“Legends of the Bristol Scene”

Yesterday I did my first time trial for three years. I am not including Burrington last year which was solely a sentimental ride because it was ten years since I did it for the first time and I was fat as hell, prompting a series of kind comments from close friends about how fat I was and how the hill climb diet clearly wasn’t have the same impact as it once did.

Three years ago I did one classic league race. I had planned to do more but life did its getting in the way. Since then I have had several false dawns and generally been resigned to not racing, simply pootling about and doing a bit of touring. It’s a joyous state, gentle and outwards facing, good for the soul. It isn’t training though, in any shape or form, because training requires a lot of effort, routine, structure, and above all, it required time I did not have. It is possible to go and ride slowly for a while with no training and enjoy the experience. It is not possible to do time trials with no training and enjoy the experience 

The key thing that has changed is I have all but finished writing – the book is hurtling through the edit phase (proof pages due in a week or so, details of the book can be found in catalogues, it is slowly emerging into the world) and I haven’t got to use every available increment of free time to write more words to complete sections and meet the deadline. I’ve said it before, but there is only scope for three things in life; family/marriage, work, and one other thing (i.e a hobby), and I’m genuinely pretty bad at getting these in the right ratio. Trying to ride whilst doing other things only affects other people. I think I regularly get tangled up in the desire to ride and gain the benefits from this kind of exercise, whilst not acknowledging that there is not enough time and that this time is time other people need, time needed to meet other commitments. It’s a struggle, and I feel bad that I get it wrong so many times, for myself, but also for those closest to me. It’s too easy to think that just going riding is the answer and everything else is the problem.

OK, so.

I had planned to ride earlier in the season but did not see the global pandemic dystopia coming. Nonetheless, I have been riding since and getting quicker, slowly. It is hard to quantify if I am quick or not because I am quick against recent measures – it would hard to be slower – but I am slow against older measures – it would hard to be quick against those. For example, I nearly shat myself through effort on a climb the other day, only to find I had been up there at least 14 times at a quicker pace, and on occasion had gone up there 3 minutes quicker. A huge amount of resilience and faith is needed.

Capture

The graph is interesting – it shows the peaks and troughs of form and also shows through the years where I have targeted this climb as a measure of fitness, it has an outlier then tends to feature a series of rides at higher pace. My most recent one is on that crest – really going full beans –  but still two minutes slower than the rides about 7 years ago. There are such obvious reasons for this but they have to be remembered. I was about 67kg  and doing billions of races and riding a Cervelo R5, to name three. This is where the resilience is needed. I have recalibrated my goals, based on being 44 years old and heavier.

I have lost some weight, I was 85kg or more at Burrington, which is as heavy as I have been. I am 6ft 1. Since then the weight has come down to 76kg, with 75kg as my initial target. Weight is important because these are the things that training consists of, eating better, drinking less, riding more. Sometimes people think that no training has happened, and that fast rides are just these things that happen, when in reality a lot of training happens. People also tend to think that training can only happen on a turbo, linked to zwift. I don’t doubt for a second that zwift is useful, unbelievably so, but it isn’t the only way of training.

I have been focusing on 5 minute efforts over the past 6 to 8 weeks, and stepped up the intensity over the past 4 weeks. What I mean by this is I’ll plot a 30 mile route with 3 or 4 long climbs and go hard on those climbs, whilst trying to maintain pace on the middle bits. It’s very old school, but it works for me. I am increasing my capacity to ride at threshold and beyond for five to six minutes at a time.

And back to the Lake. I had forgotten how much fun it is to see people at an evening club ten, the gentle camaraderie and support, being laughed at for having the oldest skinsuit and the oldest bike, that sort of thing. I am on the Giant TCR with parts bin components. It is very very light and very easy to get a good position. I really like it and I am quite surprised by this bike, although I guess I shouldn’t be, it was good enough for Michael Hutchinson and the Once team.

Icons of cycling: Giant TCR - Cycling Weekly
This is not me
This is me. FULL FADE BRO.

