Taking the Bike for a Walk (uphill)

I came across an article on the Guardian bike blog the other day. It had the saucy and provocative title; “Is it OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill?“.

It’s not ok to get off your bike and lie down

It’s very much a bike boom piece of writing, as is most of the Guardian Cycling Blog; a lefty liberal and metropolitan take on what it means to be a cyclist. Nonetheless, it refers to a particular issue that bedevils us all: when is it OK to get off and walk? I have to be honest and confess that I have walked up a bit of a hill once before. In 2004 I was riding up the Wyche on a road bike which had jammed in the 53 plate. I wasn’t very fit and found it hard to cope with the incline whilst pushing a massive cadence. It was too much hill and not enough gear. I can’t think of any other episodes which have ended in such ignominy. I have been close to the edge, especially when riding fixed and misreading the contours or elevation of a route. On such occasions I have forced my way up and over the crest, usually at about 15rpm, because I can. I also think that most hills can be ridden up in pretty much any sensible gear; it’s a question of willpower and not physical capacity. The article in question challenges the mentality that it’s not ok to walk. I agree in one respect; if you’re wearing flip-flops or a suit and commuting to work (and don’t necessarily class yourself as a cyclist) then feel free to walk if it gets tough. It’s not worth the aggravation and there is no badge of honour.

The article goes on to quote Chris Balfour: “Some of the snobbery and sneering which exists towards riders using ‘granny gears’ or who occasionally walk is really quite divisive and disappointing. We should celebrate [cycling’s] ‘everyman’ appeal, not slide to the worst of golfing ‘etiquette’ where newer and less able players are excluded or mocked behind their back in the clubhouse bar for ‘having the wrong swing’ or ‘wearing the wrong gear’.” I do celebrate cycling’s everyman appeal, but I don’t think anyone I know has ever mocked anyone for having the wrong gear (unless that means no mudguards, in which case get to the back and stay there you slurry-spreading infidel) or the wrong bike, or sticking it in the granny and shaking it around a bit. Quite the opposite, the guy on the hybrid who smashes everyone to bits seems to be a staple of most club runs. It’s the materialistic guys in the ‘right’ kit, typically the full castelli europro lycra show, who have purloined an entry ticket to an inclusive club in the mistaken belief that it confers some sort of bragging rights. All sports or activities have a degree of snobbery, cycling included; it’s integral and important. As cycling broadens outwards, dragging in everyone and anyone, it’s fine to celebrate inclusivity, but also important to recognise that there is a justified exclusivity at the core, of those who train hard and ride hard, race and follow an unspoken creed, writ with obsessional traits and a commitment to cycling and the past. This isn’t snobbery, it’s the long traditions of the sport. You gain entry through learning from others, picking up the hand signals and not making stupid mistakes. Entry is not pilfered through the impulse purchase of a BMC Impec and full Rapha kit. And if you are riding an £11k bike with £500 of clothing, you should damn well ride it to the top of the hill.

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“Cyclists”

Of late there have been more than a few posts in the internetosphere highlighting the errant behaviour of ‘cyclists’. There was one recently from the brilliant people at road.cc. I’m sure you can think of many others. Such articles are of a genre. However, I bridle at the use of the term ‘cyclist’. In the case of the article above, the aggressor would seem to fit the definition of ‘pyschopath who happened to be using a bicycle as a form of transport at that particular time of day to go about his psychopathic daily business, to include the act of beating-the-living-crap-out-of-septuagenarians’. Almost always the term ‘cyclist’ is applied in error.

It’s worth drawing this semantic distinction when there is such a welter of anti-“cyclist” sentiment out there; most of it from dumbass below-the-liners. Lazy attribution of the term only enforces the stereotype that all cyclists jump lights, run down old grannies, set alight paper bags of dog poo and leave them on your doorstep, that sort of thing. I’m all for more people riding bikes, insofar as it’s good to see people using bicycles as a practical means of transport. It doesn’t mean they’re cyclists. (in fact, as the three readers of this blog will know, i’m not actually ‘all for more people riding bikes’ at all and will be glad when this sorry bike boom dies on its consumer-driven ass and the choppers on rapha bikes currently crawling up the gorge like a plague of carbon cockroaches ((in full rapha carapace, obviously)) disappear back to the 18th hole).

