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29 October 2014

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Andy Holland (left) and Terry Wooller
Andy Holland (left) and Terry Wooller

Norwich 100/50: A view from the saddle

by Andy Holland
Hundreds of cyclists turned out for the annual Norwich 100/50 fundraiser, but what's it like to take part? Andy Holland shares his experiences of the event, as he made a film for BBC Look East.

It was scary. Not the thought of having to cycle 100 miles or having to spend up to 10 hours in the saddle, but the idea of being on a tandem filled me with fear.

I'd never ridden one before, apart from a very short acclimatising ride, and now my feet were fixed to the pedals and we were about to begin the Norwich 100 charity bike ride.

Starting line of the Norwich 100/50 2005
Starting line of the Norwich 100/50 2005

The horn sounded on the starting line and we were off, along with 100 other riders in our group.

Another 200 cyclist were ahead of us already and by 9am, the roads of Norfolk would have more than 1,500 cyclists raising money for the British Heart Foundation.

A new route

It was a different route this year. We left the city down towards Trowse, past the ski slope and through Whitlingham. The road was rough and already some cyclists had their wheels off, repairing punctures.

Then the first little hill, the first of many that would catch out riders who thought Norfolk was flat, but it was just a taster for the longer climb out of Bramerton.

Six miles out and already we were breathing hard, but I was getting used to riding a bike to someone else's rhythm.

Terry, my tandem partner for the event, would shout 'going up' and we would ease the pressure off the pedals and the bike would smoothly change gear. The miles flew past, the sun was shining and everyone we passed was smiling and happy, but the clouds were darkening in front of us.

Suddenly the first rest stop sign flashed past us. We should have turned right, but followed the road to the left.

"Are you ok? Shall we keep going?" said Terry. "Yep fine, let's keep on," I replied.

The route split in front of us. Those doing the 50 mile ride would head off directly to Reedham Ferry, those of us doing the 100 would go as far as the River Waveney at Burgh St Peter, before turning back to cross the river.

Ferry crossing

Riders in the Norwich 100/50 2005
We can't go any slower

Two-and-half-hours and 40 miles in and we were at Reedham. There were 100 bikes in front of us and the ferry appeared to be taking about 50 bikes at a time.

More cyclists were arriving behind us and a long queue was building. We were all getting cold waiting for our turn to cross, then it rained just to make us colder still!

When you're on the bike you are keeping warm, expending huge amounts of energy. When you stop, you cool down rapidly, you don't wear thick clothes on a bike!

Our turn came to cross the River Yare. The ferry operator squeezed as many bikes as possible on and soon we were across and heading off to Acle.

Usually the half-way point is at the half-way point - that's why it's called half-way - so we were anticipating a stop at around 50 miles. Looking at our route map the designated rest stop looked a long way away.

Conversation between Terry and I consisted of trying to work out how far we'd cycled.

"How far have we gone now?" said Terry.

The bike computer was reading 55 miles.

"That must be wrong, we're still a long way from Waxham Barns," he said.

We asked the other cyclists we came alongside and they confirmed our mileage, expressing the same doubts we had.

"My boyfriend said the stop was soon, but that was five miles ago and I'm starting to doubt him now," said BBC Radio Norfolk's Sally Beadle as we spotted her en route.

We rode through the wind turbines at Somerton, along to Horsey and decided to stop, along with some other riders, for a well earned break. The sun was just appearing through the clouds and although we didn't know it, it was to be the warmest part of the day.

Other riders determinedly rode past, it felt as though they thought we had given up.

Heading north

Norwich 100/50 cyclists riding into Waxham
Cyclists riding into Waxham

We clipped in to the pedals again and headed north. It was a stiff head-wind and it was raining.

The sea at Sea Palling looked uninviting and cold, probably just as we must have looked to people keeping warm in their cars as we cycled along. The wind seemed to get stronger, as we cycled past the Bacton interchange.

We were seeing fewer and fewer cyclists as tiredness, the rain and wind took its toll on us and them, our speed dropped and knees and legs started to complain about the conditions. Hopefully it would soon be time to turn around and head back to Norwich.

Seventy-five miles in and we reached Paston, the furthest north the route goes this year. A sharp left, a tailwind and downhill for a while. Suddenly it feels like were heading for home - although there's still a quarter of the route to go.

We cycle along typical Norfolk lanes. Narrow and winding, sometimes the hedges hiding the view and then revealing a wonderful view across fields nearing harvesting. Then just as quickly we speed into narrow tree-lined lane's, the only sound is our breathing and the whir of the gears.

There's one last stop at the Cross Keys at Dilham for a quick energy bar and then onwards we go. One cyclist announces what we all feel 'one last push', as he sets off on the last 20 miles.

Homeward bound

It's mid afternoon as we negotiate the Sunday drivers through Hoveton and Wroxham. We seem to go faster than the cars over Wroxham bridge, but at least the drivers are taking care with the cyclist's in the traffic.

It's not the best of times or places to ride a tandem. By now were riding as one on the tandem, gear changes are done without thinking and bursts of acceleration past other riders automatic, then just outside Salhouse about 10 miles from home, disaster strikes.

I feel something wrong with my foot, I look down and the pedal and crank have come off. It's attached to my shoe, but not to the bike.

"Terry I'm not pedaling any more - the pedals come off," I said.

We coast to a stop and wonder what to do. We'd carried a lot of extra weight with the video recorder, batteries and tapes on the bike for the film we were making for Look East.

Whilst we carried plenty of tools, a crank spanner wasn't one of them. We tried to fix it using the tools we had, but it wasn't going to work. A motorbike drew up.

"Got a problem?" the rider asked.

"We explained and he produced exactly what we needed to fix the crank. He was one of the motorbike mechanics that Bike Events, who co-organised the ride, have patrolling around just to help people like us. Proof as far as we were concerned about how well these rides are organised.

After our profuse thanks we set off - into another head wind!

Salhouse into Norwich is just a long straight drag, the 50 mile route also converged here so we were amongst more riders which was encouraging and helped us along.

There wasn't much conversation now, just a determination to keep turning the pedals to keep that one last push going.

All of sudden it seemed we were at the ring road. One of the benefits of being on the back of the tandem and not seeing where you are going is the surprise when you realise you are somewhere familiar.

Andy and Terry crossing the Norwich 100 finish
Andy and Terry crossing the finish line

Only a descent down Mousehold and a short ride past the law courts to the Cathedral and the finish line.

Going through the Cathedral entrance the sun came out and the band was playing, greeting all the cyclists as they arrived.

It was 1645. We'd been on the road for nearly nine-and-a-half hours, but our ride time was just six hours and 10 minutes. The difference was taken up by our tape changing stops every 35 mins for the film we were making and short rest breaks.

Will I do it again?


last updated: 23/06/05
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