You’re a loaded gun, yeah there’s nowhere to run, no-one can save me, the damage is done

I was riding home recently (not for christmas) at a very gentle pace. Most of my riding is done at a gentle pace these days. It’s a combination of incipient decrepitude (is that an oxymoron?) and a medieval lurgy that sits on my chest emitting ropes of mucous. So, I was riding home recently when I had the misfortune to be interrupted by a Mini driver (not the Minnie Driver, that would make this a markedly different blog post) who took umbrage at me being in his way at a particularly narrow piece of road as he attempted to overtake and thus catch up with the stationary traffic hurtling up the road. It was one of those garage courtesy cars with writings on it. I tapped on the side of the car, gently. My reasoning is that if i’m able to tap on the side of a car, the car is probably about three metres too close. As is usually the case, my attempts at self-preservation were seen as a violation of the human rights of the recipient and an invitation to further discussion. Often, further discussion is simply a euphemism for ‘threat of unrestrained serious physical violence, including stabs to the head’. In this case it was a genuine attempt to engage in discussion. I ignored him and rode on; he was, after all, stuck in traffic. Somehow, some miles further on, he caught and overtook me and repeated his invitation.

“Can I please discuss this with you”, he said, with what can only be described as a passive aggressive tone of barely suppressed rage. The kind of anger that simmers, but it is repressed with such extreme effort, that any suggestion that they might be angry is met by an angry denial that they are not angry. He opened up with his trump card:

“I’m a cyclist.”

It’s great when people drop the “I’m a cyclist” bomb. He clearly hasn’t read my blog where I articulate what it means to be a cyclist. Shame on him. He followed it up with:

“I ride MTB, I ride watt bikes, I ride on the road“. As if it wasn’t enough to be simply a cyclist, it had to be followed up with some sort of cross-tribe emphasis. The watt bikes bit had me laughing. He had a foppish demeanour and came across a bit like Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s day off. I don’t think he liked it when I laughed. I resisted the temptation to ask ‘watt bikes do you ride?’ or to reply with: “You’re not a cyclist, you’re an idiot. There’s a clear difference between to the two in this case.”

Instead I opted for what I thought would be the less inflammatory approach, a wearying and possibly patronising retort based on his suppressed rage:

“That’s lovely. I’m really glad you identify as a cyclist. It’s great, and I’m really happy for you. I’m surprised though that as a cyclist you attempted to drive into another cyclist. It doesn’t seem to be consistent. I’m also surprised that you’re in such a hurry and quite so angry about this”.

I have to add that at this point I had already made the value judgement that if things turned nasty and the guy got fresh, I could probably take him down by throwing my helmet at him. He didn’t have the air of physical psychopathy that is sometimes encountered. If he did, I would have been long gone, hiding somewhere until the coast was clear and wouldn’t be writing about it now.

“I’m not angry or in a hurry. I’m not angry at all”. He said, with the aforementioned barely suppressed rage.

“That’s good, because I suspect you’ve driven the wrong way in a rush hour to tell me how much of a cyclist you are and will now have to drive back again. I hope it doesn’t happen again with another cyclist on your way back to where you were before”.

He was fuming by this time. He moved back towards his car and he unleashed his final slab of rhetoric, the true insult:

“You’re the kind of cyclist that gives other cyclists a bad name”. At which point it just seemed so surreal and other-worldly. I felt as those all my life has been a mere prelude to this moment. Finally, I’d been on the receiving end of the mythical words spoken. I told him:

“Thank you. That’s a lifetime’s ambition ticked off. I genuinely didn’t believe people said that, and if they did, no-one would ever say it to me. I’m humbled.” He gestured from inside his car, as though I had to move off first in this spaghetti western on bikes. I stayed still. He gestured again, then jumped out of his car to throw his final insult:

“And this isn’t even my car!”.

