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.
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.
This year’s Burrington Hill Climb sees an enormous field of 72 riders taking part. In amongst them, taking up a large part of the field, are 28 members of the Bristol South Cycling Club. It’s the culmination of a season where new members have come into the club and really helped to forge the identity of the South as a club that rides. Whether it’s road racing, the classic league, time trials, the ever-popular club run or hill climbs, Bristol South Cycling Club Members are there at the front in the red and gold.
Many of those members have come into the club because of the warm welcome offered to new cyclists. They recognise the camaraderie of cycling and see that the fellowship of the road is alive and well in the West Country. This is what makes a cycling club different to all other organisations: the fellowship of the road. I have close friends who have joined this year and ridden in road races. They were diffident and initially unsure of what joining a club entailed, perhaps even fearful of the implied ‘loss of identity’, a vague worry that a cycling club might be a borg-like collective that thrives in mediocrity of the masses, rather than individual freedom of expression. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Within the club there is no hierarchy, only the formalities of doing things by committee. This exists in the background and functions only to uphold the name and identity of the club and to support the pledge made in a Totterdown coffee tavern on Hill Avenue in 1893 – constancy of purpose is the secret of success. It is an amateur affair with strong roots in Bedminster and it is an inextricable and fundamental part of the social fabric of the city.
Two days ago our club president John Kempe died. I ride regularly with his son, Dan, and his grandson also races with the club on occasions. Photos of John racing show a bike rider in full flow: souplesse, elegance and speed. In 1961 he was a part of a Bristol South CC team that came first in the National BBAR competition, with Chris Holloway coming third in the individual event and Jeff Fry the third counter.
Every club has at least one John Kempe; a figure who lives and breathes for cycling, who is both the witness to and a catalyst for the ceaselessly benevolent effect the sport can have on people’s lives. I’m not sure John Kempe would hold himself up as a paragon of virtue, or any other kind of saint, he was someone who did what he loved and gained great enjoyment from doing it and from seeing other people enjoy it.
It’s easy to fall into a cyclical way of thinking in these fickle modern times, that everyone has a book in them, that everyone has 15 minutes of fame, that we all need to achieve something stellar in order to create a lasting impression and somehow overcome our insubstantial and omnipresent mortality. It’s the opposite. No-one is destined for greatness, the only thing we are destined to do is live and then die. But there is a profound and significant meaning in making small but positive differences to other people’s lives, and it’s something I try and remember. We strive to make a significant difference or to have some kind of lasting and profound impact, when in reality the profound impact we have is often not even noticed by us when we do it, it’s something small and almost insubstantial, it’s the accumulation of small things and the positive and lasting legacy we can have on others, both in our lifetime and outside of it.There’s a Raymond Carver story called ‘A Small Good Thing’ that articulates this kind of thing better than I can.
John Kempe achieved many impressive things. His legacy lies in the sustained success of the club and in the shared values of each person who joins. This year’s record entry for the Hill Climb is a fitting tribute and I will be riding with his presence uppermost in my mind. As John Legge put it succinctly, ‘he was a true gent’.
One of the features of the hill climb season is the ‘multiple event weekend’, featuring up to 4 or 5 or even 6 hillclimbs over the two days. It’s possible to do a short event, recover, do another short event, recover, ad nauseum (literally). Organisers across the south west banged their heads together and came up with the simple idea of a ‘south west hill climb weekend’. With four clubs all cross-promoting each other’s races and a real head of steam on the interweb, they saw bigger fields than usual and a palpable sense of excitement. I missed yesterday’s double, the Chippenham and Severn races; i was supposed to be doing a 30 mile time trial as a last tilt at a club record and the end of my TT season; instead i went out on Friday, drank ale, then had a lie-in, went out and rode my bike in the sunshine and generally took a devil-may-care attitude to this tricky thing called ‘training’. it was the perfect antidote to a general malaise and knackering game of catch-up that’s been rumbling along for weeks and weeks.
The VC Walcot Climb was up first. The weather was perfect, slightly cold but without a breath of wind and deliciously dry undertub. I unleashed the fixed wheel and it met with almost universal acclaim – the bike, not the rider. People were drawn to the lovely orange finish and the clean lines. There were a few other specialist hillclimb machines in attendance. Tavis Walker had taken a hacksaw and a drill to a rather comely Cervelo R3 in the pursuit of lightness. The construction of a hill weapon is possibly much more fun that the riding of the aforementioned hill weapon. Tav also spaced out a rear cassette to provide only 4 cogs on the back. I opted for a 57″ gear in the end, and it proved spot on for the steady gradient of Claverton Hill. There was a significant crowd at the event and I issued the wife with a cowbell to ring repeatedly and with gusto. A student turned up with some pots and pans to add to the cacophony of noise. By the time i was barrelling up the hill they also had managed to amplify a recorded version of “Olé, olé olé”. It’s great to ride through a crowd of people shouting. Tom yelled right in my face as I came past: “ignore the pain, IGNORE THE PAIN”, and i tried my best to ignore the horrible, unrelenting pain in my legs and lungs.
