80 miles, uphill all the way

Last Tuesday I set out to ride the towpath of the River Thames from the start at Putney (west London) to the source. Unsupported, on a Coker. The aim was to complete 180-odd miles in 7 days.

Day 1 consisted of nice, generally wide, well groomed paths, and sunny spells. As I left I checked all was secure & ride off. After 10 yards I heard a clatter behind me. Yes, I had almost lost my 3rd cycle computer. I’m glad I did stop! (Cateye Enduro, FYI) A few miles on, an unseen branch snagged my helmet and, although I stayed on, I felt like it could have been one of those gags where the stuntman gets stopped but the bike/horse continues into the distance! After a few failed mounts over the morning, my seatpost bag mounting snapped, rendering it useless (Altura, FYI) and adding the heavy tools to the load on my back (feeling much more than the 7 KGs I claimed!)

At Hampton Court I met an Nonagenarian who had walked my whole route in sections & wished me luck, as some sections were very poor. A short while later was a concrete sculpture ‘designed by local residents’ (and sponsored by Tescos) illustrating the history of Hurst Park as a venue for duels, pioneering hot air balloon flights, fatal boxing matches and horse-racing (ended by suffragettes burning down the grandstand). The Nonagenarian arrived, and little did I realise that I would see him 3 more times, as we leap-frogged each other. My only consolation for the embarrassment our net speeds being the same for a while was that he did get caught in the only rain of my trip which was while I was in a pub! Lunch after 21 miles was a huge lasagne, pint of shandy & a pint of Coke. The shandy was a mistake as I felt a wee bit slow & fuggy, with slower speed & more frequent breaks. I decided to stay in Staines and tried booking a room. £130?? £240??? Tried the other end of the market, no luck. 5th attempt (from a useful list from the police station – worth remembering) found a dingy little room with thin walls, no windows, no cover on the skylight (so would get woken by the sun) and a lousy breakfast for £80. Avoid hotels in Staines at any cost!
Total 31.5 miles, average 7.5mph but 6 hours travelling time (ex Lunch).

Day 2

Off at 8:30 after the predicted poor sleep. The day was to be scattered clouds with a light easterly wind (at my back, opposite to the prevailing winds!) Good progress until the path deteriorated to a rogeratunicycledotcom “90% rideable” (yes, that bad), and then a nasty stretch of major road.
After a long continuous ride along technical singletrack (with nettles & brambles, as well as the omnipresent river & hedges hemming me in I caught up with a huge passenger ship that just barely fitted into the lock where I was resting. It chugged noisily away and I realised that I would be playing leapfrog with it for the rest of the day, as it was heading to Henley, my target for the day. At the next lock I asked them for a lift, and they agreed. They warned that the journey would be about 4 hours, and I said it would probably take me the same amount of time and expend significantly less energy!
It turned out to be “the biggest and most luxurious vessel on the upper Thames”. The journey was an eye opener, as the crew knew the river well. The biggest excitement was at Cookham, where the boat cleared the bridge by less than 1 inch! This was after partially flooding the hull and lowering the level of the river in that section.
Having learnt my lesson, my gf was conscripted to find a B&B for me, which was at the top of a hill, naturally – divine justice for getting a lift?
Total 17 miles at an average of 6.2 mph!

Day 3

This would be the real test I thought. Some stiffness both mornings, but it wore off easily enough. No saddle soreness at all! I was using a new UDC gel saddle, as I had overtightened & snapped a bolt on my Koxx. Another clear sunny day, but with a stiff easterly breeze. Just out of Henley I received a great compliment from a man who said “I can fly a Jumbo Jet, but I could never ride one of those!”. Past some houses with private heli-pads (and one with it’s own narrow-gauge railway!) my shoulders started to get sore, so I made a potentially rash decision to post home my sandals. I know if it rained I would be stuck with permanently wet feet, but it looked like the week would be dry. The path between Shiplake & Sonning was very tough, but as I neared Reading the path improved greatly, and the hazards changed to old ladies, deaf dogs & mental care patients. A while later came the best stretch yet. A deserted 2 miles across grassy flower meadows. The water was very clear, and extremely tempting. Unfortunately I didn’t fancy drip-drying in the cold wind!
Lunch at The Swan Inn at Pangbourne, the place where Jerome K Jerome’s ‘3 men in a boat’ ended their journey. And that was the only good thing to say about that establishment. Clearly trading on reputation only. Here the “towpath” diverted onto a “bridleway” In my experience to date bridleways do not have steep steps and low branches as horses tend to have problems with them. Also, towpaths do not ascend up to ½ a mile away, 100 metres up a hill, from the river on which the vessels are being towed! It was a very nice change, but rather painful on the muscles! Once back on-trach there were more meadows with deep grass, and more technical singletrack. At one point the towpath was blocked by a large freshly partially fallen tree. I rested the Coker on top, climbed over, under and through and retrieved the Coker. As I rearranged myself, there was an almighty crack from the trunk. Luckily it did not move, but I thought it was a sign that I should press on!
Towards the end of the day my right knee started to feel uncomfortable but I shrugged it off as just one of those things. My gf had done a good job again, finding a 12th Century B&B (although I don’t think it had been a B&B for quite that long) with over-the-top water gardens. She did manage to make me suffer with a nasty cross-wind.
Totals were 30.7 miles, av 5.8 mph.