As is often the case when you hear something for the first time you then can’t stop hearing it. I was walking my bike over the elaborate scaffolding structure in the harbour that has replaced the bridge being replaced. There is a very large sign saying ‘cyclists walk’, and it’s narrow and a bit edgy and full of pedestrians. Walking is the ideal option. As I came to the other side a ‘cyclist’ rode his bike onto the bridge. I told him to walk and he got really stroppy and more than a bit pissy with me. An elderly couple gave him short shrift and he stopped talking, embarrassed. They then turned to me and said, “He gives cyclists a bad name”. I replied, ‘to be honest, he gives himself a bad name’. And they nodded in acquiescence. Besides, I’m not sharing the limelight with other cyclists giving cyclists a bad name, having worked so hard to earn it I want that badge for myself.

This sign really isn’t that clear, to be honest. And they should have another one to be sure, perhaps a yellow one.

“Lost Lanes” by Jack Thurston

I went to someone else’s talk the other evening. It was much more relaxing. Jack Thurston is a famed bikewriter, podcast host, cycling advocate and all round good egg. A couple of years ago he wrote a book exploring ‘Lost Lanes’ around the south east of England, in essence, those within pedal distance from London. I bought a few copies and gave some to friends. He has just released a sequel, “Lost Lanes Wales“, coinciding with his move from the city to the wilds of Abergavenny. It’s a paean to the rugged and beautiful countryside of the principality and the quiet roads that dip and lean around the contours. Jack’s talk was measured and engaging, he spoke of a love of cycling and the need to find quieter roads to escape the hostile traffic densities of the modern world. The book (and the talk) also articulated the idea of the journey being what matters, perhaps more than the destination. In some ways it’s antithetical to my book, and it’s arguably more egalitarian, but there is a clear common ground in terms of the transcendent beauty of the landscape and the transformative power of cycling.

Last April I went on a three day mini-tour in the Black Mountains, heading out from Bristol to Talybont, then on to Hay and over the Gospel Pass to Abergavenny, returning via the Usk valley and Caerleon. Many of the roads feature in Jack’s new book. My touring buddy Will and I met up with Jack in Hay-on-Wye for a ride back over the Gospel Pass, through the low shrouding mist and up through the cut. Jack is a roving Baedeker, and he pointed out things I’d never have known otherwise, from Eric Gill’s commune, to endless views across the Wye and Usk Valleys. He was armed with a camera and took some nice snaps, some of which have ended up featuring in the book. Will confessed himself ‘a bit overpleased about this’.

Into the clouds
Highest paved road in Wales

It’s a super book and has already got me planning new trips and excursions for next year. If you haven’t yet listened to the bike show podcast, then you should do so. It’s the best there is.

Reviews and Reviewers

When I was quite a bit younger I used to review music for a couple of publications. I recall getting in a bit of trouble with the editor for a particularly scathing review of a Damian Rice album where I said more about the person and fanbase than I did the long-player. There were other scurrilous missives. I look back with regret. It’s a bit like that horrible moment when you have children yourself and realise just how much of a dick you’ve been to your parents over the years. Except in this case, you don’t then hate parents, because that’s what you’ve become. Whereas, writing a book or doing anything creative leads to a certain disdain for those who make a living by ‘mediating’ (read, feasting on) the works of others and making judgements. I’m not saying critics and reviewers aren’t important, but I am saying that some of them are pretty fucking useless. It’s partly why I felt resolutely unmoved by the hoopla surrounding the death of Brian Sewell. He was an overly articulate sociopath with a habit of spewing out controversial shit in the name of criticism.

But anyway, yet again, it’s perfume from a dress that makes me so digress. This week two reviews came in from relatively mainstream cycle websites. posted their review to coincide with the hill races. It’s a positive review, insofar as they give it 8/10. Apart from that, I’m struggling to work out if the reviewer actually the read the thing in the first place, or just skimmed off a few quotes, looked at the pictures and spuffed out the word-count in a few short minutes.

In contrast, Feargal Mckay wrote about the book for It’s a super review. This is because he has taken the time to look at the various strands in the book and try and work out exactly what the book is saying. I can’t help but think that many of the subtleties of the text are missed by some reviewers, in favour of a few headline elements; it’s obscure, it’s anti-sportif, it’s nichey niche, and so on.  In contrast, Mckay ‘gets’ it. He sees that I’m genuinely trying to take a wider look at cycling through the prism of a narrow event. And he says some lovely things:

“…A Corinthian Endeavour is trying to be larger than that, it’s trying to say something bigger. As much as it is a book about the British national hill climb championships, it is also a book about “the unifying and singular joy that comes from riding a bicycle.”

