Monday, 27 August 2012

Over Hadrian's wall

I'd like to say I rested my legs this weekend but my calf muscles are still screaming at me following a couple of shortish walks. My bicycles have been securely locked away and I had a holiday in Scotland.

Saturday was spent walking around Edinburgh zoo where the main attractions are the Giant Pandas (sadly both asleep).  To see all of the animals at the zoo involves walking quite a considerable distance up hill and clearly not ideal for finely tuned cyclists legs ;-)

My family very generously allowed me to navigate a short detour into our drive back to the hotel after the zoo and we went to Ronde; a superb cycle-cafe in Edinburgh.

I had read about Ronde via the blogs of Rich Mitch and Sir Brian Palmer. The shop has a reasonable stock of high quality cycling goodies and I was very tempted to add to my collection of Rapha clothing and would have bought several Rich Mitch designed mugs had they had them in stock.

I didn't make it out of the shop without reducing my bank balance. They stock Lezyne products (which are definitely on my quality-products-you-must-have list) and they had the new 2013 lights.  I am now the proud owner of Femto Drive and Micro Drive rear lights in preparation for when the nights draw in.

The shop also had a beautiful Shand SkinnyMalinki bicycle and the quality of the paint and the fillet brazing was superb.  Whilst paying for my Lezyne goodies I was told that there may soon be a partnership with Shand and Rich Mitch so that if I was to order a custom frameset then my cartoon face image would be painted onto the seat tube.  That has got me thinking.

On Sunday I went to the must-see Kelvingrove art gallery and museum in Glasgow and managed to fit in a few sit-downs during more walking.  This museum and art gallery compare with the best in the world. Where else can you see masterpieces for free?  They have an amazing collection including Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Pissarro and many more.  They also have a collection of pieces by Scottish artists which was an education for me.  I particularly appreciated the work of John Quinton Pringle...

You don't see much artwork incorporating bicycles.  The photograph doesn't capture the brushwork very well, but Pringle used blocks of paint which makes it very striking.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

How did my BWC plans unfold?

The outcome:

I finished in under 25 minutes with an average speed of 19.7mph over the 8.24 miles and knocked 1:32 off my 2011 time.  However, in the overall results I finished 10 places further back than last year which would suggest that the standard of racers is hotting up.

What did I do differently this year? :

Very little changed in my training programme since last year and I raced on the same S2L (2-speed) Brompton.  I was fortunate to get a start number in the first pen which meant I had fewer (possibly slower) riders to overtake but it also gave me the chance to sit on the wheels of faster riders. 

I had a double espresso from Look Mum No Hands before the race!

I realised from last year that I wasn't going to be able to continue pedalling on the descents because of my gearing so I put my knees together, tucked my elbows in and tried to keep my head as low as possible.  I noticed I was able to distance several other riders on both laps using this technique.

This year I wore a jacket fastened up, pinned down and tight enough to eliminate flapping.  Last year my jacket became a cape and clearly caused drag.

Whenever I could, I tried to keep my body position low.  I didn't go as far as to rest my forearms on the handlebars but, in a (not quite scientific) test on my road bike, I realised that at 20mph I could increase my speed by 2mph with the same effort just by holding the handlebar drops.

I admit to wheelsucking :-( I jumped onto the wheels of fast groups.

I had sufficent energy left to put in a sprint at the end.

What could I have done better? :

I didn't go off like a scalded cat but I had two occasions near the start when I had to feather the brakes and I may have lost a few seconds.

The big hill felt steeper this year and I'm convinced I stayed on the small sprocket last year for the entire first lap, whereas this year I changed to the low gear fairly early on and perhaps lost some time.  This was probably because I might weigh a few Kg more this year.


One rider went wide on the descent to the first cattle grid and ended up 100 feet into the field.  Weird though as she had good bike control and kept it upright in the long grass.

As I changed down for the hill on the first lap I was passed by Dr Hutch and, it was difficult to tell but it looked as though he was also riding a 2 speed and was grinding it out on the 54-12.  His race number indicated that he was in the 2nd pen, so I assume the organisers were trying to handicap him.  It didn't work and he knocked a minute off his personal best and lapped the course at over 24mph average. Good speed sir.

On the run in to the finish line I was riding in a strung out group and we passed some slower riders.  The second wheel in the group (on an orange Brompton) swerved to the right and got tangled with the rope and a supporting post sending him crashing. Everyone else managed to avoid having a pile up and he appeared to be okay.