The level of competition was fierce, both in amongst the top end of the field and in amongst the Bristol South riders. I think I came 8th and was first rider on fixed. I was the only rider on fixed – this was a surprise, it’s a great hill for a single gear. Rob Gough won with another demonstration of the dark arts of riding uphill; dancing on the pedals, post-ride emphysema, nausea. Glyndwr Griffiths followed on a close second, by about a second, with a matching cough and ashen face. The rest of the top order consisted of Richard Cartland of Corley Cycles, Tavis Walker and Tom Marshall. The organiser and the host club deserve praise for putting on a fantastic event and generally being really lovely and likeable people. Next weekend Tav, Glyn and Tom are aiming to bag the team prize at the Cat and Bec. They are in with a shout. I will be up north, wrestling with some long and epic northern inclines that suit me a lot better.
The afternoon’s action shifted to a really sharp hill near Wellow. On first inspection i was a bit worried that the 57″ might be too tall, but my worries were unfounded. I turned the gear over without too many problems and climbed well. In both races i felt a teeny bit too fresh at the end. I need to work on this – i’m still not in the death zone, where extreme privation and savage, lung-shredding effort leads to higher speeds and better placings. I’m slightly optimistic that i might yet reach it, which is an odd place to be – silently hoping that i will be able to inflict more pain on myself. I was 4 seconds quicker at Claverton than the last time i rode, which is acceptable.
Charles Coleman was down to start on Hinton this afternoon, but it was always going to be a tall order; he had a cyclo-cross event in the morning at Hengrove and came second behind Oli Beckingsale. He appeared in his race kit at the start, ambling out of his parents’ car to support the riders, a mere minute away from the moment when he should have been pushed away up the hill. A combination of extreme peer pressure and a spare bike (miraculously on hand) saw him take on the climb with seconds to go before his slot. Adrenaline got him through a few shaky cleat moments and he posted a more than respectable time given the circumstances. It’s all good training.
Glyn took first place from Rob Gough; a fantastic achievement and the first time Rob has been beaten this season. Over the weekend the two fought a ding-dong battle, with Rob taking the honours on 3 out of the 4 climbs. I suspect they will both fare well next week at the Catford, with a possible 1-2, and their chances for success at the National are high. BSCC are chasing the team prize at Catford – although we may miss out on the National because it looks like we will only have two riders. I’m currently the fourth counter in most of the hillclimbs I’ve entered, this is mind-boggling. I’m not saying i’m that good or anything, well, i’m not shabby at the long stuff, top 25 at the National 2 years running, open victory on Haytor Vale, but i’m a long way off being one of the top 3 hillclimbers in the Bristol South ‘Mega Team’, as it’s been nicknamed. It’s faintly reminiscent of John Lennon’s response to an interview question asking whether Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world. He replied “he’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles”. All last season and the season before i longed to have just a few more riders from the club on the startsheet to get some team prizes and generally build up some camaraderie. it’s happened, with some extras, and I’m really happy about it, even though it squeezes me out a bit. It’s fantastic for the club, and turning up en masse as a part of frighteningly strong team is a lot of fun.
I’m riding the National for the experience this year – I’m hoping to do well but also realistic about the shape and tone of the climb: it doesn’t suit my physiology. Therefore I’m already wishing my life away by thinking ahead to the Stang in 2013. Such is the nature of the ever-changing National Hill Climb Championship.
As i mentioned in the previous post, cycling provides an unceasing supply of positive experiences. Getting out on the bike makes me feel happy, i leave thoughts of things behind and instead allow the mind to ramble and roam with the bike and across the landscape. today righted the wrongs of the last time i rode my bike on wednesday (when i encountered a total asshole who happened to be on a bike at the time).
i’m sticking to the winter base thing. i’m definitely up on last year where i’m not even sure if i turned a pedal between october 31st and December 20th. I’m attempting to leave myself less to do when it all kicks off again by getting into a routine. today i went out with Ed and Mark. Ed is looking ‘ripped’, he’s spending a lot of time in the gym pumping some serious iron. come the racing season there’s a real danger he might tear his TT bike apart from the effort of riding away from the line, such is the immense torque and strength his hyper-developed muscles will generate. Mark is gradually undergoing a physical transformation by the sound of it, from stacked rugby player to svelte hill-whippet.
