A chaos of hard clay

Ashton Court is an old mansion estate on the edge of Bristol. It’s home to various things throughout the year, including the photogenic balloon festival and a large herd of small deer. It’s also been adopted by the local mountain bike community and there are several carefully constructed trails in the woods. I’ve done my best to ignore this aspect of the cycling world for about 36 years, but lately have been surreptitiously dipping a toe into the filthy primordial pondwater of mountain biking. I have assembled a bike for the carrying of the small person; it just so happens that it’s a retrotastic steel framed Orange P7 mountain bike and perfect for riding the sturdy and fast Nova trail in Ashton Court. Penelope has been taking a keen interest in all things cycling and is eagerly tracking the developments in the spring classics.

Well Dad, Boonen might be on the front at Driedaagse Van West-Vlaanderen but i’d wager he hasn’t got the form for a concerted and successful campaign. More milk please.

I’ve been over to Ashton Court twice this week to use it as my recovery ride. It’s a 4 mile circuit through the woods on a track built up and maintained by some ardent trail pixies. It has berms and banks and drops and all sorts of technical features. More importantly, it’s dry and free of the kind of slurry normally associated with this darkest and most vile of sports. I like it because it’s been deserted in the mornings and is a lively, technical ride requiring lots of decisions, a degree of focus but not too much out-and-out effort. It’s also a lot of fun. I learnt some interesting lessons: it’s best to let air out of tyres in order to go faster and gain a semblance of control. Not quite sure how Tim Wilkey of Das Rad Klub fame managed a fixie 120psi loop; courage.

the view from the Nova trail this morning at 10am

Today and last week I didn’t see another soul. On my way out, however, i saw an endless stream of men of a certain age in rather large and expensive looking cars with their large and very expensive mountain bikes in the back. It’s a minor gripe, but these chaps should really be riding to the trails. I’m sure there are a few excuses, but it didn’t look good. I nearly always see people unloading their bikes from the boots of huge cars in Leigh Woods and Clifton. It seems anomalous and not in keeping with the reasons why many people cycle.

That aside, the Nova Trail is the perfect introduction to the disgusting ‘off-road’ realm and I’d recommend it as an ideal workout for those new to such dark pursuits.

We want the finest drillium available to humanity, we want it here and we want it now.

There are two mythical materials used in the construction of high-end bike frames, both of which are million miles away from the current crabon hegemony. The first of these is known simply as ‘unobtainium‘. A longstanding member of the london bicycle community and early guiding light of the LFGSS forum, known only as Cornelius, or Corny to his chums, rode a bike made of purest unobtainum. It was reputed that it had been built using materials left over from the construction of the space shuttle. It was shiny and silver and shimmered delicately in the smog.

Even rarer than unobtanium is the delicate filigree finish of a piece of finest drillium. The high-water mark for drillium was the 1960s and 70s, a time when weight was seen as the definitive measure, prior to the relentless focus on slipperiness cemented by Lemond’s Tour victory. Drillium is a startling frame material, two parts emmental to three parts solid silver. Occasionally an example comes up on fleabay or via Hilary Stone. Several minutes can be spent gazing at the delicate curlicues and intense fragility of the wonder material. Alf Engers is seen in some quarters of the King of Drillium. Some of his Shorter frames and components defined the aesthetic and practical limitations of the material.

For some time i’ve been exchanging pictures of drillium with Elliot Davis, with each trying to outdo the other with a new and outrageous example. I sent him the images of the Aende, the bicycling equivalent of mint aero. He linked to the campag seatpost. I thought it only right and proper that i share some of these meisterwerks with you. Feel free to add your drillium tales to the comments thread.

Chainset , brake levers, seat post of purest drillium

holy drillium, batman

drillium fork steerer

beautiful high-end drillium

not dissimilar to the airlite hub, but much more extreme

Molteni Merckx Drillium

Vulnerable Road Users and a Frightening Week to be a Cyclist

Today was perfect cycling weather, at least in comparison to the manifold treachery of the ice fields of yore. Temperatures were kind and it was possible to ride in a state of blissful innocence, free from the latent fear of frozen liquid and the potential for horrible crashes.

