wisdom, Breeze has been a triumph. Their volunteers have helped thousands of women to build their cycling confidence, with many participants going on to take the Ride Leader course themselves and spread the wheel love even further. The launch of the Breeze Challenge sportive series in 2015 has even given women who want to take their cycling up a level the opportunity in a friendly environment. Who knows, I might even see a few more ladies lining up with me at the start-line of the next sportive…

 


Tryanuary – the Southampton edition

Southampton hasn’t always been a great town for beer but thank goodness this little town’s fortunes are changing. With the rise and rise of the micropub, the best beer emporium on the South Coast and a beautiful brewpub housed in a medieval warehouse, there’s never been a better time to get out there for a drink or two. So Southamptonites, this Tryanuary there’s plenty to be cheerful about.

Bitter Virtue

Continental corner

Continental corner at Bitter Virtue

Having just celebrated it’s 18th birthday, this hoppy haven should need no introduction for the beer-loving population of Southampton. If you haven’t been there, save your excuses, I don’t want to hear them. Next time you’re thirsty, get down there and let the expert team of Chris, Anne and Claire guide you on an adventure across the world of IPAs, ESBs, porters, geuzes, saisons, stouts, you name it… This is a place run out of genuine love of beer by people who really know their stuff and are always happy to share their recommendations. They stock the best selection of real ales from local and national breweries alongside traditional continental styles as well as experimental craft brews. Highlights include Siren, Buxton, Magic Rock, Cloudwater, Tilquin, De Molen, De Struise, Rogue and To Ol, with takeaway cask from a revolving selection including Dark Star and Bowmans. Check their website for the latest arrivals and make sure you check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

The Butchers Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher's Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher’s Hook

Until March 2014, the majority of my beer consumption here in Southampton was at home thanks to Bitter Virtue. That all changed with the arrival of the city’s first micro-pub run by local beer enthusiasts Anthony Nicholls and Daniel Richardson in a former butcher’s shop in Bitterne. The much anticipated opening night weekend saw queues out the door and beer selling out faster than they could restock and it hasn’t calmed down that much since. Luckily, the locals of Bitterne are a friendly bunch and there’s normally room for everyone to squeeze in at the communal tables. With room for only three keg and four cask beers, the guys can be relied upon to choose their selection well so there’s generally a good range of styles but check out their great range of bottles too.  You can see what’s new on their ever-changing menu here.

 

The Dancing Man

The Dancing Man Brewery

The Dancing Man Brewery

Way back in 2012 the guys at the Platform Tavern said ‘you know what – we want to start making beer that we want to sell’ so that’s what they did. The Dancing Man brewery began in one of their disused kitchens and quickly developed a superb reputation for some delicious brews. Only a year later, a proposal was submitted to turn a  nearby grade two listed medieval wool house into a new brew pub and last year it became a reality. It would be worth a visit just to see how exquisitely they have restored the building which has previously had such diverse uses as a prison, transport company offices and maritime museum. Walking in it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grand wooden staircase or warmed by the inviting fairy lights and candles. Apparently the food is wonderful (which I’ve sadly yet to experience) but the beer selection alone merits a visit. Standout house-beers include Last Waltz, a roasty, fruity black IPA (5.3%ABV) and bitter citrus-hopped IPA Big Casino (5%) (which is the first of their brews to be canned) but watch out for some great guests from the likes of Siren and Vibrant Forest. Be sure to pop in on a Friday if you can to see what concoction they’re putting through the Randal!

Tryanuary – the Leeds edition

January has always been a month for reflections on the year gone by and resolutions for the year ahead. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to give up alcohol for the month. For some, this is a challenging way to raise money for charities or just be a little healthier but for many independent breweries, bottle shops and pubs it can be a pretty long month. In fact, after the buzz of the party season, January can get pretty dull and the grey days can seem never-ending for most of us.

To encourage us to support independent businesses and brighten up our days, the wonderful chaps behind Hop on the Bike came up with an alternative to Dryanuary. Welcome to Tryanuary, a month of discovery and exploration rather than deprivation. The idea is simple; try something new and share the experience using the #tryanury hashtag on social media.

This isn’t about drinking more.
It’s about trying something different.
Tasting something new.
Experiencing something interesting.

If you need some inspiration, over the rest of January I’ll be sharing some of my favorite independent beery hangouts with you, starting with the glorious city of Leeds where I made a few new discoveries of my own over Christmas.

Northern Monk – The Refectory  

Housed in an impressive Grade II listed mill, the Northern Monk Refectory

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The impressive old mill

offers up to 20 beers on tap at any time alongside a beautifully curated selection of bottles from the best local and international breweries.

