Sunday, 13 August 2017


I went out for a ride this afternoon to get in a few miles, and to take some more photographs to test out the camera on my new phone. It was a bright day, with clouds and sunny spells, so there was lots of contrast on offer. These are pretty challenging conditions for photography.

Here are a few of the resulting frames. These are all straight from the camera, with no post processing. And, naturally, no optical filters were used in the making of these photos.

The Globe pub in Alresford.

Bighton Wood

Harvested fields between Bighton and Medstead

More harvested fields from Common Hill, Medstead

Woods near Dummer
I'd probably reduce the exposure of the woods, because it was quite dark in there. Here's how the picture looks with the brightness reduced. I just used the Photos app in Windows.

The woods with reduced brightness


 That sky looks threatening!

Ferns in the verge

 Just one of many thatched cottages in the area. This one is in North Waltham.

Combine Harvester above Hunton

Harvesting is well under way on the Hampshire prairies!

More thatched cottages, this time in Hunton village.

The light at Stoke Charity was gorgeous!

The Dever at Stoke Charity
Once again, this photo of the river Dever, flowing through Stoke Charity, looks a little over exposed. Here is how it looks with the brightness reduced.

The pond at Stoke Charity. Exposure in the sky has been held particularly well.

Stoke Charity church.
Overall, these are pretty encouraging. Still seems as though it should be feasible just to use my phone for photos on the rides.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Leaving the Camera Behind

In recent years, I've carried a 'compact' camera with me on major rides, to record the sights. This year, however, when riding in the Alps, I'm planning on relying on my mobile. Recent advances in mobile phone cameras include some fairly sophisticated High Dynamic Range(HDR) capabilities. Multiple exposures are taken automatically, and merged to maximise the perceived dynamic range in the resulting picture. This is just what you need to capture photos with a large contrast range. And that includes landscapes with bright skies.

View from the top of Dean Hill, direct from my phone

First experiments, from a group ride last Sunday, look quite promising. As a result, I'm planning on leaving my camera behind on big climbs, and using the extra space for more food!

Having a bit of history in image processing, I was interested in how the newer HDR approaches work. Conventional HDR involves taking a series of individual images while bracketing the exposure. Some shots will be under exposed while others will be over exposed. The combination of the data from the set of images, using the appropriate maths, leads to an image that better represents the full range of colour and brightness. Images in the sequence need to be registered with one another, of course, since there may be slight movements of the camera between individual frames. But that's the same task as stabilisation in video recording, and that has been available in real time for quite a while. The disadvantage with conventional HDR is the time taken to capture the multiple frames. This manifests itself as shutter lag to the photographer.

The newest approach to HDR appeared in mass market phones with Google's Pixel range. In Android, this is now known as HDR + Auto. As soon as the camera is running, it is actually capturing a continuous stream of frames, as if it were in video mode. These are stored in a buffer. Every frame is deliberately under exposed, so that they can be combined without 'blowing out' bright areas. When the shutter is pressed, the camera records the time, and retrieves the appropriate set of frames from the buffer. Because the data is being captured continually, there is no shutter lag at all. The challenge, of course, is that because no frames are over exposed, the data in the shadow areas is always noisy. It turns out, however, that better results can be obtained in the shadows by combining a time sequence of frames, than by boosting the exposure. In particular, colours can actually be captured more accurately in shadows. The whole process takes a lot of computation, of course, and has only become feasible with the latest processors. HDR + is an example of the new trend towards computational photography and software defined cameras, which use the basic data from the sensor in new ways. In many respects, its closer to what our own visual systems do, in post processing the data from our eyes, which are not the best visual sensors, to generate detailed representations of the world.

There are likely to be glitches, from time to time, but it definitely seems to be worth trying in anger.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Back to Bourg

It's official. Fat man will be back in the Alps this year! 