I made my way to work the long way round. I did not enjoy the battle with the headwind on the A38 but hunkered down and forced the pace. It made a lovely contrast to the rollers and the endless repetition of riding indoors. feeling the wind in your face at least makes you feel alive.

Eventually i made my way into Bristol and across the downs. It was about 7.10am. I paused at the lights on the corner of Parry’s Lane and Saville Road and waited patiently for an opportunity to pull out. i glanced back over my shoulder and saw a car approaching really quickly and it became apparent in that instant that it was very unlikely he was going to stop. and so it goes.

The car rammed straight into the back wheel of the bike, throwing me forwards onto the main road. it was a sudden but slow impact. I lay on the floor for a few moments before getting up and walking to the side. The car driver had stopped and he got out of his car. I asked him fairly simply; “What are you doing?”. I think i repeated it. His reply was something along the lines of “these are just things that happen”, which was a bit of an injudicious comment and prompted me to unleash a bit of a rant. I was surprisingly articulate given the circumstances and can remember most of what I said. This is because normally i think of what i should have said after the event, whereas this morning it just poured out in a torrent of anger, shock and frustration.

These aren’t just things that happen or accidents. I’m was trying to get to work and being careful and riding safely and I was knocked off my bike. I wasn’t an invisible cyclist or someone riding in a crazy manner. I was highly visible with three Smart lights on the back, scotchlite tape, a bright red jacket and luminous overshoes. A driver went straight into the back of me.

I was really angry and both the shock and adrenalin were making me shake. I was aware that i was uninjured but also aware that this was an entirely fortuitous result. At this point a passer-by came across the road to give me his details to say exactly what he saw and that I could get in touch if i needed to. The car driver was not angry, he was also shocked and a bit freaked out. He continued to say that it was an accident. .

It wasn’t an accident, it was a direct result of decisions made on the road. He drove into the back of me because he wasn’t looking. It’s entirely the driver’s fault and when a driver does this; looks down or the wrong way, or makes an assumption, or thinks someone might be about to do something so pre-empts it, only to find they don’t, then one of three things could happen. The first of these is nothing; the driver goes home and doesn’t even remember the incident. The second thing is “this” happens and a cyclist ends up on the floor in front of a car. The third of which is serious injury or death.

If i was in a car we wouldn’t even have particularly discussed the matter, i’d have taken his details and he’d apologise and think about his no claims bonus. I pointed all of this out to him quite forcefully. He apologised and was genuinely remorseful. I was still really angry and shaken.

I ride every day to work, give or take. i get up at 5.50am so i can ride 20 miles before work because i’m a committed racing cyclist. This morning i’d been out on my bike for an hour when i came across a semi-comatose, unthinking driver who’d slumped into his car, not even thinking about it and proceeded to hit my bike. It’s unfair. Every day in the time i spend on the road someone comes within inches of knocking me off. and i ride safely, assertively and without cause for alarm, and yet still it happens every single day. A day when i don’t feel threatened by a car driver is a cause for celebration. I’m not some irritant in the way or even particularly different to your average car drive, i’m just going to work, trying to do an honest day’s work to earn money so i can pay my bills. I’m not an asshole or insignificant thing, i’m just like the errant driver, except i’m much more dedicated to cycling than he (or presumably anyone) could ever be to driving. every minute i spend on the bike is time i value, each and every second, whereas every second spent in a car is time wasted or rushed through in an unceasing hurry to be somewhere else, doing something else.

He apologised and said he wanted to do something to help. The adrenalin and shock subsided and i was feeling a bit wasted. He drove me to work because my back wheel was fubar. I couldn’t even get it go past the seat stays, let alone the brake blocks.

He was a chap who took his eye off the road for a moment with unpleasant consequences. It could have been far worse. In a week where a married couple on a tandem were killed in Hanham, road safety is uppermost in my mind. I’ve been haunted by the ridiculously lenient and offensive sentences handed down for those causing death by dangerous driving and upset by the lack of will by anyone in government to do anything about it.

