www.dadswell.co.uk  Mostly cycling records, mostly on three wheels

This is the report I wrote following the 2010 Pembroke to London ride.       Back to 2010-2019

Graunching up the Gradients                                       Ralph Dadswell Sep 2010

For 2010, I had planned something slightly more ambitious than Pembroke to London, but as the summer drifted by, I realised that if we didn’t submit paperwork for ‘something’ soon, we might get to the end of the year without doing a record attempt.  And we can’t have that, can we?

So I carefully measured out the route and prepared a schedule to beat the Pembroke-London tandem-tricycle record set by Pat Kenny and John Taylor back in 1977.  They had taken 11h 42m 5s for the 240+ miles.   I was fairly sure we could beat this time, not least because in 1995 I had taken 11h 33m 58s on a tricycle on my own.  The distance in 1995 had been 243 miles, and so it was strange to discover this time that it appeared to have become 245.5.  But no bother.

The “we” in question refers to my partnership with Paul Mace, with whom I’ve done a number of time trials and a place-to-place record ride in each of the previous two summers.  As has been documented previously, Paul used to live a few miles from me in South Bucks, but his RAF role took him to Northumberland a couple of years ago, which made regular tandem riding a little difficult.   In fact, after dismounting in Edinburgh in August 2009, the next time he climbed aboard was in Pembroke on 14th Sept 2010!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  From mid-August, we were watching out for the chance of West‑North‑West winds.  We could really have done with West‑South‑West to start with, becoming West‑North‑West after a few hours, but getting the timing right for that could be tricky.

On Friday 10th September, I saw that there was a chance for early the following week.  So I checked with Paul, provisionally booked some time off work, and maintained a vigil around the Met Office website.

On Saturday, it was apparent that Tuesday was promising, and so I notified the Road Records Association, booked Audrey Hughes as Observer and start Timekeeper, Scott Paterson as driver, feeder, mechanic, psychologist etc, and arranged for Frank Cubis to time us at the Finish point.

With the personnel sorted out, it was then a matter of getting the tandem ready, preparing food, drink, clothing etc, and then kinda relaxing.  On Sunday, I rode around Windsor Great Park with my son Henry.  Easy stuff, no hassle.   I imagined that Paul would also be resting up.

After an early breakfast on Monday, Paul was aboard a train for London.  He arrived at Princes Risborough just in time for some lunch, and we set off for Wales.  Just as we drove off, we had the usual “have we got everything?” session.  The only remaining query I had was to check that Paul was still using the same style of pedals as last year.

Suddenly it was time to panic!  Over the winter, he’d moved to a different pattern, and so the cleats on his shoes became instantly incompatible with my pedals.  What to do?

We had several ideas, but rather luckily we were able to hastily arrange to borrow some compatible pedals from Gordon Wright – relief and gratitude in huge quantities.   Having initially hoped to leave at 12.30, but expected it be more like 1pm, we had now travelled 5 miles by 2pm.  Get on with it!

The course is almost exclusively on A40, and so we drove ‘backwards’ over the route that we were to ride on the following day.  It’s handy to be reminded of what to expect, but some of those hills are quite hefty!  We arrived in Pembroke at about 6pm, checked the start was as I’d remembered, and went off to our digs at nearby Pembroke Dock.

Ideally, we would have eaten pasta for our pre-race meal, but the only credible eating house in Pembroke Dock was an Indian restaurant.  Could we be bothered to drive in to Pembroke and find somewhere there?   Oh, well, no we couldn’t.  So, curry it was, and I just had to choose my options in a considerate manner.  It did seem to be quite a good meal – but is it the right stuff to eat?

Anyway, we slept; the alarms woke us; we tried to consume some of the rather minimal Travelodge Breakfast Bag offering; and we made our way to Pembroke, to the start point outside the castle.