 

Northern Monk prides itself on a progressive approach to ingredients. Whilst they can serve you a perfectly well-executed pale ale or IPA for example, my advice is to try something a bit different. One of the stand-outs on the bar during our visit was the Parsnip and Black Pepper Dunkelweiss

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Proper kipper and egg

(6% ABV) which had a sweet, earthy flavor. The Smokey Plums (6% ABV) was also impressive with rich Christmas aromas and a gentle Russian Caravan smokiness.

With stacks of books and board games as well as ping-pong tables, it’s easy to loose an afternoon here. Food is provided by the excellent Grub & Grog who source all of their ingredients locally and use organic ingredients where possible. We dropped in for one of their legendary breakfasts; my perfectly runny poached egg and smoked kipper on delicious rustic bread was so incredible, we almost ended up going back the next day!

 

Bundobust

What do you get when the award-winning Indian restaurant, Prashad and

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Feel free to get carried away!

the home-from-home Bradford micropub The Sparrow Bier Cafe decide to go into business together in the most up-and-coming area of Leeds? Well I guess the only sensible outcome is Bundobust, a leading craft-beer destination serving up mindblowingly addictive Indian snacks. The extensive vegetarian food menu features small portions of heaven which I recommend must be ordered by the dozen and shared with your most valued companions. There’s a few standards like the massala dosa and dhal with rice but my advice is to be adventurous and order something slightly unusual. The perfectly spiced and battered okra fries will leave you wondering why anyone wastes time on stupid potato chips and the idli sambhar, is just so ridiculously delicious you’ll be licking the pot clean. Oh I almost forgot to mention the beer. With guest kegs from the likes of Mikkeller and Magic Rock and a well-curated selection of bottles it’s unlikely you’ll have trouble finding something to wash down all that delicious food.

 

Tall Boys Beer Market

Tucked away in the Thornton Arcade, just meters away from the madness

fern

Learn your ferns

of the high street, you’ll find this unique oasis of beer, coffee and artisan bread and cakes. Four taps serve an ever-rotating selection of craft beers which you can enjoy in the relaxed lounge upstairs or whilst you browse the incredible bottle selection, or you can even fill a growler to take home. We discovered this place on our last morning in Leeds but there were so many bottles we wanted that we just hadn’t seen before that it warranted a risky last-minute shopping spree at precisely 11am (when off-licence sales start) before the wild dash to our booked train. Luckily, they open a lot earlier (08:00) so we were able to chill out with coffee and cake (supplied by our friends at Grub & Grog) upstairs and enjoy the seasonal space collaboration with The Plant Room featuring calming ferns and local art and furnishings.

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all! It’s at this point that many of us will be looking forward to the year ahead, making plans and promising that this year we’ll resolve to become new and improved versions of ourselves. The fact that I am actually writing this on January 2nd might tell you that I’m not really that committed to New Years Resolutions but following the Christmas excess it’s a good time to return to healthier food and exercise.

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Easing back into spinning classes

Obviously, the magazines are full of helpful advice on how you can kick-start your healthy new 2016 and the key to happiness seems to be (as it is every year) slim down and tone up. Yawn-fest. From experience, the weight-loss resolutions come around year after year but almost always fail. Creme Eggs hit the shops before the last of the tinsel is taken down so there’s not much chance for any of us. Of course, success in weight loss carries no guarantee that you’ll be happy if you achieve it (especially if it involves eating less chocolate), or even keep it off for that matter.

Instead of resolutions, I prefer achievable goals that involve doing something fun, and not just on January 1st but whenever I realize something’s going on that I want to be part of. For example, my main goal is a sunrise to sunset cycle ride on the longest day of the year. I know I have to do a lot of training but actually, cycling is so much fun it won’t feel like training anyway. As a Les Mills Body Pump aficionado, I also want to be able to squat 40kg for the entire 5-6 minute set by this time next year (OK it doesn’t sound like much until you consider it’s up to 100 reps in time to music). Any weight-loss or improvements to general well-being are purely coincidental and I get to do something I love so it’s a win-win.

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A beery reward after kicking The Tumble‘s ass at Velothon Wales.

If you want to join me in ditching those stupid resolutions, my wish for you is that you can find something you enjoy, whether it’s running, lifting, cycling, hiking, whatever, and set a goal that will make you happy when you achieve it. Maybe you’ll run a marathon, maybe you’ll enter a ballroom dancing competition, maybe you’ll walk the Great Wall of China! Whatever it is, the adventure is getting there and the sense of achievement when you make it is a far greater reward than a smaller dress-size (although this might end up as a side-effect). It doesn’t have to be January 1st either – if there’s something that will make you happy, get out there and do it!