Our friends over at Blackmore apparel ride around the M25, sort of!

Tour De M25

Jun 12, 2018

Our journal has been a bit quiet of late, that’s not to say the pond has been stagnant, certainly not the case, we have just been a bit slack. We should have really written up our trip to the Battle On The Beach earlier in the spring (which was awesome by the way, every event should have a time trial through a beer tent) but unfortunately the boat sailed on that one and behind the scenes we’ve had a fair bit going on so it kinda got lost.

We had originally lined up a lap of London in the Spring, but it snowed and we thought better of it! At the time we didn’t realise or take the time to research that it was actually a thing but then we noticed London Revolution and the Smoke Ring. Both of those are two day events and, well, we’re not keen campers, so one day, one ride was more our bag. We lined it up, did a rough route (despite a lot of input from you guys on Twitter, thank you by the way) and we were fortunate this time to get a dry, warm day.

The route we had planned was around 20 miles from Blackmore to Tilbury and then a little shy of 140 miles from Dartford round and back to the village. A fair punch, but not completely ridiculous however you know it’s going to be tough when half the riders drop out on the day before. That left just two determined, silly, or stubborn Ducks.

Welcome to the mega loop!

These things do require a least a little planning, but in fairness it’s never easy to really be overly accurate when 1) Roads are far away from home 2) There are loads of motorway junctions involved and 3) You are using a Garmin that just wants to throw a curve ball every 50 miles regardless! So knowing there would be a few hiccups along the way we blindy followed the purple line on the screen! An early start was compulsory and leaving the village some familiar roads took us to the Dartford crossing via the pretty plains of Orsett. Going through Tilbury to the Dartford bridge was less picturesque but essential as this was where a lovely (but silent) man in a Dartford River Crossing van would take us across the Thames and into the garden of England. Here we shared our ride with a retired gent who was riding into the Surrey Hills for a couple of days and staying in a YHA. The dream is indeed still alive!

8am Dartford Crossing. There are better views.

We’d decided to attack this loop clockwise for a couple of reasons. Mainly the prevailing wind should be behind us from the North Western corner back home and also that the section through Kent has the most elevation, so it was agreed it was best to get this out of the way early. For fear of having to be picked up from somewhere near Brands Hatch.

The sun came out almost the moment we arrived in Kent and early layers were shed, some rolling hills and some steep efforts allowed the industrial area by the river to be quickly forgotten and our proximity to the motorway became totally unnoticeable.

Determined to get a few miles under the belt early we kept a decent pace but with a long day ahead there was certainly no racing up hills. We passed some big groups going in completely the other direction to us, maybe they knew something we didn’t? Skirting the ridge line of the north downs taking in part of the route of the King Of The Downs sportive that would drop us down through some epic woodland lanes and into Godstone and Redhill to pick up the A25 that enabled us to eat a few miles on a long a straight road.

We didn’t try the new taste of summer. Maybe next time.

What goes down must go up. Pebblehill Road is ridden by people who either have got lost looking for Box Hill or by people who have got lost looking for Box Hill. We’ve ridden it once before, lost looking for Box Hill. Strava reckons it tops out at 12% which in fairness was enough for us at this stage in the game. The turn towards Box Hill and Headley brought us onto the Ride London route and finally a turn northwards at around 7pm on the clockface and roughly half way on our journey.

Early chat in the ride involved two stops and an easy pace. Over halfway we had averaged 18mph and stopped only for water and Red Bull. We weren’t going to stop for another hour at least. Onward to the M4 corridor (and beyond)!

It was while riding across a footpath near the A30 it was clear we had gone wrong. It was while we were on the A30 looking to merge onto the M25 that my bottom started to twitch like a rabbits nose. So if you do try to follow our route give it a check. Preparation is key. We went through a few unnecessary housing estates and occasionally our purple line went straight through peoples gardens. If you are to follow our route do check it. Preparation is key.

Gerrads Cross for coffee. But still essentially on the wrong side of London.