I told him that i would fix the wheel.  The one good thing he could do that would make a positive difference is to give all cyclists a wide berth, space on the road to breathe and not feel threatened and intimidated. As we passed a cyclist I pointed out that it’s someone’s wife, daughter or sister, just trying to get to work in nasty weather. They shouldn’t be running the gauntlet and risking life and limb. They deserve heartfelt respect from callow and fickle drivers in their hermetically-sealed and dangerously insulated cars.

A Momentous Day

It’s been a fairly unprecedented and overwhelming week here at traumfahrrad towers: I have purchased some rollers.

After my utterly soul-destroying experiences with the turbo of doom I decided to see if there might be another way to achieve zen through the medium of indoor cycling. We shall see. It was a timely purchase, judging by the sound of scraping from the car drivers out in the street. I’m going to set them up in the shed next to the Dugasts which have been lined up in order of vintage.

they’re not the only significant new arrival in the house this week.

On Off Switch

I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet on the blogging front of late. i apologise if you were waiting for the latest installment in breathless anticipation, all two of you. I’m finding it hard to write much at the moment because most of my energy is being channelled into a book project I’m working on. It’s about cycling, unsurprisingly, and in terms of process is not unlike cycling; you need to do a bit every day otherwise you end up behind and motivation starts to slip.

Things I have observed or noted this week include:

- a staggering amount of rainfall which has led me to question the cataclysmic end of my relationship with the turbo earlier this year

- the lack of any significant change in the aggressive and dangerous driving of a significant minority on the roads in a week when Bradley Wiggins won SPOTY

- tiredness and a sore throat and a hacking cough always arrive at the beginning of the holidays

- planning a week of ‘big miles’ is a surefire way to have a week of ‘practically no miles’

- the new BSCC kit looks amazing

Bristol Bath Railway Path

Yesterday I cycled to Bath to visit the home of Cycling News. I was doing some testing and consumer research stuff on their new website. It sounds more glamorous than it actually was. They promised me a year’s supply of the bongo of my choice, so i hot-pedalled it over there sharpish. I opted for Pro Cycling.

I was running a bit late so hit the A4 on the way out. It’s quick, direct and not very nice at all. On the way back I had more time so opted for the railway path. It’s a real privilege to be able to cycle the full 15 miles or so between the two cities on a dedicated path, knowing that there are no cars or lorries. It was pretty dark so there weren’t that many cyclists. During the day the path can get fairly congested, it’s mixed-use and suffers more than a little for this very reason. I avoid it like the plague; it’s nodder central. No-one seems able to tolerate the fact that there are other users out there. It’s also a strava segment, which is fairly ridiculous, even if i am on first name terms with the top 5.

Riding out of Bath was fine, it was quiet and there was only the occasional cyclist coming the other way. They courteously dimmed their bulbs. You need a really bright light to ride the path, it’s overshadowed by trees and is very very dark. Nearing Bristol things got decidedly hairy. Several cyclists were equipped with the kind of bulb that gave Winston Smith a serious headache and softened him up before the introduction of the furry beasts. Many of them had some sort of twin-mounted front assembly, putting out a huge amount of lumens. On several occasions I found myself completely blinded by the oncoming rider and had to stop, shrug my shoulders and ask them to dim it. At one point i just laughed and told the oncoming rider ‘you’re actually blinding me, you’re light is so ridiculously bright’, and he just grunted. Later i nearly got knocked off by a three rider paceline. It was like Rollerball, crossed with the chariot scene in Ben Hur, with some of Death Race 2000 thrown in. And it was about 6.15pm. I told them they were a bunch of dicks.

Rollerball is probably more like the Madison than the Railway Path by night.

By the time i crept back into Bristol I felt a sense of genuine relief at having survived. It was the same feeling i get after coming off the A419 at the end of a 10 mile time trial. Which is not really how it should be. I plan to never use it again.

There’s something counter-productive about having a fiendishly bright light. It’s one of my bugbears and I’m sure I’ve written about it before. You need to see and be seen, but you don’t need to blind car drivers; there is a level of risk associated with shining a pulse of intense light into the eyes of an oncoming motorist. You shouldn’t really be blinding your fellow cyclists either. I value my eyes, they help me get home. I don’t appreciate nodding commuters blazing out a billion lumens on a well-lit street; or a dark railway path, for that matter. And while I’m on a rant, riding recklessly on a road bike along the railway path doesn’t make you a racing cyclist. Racing makes you a racing cyclist. Charging along a railway path in a three man commuter pace line, overtaking (or was it a though and off? Christ, I hope not) makes you a selfish asshole.