We had a great time, 55 miles fixed across north somerset. The route went out via clapton in gordano, along the flats near yatton, before doing some serious climbing to get up on top of the mendips via shipham and charterhouse. in case you were interested, charterhouse is the site of a roman lead mine which was the biggest in the whole roman empire and led to the spanish lead producers complaining at the flood of cheap imports. the land is now known locally as ‘gruffy ground’ because it’s no good for anything. there’s an ingot of roman mendip lead in the british museum.
the top of the mendips is littered with other prehistoric (and more recent) sites; priddy circles, dolebury warren and stanton drew being some of the more famous. i find it vaguely fascinating, it’s as though the past and the present commingle in time and space, at least in my imagination. i can sense the presence of people from a different epoch, occupying the same spaces and looking at the same eerily beautiful landscape, out across the bristol channel towards wales and down across the levels. there are three burial mounds near charterhouse – we stumbled across them after the long climb from the flats up to tyning’s farm. it’s odd to think that they held such significance for the people who built them, but now merit barely a look from the passer by.
i felt really strong today. it’s because i had two rest days this week after a fairly big block of miles. never underestimate the importance of rest. i felt strong all day and rode on the front pretty much the entire time. it was good to be tapping out the rhythm and dragging the boys around. in fact, it was one of those great days where i thought i was going to feel rubbish but the opposite transpired. ed and mark were also strong and we extended the ride a bit to take in the big climb.
the lanes were absolutely disgusting, filthy and muddy, soaking wet. my bike looks vile. i might clean it at some point. it was a proper winter lanes ride; ed made a tactical error by wearing too much white kit. looks good, but rapidly loses its lustre when covered in fresh friesan cowshit.
tomorrow is the club dinner. it’s hard to explain just how excited I am. i don’t think i’m going to be able to sleep. i have been excited about it for nearly 8 weeks. i think i might be due to pick up 6 trophies so i am not riding. it’s a high point for team douchbag, i think graham and steve are due two trophies apiece. i will doubtless try and capture the glory and suffering in a blog post tomorrow, you lucky lucky people.
I haven’t posted all that much lately because i haven’t been riding all that much. the weather, work and a lack of racing conspired against me. However, i have defaulted nicely back into the life of the club cyclist, and have got out and about on the club runs. When i lived in London the dulwich paragon club runs were my first rite of passage into cycling as a social activity, even if me and a few friends did refer to them as the ‘dulwich paraplegics’ on account of just how unbelievably slow their saturday morning club ‘runs’ were.
BSCC club runs follow a similar pattern to all other club runs up and down the land. they are between 50 and 60 miles with a tea stop in the middle and certain unwritten rules tend to be observed:
1. those without mudguards shall ride at the back or risk grave opprobrium from those falling victim to the spatter of slurry, unless you are a ‘tall, bespectacled’ world trike champion and misjudged the weather, in which case all is forgiven, despite the double spatter effect.
2. those riding fixed fight their own masochistic battle with the gradient, and each other, whispering gear inches and silently hoping the club captain avoids the nastier climbs.
3. the advent of the tea stop will become immediately apparent due to the increase in pace and kierin-style sprint finish. this is not, as some have suspected, a piece of fartlek, but simply a mad dash to be first in the queue for the chocolate malteser cake at a local garden centre.
4. the wetter the weather, the filthier the lanes, the grottier the conditions, the better the club run. if you close your eyes for a brief second you can almost imagine you are sean kelly, leading the bunch over the pavé in one of the spring classics.
5. no-one gets left behind – mechanicals are dealt with, hillclimbers wait at the tops of climbs and the group bunches together on turnings to ensure everyone is on board. recently i sliced the carcass of my tyre, but someone happened to have a piece of an old tyre cut to size to boot it with and thus get me home. however, if your 30 year old raleigh dynatech titanium frame cracks catastrophically at the head tube, you’re suddenly very much on your own, even if the club run peloton is in the middle of the north somerset triangle, with the nearest signs of life being a three-eyed farmer accompanying his yearlings to market.
beyond that, it’s a social event, newcomers are welcomed with open arms, if a little cautiously, humour and conversation drives it forwards, and you can bag all your exercise for the week in 4 short hours.
bristol south have a number of trophies on offer over the course of the season. i’ve won the hillclimb and hardriders cups this year – which i am really pleased about. can’t beat a bit of silverware in the cupboard in this day and age. it’s a bit alarming that the cups are so old and shiny – the hillclimb trophy in particular was donated by the Wills family in 1923; it feels quite precious.