I'm going back to Bourg-d'Oisans for a couple of weeks this summer, to introduce eldest son, Andrew, to the joys of riding in the mountains.And there is the small matter of an attempt at a Marmotte.

Now that there is a route down the Col du Lauteret, bypassing the collapsed tunnel, above Lac du Chambon, the Marmotte ride is once again feasible.The Marmotte involves the Col du Glandon, the Col de Telegraph, Col du Galibier, and finally Alpe d'Huez. I've ridden them all individually. Riding them together, in one day, is definitely on my bucket list. The total distance is 174 kilometres.

On July 2nd, the official Marmotte will see thousands of riders attempt the route in a fully organised and supported event. Instead of that, by being in the area for a couple of weeks, I'm planning to build up to it, by riding combinations of climbs before going for the full trip.

Bring it on!

Sunday, 4 September 2016


It's become traditional, at the end of a cycling holiday, to review the experience. First, here are the summary statistics.
  • I spent nearly 42 hours cycling
  • I covered 717 kilometres. 
  • I climbed nearly 18,000 meters vertically, which is over twice the height of Everest above sea level. Actually, that's very similar to last year's efforts, in the Alps
  • The highest point on the trip was the Col du Tourmalet, at 2115 metres above sea level
  • The ride with the largest height gain, of 2767 metres, was over the Aspin and the Tourmalet. That's quite a bit more than last year.
  • I expended nearly 21,000 calories while riding, which is also rather more than last year
  • My maximum speed while descending, naturally, was 66 kilometres per hour, a whole 1 more than last year.
  • In total, I turned the pedals 138,108 times, again a significant increase over last year

All About the Bike

My Ribble Aero 883 performed faultlessly.  With no maintenance, other than pumping up the tyres and lubricating the chain, it tackled the climbs without complaint. Di2 provided consistently slick shifts. The stiff frame, sensitive steering and awesome Ultegra brakes all contributed to a huge sense of confidence on descents. The bike could be placed accurately. Any missed apexes were entirely my own fault. The bike went were I pointed it.

I typically had quite a bit of weight on the bike. I carried a compact camera, several CO2 cylinders, lights, pump, and up to 1.5 litres of water, together with an action camera.

I did expect the deep section rims to be affected by cross winds, and wasn't disappointed. However, the bike always remained controllable and the Mavic's did an excellent job of coping. Wind is something to bear in mind in the mountains. For anyone worried about it, a set of standard rims might be a good idea. I don't think I saw another rider on aero rims during the whole trip.

The Ribble attracted attention wherever it went. People often commented on how good it looked, and were interested in how it rode, who made it and how much it cost.

In summary, it's a brilliant bike. Thanks Ribble.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Where We Stayed

We stayed in two locations this year. Most of the time we were based at the Vélo Peloton Pyrénées Cycling Lodge, in Saint Savin near Lourdes. Paddy and Olive have a wonderful location for cycling in this part of the Pyrenees. Paddy used to race bikes, and has a vast knowledge of the entire area. He also has the distinction of managing to ride up the Hautacam 100 times in a single calendar year. Olive is a fabulous cook. There is secure bike storage, and spares and consumables available. The house is large and the rooms spacious. There is also a comprehensive satellite TV system, very important if you are staying during one of the grand tours!

Breakfast and dinner are communal and a great chance to get to know the other cyclists staying there, to swap experiences and to arrange rides. While we were there we met people from the USA, Canada, Ireland, and lots of folks from Melbourne. Everyone was pretty committed to cycling! 

Saint Savin is just outside Argelès-Gazost, a perfect location for the Hautacam, the Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden, and the Soulor and Aubisque. There are lots of superb, though less well known climbs nearby too, and a 40 kilometre flat ride to Lourdes and back. There is lots of information about the rides on their web site.

They have a super set up for cyclists.