The endlessly controversial and internecine potential of the crud guard vs race blade battle

Reviews of kit tend to drive a lot of traffic to a blog. i haven’t written a lot of reviews, essentially only those cycling items that have had a profoundly positive effect on my cycling, but the few reviews I have written are popular posts.

Some time ago, in the depths of last winter, I wrote a review that was a direct comparison of crud guards and race blade longs. The general consensus was, and still is, that race blade longs are in an entirely different league to their predecessors, the common-or-garden race blade. There is also a fairly clear groundswell of opinion in favour of the race blade long over the markedly inferior and shonky crudguard mark 2. But, each to his own, and if you come over all moist over the plastic stylings of a set of cruds and relish the sound of faux-mudguards rubbing against rubber, then so be it.

However, some people have very strong feelings about plastic mudguards. They see this is a definitive and all-important issue, way above such minor quibbles as ‘campagnolo or shimano?’, or ‘is there ever a time when jumping a red light becomes an unemotive internet topic and thus a wider part of a pragmatic approach to road safety?’.

Damien is one of those cyclists and he has sagely decided to offer this incisive contribution to the thorny and ongoing ‘blade Vs crud’ war:

Damien commented on Crud Catcher Mk 2 vs SKS Race BladesYou are an idiot and haven’t tested these properly like I have and raceblades are retardedApprove  Trash | Mark as Spam

It’s nice that a member of an established cycling club might choose to comment on a fairly benign blog from a member of another cycling club in such an erudite manner. On such foundations lengthy friendships are forged and the fellowship of the road broadened. Mr Damien clearly has superior powers of product testing gleaned from the hardriding of his local 3/4 cat, pan-flat, closed-circuit bun run. He has also identified the fatal flaw in race blade long design: their inherent retardation. Not only that, but he has picked up on the fact that the key element in the success or failure of a product is the intelligence quotient of the user.

I am minded to make Damien the resident reviewer for this blog. It would keep things simple. Anyone who doesn’t have a positive experience with a product can be dismissed as an idiot who doesn’t ride it properly like Damien does. All those brutal efforts on the savage parcours of the Hillingdon and Hog Hill Circuits have forged a testing temperament of solid steel. Damien always rides it properly.

Coming soon: Damien properly compares “Le Chagrin et la Pitié” and “Nuit et Brouillard” like only he can, before succinctly deciding which is better.

“Cycling City” My Ass

This weekend heralds the BSCC cyclo cross competition, kindly organised for us by Dream Cycling. Like last year, it was was scheduled to take place in Hengrove Park. Bike racing has been happening in Hengrove Park for many many years. The amazing clip below features Bristol South and other local clubs taking part in the Goram Fair.

Which makes it all the more bizarre, myopic and specious that the council have decided to revoke all permissions for cycle races on council leisure grounds, leading to huge disruption for the Western League Cyclo-Cross, a popular grass-roots event held every winter, appealing to young and old alike. Here is last year’s event:

Note the enjoyment, the nigh-on empty park, the scenic detritus lining the edge of an unkempt park, the willingness of the cycling fraternity to use the leisure facilities in the first place. Now consider the ridiculousness of the decision by the Council.

“the Council stated that a wet summer, coupled with budget cuts, meant that they weren’t prepared to put cycling events on and risk damage to facilities”

Cyclo-cross uses the edges of the park. It cuts up the surface for a brief period of time before nature repairs the damage. The council hasn’t agreed to curtail other activities – football and rugby – that turn entire penalty areas into quagmires for the duration of winter.

For a supposed cycling city it’s a disaster. It’s a ludicrous decision that flies against common sense. I’ll even ignore the fact that Hengrove looks like a dogging spot for sallow smack addicts, still has a bloody massive runway through the middle of it and is about as appealing as a weekend in Chernobyl. In fact, it’s probably the only park or garden in the country that actually looks better with a couple of tyre tracks from some cyclo-cross bikes for a few days. At least it’s being used.

