The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

I often fantasise about my Oscar speech. And if it were for the Tour, my first tearful thanks would go to my bike.

The Good: Hand built by David Ward, he had chosen every component for strength, comfort and durability. SRAM brilliant – all the components survived the harsh conditions and ran very smoothly and I have also got to mention Ed and Iain at Cliff Pratt Cycles who looked after me really well. Tyres were Schwalbe, almost everyone on the Tour used Schwalbe, and I learnt a couple of lessons there.

The full details of my bike are here I had a mountain bike but all the racers rode cyclo-cross and with 70% of the ride on tarmac that has to be a consideration for anyone who wants to do it fast. 

Frame first. It was an on-one inbred 16″ steel frame which is an inch and a half shorter than I am used to riding. The steel had a lot of give in it so was really comfortable, and the shorter situpandbeg frame meant I could always look around. I only had two positions on the handlebars, but it felt like enough and the supports which stopped my wrists bending were definitely useful.

The Rockshox forks held up well and locked off strongly which was important on tarmac. When we were off road, quite a lot of it was on the evil corrugation so I needed the suspension.

Given that we covered so many kilometres, and went through lots of mud and sand, it is no surprise that I had to switch out quite a lot of my components – almost all of which were SRAM. I went through three chains, put on a new cassette and chain rings in Namibia, new gear cables and shifters and a new derailleur. In Botswana, I also changed to bigger chain rings to cope with the long flat days. I am very proud of the fact that I did NOT have to change the brake pads on my mechanical disc brakes – downhills are fun, don’t use the brakes!

The only thing that actually broke during a ride were my jockey wheels – half way through a mando day in Namibia. Tori managed to fettle them enough to get me to the refresh stop and then Christine lent me her bike so I could finish the day. With 60km still to go, I had to race the sun or get swept. I made it – — just.  

Tyres were a constant subject of discussion. It felt like we had to change them every two minutes, and I am just not that handy with a tyre lever.

I took three sets: Schwalbe Kojaks for the good tarmac –  a very smooth ride and helped me a lot, If I went again I would take two sets of these, as they didn’t quite make it through. One exploded at breakfast as I was pumping it up and nearly deafened Big Bram who was innocently eating his porridge near the track pump.

Schwalbe Marathon Supremes covered the intermediate tarmac/easy dirt. They were good because they were really thick and thorn resistant but I didn’t feel as comfortable on them in the loose dirt and rock.

The third set were Racing Ralphs. These are great tyres but no use in Africa because they puncture with every thorn, and there are a lot of thorns, but they were brilliant in the dirt. So, Bastiaan and Paul Spencer came up with a cunning plan. They fitted the Racing Ralph’s over the Marathons and I had a thorn (and bomb!) proof bike to roll through the sand on. INGENIOUS. I was a bit worried that the rims wouldn’t take both tyres and that they would pop off as I was coming down hill. But they didn’t and I didn’t get a single puncture while I had them both on – the only drawback was that they were heavy. If I  went again I would take a thicker nobbly tyre and two sets of Kojaks.

I carried all my water, food and provisions in my camel bak. It was very heavy but once I had got used to it, about a fortnight in, I preferred it to bottles or a rack and pannier.

The bad: My tent was an umitigated disaster. A Laser Space 2, I bought it because it was tall enough for me to stand up in which I thought would be great for pulling on biking shorts, taking a wet wipe bath, and dealing with saddle sores. I was right, I could stand up in it, the only problem was that the tent didn’t stand up.

Picture the scene. It is Day 3. We have ridden across the desert wastes of Egypt with just tumbleweed for company. We arrive in our camp – a sandy, stoney expanse beside the road. I crawl into my tent, exhausted, stick in the ear plugs, take the painkillers, and fall asleep like a dead person. At about 8pm, I wake up to find my tent on top of me, a howling sandstorm, and Ruth and two Egyptian guards vainly holding onto my guy ropes to stop the tent from taking off into the Red Sea.

The tent didn’t like wind, or sand, or in fact, any of the climatic conditions we encountered. Until Khartoum, it was a nightmare, I had to tentshare (thanks Ruth) or weight it down with rocks and tie it to the trucks. Then Adrian left -very sad – but sold me his tent – very glad – and I was saved. I am now talking to about getting a refund because it genuinely was useless. They have a great reputation so I am sure they will be reasonable. I suppose, I did provide some sweet comedy moments for my fellow travellers. They used to gather round and mock as Sam and I undertook construction of an evening.

The Ugly: I think it is fair to say that very few women look good in cycling shorts and I can exclusively reveal that I am certainly not one of them. However, my Assos shorts are my favourite ever piece of clothing. I took five pairs but ended up giving three of them away to Ram and just wearing my two pairs of Assos They were fantastic and worth the enormous price I paid for them. I only got a couple of saddle sores and that was near the end, thanks to that carefully engineered padding.  

A little round up of what worked and what didn’t over the four months. The list that TDA gave us was pretty well spot on, and everything fitted in my locker, in spite of sneaking in a couple of dresses wear on rest days – well it can’t all be blood, sweat and lycra.

2 comments on “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

  1. Peter Goodman on

    Well thanks this has helped alot. I was think that your tent was the way to go! But i’m luck that two of my friends ride in TDA 2009, so i’ll be useing an MSR Mutha Hubba tent.
    As for the BIKE! well you have got me thinking again, At this time i’ll be riding a Surly Cross-Check with a custom fork with room for a 2.3 x 29″ front tyre for the bad roads. 30 x 700c on the tarseal?
    spring Brooks seat (over 2+ years old and well used)
    Thank you for your blog it made me sale my car etc and pay up for the full TDA 2012.
    Peter Goodman


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