There was a lot of serious bongo on show. Everyone is using massive chainrings these days. In my retro-filtered view I’d assumed they were pushing massive gears, but it’s all about efficiency. They have huge derailleur jockey wheels and enormous rear cassettes, 36t side-plates at the back. Cables are hidden away and electronic shifting is du jour. I felt a bit odd on my relatively shallow wheels with friction shifters and a standard road double. I can’t actually get the cassette into the 24 or 25, which doesn’t really matter but is indicative of my spannering skills. I have paired a shimano front mech, maybe tourney or something I found, with a campag record square taper chainset. There is a margin of about 0.01mm where it doesn’t make a horrid graggedy-graggedy-graggedy noise between each gear. It’s quite exciting.

I have missed the Lake, it’s a technical course in the best sense of the word, rolling, sharp turns, bit of traffic and lots more casual cyclists of an evening than i can remember. I was hoping for a 22 minute time for the 8.3 miles but was pleased to dip under 20 minutes, with 19.50, or a 25 mph average. It’s a bit of a way from my PB of 18.25 but it was a lot quicker than I had hoped. I was being chased by someone on full bongo so was pleasantly surprised to not be minuted. Should I choose to do more there are lot of additional gains I might be able to access (shoe covers, shiny skinsuit, better bits, faster wheels, considerable weight loss) so there is cause for quiet optimism. However, in my experience I tend to go slower each week.

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Danny is a BSCC legend. He has a new bike. I have borrowed his TCR from days of yore. 
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This is bongo. See massive dinner plate and everything else. 
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Bradderz has a shiny bongo bike with all the relevant new bits. These two spent a long time talking about percentages of bongo. 

Lastly I rode out to the TT, through the mean (and very congested streets) of Bristol. I carried the space helmet on the bars. I then wondered why I was carrying the space helmet on the bars, and concluded it must be because I was scared of looking like a complete tool, at which point I realised I was wearing the world’s worst skinsuit, riding a desperately inappropriate bike through Bristol traffic and already looked like a complete tool, so put the helmet on and had done with it. I was spotted by the Bike Radar gruppeto riding up over Dundry, the steep side. They mocked me later for this, but made up for it by casting me as one of two ‘Legends of the Bristol scene’. 

Image may contain: Joe Norledge, outdoor, text that says "bikeradar 43s Two legends of the Bristol scene แLnอร"

BSCC Classic League – 9/10, would re-bongo. 

Benefits of Lockdown

There are some silver linings to this anxiety filled and unprecedented crock of shit that is Lockdown. I have been getting out on the bike more, or at least, I have been doing more of the slightly longer rides and less of the commuting. It is nice to have a bit more time in the mornings and not try to wrangle everyone out the door, fed, washed and shatted in about 6 seconds.

I seem to be out riding more consistently at times when other people are out riding, as opposed to crack of dawn raids on Clutton and Hallatrow, where the god-fearing people have  yet to see a bicycle and would likely summon the local druid to expel the iron horse of witchery should one appear. This means I am seeing more cyclists, both new and old. I feel obliged to include a disclaimer right now, before I say the offensive stuff.

IT IS A GREAT AND JOYFUL THING THAT THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE ON BIKES RIGHT NOW.

OK and on with the show. I notice even fewer club jerseys than ever before. Instead I see way more Rapha than I thought possible, head to toe, in matching bikes. I see people who have gone to enormous lengths to recreate a club jersey with their own logo, shared amongst three male friends. The logo is either comedic “SLOW OLD BASTARD CC” type thing, or some kind of faux-praux logo or acronym. The bikes are shinier and more aero than ever. So many people are riding such a lot of bike. I miss the old days when you had to ride a piece of awfulness made of cast iron for at least 15 years and then maybe someone might let you have a second hand Raleigh 501. The pro look is so current, but it’s a warped simulacrum of a pro-look, and it’s a bit disturbing. Sort of like being a bit mullered at a party and not being able to fully recognise someone because they look somehow not like they should. It is big wraparound glasses and long tesellated socks and long arm sleeves and all the irregular striped patterns and chiaroscuro.