It was a while after this point that we broke our record for distance to a café stop where we stopped 101 miles into Jungs café in Gerrads Cross High St who served bowls of chips and all day breakfasts which was certainly good enough for us at the time! This proved to be well timed because as we moved further away from the river the roads got quieter again and we skirted the narrow roads of Chilterns which again provided some short sharp gradients that tested tiring legs. It turns out that there are significant chunks of the route that were really, really pleasant to ride through. Kent was super as were lots of Surrey, Hertfordshire and Essex. But there are certainly bits that weren’t. Mainly around the Thames corridors and the north sections near the M1 to the A10. The lakes around Thorpe were a bit tricky to navigate and I am sure there is a better way through parts of that than the route we took. But as we moved around the clockface things got more familiar. Firstly there was a sign that read “Hertfordshire”, so at least we were entering an adjoining county and then we got closer to Enfield via a road near London Colney where I swear I Ieft a piece of my soul.

Do you have any Monster? And a drip?

The descent into Enfield was nearly as joyous as the pint of Red Bull we had each acquired at a nearby Tesco express. This was beginning to get a bit Audaxy ad I was getting flashbacks of 24hr Jet garages. Enfield turned into Epping and the roads now were essentially local. The climb into Epping forest to Upshire took another soul, but it seems souls can be restored with Haribo and cans of Monster. We crossed the M11 almost exactly 10 hours since we left and 145 miles in. Ten more miles through familiar territory and we were home and dry (if a bit salty). Our whole route had taken us a shade over 10:30hrs with 8:52 moving time and 156 miles. But we won’t be trying to beat it. Well at least I hope not. It did however look really funny on Strava and in honesty that was really the main goal of the day.

So with that in mind the route we took is here it’s not perfect so do check it especially around the A30! It’s also not loaded with cafes so you might want to pack some food! Either way this is certainly a bit of fun and a pretty big day out! (and it looks really funny on Strava)

Matt Welbourn goes bike packing, sort of.

Chilly around the…. nose!

Bikepacking during winter is a completely different ball game to your pleasant, summer, over night jaunts. Packing for winter requires so much more room on the bike. Big down feather sleeping bags, multiple layers on the bike AND for the campsite. This was our dilemma on the first outing for the knightly order of iron bastards. It was an uninitiated crew in the world of cold weather camping except for a couple of us. Tom being one of the experienced  members and having just got back from a freezing camp in North Wales, he was ready. Temperatures were looking like 2/3 celsius for the night but our spirits were high!

Our meeting place was a barge that had been converted into a pub the ‘Barge Gladys’ as it’s more commonly known. the perfect place to meet and look at our set ups for the trip. Alex Abineri, who shall be known as just Abineri, because there are two Alex’s on this trip, had made a school boy error by wearing a cotton t-shirt for the ride to meet us and needed to swap tops, a sweaty back can ruin your trip in cold conditions. After the obligatory team photo we set off.

Our previous two man expedition along this route didn’t go as well as this one, mainly because I was using a bike with wider tyres which massively improved my riding capabilities! After a couple of farmers gate bike lifts and the standard dodging of cow mess we had arrived.

Classic set up for an iron bastard!

The daylight was just starting to fade as we set up camp but we’re are pro’s when it comes to this, sorry not pro’s, just keen to be sleeping outside and being big boys, playing with axes and making fires. Tom and I knew where there was some well placed dry wood to light a small fire to boost our heating situation, these opened planned bedrooms/living rooms don’t store heat too well. Both of the Alex’s and Tom were the fire makers. I played the good house husband and put the kettle on. The mood in the camp was buzzing! we were living the simple life!

One of our mates, Marcus, unfortunately couldn’t join us due to grown up activities like looking after his wee toddler, but he still met us with a chilli he made for the trip so we had dinner sorted, chilli, cous cous, open fires and whisky, it was a great time to be alive!

Sam was happy to be doing this

Bass drinking Bass beer!

