I recently spent two weeks in Bristol (UK) to hone my skills as a frame builder and bike designer. Well, technically speaking, I spent most of my time about 50 km outside of Bristol in the small town of Frome, Somerset, which is home to The Bicycle Academy (TBA), a small business dedicated to making you an expert frame builder. After booking the seven-day course at TBA—I will write more about the course itself in an upcoming post—I decided to make my time in England all about cycling: I packed my bike, set up camp at my girlfriend's sister (living in Bristol) and prepared myself for a week of long bike commutes. This is the story of commuting 700 km in seven days.
Although many non-cyclists looked at me as if I was to climb Mount Everest, to me riding 700 km in seven days didn't sound too bad. After all, that's the sort of distance many cyclists would cover in a week of summer vacation. And if I'd find myself exhausted halfway through, public transport is always an option—or at least that's what I told myself.
Being unfamiliar with the area, I traveled to Bristol one day in advance to explore the next day's route. I dragged my bike bag halfway across Europe, from Stockholm to Bristol by tram, metro, train and plane. The trip went surprisingly smooth thanks to helpful strangers on the London underground, SAS Airline's free-of-charge bike transport and train conductors turning a blind eye on oversized luggage. On arrival, I was welcomed with cloudy skies and a light drizzle; exactly the kind of weather that makes you look forward to riding your freshly washed bike.
I quickly unpacked and went on a ride to Bath following National Cycling Route 24, which runs for mile after mile parallel to an old railroad track, far away from cars and busy roads. The route is stunningly beautiful and busy with commuters and small chain gangs; however, roots growing underneath the tarmac made for a bumpy ride with little chance of settling into a steady rhythm. In Bath, which roughly marks the halfway point on the way to Frome, I decided to save some energy for the next morning and headed back to Bristol.
The next day, my alarm rang at 5:00 a.m. and I was excited to get started. I left Bristol an hour later and was halfway to Bath at the time of sunrise. Quietly riding along the railway tracks as the first rays of light would shine through the surrounding trees was magical and exactly the type of experience I had been hoping for.
Reaching Bath, I decided to follow the bicycle route to Radstock and Frome, which passes through two disused railway tunnels of considerable length, sparsely lit by the occasional spotlight. Riding through the tunnels is an experience in itself and I can't recommend it highly enough; however, the route I took proved to be a bit of a detour and much longer than I had anticipated. What was meant to be a 50 km ride totaled almost 65 km in the end and the fact that Google Maps is far from being an ideal bike nav added further to the experience. Almost three hours after leaving Bristol I finally arrived at TBA—happy, but also unsure if adding a total of 30 km to my daily riding would be a sustainable option for the next seven days.
After a long and inspiring day at TBA I decided to explore a different route on the way back. Thus, I skipped the tunnels and the city of Bath, which made for a shorter ride, but also meant that I often found myself riding on busy streets. I continued to explore different routes during the next days, constantly struggling with missing signposts, ridiculously steep hills, potholed streets, a love-hate relationship with Google Maps and growing fatigue.
What had started as a physiological challenge had soon become a matter of psychology: my schedule was to get up at 5:15 a.m., leave Bristol by 6:00, be ready to start work at 9:00, work (physically) until 5:30 p.m., arrive back in Bristol at 8:00, have dinner and go to sleep. By day three every muscle in my legs hurt; by day five I was too exhausted to work my legs hard enough to make them hurt. It was a mental challenge to get up when my alarm rang, and if it wasn't for the poor public transport connection between Bristol and Frome I don't know if I would have continued my commutes by bike.
Looking back, I'm happy to say that I didn't give up and that I completed all 14 rides—each of which is worthy of a separate #NorthernRides post due to the stunning landscape and natural beauty of this area. On my second to last day at TBA I finally managed to find a route that fully satisfied me and that came in at 45 km in total. This is the route that I decided to share with you, but it's only one of many beautiful rides around Bristol. Thus, I added some more markers that are not directly on the way and I'd recommend to explore them if you're in the area.
Reaching Bristol after my last day at TBA felt amazing, and Mariana and I celebrated with a night out in town. I had a great time building bikes at TBA and my commutes, though challenging, added to the experience of being fully immersed in cycling for seven days.