The Isle of Wight has to be one of the most cycle-friendly places in the UK. It might be wet, it might be windy (and then some), the drivers might see bikes as mere obstacles in the vital dash from A to B (guys, come on: it's a small island, you can't be going far. Take it easy.) But the roads, oh my: fresh, smooth tarmac covers just about every inch. (Find out why here.) It makes a 100km ride a joy.
That became clear on the Velocity ride around the island on 9 November. Supported by mobile mechanic Voncrank (download the app, request a mechanic - any place, any time) and joined by 11 friends of V, we parked up in Southampton's West Quay shopping centre and caught the Red Funnel ferry (foot passengers at a tenner each; no charge for bikes) for an hour-long crossing.
In East Cowes we mustered in a Waitrose car park where, within a minute, a helpful shopper had paused to relay the importance of cyclists paying road tax. Noting the advice, Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt director Matt Chamberlain led us out at a trademark Velocity sociable pace.
We set off clockwise in the hope that the prevailing southerly would provide a tailwind to help us home. Predictably, the rain set in after a minute or so, but it was light enough and we soon found ourselves riding through villages, woods and country lanes on the excellent route of the Randonnée. Barton Willmore business development director Jenni Montgomery stayed upright most of the time and the sun came out as we neared Ventnor, at around 40km. After a beachside photocall we piled into the really excellent fish restaurant the Smoking Lobster, courtesy of the generous Justin Sires from Five at Heart.
After lunch, the climbing proper: we hit a short sharp 25 per-center straight off the beach and then the long drags of Blackgang Road and Military Road. There are no truly big hills on the island, but there are very few flat bits either - we climbed 1,500m in 100km. And what would have been an excellent, straight descent into Freshwater Bay - about 1.6km at about 6% - was rendered nerve shredding by the cross winds. Gusts of 70km/h-plus forced us, front wheels flapping, onto the wrong side of the road. "My highlight of the day was descending in a force five gale and learning how to steer in a straight line whilst the bike was sliding sideways," said Kuros Sarshar, project director at John Robertson Architects. "That and the prawn laksa risotto."
"That was THE DESCENT OF FEAR," said New London Architecture senior programme curator Lucie Murray, apologising to Chris Atkins, managing director of engineer Symmetrys, who "had to listen to my screams".
"You're most stable if you pretty much take your hands of the handlebar," suggested Barton Willmore partner Iain Painting. Hmmm. Didn't quite have the nerve to try that.
- Update: Painting sends in this link regarding "speed wobbles". Thanks Iain.
After taking shelter and hot drinks and swapping scare stories at the superb Piano Cafe, we headed back out for the final 30km push home. The wind was occasionally against us but often behind us now, pushing us uphill: at one point no pedalling was required on a 5% climb. Some riders were beginning to feel the strain and we split into two groups, the slower group bravely resisting the temptations of the warm Voncrank van. We were rejoined by Glodon UK Software's senior business development manager Richard Paxton, whose battle against a chest infection had forced him to to sit out part of the ride.
Meanwhile, Sires and Stiff And Trevillion director Dan Campbell led the first group into the dark as rain began to lash down. "I can’t remember the last time I did a session like the post-café peleton to Cowes," recalled Crosstree Real Estate development director Matt Mason. "Dark, rain, great tailwind, meandering route and Dan and Justin on the front sticking it on us as we all desperately hung on! Thoroughly enjoyable."
The beachside homes of Gurnard never looked more cosey as we zipped past them, with a wave to resident architect Jonathan Manser, who had been unable to join us. We wound through picturesque Cowes, hopping on a chain ferry across to the Red Funnel terminal, where we were waved aboard with a warning: "Walk don't ride down the ramp - it's very slippery". Cast project manager Nick Hunter didn't hear that.
Nonetheless, 14 riders covered 107km in under five hours with no mechanicals: Voncrank mechanic Steve Coombes' easiest day out in a while. We saluted his reassuring presence, and ourselves, with Ale of Wight before disembarking and heading into the gale-lashed Southampton night.
"Great company, great organisation, great food, great route and amazing road surface," said Atkins.
"Very, very enjoyable day," said Campbell. "Thank you so much for the invite and for opening my eyes to the joy of cycling on the Isle of Wight."