After our great dinner, we tucked into the snacks that everyone had brought along, like doing a show and tell of our carrier bags, let me tell you we lived like kings! We had laughs, we talked about everything men talk about, and living in this modern technology world, we couldn’t help but watch a few funny videos as well.

We learnt our lesson on the last trip with alcohol, because carrying loads of beer isn’t great on any bike trip unless it’s a quarter of a mile journey from the shop to your house, so we took spirits. What some of us failed to remember was that spirits are stronger than beer!

I’m not proud of what had happened but I had a great time. I awoke the next day as a new man! unfortunately that man had been brutally attacked with a baseball bat to the head! I pulled myself together and got out of my sleeping bag, everyone else was fast asleep so I put the kettle on and I decided to tidy up the camp site because when we arrived there was so much rubbish littered everywhere and in the daylight it was shocking to see. After a tidy up, I made my tea and had a wander around, as I pondered life and reminisced about last night I noticed a guy sat in a hammock on the other side of our camp…. now at this point I was really freaking out, was I drunk? all of the crew were in our camp, no one had a spare hammock, who is this guy? I quickly woke the others and told them that there was a stranger on the other side of camp. This guy popped his head over the wall and began walking towards us, it was still dark so I couldn’t see his face until he got closer and then I realised who it was…. Marcus! he had made a solo mission out to us at 4am! what a guy!

This is where my turn came for grown up activities, I had work this morning so I couldn’t hang around and head to set off, but I was treated to a great sunrise.

This was the start of many adventures to come!

Dunwich Dynamo by Simon Magill (2011)

Yes, it seemed like a good idea. All bad ideas start off as good ideas. Little tiny twinkly orbs of goodness shining out of the blackness of possibility. What you never see is the gigantic area obscured by the blackness called misery, misfortune, idiocy and a sore bottom.

Me, Ginger Kev and Mark promised each other we would do the Dunwich Dynamo this year no matter what the weather or personal situation was, as we have managed to find excuses for the past three years. This year was the year. Like blood brothers (although not, because you shouldn’t do that sort of blood sharing any more) we set our faces to the wind of the East.

Ginger Kev and Mark before the ride. Look how happy their little faces are.

For those who do not know. The Dunwich Dynamo is a cycle ride that starts on Saturday night at around 8.30/9pm ish from outside The Pub on the Park in Bethnal Green and we all head, unsupported and quite frankly in my case blindly into the night on a 120mile ride to Dunwich Beach in Suffolk.

We arrived at the starting point and joined the steadily swelling ranks of cyclists who had gathered to torture themselves. The majority of folk on normal road bikes, the occasional hybrid, some funky looking recumbents, a Brompton or two and a butchers bike. We, like all others, jabbered with excitement, admired people’s cranks group-sets and rims. I know, it sounds like a night at The Hoist.

Me. Guardian of the bikes whilst they go for a wee.

A couple of beers drunk a couple of wees done, Mark got some maps (I dropped mine and lost it within about 30 seconds of him handing it to me) and we were ready to go. Slowly, snaking out through Bethnal Green, through a graveyard, some parkland and onto a nice big road with a giant bus lane for us all to occupy.

Despite agreeing to stick together, Ginger Kev disappeared within seconds, he assumed we had raced ahead so he was racing ahead. Which is shame because I was looking forward to his tales of the Fortnum and Mason sit in. Still off we pedalled, caught up with him briefly then lost him again. Turned out he had a puncture.

I will skip most of the details – but the first downside of the ride was when we cycled through a lovely little village by the name of Halstead. This is where Mark pointed out to me we were closer to our homes than the finish line. This small innocuous sentence kicked me in the tenders like a Donkey with an axe to grind. We eventually found the rest stop with food and hot drinks around midnight. A church hall filled with sweaty cyclists all with a bemused look on their face. One eye amazed at how well they had done so far and the other eye showing total fear of what lay ahead. Basically 1500 cyclists looking a bit like Marty Feldman in Lycra.

We all wore this expression.