Day 4 and the end…

I had a real problem bending my knee that morning. I hobbled downstairs for a good breakfast & back up, took advice & drenched my knee in ibuprofen gel to reduce the cartilage or ligament swelling and tackle the pain. The other advice was to rest it for a week or so. I set off, and along with the usual morning pains, I thought the knee pain would go away but after a minute or so it was too painful to ride, as the pain was just on the start of the downstroke, when pressure was at its greatest. After a 15 minute stop I tried again with even more pain, but by then I felt I had no choice but to stop, and go home. Feeling very depressed I walked to the village, got a bus (thankfully not having to wait too long) and consoled myself by sitting in first class among the overweight businessmen on the train.

Total miles: 80.1
Total moving time (walking/riding): 12 hours 30
Total travelling time (excluding lunches): 18 hours

Only 2 nasty UPDs, one on tree root covered by mottled tarmac in mottled shade, the other on a very narrow, heavily vegetated path close to where many of the Hammer House of Horror films were made. The latter was just after I had said to myself “I should have a break, if I continue much longer I’m sure I’ll crash. Just find somewhere nice to stop…”

I should have mentioned how I feel now. I finished 4 days ago, and feel perfectly fine. a little muscular stiffness for a couple of days, very gentle on the knee. will be going for a ride tonight to see how it feels on the 150’s I was riding on. I did a short, gentle spin on 110’s which felt OK so no damage done - until I do my next major ride!

I’ll definitely be doing something like it again. the feeling of acheivement has been greatly dampened by the failure to reach my target, and I was surprised by the short distances I rode each day. At least I know that the London to Brighton, or Solent Ride would be within reach with some more training. However, another multi-day ride is more to my liking. The Devon Coast to Coast should be quite easy…

thanx for the write up
too bad about the knee, i do trust it isn’t anything serious

u mention that u’ll do something like this again
would u do this same route again?

Bummer you had to stop, but it’s always better to stop than to permenantly damage yourself. It was cool hearing about the bits you did ride though, I’ve ridden all of that either on unicycle or bike, I grew up in Staines, so I know the Thames pretty well.

The problem with Staines is that it’s really convenient for Heathrow and for the various businesses (absolutely tons of them) that are near there, so it’s really very expensive to stay in. Windsor is pretty expensive too, so there’s not really anywhere to stay before you get quite a way along.

I bivvied when I walked large amounts of the Thames, but that’s not so practical if you’re not a skanky youth and camping is a bit of hassle with a unicycle.

I think the bit past where you got to starts getting a bit dull on a bike because it’s not really made for riding on in large parts, you probably did the best bit.


That’s bold of you doing a big multi-day ride like that by yourself. Sorry you didn’t make it all the way but it sounds like a pretty good adventure anyway. Congratulations!


I would probably do the same route again, but on a 29er. I’m not too fussed about the first part, (been there, seen it) But I would like to finish the course. A ride abroad, in places where I wouldn’t understand the more inane comments is very tempting for my next one.

I went for a gentle ride last night and mounting the Coker without a rucksack felt like I was mounting a muni - so easy! unfortunately after 200 yards my knee started up so I’m off to the doctor later in the week. I’ve been told that it could have been due to inadequate training & doing too much at once, and have been recommended a couple of exercises.

As for going solo, I don’t think it was particularly bold, more independent! The total break from routine (although the ride certainly had its own routines) was very refreshing and I feel better for it. I would like to make similar solo trips an annual event!

I’d love to do a multi day ride but I have commitments preventing me so reading about them is good, nice write up Mike.

I’ve had knee problems in the past due to unicycling and it was down to uneven thigh muscle development. The muscle on my inner thigh wasn’t developing as fast as the outer muscle thus pulling my knee cap outwards. I had to do complimentary exercises on my inner thigh and now no more problems. Hope you get your knee sorted quickly.

Re: Day 3

Originally posted by mikepenton
. Past some houses with private heli-pads (and one with it’s own narrow-gauge railway!)
A while later came the best stretch yet. A deserted 2 miles across grassy flower meadows. The water was very clear, and extremely tempting. Unfortunately I didn’t fancy drip-drying in the cold wind!

Thanks for the memories mike, I remember those bits of the path well. I didn’t stick to the river path as much as you when I did the Oxford to London effert. I took 3 seperate days to do it useing the train to take me to or from ( or on the London day, both) the route. Bummer about the B&Bs, much better in Devon, expect to pay about 25-30 a night for a nice room down here. Shout if you want to try the devon c2c, the county council publish a list of cycle friendly b&bs no less. We did it (actully did all the way round devon) on bikes last year.