We set off on time, at 0700, after a very brief ride up and down for Paul to prepare for a day sitting on the back.  The first dozen miles are rather like the road from Land’s End to Penzance – twisty, lumpy and hazardous in semi-darkness. 

(startline photos by Scott Paterson)

But we negotiated the hazards, and were soon on the long descent from Red Roses to our first checkpoint.  We were equal to the schedule at that stage, which was good because the schedule was aimed at 11h 15m, which would be a 27 minute beating of the record.

We were then on to a nice section of modern dual carriageway.  So why weren’t we going fast?  After a while, we adjusted to the cross-wind, the spray from the wet roads, and the heavy traffic.  As we rode along toward Carmarthen, our speed was pretty good, and when we had done a few more miles on smaller roads, we reached the Llandeilo checkpoint about 5 minutes up.  We then had another section with a direct tailwind, taking us to Llandovery with 6 minutes advantage.

But now the work begins.  I had been noting our times every 5 miles, and the segment from 60-65 was all uphill.  The road was, however, pretty good, and I was impressed to find that those 5 miles were delivered in just 16 minutes.   Not that we were done with the hill by then, as you have to climb for several more miles until Sennybridge, where things level off.   We reached Brecon still hanging on to a 4 minute cushion, but we then made a brief stop which will have handed most of that back.

With a couple of exceptions, the next sector was a downhill run.  We reached Abergavenny with our 4 minute margin restored, and passed the 100 mile point in 4h 20m.  There had been some dry roads on the descent, but we were back to dampness as we emerged onto the dual carriageway run past Raglan to Monmouth.

(Abergavenny photos by Philippa Wheeler)

Shortly after getting a fresh set of drinks, there was a muffled bang followed by a slight wobbliness.  We had broken a spoke in the nearside rear wheel.   That wasn’t going to get us to London, so we waited until the car was back in sight behind us before stopping on the hard shoulder to get a wheel change.  We were fairly slick, but it will have been a couple of minutes between stopping and starting again.   We now had one green and one black rear wheel.  One yellow rear tyre, and one red one. 

Almost immediately after restarting, we found we had another problem.  A noise; quite a nasty noise, and one that would normally mean that you’d head for home immediately.   The kind of noise that says there’s no grease in these bearings, but there’s plenty of grit.  Ho hum.  For most of the final 6 hours of the ride we were accompanied by the sound of mechanical unhappiness.  But what is there to do apart from continue?   We did that, although it wasn’t a great accompaniment.

We were still in touch with the schedule at Monmouth, and were slightly ahead at Ross.  We were then onto a sector of single carriageway twisty roads, with two nasty summits to cope with.  Once over them, we rode quite nicely down the hill and along past Gloucester.  Traffic became a bit heavy here, and it was no surprise to find that we were a couple of minutes ‘down’ as we made our way across Cheltenham.

Once away from the town, the next few miles were rather tough, as they took us up the Cotswold escarpment.  I don’t think we were climbing too badly, but the end result was that when we finally reached the top (admittedly after another quick stop), we were supposed to have reached the next check at Northleach.   Accordingly, we were an alarming 11 minutes down.   We did then manage to pull some of that deficit back, being 10 minutes down at Burford, 8 down at Witney, and just 6 adrift at Oxford.

We were starting to see some familiar roads, and there were some familiar faces beside them.  Most were well dressed up against the dodgy weather, meaning that I would often have travelled past them before recognition cut in.  We were getting tired as well.

(Oxford photos by Howard Waller)

As we laboured along towards the Chilterns climb, Paul had a confession to make.  “I didn’t like to mention it before, but on Sunday I did 102 miles training”.   Oh, and is that your way of telling me that you’re dead meat?   I hoped not, because I’d been suffering with some strange pains in my left leg, and wasn’t looking forward to the climb at Aston Rowant, to the Chilterns summit.

