This was the emailed report that I sent out shortly after the ride :
Hi there, loyal readers ..... (I hope).
With the disappointment of Dave Johnson & me missing the Birmingham to London tandem-tricycle record, I waited several days before starting to be interested in the weather again. I also needed to find and fit three new sprockets to the tandem, as we (he?) had managed to tear them apart in our 110 miles of aggression.
In the end, we had to tolerate a couple of weeks of winds from the eastern sector, which were of no use for the one remaining schedule that I had submitted with the RRA. This was for Marina Bloom and me to establish a tandem-tricycle record over the 150 miles of the Cardiff to London route. The standard to beat was 8 hours, and I was sure we could beat that by an hour. I had already had a schedule on file for a total time of 6h 45m, and so I had hastily altered a few details before sending it to the RRA.
The first opportunity that cropped up was for Wednesday 23rd October, and it looked quite good. On the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the charts for the Wednesday were all consistent, and so we set off on the long drive to Wales with the sun shining down on us, and our hearts full of optimism.
You're waiting for the catch, but there didn't seem to be one. We arrived at the start with sufficient time, and were despatched (by Audrey Hughes, as ever) at 1300 precisely from the main door of the National Museum of Wales. Quite a large crowd applauded as we clattered down the twenty concrete steps, and we were soon making our way out of town.
Some minor delays coupled with Rumney Hill left us slightly outside our schedule at the first check. However, we made good progress after leaving Newport, and would surely have been ahead of the plan by Chepstow if I hadn't sent us up the last hill in far too high a gear. Oh, and those steps outside the museum.... well, I might've made that bit up ... but you never know, do you?
We zoomed down towards the Severn Bridge, and were marshalled onto the cycle path by Pauline and Alan Strong. As we approached, Alan shouted "Watch the Kerb!", but I still managed to hit it with a tremendous bang, and I can't believe that we didn't end up skidding along on the forks. Getting over the bridge was without serious incident, although we still managed to hit something on the way off, which again seemed likely to have given us a puncture at least. You do have to be careful with these suspension bridges - once you're past the centre, it's easy to work up a tremendous speed .... and you mustn't forget that a 30 mph crash could easily put you over the railings.
But still, we reached England, and were soon on the minor roads through Olveston and Tockington. Before the Severn Bridge had been built, the Cardiff to London route was much more elegant. You would take the A48 from Cardiff to Gloucester, and then the A40 from Gloucester to the London finish point at Marble Arch. However, with the arrival of the bridge during the 1960s, it was possible to take a much shorter route, if you didn't mind doing some cross-country stuff as you made your way across to the Bath Road at Chippenham. But enough of that. As soon as you leave Tockington, it's bottom gear time, for the grind up Washingpool Hill to the A38.
When we got to the top, I was surprised to see that we were still hanging onto the schedule. We then followed the End to End route for half a mile before turning right towards Chipping Sodbury. We made our way up onto the Cotwolds, and at the Acton Turville check, we were still level. The night before, I'd looked at the details of the schedule, and noticed that the times given were assuming a level speed throughout. Sometimes, this isn't a bad assumption, but I was fairly sure that we would be slowing up from Reading onwards because of traffic - to say nothing of the fact that it was going to be dark by then!
And so, realistically, being "on schedule" at 50 miles didn't really mean that we were likely to be "on schedule" at the finish. Lucky we had 75 minutes between our schedule and the minimum standard, I think. We were moving well as we passed Castle Combe and approached Chippenham. We were actually going to be ahead of schedule. Until I took a wrong turn in the town, which ended with us being stuck behind a stationary bus for what seemed like a decade. When we reached the checkpoint, we were level with schedule again.
As we rode away from the town, I realised that when I'd previously ridden over this route (1996), the way through Chippenham had been different - and I'd carelessly just followed the way of yesteryear. But there was (again) no time to reminisce, as there were hills to climb on the short section to Calne. We were a minute down at Calne.
There is then a very long, draining rise called Labour In Vain Hill to Beckhampton Cross. That was just awful, but we kept things together, and were going quite fast as we made our way along to Marlborough. In the chaos that is the Market Square we just avoided being run over by a bright yellow Porsche, and were a minute down at the Town Hall. This was almost exactly halfway, and I wasn't exactly rejoicing as we changed down through the gears to deal with the large hill out of the town.
But once you're up that one, there aren't really any other big obstacles to deal with. We were holding onto the schedule at Hungerford, and were actually a few seconds up at Newbury. Unfortunately, the lights in Thatcham make it just about the worst place in the world to get through, and so we needed to be very nippy once we got onto the road to Theale.
A brief, planned, stop was made near the Pangbourne Lane roundabout, where we took lights on board, and stocked up with enough drink to take us to London. We approached Reading knowing that we were still ahead of schedule (just!), and wondering just how bad things would be in the town.
We were six minutes down when we left Reading. At Maidenhead (definitely dark by now) we had slipped to seven minutes, and by Slough we were nine minutes down. We conceded that we probably wouldn't beat 7 hours.
This was obvious when we reached Cranford and our deficit was 13 minutes. Part of our problem was heavy traffic, but a lot of the time loss related to the fact that the tandem-trike isn't very manoeuvrable, and wherever it goes, it's always going to be unexpected (particularly in the dark). We only needed one car to fail to notice our wide rear end (not a reference to Marina!), and we'd've been in trouble.
So it was stop-start past Hounslow and to Chiswick. Things looked up for a while after the Hogarth roundabout and over the Hammersmith Flyover, but there were still too many busy junctions for us to really keep flowing.
But we did eventually reach the Museums, and the turn into Exhibition Road, and then into Hyde Park. For some reason, we seemed to make heavy weather of the park, but we emerged at the far end, and did the last little jump around the roundabout to the finish. Mightily relieved, but slightly disappointed with the time, we took refuge back in the park and waited for the car. Within a few minutes, we were all reunited and the racing season had finally ended.
Don Glover gave us an official time of 7 hours 4 minutes 35 seconds, which was 20 minutes down on my "guess", but still 55 minutes faster than the standard. Not a vintage performance, but I think we're reasonably happy to see the job done and the social season earned.