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 an act reckless hot beverage gazumping and a floor show involving the Strada “Brand Manager” and an over-excited, wantonly salivating canine.
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.
It’s a generally accepted truth that Rapha make some nice kit. They also charge an arm and a leg for most of it. Aside from that, Rapha have proven adept at marketing a representation of cycling; mining the past for gritty truths, digging down until they hit a seam of glistening heroism, then selling it on for their slavering punters.
Their latest wheeze is a global cycling club with an annual membership fee of £200 and a limited number of members. Any application requires a 100-word tiebreaker describing ‘the perfect ride’. I could have a go now; “Any ride completed in its entirety without the presence of a ‘rider’ clad head-to-toe in rapha threads, astride an overpriced and underused bongo-rocket.”
There is a huge amount of ire aimed at Rapha, most of it from people who baulk at the constant self-mythologising, over-priced trinkets and endless epicness. The new ‘club’ consists of 16 ‘chapters’. Last time i saw anyone who was a member of a ‘chapter’ they were all heading off to do some motorpacing.
Like all modish industries, Rapha have a ‘brand manager’. I suspect they have a host of other 21st Century job titles on offer, . According to the Raphaspeak, each ‘chapter’ has a ‘concierge’ who is able to help the hapless Raphanaut navigate the mean streets of an unforgiving new urban environment and serve up a complimentary flat white, no doubt with some funkalicious latte art and grainy footage of Belgian hard men to inspire the current generation of weekend warriors. An identical Rapha in every identical global city? Check.
The motto for the new club is “Ex Duris Gloria” or something like that. There’s a startling disconnect between any notion of suffering and the reality of this enterprise. Rapha is just another bogus symptom of late era capitalism (although even the term ‘late capitalism’ seems irrevelant, the system just marches on in a rapacious, money-grabbing goosestep). It fits securely within Baudrillard’s notion of simulacra and simulation, saving the cycling principle for legions of soft-pedaling schmucks, seduced by a hideously expensive fluffing and packaged softshell heroism. Rapha have elevated the concept of suffering with no accompanying reality. It is the apotheosis of the hollowness of modern bike riding and the shabby, empty lives of the current wave of corporate acolytes, lured away from a life on the golf course by the promise of a new kind of perjured authenticity.
Longstanding readers of this blog, of whom there are three, my wife and mother notwithstanding, may recall various posts in which i question the sportive ‘juggernaut’. It’s one of the dominant tropes of the current bike boom; in short, a commercial reaction to the legions of new consumers. I’ve highlighted the consequences of the exponential growth in an unregulated sector; both in terms of the cultural effects of overwhelming country lanes with thousands of cyclists, and the way some events have ridden roughshod (no pun intended) over longstanding bike races which happened to be on the same roads many years previously. I’ve also mentioned the positive effects; namely more people cycling is a good thing, but ultimately it’s not hard to see where I’m leaning. The sportive market is one symptom of the voracious consumerism of cycling. Sometimes I even find myself feeling sympathy for the New Forest dwellers. This doesn’t last that long though.
Few things in life are certain, death and taxes being the hoary cliché (is hoary cliché a cliché?). You can be assured that the current bike boom will peak and then subside, and with it the waves of neo-choppers will ebb and flow back out with the tide to resume other sports and pursuits. What lies beneath this ephemeral world is a dedicated amateur racing scene; led, developed and fostered by cycling clubs. I am fearful of the damage being done to the bedrock of cycling by the rapacious sportive market, something encapsulated by the current problems being faced by the Bec hill climb. Speaking from experience, club events are designed to break even, there is no profit or loss, no-one takes a cut and everything is voluntary. This is in marked contrast to most sportives. There is a salutary article by Garry Beckett here that is well worth ten minutes of your time.
In days of yore by now I’d now be well into the winter base work. This winter has been a bit different; I’ve canned pretty much all cycling with the exception of the 6 miles to work and back every day. Once a week, give or take, I’ve ridden the long way to work. I think a couple of seasons ago i did something similar, heading out just before christmas to card an 11mph average on a flattish route. Hardcore.
For most of my peers winter tends to be the time to pile on the mileage, re-establish the base and endurance, and enjoy some steady group rides and good conversation. There isn’t any pressing need to be doing absurd distances before January; too much winter training can lead to a mid-season burn-out and diminishing returns from there on in.
My main aim at the moment is to keep the weight down enough so I can still fit into my clothes; i’m a 30″ waist, this doesn’t leave much margin for error, and keep fit enough so i can avoid that palsied sensation of out of breathness and muscular atrophy. I’m also flying under the radar, no garmin or recording devices – there’s not really anything worth recording.