On Sunday I was riding up 2 mile hill, near the bottom when i heard a dreadful wheezing and clanking from behind. It wasn’t me, unusually, but it was a nouvelle-vague ‘roadie’ in some kind of demented colourway, reaching for my wheel like it was the last rolo in the packet. What with the Covid, I let him go past, and because genuinely I thought he was going faster than me and I am slow these days. He duly went past like a wobbly pantechnicon overloaded with timber, and wheezed out a thank you. I think he realised his error quite quickly. As did I, when I saw he was in the bottom sprocket and the gradient was about 4%. I sat tight for a few hundred yards as everything slowed down, then had to hoof it around him on the fixed gear and put in an unseemly effort to get on up the road. It was all a bit weird. It seems quite typical really. I would say ‘don’t you know who I am?’ But I only my mum and three other people can answer this question with any certainty. Maybe I should say “I once went quite quickly up here before you were born, it was the KOM but is now 156th on the strava list, Even the Spinkatron is down at 54th.”

The exception to this wave of curmudgeon is the number of women on bikes. There are lots more, riding together, doing their thing. This is brilliant and great for cycling. Anything that reduces the excessive maleness of this sport is a good thing.

Today I went out super early, didn’t take the dog, but did take the certifiably ‘old skool’ (c. Clutterz) Giant TCR TT bike. It’s fun to ride a TT bike. I miss it, sort of. I think when I ride one there is a moral imperative to at least ride fast, to put in an effort, so it has a distinct training benefit. Hence I managed 40 miles at 20mph. I hurtled past a raphanaut on the way out of Bristol. He was full garbed. The bike looked like it had been freshly shat in a wind tunnel. I began pondering whether a TCR from 2001 is faster than a new aero-bongo road bike. I suspect the bike is less slippery, but the position is a lot more helpful. I have it set-up with a rivendell friction shifters, an old campag record chainset and various other mismatched bits. I took the winter wheels off the Mercian. I do have some racier wheels, but they might stay in the cupboard in case one day I actually do a race. The saddle was from my Decathlon gravel bike. This was a bad decision. I think at my advanced age I need something that has a gentler conversation with the goochular region, as opposed to a bar-room fight with a broken bottle.

It was a lot of fun; the roads are still quiet. Yes, there is traffic, but riding in the rush hour is not like it was. It is getting busier all the time and for the first time I encountered a bit of a queue on the way back into Bristol. I miss the quiet times.

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Frame from a friend, borrowed for now. Everything else bar the shifters from the parts bin or cannibalised.

 

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Rivendell Dia Compe shifters, lovely ratchet motion. Good fun to spend time between gears, trimming, listening to that rattle.

 

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I can’t recall why I had an 11 speed carbon chorus RD in the bin. I think it had something to do with not putting a bike together properly in the Alps about ten years ago, then using great big pliers to squeeze the parallelogram back together, and then buying a new one when I got back.

Phil O’ Connor Photos

Phil O Connor is a photographer; he is sitting on a ton of negatives from the 80s and 90s. He takes amazing pics and I often go to him when I need something. I’ll say, ooh, have you any pics of Pauline Wallis in the Tour de Feminin in 1987 and he’ll say, ‘let me have a look’, and then send back a reel of about a 100 pics, all brilliant.

He regularly scans in sets from races, side of the road stuff, mid 80s, seminal, mind-blowing depictions of the sport we love. He dropped this pic of Richard Hallett yesterday which caused a stir on the tweets:

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Most of it was ageless jokes about tricycles, but it was a lovely conversation. Simon Warren started it, then Simon Smythe jumped in, Jack Thurston, Will Fotheringham, Ed Pickering, the lot. See the link below.

