Autumn is my favourite time of year - not only for bike riding - I simply enjoy the change in seasons. It's also one of the busier times for Prendas Ciclismo, but as time marches on towards Christmas, it only gets busier so it's best not to put anything off!
With a new version of the Royal Mail's Shipping API just launched (the vital electronic link between us and them), us exhibiting at the Rouleur Classic for the third year running this week, I had yet another immovable deadline that was unavoidable, that of the Sandbanks Ferry annual maintenance refit that would mean it was out of action for 4-6 weeks, meaning not only altering the route, but potentially less than ideal weather for the first ride out on this stunning machine.
So today was the day!
Since starting cycling in the late 1980's, the majority of my longer rides have always featured this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). When I first started out, my rides were aboard a mountain bike and then once I got a road bike, I was able to go further and longer by mixing my riding between the two disciplines.
Yes, the New Forest is also beautiful, however getting to there is a hassle from either home or work, having to navigate through Bournemouth and beyond.
When I did finally start road riding, my club would organise an early season TT aptly named the Circuit of Poole Harbour. The 26 ½ mile course (P461) would navigate the harbour starting on the Poole side of the ferry and finishing on the other. Entry included your return ferry ticket in exchange for your returned race number of course.
With the event in late February, it was a true test of rider and machine, multiple winners Glenn Longland and Chris Ball clearly enjoyed the conditions with Gary Dighton the final event winner in 1994. Due to the installation of traffic lights on the course, the club then promoted a different early-season event on a similarly sporting 42km course where I fluked fourth in 1998!
The majority of the field, however, was just hoping to stay upright, finish or avoid catching a cold! I managed all three, just not every year.
Whilst today's route doesn't mirror the route of that TT course exactly, it does finish on the B3351, the ferry road from Corfe Castle that was the final six or so undulating miles that put paid to the ambitions of a high finish for many I'm sure.
Starting out with WindTex gloves and overshoes means that Autumn is definitely in full swing. As its the final day of half term, the roads are thankfully quieter than usual which means the busiest part of the route will be bearable, that said I'll still have my trusty Exposure Trace + TraceR DayBright lights on for the entire ride.
As I do most of my rides these days on an Orbea Terra gravel ride, my preferred route to the Isle of Purbeck is now via Morden Bog and then Wareham Forest which makes for a more pleasant route.
But today, aboard 23c tyres, I'll have to make do with the uninspiring Sandford road until I get to Wareham. With advisory lanes through Lytchett Minster, the A351 does have a dis-jointed shared cycle/pedestrian path which I take advantage of on the section past Holton Lee.
Once past Wareham, it's time to actually start enjoying the ride by turning onto Grange Road, signposted to Creech.
Creech is a very well-known hill in the local area thanks to its steep 20% maximum gradient, however, the lesser known East Creech will be the first time I'll be reaching for the down-tube levers today.
Having only ridden the bike for a couple of short one hour rides previously, today was also the first time that I was rudely reminded how big a 42 tooth chainring is. It was something everybody used back in the 90s - but with my legs now used to a SRAM Force 1 groupset with a huge wide range of gears available - the 42 was going to take time to get used to again!
At the top of the lesser-known East Creech, before enjoying Creech!
The 20% sign is what greets riders who will be riding up Creech and although not long in length, it is still used by the Poole Wheelers for their annual hill climb. As you climb, mist and fog permitting, on the right views of the elegant Creech Grange country house can also be enjoyed.
Creech is well known with locals, with the gradient sign telling you everything you need to know!
Once at the top, it's down Steeple, back up the Cocknowle climb (a personal favourite) and then gradually descending back down to Wareham outskirts to start the second half of the route.
The roads around Arne are another favourite of the local area, normally accessed via the super-narrow Nutcracker Lane. As the road unwinds, you are treated to glimpses of Corfe Castle along the ride and if you are on an mtb/gravel bike, Sustrans National Route 2 through Rempstone is a nice alternative to arrive on the Ferry Road.
After gaining a huge amount of extra visitors thanks to BBC's Springwatch, RSPB Arne is almost back to normal now with visitor numbers, although they do have a rather nice new, busy cafe if you need a mid-ride coffee/snack.
Plenty to see at the top of both Creech and Whiteways, which I'll avoid today!
At the end of the Arne loop, I descend down to Corfe Castle to re-join the harbour loop circuit, turning left onto the B3351, which will lead me to Studland for the chain ferry.
It's a loop that I only ever used on an easy day when my rides were serious and had a purpose. Towards the end of my racing career, most of my quality work was done on either the turbo, rollers or track so road rides were all about building a decent endurance base, so sat and/or waiting for a ferry for 10-15mins doesn't really help you with that!
The East Stoke - Wool - Lulworth circuit is one such loop which although doesn't feature on today's ride, I used for a road race I promoted for three years and was then subsequently adopted for open and club time trials.
Devised in a pre-Strava age using OS map #194, the ten-mile loop is fast yet undulating and has two versions (you can turn off halfway up the climb out of Wool at Coombe Keynes) to keep a 50/60 mile effort interesting.
This lay-by was often busy with club members shouting words of encouragement.
Despite rarely arriving at exactly either 10, 30 or 50 mins past the hour, any group ride that finishes at the ferry normally ends up in a burn up down the Ferry Road, but with just myself for company, I enjoyed the sun and headwind all to myself.
Once on the ferry, I enjoyed a chat with two riders, but then it was back to reality and off to work!
Taking a step back, without having to worry about average speed or Strava segment times is really what this bike is all about. It's clearly unfair comparing this bike to my regular ride, but it's inevitable that I do.
Gearing aside, the side pull calliper brakes took most of the ride to get used to.
Although cabled up the same way as the Orbea, I found myself using much more of the back brake (virtually 60 / 40%) whereas, with hydro discs, I use the front brake much harder and more often - the wear on the disc pads pay testament to that.
The 23c tyres also took time to adapt to, but the wheels roll beautifully on flat roads when the road surface was reasonable, and the steel frame absorbed enough of the road vibration for me wanted to ride it further than I'd planned. To do that though, I'll need to find two suitable alloy bottle cages that won't look out of place, where I'll then be able to add a couple of retro water bottles.
The final build weighed 9.99kg, and while there were some differences in performance when compared to a modern carbon fibre bike, it provides a wonderful contrast and perspective on just how far modern road bikes have come in the 25 intervening years.
In summary, it takes you back to going out on the bike to simply enjoy cycling, when nothing else really matters.
The short ride on the Sandbanks chain ferry means I'm now back to reality!
Time for a quick espresso? Pop into Rockets & Rascals, Poole!