“…the text is littered with occasional lines that cause you to pause: “The clock ticks audibly on the wall within the silence of reminiscence, the seconds so palpably less precious now, in conversation, than they ever were in the race.” Give Jones a smaller canvas than seventy years of hill climbing champions and I think he is capable of astounding the reader.”

A Corinthian Endeavour, then, is a book that can appeal beyond its apparent immediate audience of British testerati, is not just for those with intimate knowledge of that quaint curiosity, the British hill climbing season, and can appeal to all who care about cycling, want to understand where it has come from and what it is that keeps it going on. For Jones, the hills and the champions who have reigned on them are the portal to the community spirit that is the true heart of cycling, present in the hearts of true cyclists.”

More than anything else, McKay has understood the book. I feel really grateful and appreciative. He has gone some way to restoring my faith in critics and reviewers. I shall keep the virtual clipping next to the review in my digi-scrapbook.



I can’t be the first person to point out the irony between atrophy and a trophy, linguistically similar and yet physically so far apart. I guess it’s similar to a therapist, if you artificially divide it. Atrophy has been the experience of the weekend. I rode the Exeter Wheelers hill climb on Stoke Hill. It was a super event, and very much in keeping with the trend towards better organisation and prizes. Who would have thunk that if you organise things properly, use publicity and offer a big prize fund you get a whopping field, including the current reigning hill climb champions, Dan Evans and Maryka Semmena.

Having not ridden competitively since October last year, I approached the event with a degree of trepidation. I rode conservatively and came in a long way down the field. There is no surprise in this, although there is a degree of dented pride to be so far adrift of the top ten. I have been wrestling with a medieval lurgy for the past two weeks which didn’t help matters; I spent about 40 minutes post-race trying to eject my lungs from my body in a furious coughing fit which put the kibosh on further humiliation at Porlock today. Despite all of the above, it was a fun day out.

Borek gets fresh with Dan Evans’ weapon.

Earlier on in the week I made a whistle-stop visit to Rapha HQ in London’s famous London to unleash another hill climb talk. It was well-received, with the possible exception of a injudicious aside whereupon I implied that the Tom Simpson ‘Simpsonissimo’ jersey costs £600, at which point one of the men in black came hurtling out of the Citroën H Van which doubles up as their office and made it clear that the talk was ‘on thin ice now’. Jokes about Rapha go down better in Manchester Rapha than they do in London Rapha. I managed to stumble on and reverse a bit and get things back on track in front of a silent and vaguely alarmed audience. It was all smiles afterwards, apparently the men in black were joking as well. For the audience it all got a bit Tommy Cooper. It’s worth noting that I am incredibly grateful to Rapha for providing the venue and support for the talk and book, especially Jess who has been amazing. Sometimes these things need to be spelled out.

Next up on the epic world tour is Beeline Cycles in Oxford, Monday 28 September. This will be a double header with Tejvan Pettinger and it’s probably the last talk for quite a while. I think everyone has heard enough about hill climbs.


On panic training

After a season where most of my base mileage has consisted of walking to the playground and back with the occasional ride with a passenger, I’ve now started to prepare for hill climbs. I’ve left it very late. I will be resolutely uncompetitive, but feel as though I should ride, at the very least to support the book. It is a higher purpose. In light of this, I have started panic training. it’s a time-honoured method used by most cyclists at some point in their short amateur or professional careers. I have the following small tasks to achieve:

  1. Lose around 5 kilograms in 7 weeks. My ‘A’ goal is 7 kilos. My ‘C’ goal is 3 kilos. I look at it rationally, it’s a mere kilogram a week. I can do this by riding much more and eating much less.
  2. In light of (1), ride much more. I have yet to do any intervals or hard efforts. I am focused on actually getting up hills without stopping. I have been getting up early and riding my bike.