almost the last pot to be awarded is the ‘uphill downhill’ – or david hill trophy. it’s awarded for a cumulative points score over a short hillclimb, followed by a freewheel distance event back down the same course. in theory, this evens things out between the borderline-manorexic mountain goats and the fatty-boom-boom power merchants. i came along because i am no longer racing and wanted to do the clubrun; to ride out to a garden centre somewhere in the middle of nowhere and eat carrot-cake whilst wearing lycra and neoprene booties, startling the sunday shoppers looking for mulch; to talk about winter riding, tyre diameters, and whether robert millar really did ride through the dark months with a 20mm tubular inside of a 23mm high-pressure clincher. he did, according to dan.
i signed up for a laugh, riding my heavy steel raleigh quadra amidst a sea of modular woven carbon fibre. the hill hurt, i felt a bit yucky, but went for it anyway. halfway up i got a puncture – not a sudden, catastophic decompression, more a sort of catherine-wheel of fizzing, fishy tyre air. i got out of the saddle, leant forward to take my weight off the back wheel and stamped on the pedals in an attempt to get to the top before the tyre expired beneath me. it seemed to work, by the time i’d crossed the line i had about 20psi left, which was just enough.
i had to walk down again, thus forgoing the freewheeling excitement. as it happened, i won the uphill bit, by quite a few seconds, but came predictably last in the downhill. andy won the trophy, the 6th time he’s done so. he’s the club captain, and comes from one of the club’s dynastic families. it was a brilliant morning’s fun in the filthy lanes.
Joining a cycling club is pretty much the best thing any aspiring cyclist can do. It’s essentially a family of geeky, friendly men and women, from all walks of life, united by an unfeasibly passionate love of all things bike-related. within the club the different factions sit comfortably and come the club run, everyone rides together and to be honest, it’s one of life’s more enlightening and awesome spectacles. and i love the sound of 30 riders clipping into pedals before riding off. it’s fantastic.
i’m a member of Bristol South Cycling Club; the city is blessed with quite a few clubs, all with healthy reputations and a long and chequered history. Severn CC occupy the north of the city, but the two clubs share many resources, mix it up on club runs, ride inter-club events and so on, recognise each other on the road. it’s all healthy and lovely a little bit nauseating, in a sort of ‘get a room’ way. Bristol South CC is one of the oldest clubs in the country, formed in 1893. My hillclimb trophy is from 1923; which is a little bit terrifying.
When i lived in London i used to ride with the Dulwich Paragon; a stalwart of the south-east scene. They were friendy and all-encompassing; their club run was a thing of wonder; and after two or three goes became painfully slow – however – this is what it was about, welcoming riders, celebrating cycling, developing the sport at grass roots level. there were always other friendly groups riding from cafe st germain on crystal palace parade who would welcome you along with open arms. The club also invest a lot of time and energy in events at Herne Hill (the only 1948 olympic venue still in use, and a place of pilgrimage) and run a series of road events. they have their share of serious quick riders as well. all in all a good bunch. i liked the idea behind rollapaluza cc when they started as a road club; lovely people too.
then there was the London Dynamo. some colleagues and I used to talk about them in hushed tones. they were seen as the darth vader and imperial guards of the road scene; taciturn, obnoxious, silent, arrogant, and as likely to run you down as let you jump on their chaingang. this was hearsay. however, on any encounter in richmond park or regent’s park, they were the only cyclists to never nod or wave – and whilst the nod or the wave in cycling is almost a blog post in itself, and not indicative of a sense of evil/harmony per se; most cyclists see it as a matter of etiquette. i wave and i nod, and it doesn’t matter what i’m riding. frequently i find the more pornographic the bike, the less likely the rider is to wave back; and i presume, i stereotype even – that is simply because they consider me a lesser cyclist. the truth is i would probably kick their fat ass all the way up the hill, ride them off the wheel and leave them crying in frustration. that’s on my winter bike, with full mudguards, 25mm tyres, bag full of schoolbooks, bricks even. and that’s especially true if the blinged up non-waver is riding in a vest; this symbolises triathleticism and is likely to mean that the slightest incline causes a sense of crushing despair.
but i digress. (is it perfume from a dress?) (and i stereotype too, apologies to hardcore triathletes)
so yes, the dynamo; the forces of darkness. the most london of cyling clubs. they are the gang at the beginning of the warriors that kill cyrus, then blame it on the warriors; the warriors are the paragon, the gentlemen and gentleladies, the bastions of decency. there are no prizes for impassiveness; and this is the one that used to get me the most: richmond park is not their personal fiefdom; it is a land of wild deer and ring-necked parakeets, of leisure cyclists and daytrippers.
all of which points towards a reputation issue, and they would do well to clean it up; because even if half of the hearsay is a quarter accurate, then there is a tension between the idealistic purity of cycling that so many people hold to, and the bleakly self-aggrandising form of the sport being propagated by mechanistic and sinister chaingangs.