When our mate Johnny van Holland first suggested we come and ride his event in the flatlands of Somerset we didn't bother. It's a busy year and last year was unfortunately one with far too little cycling on the agenda.
Fortunately 2017 has been very different and when JVH extended the invite to ride this year's edition of the 'Flanrou' we decided to make some effort, cross the border and get the cross bikes out of the garage to see whether they actually work in the summer.
Now, a word on the Somerset levels. To be honest it's not really on my radar for bike riding, over the years it's been Cheddar Gorge, Ashton Court, the Quantocks and Exmoor when I have been riding in Somerset but here we were being offered the flattest, wettest, windiest riding destination in the South West. As it turns out it's quite a nice place to ride a bike, the roads are super quiet, the views are spectacular and if you like Swans then you'll be right at home. Unfortunately I hate Swans, watery scum.
So, Flanrou. The name is there to conjure up visions of Flanders with the joys of Roubaix and as we pedalled out of the Sweets Tea Rooms there was definitely an anticipation as to to just how epic this would feel, it wasn't long before it delivered, in fact just a few hundred metres, as we hit the first gravel/stone sections and it got real.
My choice of bike for the day was my trusty Ritchey Swiss Cross, I have had this bike for about 4 years and it's a bike I will never sell. The canti brakes are a bit crap but it just adds to the charm. Riding the Swissy is a bit like the early days of mountain biking, you are on the edge most of the time but it's always fun. I made a couple of modifications to the Swiss Cross before the event, I chucked a couple of 35c Conti Double Fighter 3 wire bead tyres on there, fast rolling with some decent grip off road and the side walls stiff enough to avoid pinch flats with my chunk doing its best to do the opposite. Another last minute addition was a set of Profile Gravel handlebars and Cinelli gel bar wrap, really impressed with both of these products.
Back to the ride, the first two thirds pretty much followed a similar format, ride some off road sections that ranged from gravel farm tracks and grassy fields to slimy trails and the odd woodland. It was great fun, distance was munched through on the linking sections and what was crazy, have ridden Flanders a few times, was that this ride looked really like something out of a Belgian event. Given that this wasn't a race, and no one was timing anything, we took some time at the feed station to get a bacon sandwich, a can of coke and chill out for fifteen minutes. We weren't the only ones and the atmosphere was great.
The last fifteen miles or so involved repeated climbs of a really steep hill, given that it was about the only hill for miles we must have attacked it from three or four different angles and ouchy, it hurt.
The ride home obviously ended up with a sprint, back at the tea rooms we knew we'd had a great time and we weren't the only one. The whole thing was great, a brilliant day on the bike in a place I'd never ridden before, it was great to use the CX bike for some proper riding. Keep an eye out for next year's event!
Ideal bikes for this challenge?
Ritchey Swiss Cross, Ridley CX bike, Ridley X-Trail, Saracen Hack or even a mountain bike with slick tyres.