Cakes, Cramp and Church….

With just two weeks before Terry and I head off to start the TransAmerica, the training isn’t going too well. We both had plans to rack up the miles on our new bikes, but with so much preparation still to do, kit to order and family and friends to see before we depart,  the bikes have done little more than gather dust.

The ‘Wheezy Geezers’ who are preparing to ride from Land’s End to London, are having similar problems,  so I joined them for a training run from Rayleigh to Braintree and back. We did the route about the same time last year when we were preparing for Paris – Geneva. It’s not exactly hill-country, but there are a few decent climbs.

Martin on the Surly

Martin takes a spin on the Surly

The Surly is gradually coming together. The day before the ride I finally got round to fitting the  Ortlieb handlebar pannier and also wired up the Shimano Dyno-hub (DH 3N72) which is fitted to the front wheel. As well as powering lights this is also connected to a USB. The idea is to use this to charge up various gadgets such as the i-phone and i-pad mini while cycling and use a Solar Monkey on the rack as a back-up power source.

It was a bright Spring day, the temperature was crisp,  but other than that it was almost perfect cycling weather. Before long we’d left the sprawl of suburban South East Essex and were in open countryside, heading for Braintree. The pace was slow, as a few of us carrying panniers, and it gave me time to reflect on why some journeys are ‘Best by Bike’.

Don’t get me wrong here, the title of this website is not meant to be a fanatical mantra dictating that every trip is best done by bike. I’m the first to admit that some journeys are best done by train (ideally a steam locomotive like the Tornado powering up the East Coast Line) by foot –  climbing some remote mountain pass, or even in a car – very little beats driving a traditional British sports car down a twisting B road. But if I had to pick one form of transport that has it all, then it has to be the bike.

Chignall Smealy

A welcome cuppa at St Nicholas, Chignall Smealy.

Not only can you cover a good distance in a day (80 miles to Braintree and back) you also get to see things that would likely flash by un-noticed in a car, or you’d never have time to reach on foot.  For example, a few miles north west of Chelmsford is a small village called Chignall Smealy where the five of us stopped for a rest and home-made cheese scones in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church. Within a few minutes we’d been invited inside by two elderly parishioners who were busy preparing flower displays for Easter Sunday. They happily made us cups of tea while filling us in on the history of the 16th Century building.

Unusually it was built with tudor red-brick from a local brickyard and also has a very rare brick-built altar. When many more people worked on the land it was a busy church and was even extended at one time. But now with no vicar of its own, the congregation is down to a handful, although the ladies were hopeful of a larger attendance for the weekend’s services. They seemed delighted to have some company, and only asked that we signed the guestbook which would help in their campaign to have running water and a toilet installed.

Steams up

Steams up at The Compasses Inn.

Travelling by car we’d also probably never have taken the road which passed ‘The Compasses Inn’ at Littley Green where a steam rally was in progress, the air thick with the aroma of burning coal, heating the boilers of huge traction engines and steam-rollers. As we arrived the crews were busy polishing and buffing, which looked like thirsty work to us, so we were disappointed to find that although it was already half past eleven the pub was closed.

So instead we rode on the final six miles to Braintree and found ourselves in church again, this time as guests of Christ Church in London Road. Every Saturday morning the church opens to provide teas, coffees and cakes. We stopped here on virtually the same weekend last year and they even remembered us. With bikes safely stored at the back of the church we tucked into home-made cookies and cherry cake – and it wasn’t long before we were being offered more. Again would we have stopped here in a car? Probably not.

Tea at Christ Church

Tea and cakes at Christ Church, Braintree.

We took a shorter route back to Rayleigh and carrying the weight of five panniers meant I was usually at the back,  but apart from very tired legs (and the odd niggle of cramp) it went well and the longest ride so far on the Surly ended up at the Wetherspoons in Rayleigh drinking cider and wolfing down salty chips.

As for the Dyno-hub, it worked well. When I set out the I-phone was on 9% charge, but by around 50 odd miles it was fully charged, so I’m guessing a complete charge would take 60 miles, about a day’s cycling.

I’ll be carrying out a more detailed test of the Dyno-hub and Solar Monkey in a future blog post, but for now it’s a good start.

If only my legs would re-charge as quickly!


Written by Paul


  1. Looks like there was more cake-eating going on than cycling Paul!

  2. Hmmm only just managed to overtake the steam engine!!!

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