It’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise…

I’ve been cordially invited to present prizes and speak at the annual CTT beanfeast, also known as “Champions’ Night”. It’s very exciting and I’m now fairly certain they haven’t made a catastrophic error, having seen the invitations in print. There is still time for a general recall and pulping though.

I will be presenting prizes to the various winners of various races throughout the year. I will then be talking for an indeterminate period of time where I attempt to explain to confused-looking people who I am and why I am there. It is likely that Sir Michael of Hutchinson will also be in attendance, possibly in a prominent role. I’m looking forward to the showdown; it’s going to be more Alan Bates vs Oliver Reed than Conor Macgregor and Jose Aldo.

I think people pay good money to see that kind of thing. I know the fraternity also wants to see this rumbling gang-war resolved, once and for all. There are only so many combs for bald men to fight over.

I have to write a new speech. I suspect it’s going to be an old-school gig, sans powerpoint. I was looking forward to wowing the audience with my chequerboard transitions and handclap sound effects. I shall have to wow them with untempered rhetorical force instead.

I have learnt many things over the past 12 months, but one life lesson stands out. After the anxiety of Raphagate, I am certain of one thing: i will not be cracking any louche one-liners aimed at the CTT, especially when they are paying for my board and lodgings.

At some point between now and 16 January I may even try to get out on my bicycle for more than 27 minutes. One thing at a time though.

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Downtown, downtown, DOWNNNN TOWN

I’d be lying through my teeth if i said I’d done lots of riding. I meant to, but it hasn’t happened. I have been reliably commuting, non-stop, through the mild and clement winter, overdressed and heating up against the promise of a winter that hasn’t yet arrived. It’s been 12 miles a day, every day, without fail.

I have been working a lot, long hours, and riding less. I’m not sure it’s entirely the right balance and I may work to redress it in the new year. I’ve also reached the logical conclusion that racing a bicycle is not all that compatible with having two children under 3. However, there are other pleasures, namely the joy in seeing other people ride bikes for the first time, and then stealing their bicycle and riding it yourself.

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Commuting in Bristol

After years of intensive training and racing, I’ve finally lapsed into the routines of a daily bikecommuter. It’s a different rhythm and cadence. I have a 6 mile ride in and back through the centre of Bristol. I am missing out on the ethereal wonders of nature and the liminality of 6am in the South Bristol wilds. It has been replaced by a much more intense and sometimes unreal series of encounters with humankind. I have some observations.

A lot of people seem to be cycling in Bristol. It’s a fantastic thing. In fact, there are times when the number of riders using the arterial routes through the city causes a joyous form of congestion of its own. Cycle commuting seems to be on the rise for women in particular, which may reflect their wider levels of participation in cycling.

Traffic in Bristol is quite intense. Most days a form of gridlock descends within certain timeslots. It’s much quicker to navigate across the city by bike, rather than attempt to drive. People at work are sometimes surprised that I cycle to work. However, I’m surprised that people don’t cycle to work. It’s so easy to do, it’s cheaper, better for you and less stressful. I cannot understand why anyone would use a car for anything less than a 30 minute commute. It’s wrong on so many levels.

Cycle commuters can be a deranged lot. There is a form of subsidiary rage that exists amongst the cycling fraternity, caused by perceived breaches of etiquette or other scandalous actions. My chief bugbears are as follows:

  1. Not giving sufficient space to a cyclist who is already ahead of you at a set of lights, pulling up close or in front for example
  2. Riding dangerously and without due regard to personal safety or the safety of others; not using lights when it’s dark.

These are relatively minor transgressions. Most of my ire is reserved for people who have lights b but they are inordinately bright and inaccurately directed. I really don’t appreciate getting an eyeful of 15 billion lumens. Head-mounted bongo-LEDS, usually donned by mountain bikers, are the serial offenders.

I have enjoyed brief and whimsical conversations with other cyclists. Flickers of recognition of a shared activity and sensibility. I am enjoying it. But I am missing the Mendips at 6am.

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It’s not always going to be this grey

A week seems like along time. This time last weekend I was in the Kirklees countryside spectating at the National Hill Climb. It’s the first time I’ve been to the event and not ridden. It’s much easier. The Hill Climb is a fantastic event, but i’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful as a competitor. It’s the last race of the season and can define the off-season in many ways. I have horrible memories of sitting in the back of my Mum’s car on the way back from the Stang, being really grumpy and obnoxious for about an hour because I’d had a rubbish day and hoped to do much better. I snapped out of the slough of despond by the time we got to the Kashmir for a curry. The day of the National is also the day the clocks go back; it’s great for the morning but the early onset of darkness tells you that there will be no more racing until the Stygian gloom lifts.

I spent pretty much the whole day at the HQ, which meant I had lots of opportunities to sell books and talk to people. The CTT committee were lovely and very positive about the book. I spoke with the competitors and reflected on their different approaches. Tejvan Pettinger was calm and ready for the challenge despite the wheels coming off his wagon, literally, the night before in Holmfirth. Jim Henderson had a steely determination and was frequently accosted by well-wishers, all excited to see him back in action at the race he defined spectacularly for so many years. There were also other well-known figures in attendance, including David Taylor, a journalist for the Comic who was very kind about the book.

In a sense, the race signalled and end of another chapter, insofar as I’ve finished promoting the book. I now can sit back and wait for the royalty cheques to flood in. Or more accurately, turn my attention to another literary project, now that my mind is beginning to move away from topographical matters. I know it will be about cycling, that much is hard to avoid, but I am unsure of the precise direction. I have two ideas kicking around and may have to pursue both. It depends on other commitments, namely work and family, but I’m going to start soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to ride my bike and try and update things here more regularly.

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I went to watch the National Hill Climb at the weekend. I’ll write some more about the experience once I’ve left the Faraday cage of woodland I’m staying in for a holiday en famille. In the meantime, here are some snaps.

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He signed my book. Amazing.

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Chris Dyke, Manchester Bicycle Club.

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Tejvan Pettinger, 7th.

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Joe Clarke, 3rd

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Maryka Sennema, 1st

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The legendary Jim Henderson.

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National Hill Climb

The National is fast approaching. I had intended to ride this year, but a combination of various things, primarily a lack of fitness and the common cold, put paid to those ambitions. Instead I’ll be watching and selling books.

Since the book came out back in June it’s been quite an exciting time. I was thrilled to be asked to write the forward for the championship programme and I’ve had a few invitations to various ends of season festivities. It’s all quite unexpected but certainly not unwelcome.

I have a small cowbell. My mum has sourced a Swiss cow bell which is frighteningly loud. I am looking forward to seeing a battle royale  between the various monster stick-men.

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Dad this foreword is unusually engrossing.

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Abort

I’ve aborted my season. It’s been kiboshed by a revolting cough that comes with thick ropes of mucous and a tubercular affectation. The mudguards are back on the Bob and I spent the weekend watching other people hurt themselves in the name of cyclo-sport. I am looking forward to attending the National free from the technical constraints of actually having to race. If any of my three readers are there, please say hello. I may even produce some sort of banner or signage to chase riders with, a la Simon Warren.

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