Nothing Cold Can Stay

I went out on a training ride today. It was my longest ride for a very long time, which isn’t saying all that much – i only break the 20 mile barrier in races. I managed to eke out 45 miles with some uppity climbs and far too much ice. I assumed it wouldn’t be all that icy. i was mistaken.

Dundry Hill, north of the wall

I had to walk a couple of times on account of hazardous icy descents, especially near Butcombe. The average temperature for the entire ride was a balmy 3 degrees. I managed  4,200 feet of climbing, taking in the scenic cols of Dundry, Blagdon, Shipham, Wrington and Belmont, with a 16mph average. Things were looking great on the way out, but the headwind on the way home had me grovelling.

On the plus side there was a huge twitch going on at Chew Valley Lake. Men in khaki fatigues and expensive binoculars lined the walls of the dam. Today’s unusual visitor was an Osprey, circling the lake in a flash of black and white with outstretched talons. The raptor was returning from Africa to Scotland or Scandinavia.

I’ve just about had enough of winter’s icy grip. Steve Douchebag is heading to Ireland in 4 days time for a saddlebag tour – taking the necessary kit for a sub-zero Nordic biathlon probably defeats the purpose of a saddlebag tour. Mike and chums are somewhere out into the wilds of Hereford as a warm-up for their visit to Belgium and return bike ride. I’m sure like most normal cyclists they anticipated maybe being able to use the armwarmers or a nice gilet, as opposed to the full thermal battlegear they are doubtless currently using.

Even the weatherman on the terrorbox the other day referred to the current unseasonal blast as ‘unprecedented’.

The Hardrider treatment

taking the bike for a walk

Today’s stage of Tirreno-Adriatico was an exercise in living purgatory for the (fool)hardy bicycle racers. It included 3 ascents of the Muro di Sant’Elpidio, a piffling 27% ramp which caused mayhem and destruction. Horrible rain and wind contributed towards an enormous list of 54 DNFs. When even Zdenek Stybar calls it “one of the hardest days in my career”, you know it’s been tough.

Stybar in happier, simpler times

It was too much even for some of the hardened members of the peloton;

“It has nothing to do with bike racing, I call it sadomaso”; Cancellara

“In dry conditions would have been the hardest parcours I’ve ever done! With rain and wind turned into something between epic and insane!”; Quinziato.

Chris Froome lost time to Nibali who managed to get into a breakaway with well-known mountain goat Peter Sagan. It was a peculiar day where the form book and any sense of normality was rent asunder by the savagery of the weather and the parcours. Froome said he was overgeared on a 36:28. Sanchez changed bikes just so he could use a 30 tooth cassette.

Zig-zag wanderer, as Don van Vliet might have said.

All of which made for a brilliant spectacle as the professionals zig-zagged their way up the cliff face with all the elegance of drunken lizard.

Meanwhile, I managed to squeak into the online version of Cycling Weekly. I like it when that happens.

Croydon Cyclist

I’ve been reading a blog called ‘Croydon Cyclist‘. Historically, i’ve held a degree of antipathy towards helmet-cam users. I feel that some helmet-cam use does more harm than good. It can create a damaging perception of cyclists as pious victims and presents an image of cycling on Britain’s roads as being a death-defying stunt, with cyclists trying to defeat the law of averages.

I like Croydon Cyclist’s blog. It’s a controlled and fluent exercise in cycling advocacy, and is both erudite and humorous. I also understand the difficulties of cycling in London, having done so from 2000-2008. He has a video up entitled ‘give cyclists space’. It’s a good one.

He also has series entitled ‘silly cyclists’. it captures some of the deranged and life-threatening behaviour of people on bikes, with the aim of improving safety for all cyclists.  It’s good to have a bit of balance. There’s a healthy deconstruction of one of Lucas Brunelle‘s films. He sets himself out as the foremost chronicler of the crazed world of the alleycat. His films mine a particular seam of teenage boy self-destruction and selfishness, with an accompanying heavy metal soundtrack. They’re not a defining example of some zeitgeisty cycling realism, but a spectacularly good recorded example of what happens when a bunch of crazily hip metropolitan folk take all kinds of ‘risks’ and do zany things in the face of oncoming traffic, happily ignoring the inevitable consequences of their actions, either for themselves, other vulnerable people or any wider perception of cycling as a whole. It’s then carefully or lazily packaged as some sort anarchic anti-commercial/capitalist, middle finger up to the man type of revolutionary statement.

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.

