190km of Rule Five. And 22km of our own rules.

It really was a Ball Buster this year

by Dave Atkinson   March 25, 2013  


On the Mendips the mist from the night before had frozen on to one side of all the branches of the hedges and trees, blown and chilled by the incessant north easterly winds. A thin film of ice on every twig. The mists were long gone but the wind remained, keeping the temperature high up on the hills below freezing. At least we were travelling with it. Come Glastonbury, we'd have to turn round...

Barry's Bristol Ball Buster was my first 200km ride, three years ago. I enjoyed it then, and it got me into attempting longer distances; so far my personal best is a 356km romp across the country from Bath to Colchester. But yesterday was a horror show. A hovering-around-zero, icy-wind-in-your-face, can't-feel-your fingers, rule 5 kind of a day. And a whole day of it too. I've rarely been so cold, for so long.

Some positives. There was cake, and plenty of if. It's my considered opinion that the Hill Women's Institute cake stop after 40km of the Ball Buster is the single best stop on any ride in the UK. It's astonishing. If you know of a better one, let me know so I can come and give it a go. Following on from that, the Doynton stop had almost as much cake and also lovely home-made pea and ham soup and tasty rolls. You couldn't say we weren't well fed. Plus the route is lovely, a mix of quiet lanes and B-roads with plenty of flat bits to batter along, interspersed with plenty of hills to test your mettle.

I didn't spend much time admiring the view. From the off it was a day for getting on the drops and tucking in. The cold and the wind bit as soon as we crept out of Bristol, and across the levels of the Severn Estuary there's nowhere to hide except behind the man in front, as close as possible. A good group got us to Hill at 40km but after that it was me and wing man Jez, with him taking the lion's share of the time on the front as we headed east toward the second stop. The slog over Hawkesbury Common was particularly attritional, not least because it ended with the grind up to the Somerset Mounment, high on the ridge. I slumped down on the grit hopper at the top with such force that I broke the lid. Sorry, Highways Agency.

After Doynton the route's predominantly south, for a long way: 55km to Glastonbury's crystal shops and people in odd hats. And bits of it were enjoyable. Not the first bit though. From Doynton through to Bitton and Keynsham is a route home if I'm riding north of Bath. It was pretty psychologically damaging to have to ride those roads knowing that I wasn't going home for a nice hot bath, and more to the point that I wasn't even halfway round. I felt better when I got to the Mendips. I even got on okay with the climb from West Harptree, which is normally a dreadful and unrelenting slog. Mostly, I think, because I was warm at the top.

Not for long. It was really, really, really cold on top of the Mendips, 800ft up with very little protection against the biting wind. I'd have liked to show you a picture of those icy trees. But I wasn't about to stop, thanks. Normally riding up on top of the Mendips is one of my favourite places to be but I've never been more grateful of a descent, even one that chilled me to the bone like the drop into Wookey Hole did. The rest of the run down to Glastonbury was quiet and uneventful, save for the few brief turns to the north that gave us a taste of what was in store for the final leg.

Turning back towards home across the levels to Wedmore, there's no respite. It's pan flat, there's no cover, it's all north, into the artic headwind. That was pretty draining, but just when we were thinking it couldn't get much worse the route heads off the levels, first up Mudgely Hill which is a pretty hateful climb even on a good day, and then Lascot Hill to the windmill, where we were windmilling our arms to try and get some blood in our fingers. Thank goodness for the train that came past at that point, a couple of fit, chatty lads tapping out a nice steady pace with a bedraggled-looking grupetto behind them, taking a break from the incessant wind. We jumped on and briefly – for maybe 10km – it was a nice ride again, with company and someone else doing the hard work. One of them punctured, and we were on our own again, facing down the Siberian blasts and tackling the constant changes in gradient.

It was at this point that the wheels came off a bit. Well, a lot. The handful of kilometres to the final checkpoint at Kenn, 190km in, were a pathetic grovel, all tired legs and frozen fingers and uncontrollable nose emissions. The chatty lads came past, chatting, but we were in no fit state to hop on this time. They were there, and then they were gone, and we were on our own again. The bloke in the pub at Kenn asked us how far we'd ridden, and he looked at us as if we were stupid. And at that point, we felt pretty stupid.

After the last stop, when we were presented with the option of either following the route round the back of the M5 to Portbury and up two mile hill, or turning right and staying in the valley all the way back to Long Ashton, we wimped out. To be honest it's not even that much of a short cut – 3km maybe – but psychologically it was the boost we needed. And it was quite a lot flatter. I was too tired by this point to work hard enough to really get warm; I had mitts on, with winter gloves over the top, and Gore-Tex overmitts on top of that, and my hands were still cold. I couldn't hold the bars properly and I couldn't really change gear in the mitts either. Twice along the railway path I nearly ended up in a hedge because I found myself looking down at the bars rather than at where I was going. I was cooked. Or frozen. Both, if that's possible.