In the Massif, we stayed at the Grand Hôtel, in Le Mont Dore. This is a traditional, small French hotel. It's in a great location near the centre of the town. Once again, there is an excellent French breakfast buffet. Bike storage is possible, but not especially secure. It's a good idea to be able to speak some French in this part of France.

There are a number of climbs that have been used in the Tour within easy reach of Le Mont Dore, and the Puy de Dome is well worth a visit if you have a day off.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Puy de Dome

The last time the Tour de France used the Puy de Dome for a stage finish was 1986. Sadly since that time, the road up to the top has been closed to normal traffic. It's now used only by service and emergency vehicles.

The train for the Puy de Dome
The only way to the top, other than hiking, is to take the train. It's now a modern, Swiss built, electric, rack railway, that can move 1200 people per hour at peak times. The track uses what seems like one half of the road up to the Puy, halving its width and contributing to its closure for normal traffic. It is worth it, but the removal of bicycle access is regrettable. Since riding is no longer permitted, we drove to the Puy de Dome, and took the train up.

The views from the top, which is at 1464 metres above sea level, are nothing short of spectacular. There is a path around the summit, offering views for all points of the compass.

Other extinct volcanoes dominate the area
The Puy de Dome is the highest of a chain of extinct volcanoes in the area. The others can be seen clearly from the top.

The massive antenna dominates the Puy
A massive antenna dominates the Puy de Dome. It is the sister of the one on the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, above the Col du Tourmalet, and the one on the top of Mont Ventoux. They are broadcast antennae for television and FM radio. There are also other transmitters and observation stations at the top.

Paragliding is very popular on the Puy

The shape of the Puy, and the winds that blow here make it very popular for paragliding. Today, taster sessions were being offered, and there were often a number of paragliders airborne at once. It's possible to take off, fly around, and land back at the same spot, making commercial operations very convenient. There is no need to pack up kit and lug it back up to the take off point.

We spent quite a while photographing and videoing the flying, before heading to the cafeteria for some shelter from the strengthening wind, and some sustenance.

After a visit to the shop, we took the train back down and headed once more for Le Mont-Dore. On the way to the Puy de Dome, we'd noticed a couple of things to look at. We stopped to do so on the way back

The Basilica at Orcival
In Orcival, a village not far from Le Mont-Dore, there is a huge basilica. It utterly dominates the place.
Roche Tuiliere and Roche Sanadoire
A little further down the road are a pair of heavily eroded volcanoes, known as Roche Tuiliere and Roche Sanadoire.
Angela managing to keep warm despite 'English' temperatures
And then it was back to the hotel, and initial preparations for departure tomorrow. It's been an epic holiday.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

La Petite Boucle

Yesterday, we drove from Saint-Savin to Le Mont-Dore, near Clermont Ferrand in the Massif Central. This area is actually one of the coldest in France in the winter. It is a big skiing area in the winter, and people come here for hiking in summer. Le Mont-Dore has an air of slightly faded elegance. The buildings are much older than those in a typical ski resort, and none the worse for that.

The original idea had been for Angela to ride some less challenging climbs here. There are several in the area that have been used on the Tour de France. In the event, we decided that I'd ride, while she did some sightseeing. So with one day of riding left, and four climbs in the locality, a little work with my Garmin led to the birth of La Petite Boucle!

The first part involves riding from Le Mont-Dore a few kilometres to the base of the cable car that leads up the Puy de Sancy. This is the Massif. How hard can that be? Well, it turned out that there was a surprise in store, at the upper end of Le Mont Dore, where the road reared to 11% for a period. Nothing like the Hautacam, but enough for regrets about not riding yesterday, and that pain au chocolat at breakfast!

It soon settled down to 7 and 8% though. The road is wide and well surfaced, and should have been easier than this surely? And then it rained. After a little while it dawned on me that Le Mont-Dore is already at about 1000 metres above sea level. That's almost the height of the summit of Snowdon before you start climbing. That's bound to have some effect.

