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Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride (19/06/05)

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This was the fifth year running that I rode in Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride. For Catherine it was only the second year (we did the Family Fiesta 2 years ago).

I originally expected to ride the 9 mile Family Fiesta this year, but when I suggested the 13 mile Avon Gorge Loop (and told Catherine that the total distance would be about 29 miles including riding to and from the event) I was surprised when she said OK. A few years ago she'd collapse after a 10 mile ride - this year I think she might even have been persuaded to ride the 24 mile Sustrans Celebration ride, if not for the fact that the kids would get bored on what would ultimately be a 40 mile ride.

The forecast was hot and overcast, with a chance of thundery showers. The weather actually turned out to be very hot and sunny. Catherine started with 2 bottles of water, the kids started with a bottle each, and I left home carrying nearly 6 litres of water. It seemed like overkill, but we used it all and then some.

We planned to leave at 09:00 and did remarkably well, riding away from home at about 09:20. Richard (best man at my wedding and rider of the support vehicle when I did the ride by unicycle) rode with us from home, still undecided whether to ride the Avon Gorge Loop or the longer Sustrans Celebration ride (official start time 09:30).

The 8 mile ride to the start took about an hour, not helped by road building contractors having closed part of the Bristol-Bath cyclepath while they build a bridge over the top. Apparently they only closed it on Friday, surely they could have waited until Monday? We arrived at the start at about 10:25 for the 10:30 ride, but we'd planned to start late anyway to avoid the crush. We left about 15 minutes after the official start time, rode a few hundred yards and came to a standstill. The first half mile was very slow going.

The ride took us up the Portway and over the M5 bridge to Pill. At the Pill end of the bridge we stopped for a snack and to top up suncream. I was asked by a Sustrans photographer to pose for photos, after he had photographed the kids in the trailer. This was where the Avon Gorge and Sustrans rides diverged, and Richard decided to do the longer ride.

Along the next path, I was alarmed to see a small child ahead of me with a very loose fitting helmet that kept flopping to one side of his head. Each time this happened he would flick his head to try and get the helmet back on top, wobbling dangerously as he did so. I pointed out to his mother that the helmet was likely to cause a crash if he carried on wearing it. To her credit, she agreed and stopped to remove it. I saw them several times later on, he completed the ride bareheaded.

At the other end of Pill we encountered the first of several barriers that I had to dismount for. Fortunately the bike and trailer fitted underneath, with the flags removed from the trailer.

Not too long after that was another set of barriers that, with a little pushing and shoving, I was able to manoeuvre the bike and trailer through. A few yards further on was yet another set of barriers that I didn't have a hope of getting through. I wouldn't even have managed to get the bike and trailer through separately. It turned out that there was an alternative route avoiding the barriers, but there were no signs or marshals to direct cyclists down there and by this point there was no way I could turn around. I unhitched and lifted the bike over, as I was standing the bike up on the other side a couple of other cyclists kindly lifted the trailer over (kids and all). Before riding on I paused to take a few photos, including some of someone else wondering how to proceed with his trailer.

Soon afterwards we reached the singletrack down the West side of the river (the Ashton-Pill path). I did this ride by unicycle in 2002 and I seem to remember swearing not to do the same ride again - singletrack is hard work when there are hundreds of cyclists all riding it at the same time, especially when people who have already finished the ride decide to ride back home along the same path!

On this occasion, the path was blocked by a woman whose chain had unshipped. She had stopped at the narrowest point (20 yards further on she could have stopped just off the path to deal with it), and was holding it across the track trying to fix it. The result was hundreds of cyclists queued up in single file, in the midday midsummer sunshine (there was no shade) wondering what was going on.

The shade of Leigh Woods came as a great relief. The muddy hills didn't. At one point I lost traction completely (the trailer didn't help) and had to push for perhaps 50 yards.

The first person we saw upon arrival at Brunel Way Picnic Park was Jamie, who I rode the Clevedon Challenge with last year and the Avon Gorge Loop by unicycle in 2002. He had just finished the Sustrans ride. We joined him in the shade of a tree, where we stayed for the next 4 hours.

A few minutes later we were joined by Mike (one of my university housemates) and Elizabeth (his wife), who had just finished the Avon Gorge Loop. They had started quite a while after us, having been delayed catching the train from Bath to Bristol (something to do with a cricket match in Bristol on the same day).

Richard eventually arrived, collapsed, and told us he'd run out of water in Pill. His water must have lasted about 27 miles, then he'd ridden the last 5 without. Mike and Elizabeth donated a spare 1.5 litre bottle of water.

Over the next couple of hours we had a look round the stalls, Jenny had her face painted and I acquired a free bottle of water. By the time I left with Richard and my family, the stalls had been packed away and there was hardly anybody around. We were quite concerned about Richard's ability to ride home, and in fact we only got as far as Temple Quay before he had to stop. We had shade and, because Temple Quay is something of a wind tunnel, a delicious cooling breeze. We found Richard a cereal bar, I made up a bottle of SIS Go for him, and after probably the best part of an hour he was back to his usual self.

We all topped up our bottles at the Lawrence Hill water fountain - we would probably have had enough water to get home without it, but I thought it best not to take the chance. We finally arrived home with my computer reading 31.63 miles, Catherine's longest ride to date. Richard's computer read 40 something, his longest ride to date. When he left us, Richard decided to walk the last few hundred yards to his house.

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