I shall be back next year with some modifications to my bike and a target time of 23.5 mins. And maybe a final attempt in 2014 to get on the podium in the Vets category.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Don't be a stranger

Today's Blenheim Palace cycle festival and the Brompton World Championship race were outstanding.  After all of the long, wet and lonely miles training on the bike I bettered my time from last year, but above all I got the chance to meet a lot of people.

It was a huge pleasure to meet Rich Mitch and hear about some of his future plans.

The Wilier Zero 7 is beautiful and I was almost taken in by the sales pitch of Dale, the Wilier UK representative, who helped me in the past with my Izoard frameset.

But most of all it was great to meet the friendly people from the London Brompton Club.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Always check the plug

Many years ago a friend's elderly neighbour admitted to a costly error...

His wife had told him that the washing machine was broken so he gave it a cursory look over, agreed it was kaput and then telephoned John Lewis to have them deliver a new one and take the old one away.  The nice men in their green overalls delivered the white goods the following day, installed it and took away the old one. 

However his wife reported to him that the new one was also broken.  The pair of them scratched their heads, opened the door, counted to ten and closed the door, but it was still broken.  Then they realised that it wasn't switched on at the wall and for that matter perhaps the old machine wasn't either.  Their grandson had been to stay and they suddenly realised he had used the washing machine plug socket to recharge his new radio controlled car.

A call to John Lewis to try to get the old (but working) machine back proved fruitless as it had been taken to the nearby recycling centre. Oh well, lesson learned.

My Van Nicholas developed a clicking during the Ardechoise and I made a mental note to replace the bottom bracket before taking the bicycle on holiday.  So I bought and fitted a new Dura Ace 7900 bottom bracket during the pre-holiday bicycle clean and thought no more about it. 

However, on my first ride in the Pyrenees the clicking was still there.  Oh well, at least I didn't throw the old bottom bracket away.

So if it wasn't the bottom bracket then it must be the Rotor chainrings. Perhaps one of the chainring bolts wasn't at 7Nm.  A quick check when I got back to the villa and...nope, they were all good.

So, when I returned home I was still scratching my head, gave the bike a clean and went for a pedal. Still there!

Only one thing left to check. I took the pedals off and tried the bike with a spare set and, bingo, the clicking has gone.  Weird though, as the pedal spindles appear fine, so maybe my cleats.

I wish it was as straightforward as checking the plug is switched on :-)

BMX Booties birthday cake

More coolness...

My wife made my daughter's birthday cake!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Team SKY birthday cake

How cool is this?

My son is 11 years old today and my wife made this superb cake.

I expect it will go as fast as the cyclists do ;-)

I've found my Mojo

After a two week holiday in the Pyrenees and a week working from home I'm back on the Brompton commute and paused at the Tower of London to take a tourist photo:

My legs are feeling good and I think I have the form to better last year's time at the Brompton world championships but that wasn't the case early last week.

I tested the legs on my 17 mile Long lane training ride and the outcome was disappointing.  It may have been the blustery weather or that my legs had been accustomed to climbs, or maybe even some remaining side effects of the food poisoning, but I only managed an 18.6mph average.

Panic! I repeated the ride each evening and by the end of the week, thankfully, my average speed had increased to 20.3mph, getting close to my personal best on the bumpy route.

I realise that the low geared S2L is going to be a handicap in the race, especially on the long downhill section but I'll be able to compare my time on Sunday like-for-like with last year's.

I put the Grrr in grimpeur, baby!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bicycle design

In 2008 I took my family to the cycling festival at Blenheim Palace and we laughed at the Brompton race.  That year was the first UK-based Brompton world championships and Roberto Heras, ex-super domestique to Lance Armstrong, came over from Spain to add to his palmares.  He was beaten by 3 seconds.

Who would have thought that three years later I'd be racing with an optimistic dream of adding the five coloured world champion bands to my commuting bike. And (glutton for punishment) I'm entered again this year!

The Blenheim Palace cycling festival has other attractions and 2008 turned out to be an expensive trip.  The Go Ride stand was a great opportunity for my children to demonstrate their bike handling abilities and to have a go on the many unusual bikes of various designs that had been brought along.

One such machine was a recumbent and my son had to be prised off the demo bike with the promise that Father Christmas would bring him one.  He did and a blue KMX Kart miraculously came down the chimney later that year and has been cherished since.