Sometimes people crop up in forms you never even knew; a pic of Arctic Sram DS Sir Pete Ruffhead riding in a 24, that sort of thing. These are the sorts of images that tend to disappear in time; I’m thinking of John Coulson’s folders of negatives; Bernard Thompson’s millions of snaps.

Anyhow, one way you can show your appreciation is to buy him a coffee. Have a look through the galleries on the website; dream of a different time, and then chip in £3.

https://ko-fi.com/philocphotos

 

Reading C.C. and hill climb chat

Occasionally I get invited to an event to talk about things. Sometimes it’s a shindig, some kind of degenerate bike party, and other times it’s a club dinner. I might be overegging the pudding here, I think I’ve done three club dinners in 7 years, and one of those was Bristol South and wasn’t really a club dinner, it was a meeting that I hijacked for my own ends.

Anyway, the lovely people at Reading C.C. asked me to speak at their do in “the party room” at Zizzi’s. This was in the main because they are organising the national hill climb this year on Streatley and thought my ‘expertise’ might come in useful.

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I’d come across Clive Pugh before, a Reading Wheeler who came third behind Alf Engers and Les West in the National 50 in 1976. He appears in a sequence of photos taken by the amazing Dave Pountney, one of which made the cover of the Alf book. I love the way he looks, so unassuming and  and so amateur, in the most brilliant way. John Woodburn also had a strong connection with the club and lived in the area for some time.

Reading C.C. is a bellwether for cycling as a whole. The town had two pre war clubs, the Wheelers and Les Bon Amis, who amalgamated in the hard times in the 1970s. After struggling through the dark years, the club now has over 200 members, with a tangible increase in female members and an inclusive approach.

I made the most of the opportunity for a longer ride, breathing in the helpful support of a humongous westerly wind to ride there on Saturday. It was a bit of a classic, I felt good, the legs were good, the wind was brilliant. I went through Avebury and was left wide-eyed by the prehistoric architecture, circles and rows of stones, ditches and banks. The area is ethereal and time seems to dissolve amongst the timeless sarsen megaliths.

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I avoided the grotfest that is the Kennet and Avon canal in winter. One poor piece of mapwork had me riding through a farmer’s field but it was at least rideable. Most of it was on the A4 which is a big and old road, in some way a monument to the past, to coaching routes and journeys that took days, not hours. There are beautiful old mile markers which can be exciting or dispiriting, depending which way you look at them. It’s also the setting for lots of time trials in the past, most obviously the Bath Road 100. It is still used but like every other road everywhere, has been limited over time by rampant traffic growth and density, traffic lights and the primacy of the motor car.

The first red kite appeared at Axford, two of them drifting against the wind with a hooked talon hanging down, scaring the wood pigeons for fun. Nearer Reading and they were everywhere it seemed, gliding over housing estates, or tilting into the breeze at a junction before vying with crows for a tattered mess of roadkill. Near Marlborough I stumbled across a field of Aberdeen Angus cattle, accompanied by a flock of cattle egrets. They took to the air as one, a strobing, syncopated cloud of white wings. It was 82 lovely miles, and a quick run in to Reading. The last half is more or less downhill.

The talk seemed well-received. It is hard talking to a room of strangers, even if there is a connecting thread. It is hard to judge. I may have used the words “eyeball popping out”, “hernia” and “prolapse”, with the last one getting a collective groan of horror as people tucked into their chocolate fondant and it ruptured oozing brown liquid out of the gaping hole forced in the side.

I think I rescued it with talk of emotions and feelings and the amateur spirit, creating and taking opportunities, how life is in the doing. It’s in the decision to get up and make things happen, and in taking on this spectacular event Reading C.C. are creating the framework for people to live their very best lives, to experience what it is like to ride up a hill through a wall of people, to have their Dutch Corner on Streatley, and to experience an emotional intensity that doesn’t happen anywhere else.