(Aston Hill, by Spud Murphy)

As we started the climb, I checked my watch, discovering that we were already late for the next checkpoint, which was a mile after the crest.  We climbed steadily, with the speed almost always between 9 and 10 mph.  Perhaps there was a turn of speed near the top, as ‘Cipo’ was there with his camera.   We were 16 minutes behind schedule at Stokenchurch, and had to stop at the pedestrian crossing.  Darn!

(Cipo catches Mace taking it seriously!)

It is, however, a good run down into High Wycombe, where again we were seeing excited faces, and hearing lots of encouragement.   Mind you, if we can’t get people out in what’s effectively our home town, then what chance have we got anywhere?

I can’t quite figure it out, but we were 20 minutes behind schedule at this point.  Maybe there were some delays that I don’t remember, but anyway we pressed on towards London.  The run out of Wycombe is rather stop-start and was quite full of traffic.  Mercifully, though, the traffic lights were generally kind to us, so we were able to blend in with the general flow.

By Loudwater, we were getting out of the congestion, and (aside from the climb to Holtspur) we were able to get a move on again.  At Beaconsfield we were cheered along by a couple of guys from the office – thanks Paul and Graeme – and we rode along with renewed motivation.

We had 54 minutes left when we passed the final checkpoint at the end of the M40.  This had been measured as 16 miles to go.  However, I was convinced that the ride was only 243 miles long, which meant that we had 13 miles remaining.  Something was going haywire, and Paul was asking how far we had to go.

I used the wild environment of the Western Avenue as an excuse to ignore him for as long as I could.  It was indeed not for the faint-hearted, with the steady rain and three lanes of traffic roaring along.  When we got to Hanger Lane, I told him that there were 5 miles to go.  Before he could answer, we were swallowed up in the ear-splitting world of the underpass.

By now, the traffic was slower, but visibility was still poor.  We were held up at Gypsy Corner.  It was odd to see a highwayman in this day and age, but eventually we got through.  A green at Acton, and we were on the Westway.  As the elevated section approached, we swung off, and had a charmed run through the lights on to Wood Lane.   Shepherd’s Bush was rather busy, but we kept moving most of the time.   Onto Holland Park Road, and we were riding between the lines of traffic.   Again, not recommended for children.

I noticed a car ahead that was deliberately moving out of our way.  It was our car.  How did they get ahead?  Apparently they had spotted a sneaky shortcut (Ariel Road, for you anoraks out there!), and taken advantage.

That was the last we saw of them, as we soon started using the bus lane when it was safe (!), and made good progress.   Eventually we had Hyde Park on our right, and we pressed onwards, knowing that all we had to do was stay upright.  In the end, such was my concentration on the traffic that Marble Arch actually came as a surprise.  We swooped past Frank Cubis, and gratefully made our way to the park entrance where we stopped.  We had managed to creep in with just 7 minutes to spare, and the distance had been 246 miles.  Even further than my predicted 245.5, and 3 more than it had been in 1995.

Entertainingly, this meant that the tandem-tricycle record was one minute slower than the single tricycle.  However, it’s a bit of an unfair comparison, as there are lots of variables, and of course the single ride was done 15 years ago.

The other comparison to be made is with the previous tandem-tricycle record.  We had reduced the time from 11‑42‑05 to 11‑34‑58, which is just 1% after 33 years.   I don’t think it can be described as a dominant performance, but we did what we could.  The weather conditions had actually been pretty good, with the west‑south‑west wind becoming a west wind, and helping us for the final 80 miles.  It would’ve nice to have been on drier roads, but actually I was expecting us to get wetter than we did, so in some respects we were quite fortunate.  

There was some talk that we should’ve delayed the start by a day.  That would have given us a better second half, and much less rain.  But the first few hours would have been almost calm, which could have left us ‘down’ after 60 miles, and that wouldn’t have been easy to deal with.  No.  We said we’d go, and we went.  Not a perfect result, but a record nonetheless.  When you’re out there, you might have fancy objectives, but ultimately there’s only one relevant question.  “Did they get it?”

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