We waited for Ginger Kev for around 50 minutes. During which time we went from exhilarated to deflated to freezing our aching butts off. Ginger Kev bowled up, got a drink had a wee, ate some food and off we all went. I think you know what is coming. That’s right, within about 2 miles we lost him again. Then I lost Mark. We were all cycling solo. I had nobody with a map, my tiny little LED bike lights that couldn’t illuminate a moth’s behind were next to useless, my arse hurt beyond belief, I was cold and tired and had around 60-70 miles still to ride.





It was around two and a half hours later that it started to go a little.. erm… shall we say awry? Following little blinking red lights down country roads is actually quite fun. They are all you can see, sometimes they disappear round a corner sometimes you are enveloped in them, 10 or 20 red willow-the-wisps cushioning you from the stark blackness of the empty and chillingly silent Essex and Suffolk countryside. For several hours now I have been cycling as hard and fast as I could up hill down dale (or whatever us southerners call dales) and had no idea what distance I had done. So naturally I chose a particularly fast descent to switch my bike computer on. 38mph it screamed back at me. I was doing 38 down a narrow country lane at 2.30am with virtually no light. This bit of information scared the total and utter full contents of my colon from me. I instinctively braked, skidded on the detritus smeared across the road bounced into a bush and back out of it again into the path of a mini peloton passing me to quiet jeers of ‘Oi watch out!’ and ‘Muppet’, stabilised and carried on at a much more sensible cadence.

An hour later was the second moment of what I like to affectionately refer to as ‘NEAR DEATH’. I was tired. I had, on advice, bought several caffeine sachets for the moments when I was tired and needed a boost. Up to this point I had completely forgotten about their existence. So what does a tired cyclist do at 3.30am when he needs a lift? Yes! He takes all five of them in one hit. It took roughly 10 minutes for my system to be flooded. It was alarming. My vision blurred. I felt like a super hero. I was a super hero. I believed I was Cycleman! Put on this planet to defeat the evil Red Dragons of Suffolk. I chased the Red Dragons down, the Red Dragons that taunted me, flying around corners, blinking, flashing, goading me to catch them. All the time my eyesight fading, my focal point tripling. Then the sweating, oh my Lord! The sweating, shivers and burning heat, muscles trembling like a shell shocked war veteran. The Red Dragons were all around me now, roaring at me, buzzing past me. I was drinking water as fast as I could aware that basically I was having a caffeine-induced whitey. I was also aware that I might be stood stock still in the middle of a pitch black country road having a wee. At this point I sat for around 20 mins, calmed, re-attached my real self to my body and, as luck would have it, Mark appeared. I sheepishly wiped the sweat* (*tears) from my face, saddled up and headed off once more with a companion.

To see this sign would be nice at this point. We didn’t.

The worst behind us and around 30 miles still to go we were beleaguered yet determined. We had given up hope of ever seeing Ginger Kev again. At this point, a low point, the sun started to cast its glory on the horizon. You cannot describe the empowerment that you get when just the faintest light in the sky reaches your eyes. It picks your body up, it shakes it, massages it, warms you to the bone, gives you hope and purpose, erases the shameful memory of when you though you were Cycleman.

We waited for Ginger Kev by the side of the road, about 15 miles from Dunwich. We ate flapjacks, we nodded in the way that cyclists nod to each other as the same people we had yo-yoed with flew by. Ginger Kev turned up, remarkably swiftly and, in trio, we began the final stretch.

Dunwich looked like a cyclists’ Dunkirk. We had coffee, we had a full-English, we slept on the stones in the heat of the sun by our bikes. The three of us parted ways (mainly because I forgot to book my coach seat and they didn’t bother to do it for me). Triumphant I made my lonely way home, by bike, by train, by bike, by train, by bike. I am proud I did it. I probably won’t do it again.

As far as the eye could see were people, aching, saddle-sore but satisfied

and proud.

I didn’t do it for charity, I wanted to experience the challenge on a human level not a pressured charity level– but if I had – I would have done it for the Premature Baby Charity, Bliss. This is where you can help them if you feel the need.

Look at their little faces, they are still smiling!