Mike Simpson

Free Beer and Chips

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Such a claim would entice anyone to an event and as it was a free event even more tempting. Unfortunately I don't eat chips or drink beer, so I guess it was the lore of the course that propelled me to North London on a Sunday morning for Rapha's Hell of the North. Not an obvious starting destination for a ride, so what did you get for your money, (or rather what did you get for no money)? Basically an awesome 100km route with 21 pave sections, as it is Paris Roubaix day.

The initial 10k was my idea of nightmare riding. Traffic lights every few hundred metres and traffic, generally why I steer clear of London. We were a tad late starting so most of the 300 riders had already started, no matter this was not a race. We were soon mixing it was an assortment of bikes...single speeds, brake less fixies and even a retro TT with a tiny front wheel (how's that even going to work off road?) Our choice was to see how skinny road tyres would react to the rough muddy stuff. The only modification was to lower tyre pressure from 120 to 80.

Soon the first section of pave started. Each numbered (from 21 to 1) and each sign, like Paris Roubaix, included a star rating under the number. One to five stars depending on severity of bumps/hills and mud. Today was pretty chilled out for me, ride easy with Davina on the road, then blast the rough sections and wait for her at the other end. The only prizes on offer today was for the most number of punctures, and the farm tracks and bridle ways were soon littered with riders mending them.

Ok so there are no cobbles in Hertfordshire so instead we get some very bumpy gravel (weave or bunny hop) and lots of mud (full power and hold on). No Forest of Arenberg, instead it's Bread and Cheese lane and Trotters Bottom! We drink some of Rapha's great coffee at the halfway feed, then, together with a few others decide to do a minor long cut by mistake, but after a few extra kms we were soon back on course. Next up we go across a school playing field and past the class rooms, a great well designed course this. A car kicks up a load of dust through a farm section, just like Roubaix :) Near the end there's a five star tough muddy hill, our skinny road tyres sinking in and wanting to stick, it's a great workout powering up. Trying to avoid punctures when off road on road tyres means a keen eye to ride the best line, moving your weight around and basically the faster the better. We got through the course without any punctures, although I lost a spoke halfway round. Luckily it was an old style wheel and was still rideable albeit with a slight wobble (some modern wheels seem to be useless as soon as one spoke goes).

Like the last minute of the washing machine cycle always takes about three minutes, the last 5km seems so much longer. Very tough for poor Davina who was so spent, riding on empty and as shattered as Cancellara was at the end! But the finish soon appeared in the guise of the Prince of Wales pub in Barnet. Just in time to watch the last 20km of the pro race (I don't think the pub regulars were too keen to have 200plus muddy riders in their pub, still the landlord was happy). Great day and very well organised, so if I don't get a chance to go to France next year to watch Paris Roubaix, you'll probably find me in a North London pub....nice one Rapha.



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