I’m certainly not about to wander along the path of comparison and suggest a reappropriation of the term, thus negating its power and pejorated form, reclaiming it for those who wear the true badge. This is a path fraught with danger, and also a path best left to the experts. However, I am suggesting that we think carefully about how we apply the term ‘cyclist’, and question it when it’s foregrounded ahead of a more obvious description; like sociopath, or murderer, or alcoholic, or simply a sociopathic, murderous alcoholic.

Race the World

On a separate but equally curmudgeonly note, i was pleased to see Cycling Weekly waxing lyrical about the ‘Race the World’ in this week’s comic. It’s definitely one of the more accessible sportives of recent years. You even get a free bike and ‘individual tent space’. It consists of 5 legs taking place in 5 continents for the bargain price of just under £8000 per leg, or £40,000 all in. Did I mention the free bike and individual tent space?

full bersekrerThey seem to be missing a few extras you might normally expect for that kind of price. Namely, a full time fluffer, a beater to rouse the pheasants into flight for the evening meal, a travelling tank of lobster and beluga sturgeon for ravitaillement and a sponsorship deal with Rapha. A full set of rapha garms might exceed the entry fee though. These people are not cyclists; and as an event it’s beyond satire. A race for people who don’t race and can’t ride, who don’t know how to function without a concierge, have a sanitised and bogus view of suffering and adventure and a total shedload of money to burn on vanity projects. It surely has to be the apotheosis of the demented sportive trajectory.

 

Cyclo-Cross: Taking the Bike for a Walk

This morning was the second annual Odd Down clagfest. It’s a grotty, filthy, bike-destroying assault on the sensibilities. As such, it makes perfect sense to spectate, armed with a cowbell and a strange pink honky horn thing.

More cowbell! More pink honky horn thing!
More cowbell! More pink honky horn thing! (pic Africa Mason)

I love watching cyclo-cross. It’s the most bonkers of all the disciplines and you get to see a wider range of suffering and confusion than in most other events.

Man takes bike for stroll
Man takes bike for stroll

The course deviates through the woods hanging off the back of the Odd Down road circuit. Recent heavy rain had reduced the course to a quagmire. Even better. There was a huge field of riders, even more than last year, well over 100. Cyclo-cross is growing in popularity more quickly than any other branch of the support, in part because it’s accessible and there is a perverted camaraderie amongst the groterati, a collective insanity that can also be seen at hill climbs. The strongest, luckiest rider wins. 5 years ago you’d be lucky to lure one man and his dog out to a race day in Hengrove Park, which is stretching the definition of ‘park’ a little bit, unless by park you mean scrubland with a disused runway in the middle and some ruined industrial buildings, the playground of the NEETs. And the cyclocrossers. Next year i’m half-expecting to see a Fritewagon and bar selling Duvel, pumping out furious Belgian techno trance to an enraptured audience of low-country cyclofanatics – otherwise known as “all Belgians”.

wpid-img_20150104_1226202.jpg.jpeg
Could do with a quick clean

 

I staked out a spot in the woods and heckled like a madman. I rang the cowbell in Oli Beckingsale‘s face. A crowd formed and we cheered anyone who managed to ride their bike for more than 10 metres. The slope all but defeated them, making it the perfect spot to see crashes and some proper bike breakage.

Champion versions
Champion versions

The birch woodland echoed with the sound of derailleurs snapping. At the beginning the riders seemed to enjoy the challenge, revelling in the support and even smiling on occasion. By the end, all smiles had ceased, glassy eyes stared outwards, each orb a disconsolate and unthinking window into a mind shattered by the experience. A ghostly legion of pallid cyclists trudged onwards, destroyed in body and spirit by the accumulated trauma of 60 minutes in the woods. In years to come the locals will speak in hushed tones of the hauntings in the woods, how come January, if the weather is right, you can hear the sound of metal on mud, a hoarse tangling of twigs and chains, and the heavy, syncopated breathings of tortured souls condemned to circle through the undergrowth with bicycles wrapped across their heaving shoulders.

