Monday, May 13, 2019

Velo Birmingham 2019

Subject: It's not just about the Ride

Marcus, Agata and Pierre just completed the Velo Birmingham, 160 km sportive on Sunday May 12th 2019.  I wanted to document the event and in particular talk about many things,  mostly not the ride!

It Fits and Logistics
One thing that Marcus and Agata have known for years is that although we love our Audi TT, it can only fit one bicycle inside of it.

Since we needed to get our bicycles to the start of Velo Birmingham, about 40k from our home we thought we would see if we could 'cram' the bicycles in.

And now the total shocker

First we found that I could get Marcus' bicycle in, without removing even the back wheel.  Then we found we could add Agata's bicycle on top too ... also without removing the back wheel!

We are totally and utterly gobsmacked!  We had thought that this feat was impossible even with both wheels removed.  Dear Audi,  please feel free to use this staggering information in your next marketing campaign.  Audi TT .. the practical sportscar in your life.

In terms of Logistics the Race/Sportive starts on Sunday and the race organisers make you visit Birmingham the day before, no doubt to make you spend money in shops and carparks, admire the Birmingham sights, and if you live further away, book a room too.  It must be a windfall to Hotels in central Birmingham.

For us it meant a trip into Birmingham on Saturday, and we just never goto Birmingham, so this was really, really not appreciated.  Why not offer to post the Race Packs?  Oh wait, this is possible if you pay an extra 36 GBP  (so not 84 GBP per entry but 120 GBP) for the VIP / Fastpath entry, for us together this would have added another 72 GBP to the expense of this Sunday, which as I write below was not trivial.  Hmmm

The Day Before

Since in the last 26 months, we have been to Birmingham twice and then this was only to meet with friends, spending an hour driving each way, and then wandering around Birmingham centre had absolutely zero appeal.

Still, we picked up the race numbers without issue

In an effort to learn something I talked at length with Continental about their new GP5000 series tyres.  They are available in standard clincher and now tubeless.  They dropped the 20mm width entirely and the tubeless is 25mm or wider and also 10GBP more expensive at 50 GBP per tyre  (than its clincher which is 40 GBP).   Also despite being bald as a shaved Chicken there is depth to the slick surface, there are still the 2 hole wear indicators. Expensive rubber.  Our current choice is Continental Attack for summer and 4 season for winter.

Morning Pen

As with many longer distance events this sportive had an early starting time.   You need to be in your pen by a certain time, in our case Sunday 07.00, ready for a departure time of 07.30

We got to a start Pen  (Red 1) but struggled to find the Green 3 pen which was ours and also the place to meet our friends Pierre and Nilton.

After extended walking we all met up.  The sheer scale of the event then became visible with literally cyclists in pens as far as the eye can see.  This level of organisation is impressive.  For it all to simply work at any level should be applauded.


When Marcus and Agata plan this style of even some of the obvious considerations for longer distance cycling are

- Race or Ramble
A race means carefully studying the course and minimising the stop times for refuelling and toileting.   We are treating this as a ramble meaning if ever and whenever we feel like a relaxed toilet stop and refuel, we will!

- Weather
Wet weather means different clothing and carrying extra items like a Waterproof jacket.

- Refreshments
For the money paid I was pleased to say that water and Gels and toilets were being made available. This means that you don't have to carry more food and water, which makes a longer race so much easier!

The Weather
On Saturday the weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday was no rain.  But in England, despite Satellite technology unpredictability remains. we did a Saturday 'are our bikes correctly setup training ride' and it rained!

Philosophically, now back in the UK for some 2 years, having been absent for far more than a decade I can say:  The weather is still unpredictable,  it is moist  (not dry),  and small rain shower is not even considered as Rain by the major weather forecasters.

The Ride

We set off Marcus, Agata, Pierre, Nilton in good spirits and most importantly in the dry.  It was pretty cold, I estimate 8 degrees, but during the day this was to rise to a much more reasonable 14 degrees or so.

Since this was not a race for us we were not straining and actually chatting, admiring the countryside, whilst avoiding potholes and a slew of riders weaving between traffic.  This even is closed roads meaning no cars.  What a luxury.