Cable car to Puy du Sancy
The area around the base of the cable car up to the Puy du Sancy doesn't seem to have any particular name. The best I could find on Google Maps seemed to be Pied du Sancy, so I'll go with that. It probably looks great in winter, but with renovations going on and the weather cloudy with showers, it all seemed a bit grim.

Bike at the Pied du Sancy
The descent back to Le Mont-Dore was fast and flowing. The surface is nearly new. It's not particularly technical, and the sight lines are good, so its easy to let the speed build. The recent rain did reduce my enthusiasm a little though.

Reaching Le Mont-Dore again, it was time to turn right and head up the Col de la Croix St Robert. First, I pulled over to remove my jacket, and then had all sorts of grief trying to clip in again on the short steep lower section of this climb. Once I'd managed that, the rest of the climb was a delight. My legs seemed to be working again, and although not effortless, the typical 7% gradient meant I was spinning, not grinding. The lower reaches are through woodland, with plenty of shade. Above the trees, the route flattens and crosses farmland before reentering woodland again.

Climbing the Col de la Croix St Robert
Climbing the Col de la Croix St Robert
Above this section of trees, the route is in the open until the summit. I say summit, but it's pretty flat at this point, crossing the open moorland below rounded peaks. There is a rather unimpressive metal cross in a field near the summit. I caught a glimpse of it on the way down. I'm guessing that is the cross after which the col is named. But I could be wrong...

The Col de la Croix St Robert
The descent from the Col de la Croix St Robert is also fast and flowing, but more technical than that from the Pied du Sancy. The surface is nearly new. There are a couple of places to stop and admire the view. From here, the first views of Lac Chambon are visible.

First view of Lac Chambon
Just above the town of Chambon sur Lac, which is anything but sur any lac, the road joins the route from the Col de la Croix Morand, of which more later. The descent continues in a gorge, passing through Chambon sur Lac, and on to the town of Lac Chambon, which is definitely by a lake.

Bike at Lac Chambon
I met up with Angela at Lac Chambon, which was fortunate. I'd forgotten the insect repellent before I set off. With the weather improving, and more forest to cross, it seemed like a good idea to use some. It was!
Angela getting arty at Lac Chambon
I retraced my steps through Lac Chambon to Chambon sur Lac, where the climb really starts. Up through the gorge and past the road down from the Col de la Croix St Robert the gradients remain a manageable 7% or so. The road soon emerges from the gorge and onto open farmland around the village of Bressouleille.
Climbing the Col de la Croix Morand
Its possible to see a lot of the route to the top from here. It starts to resemble a real mountain pass in places. The higher up I climbed, the more I was reminded of Snowdonia.

Reminiscent of Snowdonia
Any illusion of a real mountain pass is shattered on arrival at the top. It's a broad flat plane again, with a cafe.
Bike at the Col de la Croix Morand
Once again, the descent from the top was fast and flowing with some technical sections. The surface is not quite as good as on the Col de la Croix St Robert, but still good enough. The lower section gets steeper as the road arrives back in Le Mont-Dore.

After a bit of navigation, I found the road for La Bourboule, and headed down.

Bike in La Bourboule
La Bourboule is the next resort town along the railway line down the valley. It's similar to Le Mont-Dore but without the obvious skiing connection. I soon found the route for the Col de Vendeix, and headed up.

Near the top of the Col de Vendeix
As with all today's climbs, the Vendeix quickly settles to around 7% after an initial steeper section leaving the town. It's wooded all the way up, passing through the village of Vendeix Haut, before joining the D645 to Le Mont-Dore. The junction is supposed to be the summit, but there didn't seem to be any signs. The road to Mont-Dore also continues up for a distance, before finally descending to the town to complete the boucle.

So there we have it. Around 60 kilometres of riding with about 1500 metres of climbing, none of it particularly strenuous. A nice ride around nice roads in a nice part of France.

The route for La Petite Boucle is available on Garmin Connect.