bikebritain 'Cycles the Wight'
On Sunday 26th September the British Heart Foundation (BHF) held the 'round the Isle of Wight' bike ride in aid of their cause. I had been advised (by co-bikebritain contributor Emma), that this would be an enjoyable "fairly flat" ride round the island. 110 km. Never been to the Isle of Wight before. Could probably talk Swazy into it. I'm in! So sometime in August I signed up and bought my ticket from WightLink (to get across the wet bit in the middle) and that was that. What follows is my account of that day.
Early Start (for a Sunday)
I am not a cyclist who derives pleasure from getting up early on a Sunday morning and doing lots of miles before the birds get up. I have a 9 month old son for that. So rising at 06.30 was early enough for me. I clambered into my cycling gear (longs and arms as it looked cold), loaded the bike into car, then Swazy turned up. Diversions apart we bombed down to Portsmouth, almost ran out of fuel and weren't really sure where to board the ferry. In the end we decided the good old fashioned tactic of following people with bikes would do the trick - where upon I almost tripped myself up (by my bike) on the platform. Good Times. We boarded, stacked our bikes up with the other 100 or so that were already there. 20 minutes later we had docked at Ryde and were walking down the pier. I was surprised how long it was - 400 meters perhaps? There were no signs when we got to the end, so again we followed other people that looked like they knew where they were going. This was my main gripe with the overall ride - the signage, in general, was quite poor.
Sign In and Off
We made our way to our start at the Smallbrook Stadium, joined the queue of fellow riders, found our respective names and numbers on the list, had our cards marked so to speak and that was it. We were off. We headed back the way we came and started looking for the white-on-blue signs indicating the clockwise route we were taking. I would say we got lost about four or five times in the first 30 minutes. I don't know whether we were simply being too exuberant, but either way we kept overtaking the same people. By the third time this was turning out to be a bit of a joke between us all. We rode steadily towards Sandown and followed the road to Shanklin and Ventor. By now it had become more hilly and the sun had disappeared - but at least it wasn't raining. I am getting used to calling my cycle rides undulating - and this was no different. Some sharp inclines but nothing that lasted any great distance. The first checkpoint was at Blackgang and that greeted us with a climb - although the view at the top was well worth the climb. The sun was out albeit breezy and it was good to get the first 30 miles or so under our belt. Plus, when we left the checkpoint we had an exciting descent - and straight into a headwind.
Are these the hills?
What struck me was the mix of abilities riding round the island. We got talking to a few people who had completed the London Brighton and wanted to do something a bit different. The general consensus was this was harder. It's probably about right. There's only four 'proper' hills on the L2B route that's used. We continued cycling the Southern length of the island. In the main we were being steered off the 'main' roads. I could see some white cliffs in the distance and I suspected we would be climbing them soon. One point of interest - we cycled past a ploughing competition. Lots of men in tractors, accompanied by lots of other men, watching them. Not sure if it's a sport that will attract 'Sky' though. The chalk cliffs were getting closer.
The climb before you descend into Freshwater Bay is the steepest climb on the island - 175 meters, maybe 200 meters tops. The view at the top is worth every revolution. We were lucky - our timing was perfect. The sun was out, the clouds had parted and it looked beautiful. It was picture postcard territory. We didn't stay but I made a mental note to return with the family. From here we headed North to Yarmouth. We had been warned that there was a brief spell where the road went into track. We opted to play safe and stuck to the road. I doubt whether it added any more than a couple of clicks to the route. It might have saved a puncture though. We found the Primary School without incident and got chatting to a bloke I'd met on the boat, earlier that morning. "What did you think of the hills?" he said. "OK'" I replied - "But there's more to come right?" "Not really," came his reply. I see. Evidently we had already tackled 'The Hills'. The ride from Yarmouth to Cowes was another steady jaunt - allowing us to enjoy the countryside. We had covered about 85 km by now so the legs knew they'd been working. I was looking forward to seeing Cowes knowing what a big event 'Cowes Week' is. I was intrigued to see what the place was like. Actually the route we followed didn't really show us the town in any detail, so it remains on the list to visit properly.
We had been reliably informed that we needed to use the chain ferry when we got to East Cowes. Having sped along the seafront with the wind whipping the sea up a bit we were greeted with quite stiff incline. We dropped down the hill and followed the signs to the ferry. What's more - no money needed. Cyclist are classed as foot passengers so we (plus about 20 other BHF cyclists got a free ride). It was fun. I couldn't remember the last time I had been on a ferry with my bike. Oh yes, that morning - that was it! Having reached the other side of the River Medina we departed and got our penultimate stamp of the day. During this administration process we got talking to a Brummie called Matt who asked whether we minded him riding with us. "Of course not," we replied - and then we were three! Matt has been on the island for the weekend making the most of his time 'Down South'. The last leg was again undulating. The climb out of East Cowes got the heart beating but the increased intensity did not last long. We meandered our way through the back lanes and before we knew it we were heading down the hill towards the Smallbrook Stadium again. Our final stamp indicated we taken 6 hours to complete the ride.
Ryde Pier again and home!
Having stuffed our faces with Fish and Chips we negotiated the pier again and waited for the boat. Swazy decided to take his shoes off rather than tip toe gracefully in his road shoes. I had been pretty pleased with my new footwear. Although I probably should have bought one Euro size larger (like the reviews all said), they the Shimano MW80s had done a good job - and they were much easier to walk in than my BG Carbons. (I still need to change the pedals over on the bike!) Unfortunately for us Wightlink decided to cancel our ferry so we had to wait for an hour for the next one. By the time we boarded there was a considerable queue, largely made up of tired looking cyclists. 20 minutes later we were back on the bigger island.
It was an enjoyable day out and one I would do again. Other than the checkpoints we were pretty much under our own steam and it would be fun to do the same ride but in reverse next time. The view over Freshwater Bay was superb. If you fancy a steady 70 mile ride, cycling around the island can easily be achieved in one day.
For further information on the Isle of Wight Cycle network email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are looking to hire a bike you can contact www.wightcyclehire.co.uk or email them on email@example.com. For cycle services once on the island, try www.the-bikeshed.com or calling 01983 868786 might be more helpful! They are located at Merstone, to the South of Newport. If you want to hire a bike try Wight Cycle Hire on 01983 761800. TAV Cycles provide the same service, are found at 140 High Street, Ryde and can be contacted on 01983-812989.
Thumbnail and Slider Image photo credit - bikebritain Ltd