There is some work to do. I am planning on riding a 1951 Ephgrave for the duration of the season. It’s a lovely bike. I shall post some pictures later this week.


Talking about bikes and hills

On the off chance that one of my three readers is in London on the evening of 16 September, I’m doing a talk at the Rapha CC just off Regent’s Street.

How i came to be bowing down at the altar of high end bike mania is another story, of which I will write soon.

HC flyer


Below the line

I’ve had some positive comments on the book recently:

michael brough

Hi Paul, just read your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have recently return to cycling after being involved in a range of activities that share many thing in common with hill climbing and cycle clubs in general. Fell running, orienteering and climbing have the same feel of turn up with your mates and do something most people think is a little odd. Some of those taking parting will be as is said on the blurb on the back of your book “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”. I can identify fully with “I was really living in those three minutes”. This was especially the case when I was climbing, when you had to focus on completing the next few difficult moves, nothing was in the mind but those moves. I loved the self-deprecation of your own efforts and the humour. I especially liked and agreed with your view of sportives. Living in Leeds I was out to see the Tour of Yorkshire the Tour de France “legacy” race and a friend of mine paid £40 odd to ride on open roads that he could have ridden with my club any weekend. Smacks of gentrification and commercialisation. I do Audax events myself, village hall, tea and cake and yes don’t look in the car park as people are getting changed for the start.”
I think Michael’s comments serve to highlight one of the aspects or even themes of the book; the search for a soul within cycling and how it’s becoming lost under a welter of consumerist impulses. It’s evident in the amalgamation of cars and bikes as fetish objects, something I’ve written about before at the highest end, but is also now available at a Vauxhall dealership near you…
Drive your Mokka to Honister Pass and park it carefully in the pristine landscape, take bike off, put backback on, tackle strava segment, upload, return, put bike back on car
In this vein, there was an article in the Observer this weekend that explored life at Dulwich Hamlet FC. It seemed to be trying really hard to establish a causal link between hipsters (public enemy number 1) and a grass-roots, authentic footballing experience. It failed. Nonetheless, it’s a great article that looks carefully at the slow tide against the corporate experience that is modern day professional sport. It’s well worth a read. If you like football but feel uneasy at the obscene amounts of cash involved, or love cycling but bridle at the relentless zippsworks commodification of something unerringly simple, then Dulwich Hamlet, or FC United, or any unsponsored cycling club, are the real deal, not a purloined version of authenticity with money at the heart of aspiration.
Of course, I’ve had some negative comments about the book, none more so than Sir Michael Of Hutchinson, who seems to have looked at one picture caption and formed a judgement of the whole tome:
I’m surprised. I thought he was joking at first, perhaps ‘his idea of a plug’ as another esteeemed bikewriter suggested, but he then waded in to anyone who questioned his reading (or non-reading) of the text. Either way, it was a bit of a disappointment. I don’t know if it’s a case of hopeless romanticism, by I imagined that established writers might be prepared to look at a whole text before making a snap judgement. Equally, I imagined they might be supportive of new writers, rather than publicly airing injudicious comments to their 23,000 acolytes. I can only conclude that the monstrous TT behemoth is either a touch thin-skinned or not happy that someone else has written about him, as opposed to him writing about himself. He always seemed like a reasonable chap to me when I met him at TTs (albeit in full fanboy mode), as documented on this blog. I received an articulate response from another CTT National champion:
I had to look up the word ‘sook’. It’s a good one. I will be using it forthwith at every possible opportunity.
Perhaps I’ve missed something, beyond my unconscious and cunningly concealed, snide implication that if the National Hill Climb Championship features ‘Michael Hutchinson and a drainage van, riding downhill on a time trial bike, in a hill climb’, then it might not be the most appropriate event for the discipline, given that none of these things (Michael Hutchinson, drainage van, downhill, time trial bike) feature in any other hill climbs, apart from one other atypical dragfest when it was really really flat and lasted for 17 minutes with a 20mph average speed for the winner.
As for the number of people you can please at a given moment in time; the adage remains true.