We made it back. It's miles in the bank, and one to talk about. It wasn't pretty. Thanks to all the LVIS volunteers for running a great event. Sorry we made a bit of a mess of it.


16 user comments

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Huge respect for that ride in that cold.

othello's picture

posted by othello [320 posts]
25th March 2013 - 14:51


Wow. Well done Dave. Have pride in your ride, you sound needlessly ashamed at the end of that post. Frankly astonshing to me who did 40km ride and found that quite enough in a siberian headwind.

Good on ya.

posted by Pisiform [52 posts]
25th March 2013 - 15:00


Any comments on the genesis bike build or were you in no fit state to notice?

posted by Pisiform [52 posts]
25th March 2013 - 15:01


Pisiform wrote:
Any comments on the genesis bike build or were you in no fit state to notice?

well, it's still in one piece Smile

everything worked very well. i was right about the stem, i'll probably swap it out for something a touch longer. other than that, no complaints. not sure the usb charger is working properly so need to investigate that.

it's a great long-distance bike, just like its cheaper brother. i need to do more miles on it (and back on the old equilibrium frame) to make a fair comparison

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7644 posts]
25th March 2013 - 15:09



David Arthur @davearthur's picture

posted by David Arthur @d... [1961 posts]
25th March 2013 - 17:05


I thought about you lot on the 200km as I got to Doynton and was glad I was just doing the 100km. That was the coldest ride ever.

My rear mech gave up at Hawkesbury on closer inspection it turned out to be ice on the underside of the bottom bracket on the cable guide, cables completely frozen and seized up.

Fringe's picture

posted by Fringe [1091 posts]
25th March 2013 - 17:58


LOL - I'd have bailed out at the bit you mention as one you associated with the route home. Still, I never have been much of a rule 5 man myself. Chapeau to you though, Dave!


posted by pastaman [238 posts]
26th March 2013 - 0:03


Good write-up..

The ride through Gordano and Portbury wasn't that bad to be honest (I focused on the 14 miles left and not the 120 miles done)...

The frozen trees were something to behold!

Safe to say it was the toughest Barry's I have done, bring back the 20 degrees please Wink

When I changed into the big ring across Sodbury Common, a whole load of ice flew of the chain!

john.berry's picture

posted by john.berry [21 posts]
26th March 2013 - 7:02


chapeau to all who rode it (and the shorter route), let
alone finished it Smile

some of our mob (nbcc) did it. the rest of the club bottled
and just rode to Hill to mop up the cake left overs Smile

Even with winter boots, umpteen layers, under gloves/socks
I still can't believe just how cold that day was and I
wasn't even riding that distance !!!

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [869 posts]
26th March 2013 - 9:26


given that out of 83 starters only 61 made it back, i don't feel so bad about truncating the last bit a touch Smile

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7644 posts]
26th March 2013 - 11:33


Good write-up - it makes you wonder why we do this to ourselves! Big Grin

I've got a 355km ride coming up, spread over 2 days. Hoping it's a little tidier than yours. It would help if the sodding jetstream would shift north a few hundred miles.

The cake stop looked spectacular though.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3591 posts]
26th March 2013 - 17:07


Glad you enjoyed it. Given the number of no shows and dropouts even on the 100k, I don't think you have anything to feel ashamed about.

I've just about warmed up now...

Go Vegas!

Clubber's picture

posted by Clubber [5 posts]
26th March 2013 - 20:55


Chapeau! Feel your pain Dave. A certain road.cc correspondent decided to bring the Happy 100 forward a week this year. We weren't even allowed to leave out the strada bianca. Big Grin

posted by john_l [7 posts]
26th March 2013 - 21:01


Short cut eh? Looks like I need to take a couple of people off the finish list....
Only joking, anyone who survived that Siberian wind deserves a medal, or in our case a coaster. Well done chaps and glad you enjoyed/endured it. See you next year.

posted by M_W_R_M [4 posts]
27th March 2013 - 21:28


Thanks for a nice write up of a hard day, we (2 blokes on bikes without mudguards or maps!) tagged along with you for a lot of the ride including the freezing drop to Wookey and the train with the 2 chatting engines! We finished up just as darkness was taking hold and the sense of satisfaction was wonderful.

posted by acjim [30 posts]
29th March 2013 - 21:36


acjim wrote:
Thanks for a nice write up of a hard day, we (2 blokes on bikes without mudguards or maps!) tagged along with you for a lot of the ride including the freezing drop to Wookey and the train with the 2 chatting engines! We finished up just as darkness was taking hold and the sense of satisfaction was wonderful.

and the unscheduled detour through the back of wookey Smile

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7644 posts]
29th March 2013 - 23:13