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Bluebell Woods

6
April 21, 2014
Bluebell Woods

Out for a bit of resistance training this morning – the resistance being provided by panniers full of photographic gear and the hills I needed to climb to get to one of my favourite bluebell woods. One of the pleasantest things about cycling through an English spring is the kaleidoscope of wildflowers you see along the little sunken lanes and in the ancient woods through which they often wind. Not too far from us – but far enough to make it interesting – is a very lovely coppiced wood that this time of year is absolutely carpeted with bluebells. I set out this morning, all geared up, a little after five o’clock, with a pale gibbous moon hanging in the sky and giving me hope of a clear dawn and a sweet slant of light coming through the coppiced trees. By the time I was half way there, however,...
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Hail and Hearty

0
April 20, 2014
Hail and Hearty

A toughening ride this morning, thirty miles into cold wind and colder rain, with a light battering with birdshot hail thrown in to heighten the rigors of my latest training ride. Aside from being a bracing way to wake up on a Sunday morning – Easter morning – it was a timely reminder that English weather is fickle and there is no reason at all to expect soft summer breezes, starlight and a shimmering full moon in the sky on the night of 12 July when the Dunwich Dynamo is being held. Memories of what it was like to pedal through a cold rain seemed to have dulled over the past few months, along with my peasant eye for weather prediction. I would never have been taken quite so unawares a year and a half ago, but would have been better prepared to meet the day on its own...
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Back in the Saddle

6
April 18, 2014
Back in the Saddle

Out for a long spin once more this morning, after a few shorter rides during the week and I am happy to report that the elevations and gradients in this part of Sussex seem to be easing back and returning to their pre-winter state. I am guessing it must be due in part to the glorious spring weather we’ve been enjoying this past week, all that nice sunshine and those warm fresh breezes drying the moisture out of our rain-swollen hills and making them manageable once more; the Sussex of old. Now that I am no longer obliged to labour up unnatural gradients, I find myself looking around and taking stock of the various changes that have taken place over my former, much-loved and ridden-like-clockwork route to Pevensey and back, then along the Hastings seafront and home again via the long climb up Queens Road. I note with displeasure...
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Mountains and Molehills

15
April 14, 2014
Mountains and Molehills

Well. At long last I went out for a proper morning ride, a touch under thirty miles, my ambitions fired by the suggestion, proposed in a comment the other day, of riding the Dunwich Dynamo this July. It was lovely to be out in the pre-dawn glow, putting in the miles and with a lofty goal to inspire me, although it was a trifle sobering too. I had no idea Britain was so tectonically active an island, let alone that the mountain building processes should be so swift and far-reaching here in Sussex– and me a former geologist, too. But it is so. Gradients, that I remembered as molehills not so very long ago, have assumed the dimensions of mountains over the winter, and large mountains at that. Think Mt Ventoux on steroids – the mountain that is, not the cyclist ascending it.  Perhaps it was all the rain...
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Overseas – to the Isle of Wight!

3
April 6, 2014
Overseas – to the Isle of Wight!

Just when I am finally starting to hit my stride again as a blogger, the school Easter holidays have popped up to throw me off again. Tomorrow we head off to the Isle of Wight for five days for what has become the Smith family’s traditional springtime get-away. The kids in particular love it, and over the years have created a happy core routine of visits to Blackgang Chine – a small and very old-fashioned amusement park on the south coast – the quaint little tourist-trap town of Godshill with its knick-knacks and ice cream shops, feeding the penguins at the Seaview wildlife park, a picnic at the Botanic Gardens in Ventnor, lunch at the Garlic Farm, the Dinosaur Isle museum at Sandown, and visits to historic sites such as Carisbrooke Castle, the Elizabethan Mottistone Manor, and Osbourne House, Queen Victoria’s old summer shack. We tend to stay on...
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Exploring Inner Space

6
April 5, 2014
Exploring Inner Space

I’ve been following a thread on a cycling forum the past couple of days about foreign travel and whether it is essential to one’s spiritual and emotional and cultural well-being. The original poster said that he had never left Britain’s shores, had never felt any particular urge to do so and wondered if there were others who felt the same way. A handful of posters responded in the affirmative, a few more gave examples of gruff old farmers they’d known once upon a time who had never left Yorkshire or Lincolnshire or wherever in their lives, but a great many more expressed a kind of flabbergasted disbelief that in 21st century Britain there could be such people who not only never travelled beyond Britain’s shores, but had absolutely no interest in doing so. Such stay-at-homes attitudes were roundly dismissed by the mob as parochial, timid, dim-witted or at the...
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More from Journal

The Wheels of Chance

4
October 1, 2013
The Wheels of Chance

It was a tram-driver's strike in Melbourne back in the early 1990s that prompted me to drag my old Gemini tourer out of the garden shed and start riding again, commuting in and out of the city every day to a fairly dull job writing features for a lightweight, parochial and oh-so-earnest Sunday newspaper. I was thinking of those days this morning as I went out on my ride, recalling the marvels of what it was like to be back riding again after so long a time off. I wrote this short story about my return to cycling as a commuter in Melbourne and published it once already on this blog - it was one of my very first posts in fact. I thought I would crave my longer term readers' indulgences by publishing it again, and hope that new riders will find it enjoyable. Roff Smith
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Bicycling along the South Downs

0
July 6, 2013
Bicycling along the South Downs

At long last some warm weather, with out temperatures skyrocketing into the mid-70s this weekend and even warmer weather predicted for the coming week. And with this belated arrival of summer and warm July nights the flower of Hastings youth comes into its own, helped along on this particular Friday-night/Saturday-morning combo by the Hastings beer festival taking place down in the park. They were all out this morning, full of piss and vinegar, having not yet been to bed. As I spun along Bexhill Road at half past four this morning, with visions of an early morning jaunt up onto the South Downs and a return along the cliff-tops at Beachy Head, I was treated to a stream of drunken invective from two staggeringly drunk yobs who were wending their way…somewhere. It’s been a while. I’d forgotten about this aspect of summer; the sultry July nights and the drunks....
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No Finish Line

0
July 3, 2013
No Finish Line

This past week I wrote a short piece for the National Geographic Newswatch website about a new scientific study into the physiology of extreme ultra-marathon mountain runners. Curiously enough it found that athletes who ran 200-mile races, such as the Tor des Geants in the Italian Alps tended to finish up fresher and with noticeably less muscle fatigue and tissue damage than those who competed in much shorter races. The thinking seemed to be that pacing and the body’s own defence mechanisms to sleep deprivation were the main factors in preserving muscle tissue in these extreme events – but this is only by-the-by in terms of this post. As part of my research for the story I interviewed a world renowned ultra-marathoner named Dean Karnazes who, aside from being quite a nice guy, seems to have just about done it all in terms of extreme long-distance running – doing...
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The Twitter of Little Birds

12
May 24, 2013
The Twitter of Little Birds

You really have to wonder what goes through the minds (so to speak) of some people, most particularly that of a 21 year-old trainee accountant named Emma Way who this week not only clipped a cyclist with her car while breezing down a road in Norwich, and failed to stop, but then was actually dumb enough to boast about the incident on Twitter. “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier,” she twitted. “I have right of way –  he doesn’t even pay road tax! #bloodycyclists!” She was lucky indeed that it wasn’t a bloody cyclist she left in her wake. Toby Hockney, the cyclist she clipped and who was participating in the 100-mile Boudicca sportive, escaped uninjured after bouncing into a hedge, although, as he points out, he could easily have been killed.  He was phlegmatic about it, and after a few roadside repairs to his bike went...
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