The Gidmeister gives it some beans
The Gidmeister gives it some beans

All of which made for a startling son-et-lumiere show. It was fantastic. Hats off to the amazing VC Walcot, a club committed to cycling and the community and a rich example to all clubs of what grass roots sport can look like.

The Story

A Happy New Year to all 3 of my readers. I hope you’ve managed to enjoy life and cycling. Strava are running an end of year feature which summarises your riding over the previous 12 months. The short videos are quite neat and judging by their ubiquity, a big hit with the cycling fraternity.

Here’s mine:

http://2014story.strava.com/video/2944054

It seems to suggest a couple of things, namely that you don’t need to do extreme mileage to be competitive, and that if you’re not doing lots of mileage, racking up the climbing helps. It doesn’t tell the entire story, here are a few other highlights:

– I rode the National TT Championships against Bradley Wiggins and other assorted demi-gods.  use the word ‘against’ quite lightly, I finished 28th out of everyone in the whole country. This is a truth of sorts.

My ass, like, breaking the internet

– I scraped under the 50 minute mark for 25 miles with a 49.58. This is seen as a significant mark within the sport and I was only the 130th rider in the history of time trialling to manage this feat. It’s harder to dial in a 30mph ride at 25 miles than over 10 miles, pacing becomes more important and much easier to get wrong.

one finger for each second required

–  I set a new course record on the BSCC Aust circuit, something I’d been trying really hard to do for absolutely yonks. In the end I smashed it, as is usually the case. I also lowered the club 10 record with a 19.38.

– I rode the National Team Trial Champs with the Spinkmeister and Trotterz, we came 14th. We were beaten by Olympic gold medallists like Steven Burke, and World Champions like Katie Archibald. And some dodgy road-riding by a team of chumps who sat on our wheel. They know who they are.

– I won two open events, both 25s, both on the same course. I’ll settle for that.

Apart from the milestones, I enjoyed riding in France with Traumbébé et Belle, it was probably the highlight of all the cycling done. I plan to do more of this.

 

 

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On The Edge of Glory

Most cyclists look forward to Christmas on account of the promise of quiet roads and an unusual sense of bonhomie amongst the general populace of car drivers. As such, it’s a perfect opportunity to bust out the winter bike and rack up the base miles. My good friends at Rapha sponsor the ‘festive 500′. It’s one of the things Rapha do very well, along with sponsoring several cycling events, backing a pro-tour team and providing expensive garms to legions of hapless choppers with more money than sense. You need to ride 311 miles between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Simple. 39 miles a day. I’ve managed 95 miles thus far, leaving a paltry 224 to turn in by Wednesday. If i’m lucky, I might make it an imperial festive 100. If you can’t beat ‘em, start your own competition and win that. I think I will award myself a third chocolate orange on completion of this epic feat.

Tommeke looks so pro these days.
Tommeke looks so pro these days.
Even his comfort breaks are totally europro
Besoin naturel d’europro
Looking and feeling distinctly bedmopro at the moment.
Looking and feeling distinctly bedmopro at the moment.
I'm on the edge, the edge, the edge,the edge. the edge, the edge, the edge.
I’m on the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge.

On the way back from the ‘Nham I came across some genuine Europro wannabes. Tommeke doesn’t count: he’s wearing sponsored kit from a team. He’s earned that look, and it’s more hardcore domestic pro with stripes than Eurosmasher. He has won road races and moved up through the categories as a result of hard work and diligence. Unlike the two Castelli head-to-footers on summer bongo-rockets who couldn’t even manage to lift a finger from the bars to acknowledge the presence of a fellow cyclist on the road to Uley at Christmas. Shame on them. I shall carry on waving, not drowning.

Brooks Cambium Saddle Review (best buy of the year)

The title gives it away. The best bike-related item I bought this year was the Brooks Cambium Saddle. I didn’t actually buy it, it was a birthday present from the wife. Some people have real trouble with saddles. I’ve generally had no difficulties in finding the right perch.

Can you smell fish?