Hamilton Wheelers Easy Rider

As a club secretary I get lots of emails from cyclists looking to ride a bit more, perhaps join a club and maybe participate in the famous ‘club run’. The main source of anxiety people have is to whether they will be able to last the distance or hold the wheel. In reality, the pace is glacial and the cake stop halfway helps break up the mileage. However, until you’ve ridden 45 or 50 miles there is always an element of doubt in the back of your mind as to how you will cope. To a certain extent this continues as long as you continue cycling; i was anxious before doing a 100 mile time trial (although i probably should have been, it was an unholy shitshow) and yet i made it round. Long road races give me the willies, anything over 60 miles starts to make me worry; how is it possible to ride at 27mph for 70 miles when I can’t break 20mph for 50 in training?

This is where the Hamilton Wheelers Easy Rider comes in. They meet every Sunday, just about, at the Mud Dock Deli in Bristol for a 30 mile loop out into the countryside. It’s flat and mellow, building up the distance and helping newer cyclists gain confidence with their bike, with riding in a bunch and with bigger miles. I’d recommend it if you’re not sure about things and want to dip a toe in the water. Several people also use it as a chilled out Sunday ride, a break from the hectic base club madness and relentless training, which is exactly what I did this morning after a big week. It was also an opportunity to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen for a while and to talk bikes. There were lots of new people along; including two who for some reason didn’t make it past the cafe at the beginning, i’m not sure why. I hope they make it out again another time.

Easy Rider: A Photostory

The ‘meet up’ is at the Mud Dock Deli, overlooking the harbour and the tops of the cranes
I opted to ride fixed, a popular choice for the day. The Bob is very comfortable and a really lovely bike: steel is real.
Rob bought a huge bag with him containing several packets of Soreen in case of emergencies. Trotters was also on his Bob Jackson Vigorelli.
Tim Wilkey had some sort of HD GoPro. He looked quite stylish in his racing garms.
It was good to see that Sean Yates has found gainful activities to keep in busy in his retirement
At one point the sun came out, it was blissful.
Trotters went full ninja

It was great to meet new and old people and a lovely end to a week of fairly intense cycling.

“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.

Preparing for Winter

I spent some time at the weekend switching the hill climb bike into winter mode. Having finally recovered from the ale rave, I’m now ready to start some serious base mileage.

Vigorelli Path/Track
with Carradice Super C

It’s got some lovely touches, apart from being a beautiful steel frame. The mudguard bosses are hidden underneath the chainstay bridge and the front fork, keeping the lines clean with no need to drill the rear brake bridge. The Brooks is extremely comfy. I think i might switch the bars back to a set of cut down bullhorns; the drops look nice but it’s not the best position when you don’t have hoods, the curve is a bit awkward.

The Super C takes everything i need to carry, with quite a bit of room left over. It’s an essential purchase and stops my back from getting sweaty. Saddlebags are one of the most amazing things I have ever used. I stick my things in a tote bag inside the super C so i can hoick the lot out when i get to the other end. We have secure bike parking, which is nice.

The light on the front is a hope vision one. I have had this light for 4 years now. It’s absolutely perfect for the dark lanes. They are seriously cheap at Wiggle at the moment. The back light is a bontrager ember and a smart lunar. The combination of two flashing lights makes me feel a bit more comfortable.

I’ve just about got used to the 68″ gear again, which is nice. I was worried for a bit.

Cycling Weakly

Today was a rest day, of sorts. I rode directly to work and then back. If I’m absolutely honest, I have been daydreaming about yesterday all day. It’s not quite a Belgian Classic or the rainbow bands, but winning on Burrington has made my year.

I still subscribe to Cycling Weekly. There are many racing cyclists who have cancelled their subscriptions due to the general absence of anything that might be deemed relevant to the actual racing of an actual racing bicycle. I have more than a few back issues which i’ve been using for research and there is a staggering difference in the level of reporting then and now. It’s an old argument and I’m not about to refresh it. The closest I came to cancelling was last year when they hid the top ten of the BBAR competition somewhere in the results page. This was after Jeff Jones had set a staggering new comp record for the 12 hour. They used up the space instead with a 3 page spread on the ‘Cycling Weekly Classic Sportive’, a 60 mile bun run round some shitty lanes near CW towers in Croydon. The star interviewee, questioned after his epic battle with the southern wilds, was editor Robert Garbutt. It couldn’t have been more onanistic if the sportiviste hacks had lined up a group circle jerk and spuffed en masse over their own bylines.