There’s a thread here. Maybe when Bristol Council defended itself in March 2011, saying it would take time to gain the benefits from the £11 million investment as a cycling city, maybe this was what they were referring to. Meanwhile a fistful of shonky mayoral candidates clamour to rip out cycle lanes and reassert the car as the fulcrum of city life. Plus ca change.

More reasoned argument here.

More Cyclo Cross

Bristol South CC and West District legend George Keene was telling a story at the bar the other day regarding a near miss. He narrowly failed to add the divisional CX championships to his lengthy palmares.

George on the Open Turf

determination and raw power

Back then cyclocross was filthier than a wet weekend in Rhyl; the various events took place on working farms and agricultural estates and riders spent far more time walking than riding.

As he told it, he was in the lead until the fateful moment when he somehow collided with a pig. Steve nearly spat his beer out.

that’s nothing…

Blog Paper

I’ve been writing this blog for a few years now. Here are some thoughts:

I first pressed ‘publish’ on November 4th 2009. I note that I was riding a 72″ gear. Since then I’ve geared down and prefer a 68″ or even a 65″. You lose nothing on the flat and riding uphill is much more enjoyable. I can climb anything on a 65″, whereas on a 72″ there is not much margin for error.

Blogging is a narcissistic process. Maybe not always, but I think in my case it tends to be narcissistic. Maybe I’m being harsh and it’s actually just self-reflexive, rather than self-indulgent, but that’s semantics.

I think there is a vague belief that somehow some of what i write has a relevance to some of what people want to read. It’s unashamedly aimed at cyclists. I am stuck somewhere in a hinterland between being a quite good amateur racing cyclist and a very good amateur racing cyclist. Sometimes i think i’m closing the gap on the super fast people but they always remain tantalisingly out of reach.

My trajectory as a cyclist, over the past 4 years has been really unexpected, and so the direction of this blog has changed. As I’ve experienced more success on a local level (or sometimes even regional! Steady the buffs!) the blog has reflected the process behind that level of success and the feelings and emotions it generates.

There are a couple of truisms that resonate throughout nearly every post: there is always a bigger gorilla (©Jack Thurston) and it never stops hurting, you just go faster (©Greg Lemond).

I get excited by comments. It’s really nice to see that people read it and appreciate what’s being written. Readers seem to follow the blog in ‘spikes’, the readership tickles along at a set figure, then spikes for a month and suddenly lots more start reading and it never goes back down to what it was before. Regular updates are key, but not for the sake of regular updates.

 

By far the most popular posts I have written are reviews, especially my review of the Boardman Air TT. Writing reviews is a really easy way to generate traffic to a blog, but a blog full of reviews makes for really tedious reading. My approach to reviews is simple: if it’s something that genuinely has made a profound difference to my cycling then I’ll review it, or write about it. Coming soon: Carradice Super C: Or Why Messenger Bags Are For Sweaty-Backed Hipsters. It’s really easy to see a blog that is deliberately aimed at generating content and readers. Maybe there’s an argument that it has a purpose and benefit. I think it’s cynical and lazy. It’s taken me a long long time to build up a readership. I don’t recklessly cross-promote. Occasionally I’ll tweet a post or link it somewhere else. I save this for when I think I have something interesting to say.

For the first year I averaged about 10 views per day. 3 of those were family members. The other 7 were misguided search terms. For example, being a cyclist I like to write about the weather. A few of the posts contain the phrase ‘pissing wet’. This has made for some interesting search terms that, i daresay, might not be what the person was looking for. I now get more appropriate search terms and the readership is much larger, and growing steadily – sometimes exponentially, such is the nature of the interweb. It’s been particularly heart-warming to have so many positive comments from people at races about the blog, people saying they read it and like it. It makes it worthwhile.

Lastly, there is one danger of keeping a blog. I tend to write anecdotes or talk about races. I then see friends or local racers at various places and in discussion do what many people do, throw in a few anecdotes. The slightly bored look on their faces tells me they have already read it. I feel like i’m suddenly repeating myself everywhere I go. I have no stories left to tell because I’ve already written them all up. The side effect of having an interesting blog is you become an inexplicably dull person.