Some time ago i experimented with a San Marco Regal, it’s one of the nicest looking retro-saddles. It made some unwarranted and painful changes to my lower goochular region and has been banished to the shed ever since. The Cambium is not dissimilar in looks, with a riveted construction. The base is made of vulcanised and hard rubber with the top coating of cotton canvas. It’s slightly rough compared the smooth sheen of a Fizik or San Marco, to the extent that some johnny-come-lately peak-millenial bike boom converts have taken to lambasting the saddle for wearing out or through a pair of expensive jeans. It doesn’t wear through lycra, but if you’re over anxious about distressing a pair of pre-distressed jeans then this might not be the saddle for you. Unless of course you’re pairing it with the Rapha city riding jodphurs and softshell kepi, for epic, concierge-led rides with the Dalston Chapter.

As a general rule, the only time saddles really matter are when I’m doing lots of fixed miles, usually over winter. This is because there is more lateral movement, or movement in general, when riding fixed, thus leading to an increase in chafage and other unpleasantness. All of which reliably answers the question ‘how is the new saddle?‘, with ‘it tore me a new one‘.

I have used a Brooks C17 and a Spa Cycles Aire. Both were OK. The Brooks is very heavy and little bit too antiquated. The Aire is much cheaper than the Brooks and is racier, but also has a high gap between the rails and saddle which make it look a bit wrong. The racier Brooks saddles are fiercely expensive. The Aire is also impossible to break in. It’s made of reinforced kangaroo-hide and is leatherier than Tom Jones’ face. Not that I’d try to break in the latter.

same leather as the Spa Cycles Aire and Wharfedale

Last year Brooks bought out a new line of saddles with a cotton covering, called the ‘Cambium’. They do a wide C17 and a narrow C15. They have managed to capture the middle ground between racy and retro. I took one on test from Strada Cycles and had no difficulties at all. They come in at about £110, but with club discount I essentially got it cheaper than it would be from any well-known online retailers.

The best way of knowing if a saddle is right is if you complete forget it’s there. This is unequivocally the case with the Cambium. It does the job with a minimum of fuss; it’s just wide enough with a sturdy and hard plastic base under the covering to support the sit bones. I’ve had no issues at all. In fact, i promptly went out a bought the narrower C15 for the Mercian.

After 6 months of commuting and longer rides the Cambium is proving its worth, it’s very comfortable. It’s the only saddle i’d recommend unequivocally to anyone. I’m not a huge Brooks fan, as a rule of thumb I’ve had difficulties even breaking in the C17, my low weight means i haven’t so much as dented the leather after thousands of miles. The Cambium has more ‘give’ because of the construction. It also looks lovely and complements both the Bob Jackson and the Mercian and both the C15 and 17 have a set of bag loops hidden within the construction; perfect for the Carradice. It’s not far off being the perfect saddle.

I can't believe it's got bag loops as well Dad, hidden away like that. Very clever.
I can’t believe it’s got bag loops as well Dad, hidden away like that. Very clever.

Recedite, plebes

I went out riding today, upping the mileage considerably to a whopping thirty miles. It may or may not have been fully thirty and it might have not happened at all because it wasn’t a digitised ride. I have yet to switch the garmin back on. It was a pre-christmas loosener, aimed at salving my conscience ahead of ongoing food and wine imbibement.

On the way back I stopped off at Strada Cycles, Bedminster Chapter. They don’t have a concierge. Instead, the appointed minion offered me a cup of tea in a SRAM mug. It was the proprietor’s cup of tea, but I was encouraged to drink it because he was outside being molested by a dog. This is the kind of service i’d expect for £200 a year. Nothing less than a reckless hot beverage gazumping and a floor show involving the Strada “Brand Manager” and an over-excited, wantonly salivating canine.

Dan wonders where the concierge has got to and why he's left riding a bike ill-equipped for winter
Dan wonders where the concierge has got to and why he’s left riding a bike ill-equipped for winter instead of the promised bongo-rocket. 
The Old Church. Not as good as the New Church.
The Old Church. Not as good as the New Church. The Nailsea (West End) is a hotbed of showtunes. 

It was a windy day. A buzzard flew alongside in silent contemplation. herons circled drunkenly, their movements both laboured and graceful.

It’s good to be back on the bike and out in the countryside.