Saturday 26th May, 2012 – my first long ride with Bob

This is a pretty long post, so to cut a long story short… I came back from today’s ride having covered 14.91 miles, much of it through country lanes at an average speed of 9.88 mph with a reasonable amount of up as well as downhill in the mix.  I had one minor problem with Bob which was fixed easily and came back triumphant at my longest single ride with him yet.  Now if you want the details…read on.

Another scorcher today by the looks of it.  I didn’t get out until 9.00 am and it was pretty hot by then. I didn’t fancy a direct assault on the hill up to Barnet Church as even at this time the traffic was building up, but did want to have a go at getting out into the countryside.

The intention was to turn left at the bottom of the hill, go down Mays Lane and take what I hoped would be a shallower, not to mention quieter route up Quinta Drive.  What follows is a lesson in the detail that Google Maps gives at a certain resolution…or not as the case may be.

Getting to Mays Lane was easy enough, as was following it.  Spotting Quinta Drive was a little more problematic.  When I reached a point where the houses had vanished from the side of the road to be replaced by fields I’d clearly missed the turning I wanted.  Given that I was enjoying the scenery I decided not to bother turning around in a hurry – after all, what’s the point of weekend recreational rides if you don’t use them to explore interesting looking places and enjoy the scenery? Well somewhere along the road it changed from Mays Lane to Barnet Gate Lane and the further I went along it, the more I got the chance to practice cycling up an incline, albeit one that I had no idea where it would end. This also led to another first on Bob – the use of the first gear!  I did wonder if I really needed to have quite such low gearing on Bob, but my trip up Barnet Gate Lane certainly showed me that I do.  Pedalling furiously and not going anywhere very fast – but still faster than walking…just – I also learned that I still need practice controlling the bike at low speeds uphill.  I didn’t do too badly, but would I like to be cycling like that in traffic up Highgate Hill?  Probably not!

Eventually I reached a T-junction where I found myself on Barnet Road – exactly the road I’d wanted to be on at the top of Quinta Drive…just quite a lot further on.  So how come I’d missed Quinta Drive?  I was sure I’d checked all the signposts for each street.  The answer lay in Google Maps on my smartphone.  At a certain level of resolution it clearly labelled Quinta Drive.  Go to a higher level of resolution you find that Quinta Drive runs into Nupton Drive and it is that which emerges onto Mays Lane. Now there’s a lesson for the future! Never mind, all I now needed to do was turn right, go through Arkley and I’d be at the top of Galley Lane, my gateway to the countryside and Hertfordshire.  So not a direct route via Barnet Church, but just as much climbing and I’d made it without pushing Bob up the hill.

The start of Galley Lane is a bit of a breeze – or possibly quite a strong wind, depending on whether or not you want to glide or peddle downhill.  It was certainly a welcome respite as it’s quite a long downhill, although as any cyclist knows in such circumstances, what goes down has to go up again, in this case as you approach Dyrham Park. I have very clear memories of the first couple of times I came up this slope on my upright bike a few years ago, and wondering how low my gears could go in order to get up to the top.  So was I looking forward to it today? No.  Were my fears of it justified? Well… no they weren’t.  I’ve been dreading hills because of the number of times that I’ve read how much more difficult they are on recumbents, but in all honesty, apart from last weekend when I’d got no experience of doing so, it’s not been that bad. In fact if anything I’m quickly finding it largely faster and easier on Bob than my Raleigh Spirit and that was definitely the case here.  Before I knew it I was at the top of the slope and looking down to the horse bridge that spans the A1 Barnet By-pass.

The great thing about a horse bridge is that if a horse can get up and over it, a bike certainly can.  There’s also the added safety feature of having something soft to land on if you come off your bike.  On the downside, there’s something soft to land on if you come off your bike!  Surely somebody should be cleaning this bridge a little more often?

Bob on the horse bridge over the A1 bypass at the bottom of Galley Lane

It was while I was on the bridge that I found one small problem on Bob.  I’d noticed a small noise, a regular contact with something as I pedalled that hadn’t been there before, and as I took a very tight left hand turn on the bridge, luckily very slowly, I found what it was as the left pedal and my foot got jammed in the cables which were pulling away slightly from the frame.  As long as I didn’t turn too sharply it wasn’t a major issue…yet, and it’s one that I remedied on my way back when I stopped in Barnet and bought some cable ties.

Holmshill Lane on the other side of the bridge from Galley Lane feels like where the countryside really begins.  There is the not inconsiderable noise of the A1 there, but there’s a real awareness that this is something which is rapidly about to fade behind on the climb up and away from it.

