At the end of last summer I signed up to participate in the 2014 Cape Argus Cycle Tour, a 113km (65 mile) timed race around cape town in South Africa. Unfortunately, I hadn’t cycled in years and I didn’t even own a bike.
After struggling to find a Btwin 3 with carbon forks for cheap on eBay or Gumtree, I spotted a perfect condition Verenti Millook that not only looked fantastic, but had great reviews too. (Both on Wiggle and Bike Radar.) I was still conscious about the weight, but whilst only the forks and rear-stays are carbon, it only weighed just over 8kg (making it as light as many full carbon bikes). For those of you unaware how heavy bikes are 12kg+ is entry level road bikes made with metal, 8kg is light steel/carbon mixes-full carbon entry models and 6-7kg is very light mostly-full carbon. I won the bike for £430 and a few hours later, a poorly listed Specialised bike with; carbon forks, a dent, a luggage rack and located in a dodgy area of London was going for far too cheap. I took a punt and won it for just £160 including train tickets. I collected both of the bikes on the same day and within a few hours I had gone from no bikes to suddenly having two, what had I started!?
I started training properly in October 2013 and on my first ride, I was quite honestly shocked how quickly you could pick up speed and hit was felt like 35-40 mph on the flat for a few minutes (before gassing out!) I was also terrified at how fragile the bike felt when riding over even the most minor road surface imperfections.
I started cycling once a weekend on dry days and increasing the distance each cycle. I started at 20 miles and increased the distance by 5-10 miles each cycle. Inevitably the weather turned horrible in winter and I decided on really bad days to cycle at the gym. Unfortunately I loved this bicycle too much to allow the ‘cheap’ Specialized bike I purchased to be the winter workhorse which meant it got rather dirty and has sadly become a much shabbier image of its former self.
I noticed that I started to completely lose my energy on distances over 30 miles. I didn’t think I would ‘bonk’ (feel drained of energy due to lack of carbs) over such a short distance, but when it happened the second time I quickly realised I needed to start consuming carbohydrates on my rides. I experimented with solid foods and gels/liquids and found I preferred a mix of bagels, drinks and gels.
I also had absolutely no idea about bike maintenance and looking back I was extremely relaxed about the risk of mechanical failure on training rides. I didn’t even take a spare inner tube, basic tools with me nor did I even own a pump! But luckily I only had one bad experience with a puncture, where on a Sunday afternoon I got stranded around 12 miles away. No problem I thought, I’ll just walk to the nearest train station (about a 20 minute walk), unfortunately when I arrived there were workmen on the rail tracks explaining that no trains are running so I would have to catch a replacement bus service. Usually this would be OK, but with a bicycle you aren’t allowed on the replacement bus service! I wondered off into the unknown and by luck I found a bike store that was still open and would sort me out a new inner-tube.
With a week or two to go before the race, I was confident I could cover the distance and time my food intake so I didn’t bonk or need a string of toilet stops, but was unsure how bad the heat in South Africa would be when cycling and how badly the steep climbs would affect me! Ultimately though, I was left with two fears from training, the worry of mechanical failure and the worry of burning out before the race had ended.