I have always admired the quirky designs of recumbents and a well thumbed Bicycle Design book by Mike Burrows sits on my bookshelf, so I have been a little jealous of my son and was frustrated at the weight limit for his bike.  So when he said he thought he was outgrowing his Kart I lept at the chance to buy one of the bigger models for the whole family to enjoy.

X=N+1, etc, but I think it is time to reduce N by one (down to 18) and my son's Kart is available to buy.  Please contact me if you are interested.

Friday, 10 August 2012


I haven't seen any news regarding the arrest and prosecution of the culprits who tried to sabotage the TdF stage this year. And the Perthshire resident who ruined my Etape Caledonia still walks free.

I think an example needs to be set, someone prosecuted, even if they are fictitious, i.e. make up a story that someone has been caught, found guilty via some CSI-like evidence and imprisoned for 5 years.  That ought to discourage anyone considering spilling the tacks.

On my holidays I may have found the instigator of all the tack related crimes:

Salvador Dali!

I recommend going to his theatre-museum in Figueres, Spain and seeing his work up close.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Google cyclepath?

I use Google maps frequently and love the overlay of satellite images with maps.  The combination of satellite pictures and then being able to zoom in using spy plane pictures is incredible.

And Google streetview with pictures taken from the top of a car is just Big Brother and occasionally comes in handy, but I hadn't given much thought to how Google would capture images on pathways where the car couldn't go.

But look at what I spotted in Perpignan whilst on holiday...

I did a quick Google search and they have been using the trike for over three years and you can even go online and suggest new spots for them to film.

Virtual tourism - wow!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


As a homage to Wiggo, the holiday beard has gone leaving (a measly effort of) sideburns.


If Postman Pat swapped his little red van for a bicycle then I'm sure it would look like this...

This is the electric bicycle that the Ceret postie uses.

It would be good to see these adopted in the UK, painted red of course apart from the gold ones to match the pillar boxes.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Category 2 punishment

The holiday in Ceret gave me the opportunity to go for a pedal almost every day.  I found some great routes but the distances were short'ish as the temperature was hot and I carried only two bidons. Hydrate or die! Unlike the Alps, the Pyrenean villages and towns don't have fountains or troughs of potable water, so my ride times were restricted to about two hours.

When in the mountains find a climb - the tougher the better.

Our holiday villa was at the foot of the climb to Col de Brousse and I'd read beforehand that it was a 10km climb, averaging 7% with a maximum of 8.5% to a summit of 860metres; a cheeky Category 2 climb then.  I found out the hardway that someone's pants were on fire. Liars! 

From the villa, my route started on a gentle ascent through a new housing development, following the AR sportive event road markings into the town where it passes the Gendarmerie and then the climb begins at a comfortable 6% through more residential streets.

At this point I was still on the big chainring, sometimes riding out of the saddle to get around the blind sweeping corners quickly.  The road narrows to a tight two car width but there are still houses, becoming grander, and so there was an occasional car. I flicked down to the small chainring when I saw 8% reported on my Garmin and passed the turning for the Coll de Boussells, AR-se marked route.

The road narrows further at this point, no more houses and you begin to get great views to the right. The gradient settles into a 6% to 7% lulling you into a comfortable rythm and I kept my cadence around 80rpm, congratulating myself on my choice of bringing the Van Nicholas Chinook with C50 wheels and 12-25 cassette.

After a couple of lacets (hairpin bends) the climb starts to rear up again. The Garmin was showing 9% (surely not, as the climb is reported as having an 8.5% maximum), then increased to 10% and my heart rate joining it exponentially.  The road is exposed at this point, rock face to the left and a sheer drop to the right.  I could hear the rumble of my carbon wheels echoing on the cliff to my left.

The 10% section feels as though it lasts for miles and my legs began to tingle with the exertion so it is was a relief when the road eases off to a more level section of 2% where I was able to spin the lactic acid out. Up until this point the road follows the mountain counter-clockwise, so there is little shade and it was bloody hot.  My mouth was parched; constant sips from the bidon providing short relief in the heat and my heavy breathing. I sounded like a train.

The climb then enters the trees, giving shade, but the gradient begins to rise up again.  In the first section of trees I could hear bells, similar to Alpine cow bells but less of a dong and more of a ding and the road became littered with dung...

...Goats. A small herd with the farmer sharing his semi-detached home with them.