Looking up Holmshill Lane from beside the A1 Barnet bypass

Beautifully intense colours filled the landscape with a sweeping field of barley to my left, and with the sun out and the wind getting up a little it was like watching a green sea as the heads were tossed to and fro; while on my right the brilliant yellow flowers of oilseed rape, both bordered by grassy banks of wild flowers and topped with a clear blue sky. Cycling up the lane I found myself without quite such a good view as on my upright, but a considerably more relaxed and comfortable one.  With scenery like this who’s in a hurry?

At the top of the slope I had a choice – to carry on into Summerswood Lane, down the other side of the hill and up the next one towards the village of Ridge, or left down Buckettsland Lane.  Ridge would be the longer ride and I was feeling reasonably strong, but nonetheless this was already turning in the longest single ride I’d done with Bob, so left it was.

Buckettsland Lane – there’s got to be a story for a name like that, but unfortunately I don’t know what it is (yet). The story of my association with it is that our eldest daughter was married at the farm which shares the name of the road it’s on.  She phoned us one day to announce the chosen venue and told me

“You won’t know it – it’s called Buckettsland Farm”.

“Oh, you mean the one on Buckettsland Lane just up the hill from the A1?”

I’ll not forget the shock in her voice as she asked “How do you know it? You’ve not got a car and it’s miles from here”.  The answer?

“It’s not that far if you’ve got a bike and go over the horse bridge at the bottom of Galley Lane”.

Bob riding down Buckettsland Lane

I rode to the end of Buckettsland Lane, very rural looking with trees that don’t just grow by the side of the road but also arch over it, at times almost providing a green tunnel to cycle through with shade which was pretty welcome at this point.

At the end of the lane I took a left down Well End Road – somewhat busier and more urban in feel – but it wasn’t too long before I could turn off down Rowley Lane – even narrower and more countrified than Buckettsland Lane and with the occasional horse making its way out of the stables at Strangeways Farm, before finding myself back at the A1 and the horse bridge again.

Crossing back and returning via Galley Lane would be a bit obvious, so instead I turned left off the bridge and followed Trotters Bottom towards St Albans Road – the A1081.  With a good surface (bar for a couple of potholes to look out for at the edge of the road) and being reasonably flat for most of its length it’s a good road to get a bit of speed up.  By this stage I was getting more interested in completing my journey, not least as I’d pretty much finished all the drink in my water bottle – the first time this year I’d got through so much so quickly, although it has to be said that my drinking matched the temperature!  So back along Dancers Hill  Road, right into Kitts End Road before joining the Great North Road (A1000) going back into Barnet.

I paused briefly in Barnet to pop into a hardware store and get some cable ties to sort out Bob’s wiring – not to mention a refill of my water bottle from the sympathetic shopkeeper! And when I came out of the shop I got another taste of the way an unusual bike can get people talking as I found a lady having a good look at Bob – clearly curious.  We had pleasant conversation, albeit brief, but I do find it a real pleasure the way that a bike like Bob can get people talking who would otherwise just pass each other in the street.

Now I may not have gone up the hill to Barnet Church today, but I did cycle through High Barnet on Bob in the busy traffic of a late Saturday morning, past Barnet Church then down the hill past the station and along the road home. I didn’t feel worried about being in the traffic – just went along with the flow.  I went up hills today and now know I can do that fairly well.  Do I need much more before starting to commute on Bob?  Well, I think I’d like to do the commuting run at the weekend, just to try it out on relatively quiet roads and make sure I’m OK on Highgate Hill – especially on the run up from Archway Station.  But other than that, I think I may be pretty much ready after regular rides over just a week or so.

Reflection – The more I ride Bob, the more I wonder why such bikes are so unusual?  He’s comfortable – very comfortable in fact, not to mention being hugely good fun to ride.  Yes, he is expensive compared with most bikes, but he’s certainly quality!

One of my son’s friends told me that his car was cheaper, to which I commented that he clearly had a pretty cheap car and by the way how much was the annual insurance and other running costs?  The answer – £2,000, plus vehicle excise duty, servicing, repairs, MOT, and don’t forget the petrol.  It reminded me of the picture I saw in the Metro newspaper recently with the symbols for car and bike painted on the road.  Above the car it said something along the lines of “Burns money and makes you fat” while above the bike it said “Burns fat and saves you money”.  It may take a lot longer than with many bikes, but with my monthly season ticket running at over £160 per month, commuting on Bob should start to pay back pretty soon.  I’d consider him expensive if I was just going for pleasure rides on the weekend and summer evenings – but as a working bike that keeps me fit and gets me to and from work, I’d say he’s a bargain that should last a lot longer than a car that’s cost less.

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