I joined the club run this morning for the first time in a very long time. It now consists of three groups of different paces. This is primarily because of the numbers now riding; the bike boom has led to increased numbers for the club, now hovering at around 120. I went for the medium group and decided to cling on in.
It was a decent day for cycling, a balmy 6 degrees with dry roads. There was a headwind on the way out, i realised this when on the front, so slipped surreptitiously to the back of the group and hid amongst the bigger chaps. After about 20 miles i peeled off and headed for home, discretion being the better part of valour. It was my longest effort since August. I didn’t fancy putting in an early bid for the bonk hammer, best off leaving that one to the professionals.
My last race of the season was at Burrington Combe. Tejvan returned for the first time in a few years and the field was full of rapid people. It was great to see the Champion’s jersey in full flight. I came 11th out of 100. It was as well as i’d hoped after a 3 week lay off and a lack of motivation. I managed to get under 8 minutes, which is always a bonus.
Thom Heald made a short film about the discipline with some shots of this year’s event. I’m just visible in the background of one shot. the rest of it is wall to wall Rob Borek trying to articulate the desperate excitement of a first full hill climb season. He does a good job. Rob is a new young tyro for the South. Rob’s known for his exploits in club colours, getting up at 4am to “smash it”, powered only by gin and the reckless swagger of youth. He’ll go far.
It’s not been a deliberate silence or a wanton act. I haven’t actively sought to disenfranchise the three readers of this page by a wilful silence.
Time elasticates, at which point days become weeks and then months.
I have been busy, riding my bike, but also not riding my bike. I watched more bike racing. It has been a vintage season of spectating. the Tour of Britain came to Bristol; it seems somehow unreal that the current world champions for both disciplines rode along the Portway and up Bridge Valley Road. They failed to dislodge Andy Legge from the leaderboard.
The rest of the time I have been hanging out with family, DNSing at hill climbs (I rode a few) and finishing a longstanding project. It’s this last bit that has killed the blog; it’s quite hard to keep up with a regular bit of writing when you’re trying to finish a 75,000 word book about cycling. This is now done, insofar as it’s sitting with the editor and I’m waiting nervously to see just how much of an overhaul is needed to make it acceptable to the wider reading public. It has taken 3 years so far. I was unmarried and childless when i started.
Other significant events include the shocking and demented purchase of a set of 28mm tyres. Things are changing at traumfahrrad towers.
It took about 9 hours to get from Bristol to Bradford on Friday. We left at 3pm and crept into the crepuscular northern town after 10pm. The next day we headed out towards Addingham to catch the first day of Le Tour, whilst the rest of the family staked out a spot in Skipton. The ride up towards the route was an unnerving affair; hordes of people heading in the same direction, on foot or by bike, legions, rows, waves, a steady flight of ridiculously excited people.
The caravan was very exciting; we scrabbled in the dust and asphalt for prized bits of swag. Mike just missed out on a polka dot cap after it landed too near another fellow and he wasn’t prepared to fight for it. I would have pushed the chap into the drystone wall, grabbed the swag and legged it.
On the second day we were on Oxenhope Moor, where upwards of 40,000 spectators were kept in check by the diligent efforts of one policeman.
Luckily the Carrefour Swagman was hurling out caps with metronomic efficiency and we managed to score a couple. The hillside was covered with people; I was in awe of the sheer numbers of spectators. It was far more than were at the last big race I’ve seen; Paris-Roubaix. Beyond that, what made it special was the sense that it had captured the imagination of the whole of Yorkshire. Support for the tour was discernible in every village, every shop, street and establishment, even many miles from the route. There was a regional pride and complete determination to somehow combine the cultural force of the Tour with the innate and captivating identity of Yorkshire, both in terms of the awe-inspiring scenery, and in terms of the people that live there. It became a festival of many things and it was incredible. Belle mentioned this morning how it all seems like a dream; a technicolour riot of movement and sound. There’s not much more I can say or write, it was a brilliant weekend; a sentiment shared by everyone who went. I’m still reeling from the excitement.
Lastly, according to Strava, my time up Holme Moss was 36 seconds quicker than Laurens Ten Dam, Lars Boom, Ted King and the others managed in yesterday’s race. This is quite reassuring. I’ll ignore the fact that i rode it as a double hill climb, whereas they rode it as one of 9 classified climbs in a 124 mile stage. Marcus Burghardt was 3 seconds up. I’ll let him have that one.