After the farm I regretted not bringing my climbing C24 wheels with a 28-tooth sprocket. The road kicks up to 13% and settles at over 10% for a big segment. It was at this point that a huge bird of prey swooped out of the trees, it's feathers were a dark chestnut colour and the wing tips were splayed (a Golden Eagle?). It banked left disappearing between the trees and down the mountainside and lifted my spirits. Spirits lifted but with heavy legs, I toiled on with the chain firmly on the 25 sprocket and the Garmin indicating a 10% gradient and confirming I had been climbing for nearly 7 miles.

10km with a maximum of 8.5% - yeah right, my derriere!

At this point the road surface changes.  The tarmac so far had been rough and uneven and I had made a mental note to be cautious on the descent, but now the road had recently been re-surfaced and it was covered in a fine, sharp, white gravel - deadly at speed, especially on corners.  I spent the next mile or so crunching up the 9% to 10% narrow road, whereupon I was ambushed.

The road surface improved but I was greeted by a swarm of flies. Thankfully the summit was just around the corner and I quickly took a photo and jumped back onto the bike to come back down desparate to evade the flies.

I rode the 8 miles to the top on several occasions. The first time at an average of 8.4mph and my best time with an average of 8.9mph.  On Strava, the KOM has an average speed of under 8mph so I thought I'd smash up it at the end of the holiday but had two problems; I got food poisoning from some bad mussels and, although I had recovered, on my final attempt I only managed 8.6mph average and then found my smartphone couldn't get GPS.

Another mountain ticked off.  I don't think it has ever been a tour climb but it is a ball-buster and I highly recommend it. Just don't believe the description.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Missing from the TdF

It has just occurred to me that there were two characters missing from this year's Tour de France

1. Didi Senft

Apart from selling his soul and appearing in the Wiggle advertising campaign, Didi was absent from the tour whilst he was recovering from brain surgery.  Get well soon!

2. Dirk Hofman

No sign of the sign?

Sunday, 5 August 2012


I wear a cotton cap under my road cycling helmet all year round...

A casquette keeps the sweat from running down your face. In winter it keeps your head warm and keeps rain off your face. It will extend the lifetime of the helmet liner pads and, in summer, it stops your nose from getting sunburnt and if you are bald (like me) or have a shaved head it saves you looking like...

Holiday and training

The family holiday this year was in Ceret, a small town in the Languedoc Rousillon region of France. The town is surrounded by Cols and close to the border with Spain, so, as you probably gathered by my previous post, my son and I took our bikes.

My (soon to be 11 years old) son has now started his own list of mountains he has ticked off with the Col de Llauro and Coll de Boussells.  Both were tough climbs and great achievements, especially given the 30+ degrees centigrade temperatures.  The Boussells climb took him a few attempts and it reminded me of the story of the great Gino Bartoli who, in his youth, would ride home from school on his fixed wheel bike and attempt to climb the 18% hill at Moccoli, each time getting a few metres higher before having to stop and walk.

The ride to Boussells follows a marked out route with AR painted on the road for a 20km Sportive Event. We followed the AR-se (chuckle) signs and on the first attempt my son couldn't conquer the 8% section so we turned back and completed the shorter, 6km AR-se route (twice!).

As we descended we passed another cyclist on his way up.  The rider was on an old bike, was wearing a big floppy hat and he was maintaining a good pace, looking 'useful', like a Grimpeur; a climber.  My son and I wondered whether we had just seen the reclusive Robert Millar out stretching his legs.

During our two week holiday there was a huge forest fire nearby which created a fabulous sunset...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The intent was clear...

We turned left onto the start of the local training climb and I spotted another father and son cycling grupetto emerging from their driveway. I gave a pleasant 'Bonjour' but I could see the 'look' as they quickly tried to get the measure of us.

I shifted up two sprockets - tok, tok - then reached over and put my right hand on the small of my son's back and gradually raised our pace. "Why are we going so fast dad?" my son asked and the answer was obvious; my Silly Commuting Racing instincts had flared and I wasn't going to lose our scalps to Monsieur Bianchi et fil.

We didn't receive any competition on the five mile climb to the top of the Col de Llauro but I imagine it has seen some great battles and time trials regaled in the local cafes.

One of the best cycle racing stories I have read recently is Three Bent Links by Jon Wyatt. The third short story in the e-book is written so imaginatively I genuinely felt part of the hard-fought commuter race. The other two short bike related stories are as good and the book is worth spending the few pennies to read on Kindle.

This is the view from near the top of Col de Llauro and you can just make out the Viaduct de Rome in the background.