Lately they have drifted back across to the world of lightweight racing cycles due to the staggering success of Sir Bradley of Wiggins. There may even be a dawning recognition that the next wave of cycling talent is more likely to be found at the counter of Krispy Kreme’s feeder-house than it is in a sportive.*

So obviously it has been a further highlight to find my name on the Cycling Weekly website this week. They have redeemed themselves and I can now forgive their bi-monthly sportive pull-out full bongo open-oyster lynskeytitanium technicolour guide. With any luck I might even be in print come Thursday. In amongst the writerly despair I secretly long to find my name in bold print at the front of the Comic; such is the dualistic nature of modern existence. It’s happened once before, about two years ago. I still dine out on the memory.

*sportivistes: there is room for your not-a-race-races within the broad church of cycling and the press. FACT. there also happens to be room for other disciplines of cycling beyond the ever-growing hydra and utter cash cow that is next year’s sportive calendar.

Hell Climb

Dundry Hill sits silently on the outskirts of Bristol, luring unsuspecting cyclists to their doom. It offers up 4 different ascents of varying degrees of steepness. The climb up from Queens Road is the beast of the litter. It’s known simply as ‘the steepside’, but is also called ‘Broad Oak Hill’, and it pitches up alarmingly. East Dundry is reputedly even worse, with a scarred and pitted road surface and a savage gradient. I have fond memories of trying to ride up it on a 60″, but being unable to sit down because it was too steep, and unable to stand up because of the most ridiculous wheelspin. It didn’t help that the tyre tracks looked like they’d been carved by chariots and the road was smeared with cowshit. In stark contrast, the ‘easiest’ takes in Highdridge road and climbs gently for about a mile before throwing in three short, sharp ramps and a nasty bend. This last one was the setting for an atypical ‘guerilla’ hill climb this afternoon, laid on by the mighty Hamilton Wheelers.

Tim Wilkey of the Hamilton Wheelers. The bins in bishopsworth are wifi enabled.

It attracted around 45 riders, divided into 3 categories: pros, bros and girls. To qualify for the pros you had to have ridden either a CTT or BC race at some point. It’s a loose interpretation of the word ‘pro’, but with my palmares (audible chortle) I was happy to ride with the other ringers. It was essentially a hillclimb with riders off at minute intervals. There were some added bonuses, including some hand-ups along the way.

Hand ups. Bank of Hell.

 

This is a great idea and tends to be something you see more at cyclo-race races. The Muddy Hell event at Herne Hill has a shortcut which includes the enforced imbibing of a shot of tequila. Incidentally, Muddy Hell was responsible for some of the most inspired and impressive fancy dress bike handling ever seen.

I was off near the end with the other pseudopros (sounds like something taken as part of a TUE). The weather was lovely, in fact it’s been a particularly lush weekend to be out on the bike. Despite yesterday’s races, or perhaps in spite of, I felt really good and the legs were working well. I went out fairly steadily on the first bit where there isn’t much of a gradient, there’s only so much you can do with a 65″ gear before the bike transforms into torture device. I waited until the left turn for strawberry lane, maybe a bit before, then i went full gas. I grabbed a dollar and felt really pleased with myself for doing so, then carried on up to the finish where a stonking great crowd had amassed to watch the riders. There was a surge of noise and it was all over in about 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

Mark kept his race face on. Not for him the indignity of racing for socks.
No such issue for me. I wanted that dollar. And those socks.

Lucy Walker absolutely blasted up to take the girls’ prize with a savage 7 minutes something. She will go well on Burrington. Dan Alford took the bros’ category with a pre-meditated assault on the climb and a time which would have got second in the pros, coming in with a 6.45 or thereabouts.

BSCC chairman Dave Braidley looking resplendent in his ‘Hell Climb’ jersey

It was a fantastic end to the weekend and great fun. Events like these, run slightly surreptitiously and open to anyone, represent the first steps in competitive cycling for many people and it was clear that some people were getting the bug. In fact, my first race of sorts was a hilly alley cat three stage thing in Bath. Having had some completely unexpected success i figured i may as well enter CTT hill climb. I then had a further bout of completely unexpected success. I have had three years since where competitive cycling has been a defining feature of my life and a constant source of happiness and wonderment.

Just when you’re thinking about hitting up Wiggle for a winter gilet, you win this badass piece of technical fabric. BEST PRIZE EVER.

 

The Hell Climb is grass-roots and community based, not because that’s necessarily what Tim, Ed and Christian set out to do, but just because it is. Above all, it’s hugely enjoyable and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Right now, with a miasma of deceit, lies and denial swirling around the professional sport in all its forms, grass-roots and amateur cycling is where it’s at. A huge pile of real-life kudos to everyone who rode today.

Hup, Hup, Hup.

 

 

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