I also spoke about the simplicity of the event. There is change, but the type of technological change in this event is minimal. It’s as close to the original spirit of cycling as you can get: you can’t diminish the primal force of a hill through slipperiness. It’s a diamond frame, fixed wheel, drillium, box section, round profiles, these are the weapons against time and gravity. Granville Sydney would recognise the winner’s bicycle, marvel perhaps at the lightness, but see it as a part of the same continuum; whereas Stan Higginson or Frank Southall would be baffled by a modern TT frame. Malcolm Elliot’s course record on Monsal still lingers on, as does Phil Mason’s on Catford.

The national hill climb presents an opportunity for everyone involved, a chance to live life to the very fullest, at its most intense and most vivid.

I think these sentiments went across better than “hill climbs make you shit yourself and your eye comes out”.

The Hills Have Eyes

Back in the days of yore I used to organise a revolting time trial in the Cotswolds. It was a genuine hellfest, one for the masochists. I remember once Rob Pears entered his wife, Gillian (so to speak), and then got really scared when he thought he might have actually entered himself instead (so to speak). Some people really liked the race, as though it filled a void in their lives left gaping since the last time they read JG Ballard’s family novel, Crash. Since the demise of the megahilly, Glyndwr Griffiths has become the keeper of the flame of horrid bike races with his Mendip version of the Megahilly. It’s a neat circuit which starts up Burrington, drops down Harptree and then goes up Blagdon, before repeating it, just in case you hadn’t had enough. Interestingly, like all really shitty time trials, the descents are arguably worse than the climbs. The drop down Harptree is horrendous. Each individual section of tarmac has been resurfaced to a different grade and at a different time. It makes for a lumpen hellfest.

There was a contingent of hardy warriors lined up at the start, including the spangly Das Rad Klub Firmanent, with their pack of hardened mercenaries, led by the freelance smasher Tavis Walker, now riding for his 27th klub in 9 years.

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The Freelance Hellraiser; fresh from battling the hordes at the UCI Chrono Sportive thing in Cambridge
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Das Rad Wieler Coleman does sock battle with number 14: FINISH HIM

There was also a bagful of Bristol South, including Dan Burbridge in his first outing as the scratchman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop), a real privilege which came with a special and unique prize: 75 minutes of endlessly wet rain just for him. Joe from Hollyoaks was also there, mixing it up with the UOBCC shorts and the BSCC chamois, threatening the good decorum of rules and regulations, not to mention the inner turmoil that ensues from such bigamous actions.

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ScratchmanDan

I found the race to be a primitive experience, one of survival, and a bad idea from start to finish. I don’t quite know why, but I lack the ability to turn myself inside out anymore. I go into the time trial transporter device and expect to come out like that dog in the Fly 2. It doesn’t happen. I tend to ride to a thin line of self-preservation. I suspect it is just that, aligned with a lower level of fitness, a bit more weight and few more years. I worry about pacing myself and not blowing up, and in the process lose hours of time. I still enjoy it though, just not quite so much when some sprightly young beast hurtles past on a road bike.

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Getting ready to ride really softly up a hill

It’s interesting that I’ve ridden up Blagdon faster when training in April than I did in the race today. That’s borderline inexcusable, I wasn’t going that fast in April so certainly wasn’t moving quickly today. I’ll have to review things, flagellate myself a little, dig a lot deeper and just rag it a lot more. Time trialling is a state of mind as much as anything. Getting into that mindset is the trickiest bit. Beyond that, I’m enjoying it, and it was brilliant to have a loud cheer from Penny and Elliot at the steepest part of the climb, along with some gentle words of encouragement from Belle:

“Come ON! What are you doing! YOU’RE NOT DELIVERING BREAD! It’s supposed to be a bike race!”

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This isn’t Belle. This is a chap who chose some unusual equipment. It was pretty impressive though. 

I’ve entered a few more races. There aren’t that many on in the district so I feel like I’ve been railroaded into entering some absolutely awful bike races. We shall see. If the next two weeks don’t kill my nascent comeback stone dead, then that will be a surprise.

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