We got separated from Nilton after about 30km and then presumably due to his phone battery dying we were unable to phone him or see his exact position on Google Maps  (via Location sharing).   Given the level of official support we made the decision to carry on as a threesome and wait for him at the finish.

Stop#1: We had a first water stop and this took time because the stop was well back from the road.  And given the hundreds of people visiting this was reasonable.  The organisers made you un-clip and walk to a bicycle staging area, and then to a separate water area.

In fact the toilet queues were so long we decided to go later

Stop#2: We had a second water and toilet stop, and again there was a long but necessary walking to amenities delay, and then a long queue for the toilets.

If you were racing this time penalty would be infuriating, but we were not.

Continuing On
For the last 60Km or so Marcus was normally at the front of the trio as I try to specialise in keeping a constant speed or constant effort and very importantly cycling in a manner e.g no sudden moves or braking so that is easy to follow.

I think we made very good progress in the last half of the sportive which I may say was much more difficult in terms of hills and wind than the first half.

A view from Starbucks have successfully finished our 160 km jaunt.  No injuries, collisions or meltdowns.   Great Weather!  In fact apart from the appallingly poor and untimely Starbucks coffee service it was turning out all an /all is wonderful day/

Getting Out

The irony of the situation was not lost on us as we tried to drive home.  For over 1 hour we moved about 200 metres as central Birmingham was totally and utterly log jammed tight.  Contrast this to the 160Km that we had managed to cycle in just a few hours.

British Sportive Riding
For better or worse I hold the following to be true.

I felt that many of the entrants were not used to cycling the 160km distance or cycling in events with thousands of other people.  Cycling etiquette was correspondingly low.  And mostly non existent.

Our decision not to race this event therefore was the correct one.

Remembering that the UK rides and drives on the Left hand side of the road:

- Riders did not stick to the left of the road

- Overtaking was anywhere and everywhere and most certainly not on the right only

- Many riders were chaotically weaving around, you know like a motorcyclist in stationary traffic

- There were a few accidents and several times when the whole road was closed, causing a massive jam, and consequent annoyance to other newbie cyclists who were then further delayed and who rode even more dangerously I assume to make up time

The Real Stars

As usual credit goes to our 2 fantastic bicycles.  Although they do get a good deal of pre and post race loving care including cleaning, oiling and re-aligning, so we, the mere riders get some kudos too.

But let me say that, having a perfectly working and aligned, and comfortably setup bicycle, weighing 8Kg or so makes cycling, even on potholed and irregular surfaced British roads the best that it can be.


We did not break any records for speed, but we were not intending to.  I rode to under 200 Watts of power at all times, hill bursts excepted, and in fact tried to keep it as low or lower than 150 Watts on the flat

Marcus drank a staggeringly low 500ml of water mixed with a single SIS Energy Powder for the whole race.  And a Starbucks coffee and Chocolate muffin in the post race celebration, plus the freebie liquid Weetabix on the Go (who knew!)

Lets talk Costs
It's not being mean but let's look at the costs involved here.  And as relative locals we did not have to stump up the hotel costs that our friends Pierre and Nilton who accompanied us had

2 x Velo Birmingham entries  84 x 2  (or 120 x 2 for Fastrack)

Mileage Cost = 2 Return trips.  2 because Velo mandates the irritating practise (just like London Marathon) to force you to go the day before to pickup race numbers.  Only if you go for Fastrack  (120 GBP  i.e. +36 GBP) will they post your number.

25 miles each way to Velo Birmingham start from home.  So that's 100 miles total, and at the national mileage rate of 0.45 GBP per mile that is a 45 GBP car cost

Parking cost for the event was 18 GBP in a secure location

Post Celebration coffee at Starbucks was 15 GBP

Nutrition: We spent about 10 GBP on bars and powders for the race

There were no costs allocated for the ride in terms of wear and tear on our bicycles for this 160Km jaunt

Adding it all up the costs it was 256 GBP for the two of us.

Agata did the organising,  Pierre helped with setup and logistics and Marcus did some decent 'marcus train riding' on the day.    Good teamwork,  good weather, no injuries and lots of smiles.  Decent organisation from Velo Birmingham.  The whole day was a success for us and I think for most entrants.