Monday, 28 September 2015

Thinking About "Brevet" Routes

A route for the future. I can put a "stop" in at Great Missenden, but it adds only 100m to the route distance, so I left it out.
A good Audax route has enough, but not too many, stops!
I've been thinking about "brevet" routes recently.
about 5 weeks ago, I went on my first "brevet" - a 208km "solo" ride under the auspices of Audax UK.

Audax UK offers an award for a set of rides of 50km, 100km, 150km and 200km.
Next year, I think I might go for that award (they call it a "Randonneur 500")

I already did a lot of such intermediate distance rides this year, and with a bit of thought I could easily make next year's traing rides into my "Randonneur 500" material!
Indeed, I did 8 "half-century" rides, and 5 "century" rides this year,
The longest of those "centuries" was actually a 138km effort.
So all I have do do next year is the same as this year, plus stretch that 138km ride into a 150km ride and I'm there.

But I enjoy more than just endlessly going around the same pre-set route time after time.
I like the variation and exploration of cycling.
I like getting lost sometimes, and finding things I would have otherwise missed.
So it is time to think up some new routes.

At least three decent climbs on this 50km route from the town where I live/
The Aylesbury-Princes Risborough-Chesham-Aylesbury route at the top of the page is one I am keen to try.
At just 52.1km long, it is in the shortest category of recognised "brevet" routes, while still having some challeges.
There will be a decent climb up from Princes Risborough to where the map says "Chilterns AONB", then down again to Great Missenden, then a firther decent climb before descending to Chesham. Even on the leg from Chesham to Aylesbury, the route slowly climbs up to the highest point of the Chilterns in a long, gradual, rise, before descending very steeply (14% hill) into Wendover,
Although I haven't ridden that exact route before, you can see that chunks of it appear on routes such as the 138km I rode before, with just a few adjustments as to the exact route up some of the hills etc.
I'll enjoy that one!

To Oxford and back, with a hill (Shotover Hill) and a few minor roads thrown in. 70km ("official", about 73km in actuality)
I've ridden the route to Oxford and back twice now, and although it is a "funny" length, coming in at about 70km, I have found it to be a nice ride,
I might experiment with a more southerly loop into Oxford after Wheatley.
As it is, the route I give you has a bit of variation - it goes into Oxford via the "main" road from Thame to Wheatley, then over Shotover Hill, while on the way back, it follows the cycle path next to the A40 before veering off to the minor roads around Worminghall. the A40/Worminghall choice of route adds just a couple of km to the route length, but adds a good bit of variety.
Note that for "Audax/Randonneuring" purposes, the distance is still 70km, and the extra bit by taking the A40/Worminhall route doesn't add anything to the "official" distance :-)

The 100km route looks useful, but ignore the lovely Phoenix Trail from Thame to Princes Risborough!
Substantially the same route as above, but this time going along the off-road Phoenix Trail.
Nicer, and just 1 km longer!
(both routes get credited at 100 "official" kilometres).
This route shows up one of the problams of using automated tools.
The route sounds promising at 100km.
In actuality, I would be very likely to use the Phoenix Trail that runs from Thame to Princes Risborough.

That last pair of maps really sums up the art of route design.
The skill is to get a route of the sort of distance you want, while still making a route that is "nice" to cycle.
The bit after Princes Risborough has a climb, and there are three of four possible ways up that hill.
Of the two I have cycled, the one that the "automatic route" chooses is actually the biggest climb, but not the steepest. In my opinion it is the "best" of the pair. The steep one has a section at 17 or 18%, but it is really a "trophy" hill (one to tick off in a list of "achievements", and actually one of the claimed "100 great hill climbs" in the UK) and I found it to be challenging, especially on the short 17% section, but disappointly short! What that hill needs is another 50m worth of (vertical) climb at about 10% on top!

Watford to Aylesbury can actually be done on the path by the side of the canal, but if you intend to cycle it on a Sunday afternoon, you will find parts of the route choked with fishermen with VERY long rods who love nothing better than to make the path impassable while slowly tying their bait to their rods and then adding rod extensions to make it even longer (they like to fish the opposite side of the river, under the trees). Terrain more suited to a hurdler than a cyclist! The canal path is rather stoney in places, too, so skinny "road" wheels and tyres are not really suitable, while after heavy rain the Tring Station to Aylesbury section has some parts that descend into a mudbath, so anything less than an MTB is liekly to be very difficult to ride, and an MTB is likely to chew up the surface making other users think unfavourably about cyclists! Best to avoid after heavy rain, then!

The timing of the route can be all important, too.
the Aylesbury-Oxford route mentioned above goes into Wheatley on the "main" vehicular route, and I wouldn't recommend it when the traffic is heavy. But taken early on a Sunday morning (e.g before 10 am), the traffic is light enough for it to be a pleasant ride. On the way back from Oxford, however, I am likely to be going the "cycle route 57" way after Wheatley, via Worminghall.

So there we have it.
A few routes I will be using before next Summer.
There will, no doubt, be a few refinements to my routings, because sometimes the only way to really find out is to do it and see!

One last thing - for a route to be suitable for a "brevet", and not just be a "ride in the country", appropriate proofs have to be obtainable to demonstrate that the ride was actually undertaken.
All the towns (well, Oxford is a city, but it still applies) have several different baks with "outside" cahpoint/ATM machines where a simple check of one's bank balance (current/"checking" account) or a modest cash withdrawal will generate a suitable receipt. Such a set of receipts validated my 208km ride this Summer.

So, what one really wants for a "brevet" route is a "nice" ride of about the right distance that can be easily verified!

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