Down to Earth With a Bump

Yesterday was an eventful day. It was my first foray into the Classic League; the club’s annual time trial series. The first few races are held at Aust, in the shadow of the severn bridge and not far from the old ferry crossing, famously visited by his royal Bobness on his landmark electric/folk judas tour in 1966. I’m not sure if he was in town for the time trial or not.

Looks like a climber to me. (Barry Feinstein Image)

The weather for the race was a lot nicer than it was for Robert Zimmerman. The wind dropped and we had some late-evening sunshine.

i decided to ride out to the start in a slightly circuitous fashion and treat the whole endeavour as a training ride. The loose plan was to ride a slightly hilly 20 miles out, do the 5.2 mile TT, then ride home a further 15 miles, with the out and back being fairly hard, but not so hard that i couldn’t sustain it. You get into a fairly remorseless rhythm; for me it’s around 25mph or so, maybe a bit more, with heart rate at around 80%.

The first bit went well, then i dropped down to the suspension bridge coming back into Bristol. A car in front was doing a steady 15mph. I was behind – and certainly quite near, trusting in two things, that they would continuing moving at the same pace, and that the cycle lane belonged to me. They started to drift into the cycle lane, so i shouted, fairly benignly, to ask them to vacate it – but they didn’t hear. The driver then swerved suddenly across right into the lane and stopped. I presume he was checking his change for the bridge. I had no time to make any kind of decision, slammed on the front brake as i hit the car on the side and went straight over the handlebars pretty quickly, ending up wedged between the car and half on the pavement with my bike on top of me and a freaked-out looking driver nervously getting out of his car.

When you have a crash like this there’s a couple of things to consider, usually in a set order. Firstly, I checked to see if i could stand up, walk, raise arms, and made sure nothing was broken. Then i checked the bike thoroughly. The bike is absolutely fine, no damage whatsoever. My helmet is cracked and scraped though and there is a massive hole in my assos skinsuit.

this is what the crash looked like. see speed drop from 16mph to 0 at the beginning of the trace.

i had a lengthy conversation with the driver, he was quite shook up as well. he gave me some wetwipes to clean my face and shoulder. After that i decided to ride across and down bridge valley road at which point i’d decide whether i wanted to race or not. it’s hard to know what to do in the aftermath of a spill, and is best to sit still for a while. Heading across the bridge i got caught in a massive hailstorm and then had to shelter in the public toilets. it was quite an eventful few minutes.

it looks like i've stuck my shoulder in a tin of dulux matt emulsion
i can heartily recommend prendas baselayers. they are the bees knees.

once i got to the bottom of the hill i decided to ride out to the start. i was running a bit late by now so had to get on it. once i got up to speed the pain dissipated somewhat. I tacked along and made it just in time.

the race was comparatively uneventful. i rode as fast as i could, didn’t worry too much about pacing it, and managed an 11.02, which is an improvement on my PB of one second. i was a bit disappointed not to go faster but it wasn’t ideal conditions and also it didn’t help that i’d crashed heavily on the way over. It was good enough for the win by around 30 seconds. Somehow i’d like to find a further 20 seconds in the next two weeks. It was just one of those days where i thought i was going to really fly but didn’t actually go that fast.

We all rode back in a sort of TT and road bike convoy. I rode on front almost the whole time because i was still looking to do a bit more training. the others seemed happy to follow. I was glad to get home and have a bath. I’m a bit sore this morning but am optimistic that i will be fine in time for Sunday and the fastest course in christendom.


total of 40 miles @ 21.5mph average; 1 x 5.2 mile TT @ 28.3mph; one violent collision from 16mph to 0mph in 70 cm; one energy gel consumed

25 Mile Time Trials (time of the season)

Today was the Severn 25, my second event of the year and the first proper effort requiring a sustained workout at or around the lactic threshold for just about an hour. my intention was to have a bit of a dig, see where my form was and use it as preparation for next week’s first hardrider event. i was excited about the race – it’s great to be back in the thick of the village hall/arterial main road/men-in-lycra action and catch up with the fellowship of racing cyclists.

It was also exciting for one particular reason: the Severn were running a Tricycle event; a promising smorgasbord of beards and plus fours. There were scurrilous internet rumours going round that during a heated and rancourous Tricycle Association AGM the controversial motion proposed by the youngest national comittee member (a freckle faced whelp of a78 year old) to allow members to race in lycra rather than worsted or alpaca, was passed. but this may just be manichean politicking of the highest order. One thing’s for sure, there would be a plethora of 1950s bikeporn on show, featuring the finest tripodular frame builders, like Higgins and Longstaff, with eccentric bottom brackets and peculiar braking systems a plenty.

2012 enters a 1950s vortex as time and space collapse in on themselves at Falfield

whilst i was awe-stuck by the MG/Higgins combo with adapted scaffolding plank carrying device, there was more to come…oh yes…

the tricycle goes over to the dark side: all this bad boy needs is a heavy metal ümlaüt

i didn’t quite know what to say. the double-disc, deep front, dropped-stem set-up blew my mind. it was beastly and scared the other bikes into hiding. All i could do was stare, agog. Later, I took a few pictures of the brave tricyclists as they headed out onto the road, getting ready to practise their two-wheeled corners whilst worrying about the change in passing distance and bike width.

trike on the left is seriously old - check the rake on the forks and handlebars

Alongside the majesty of the the three-wheeled wonders, there was also a strangely sizeable contingent from the universities. Both UWE and the University of Bristol fielded a number of riders. It was noticeable that the Bristol team were all in matching kit with sponsors and carefully chosen fonts and colours. Their less Russelgroupy neighbours from UWE were conspicuous by their very inconspicuousness. Some of the Bristol University riders tested the limits of the results board, not with their super-fast times, but with their extended first names and double-barrelled surnames. It was really great to see them riding though. I had a job lot of them off in the ten in front of me. It was good for morale, hurtling past on the boardman with the disc wheel making its characteristic noise (not the grinding bag of spanners noise, i managed to get the highly-skilled Matt from Strada to fix that). They appear to be sponsored by Mission Burrito (amongst others) which is quite a coup. Whilst passing the sixth member and getting a vague sense of deja vu, i wondered silently if they get free mexican street food. I would consider joining for this reason.

The Bristol Uni Contingent scrutinise the results in their matching outfits; they took home the 'first lady' and 'longest name' prizes

The U18 is a variant of the U7b, and thus a paid up member of the graveyard club. the road surface was utterly abysmal in places and there were some really lumpy bits on the back of the course, with a set of three potholes (i use the term sparingly, they were akin to volcanic craters) sat along the racing line like a bastardised crop circle. the course consisted of 2 loops and an out-and-back, which made it hard to judge. i went out quite slowly until i realised i was probably going too slowly so picked it up a bit. that was about it really, i rode at or near threshold, although i am going on feel, so i can’t be entirely sure about that. i managed a 57.07 for third place and claimed a few scalps along the way. The second placed rider was only one measly second ahead. I was balked twice at junctions, losing quite a bit of time, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles and the rider ahead of me may well have been balked. Graham Douchebag also rode, he wasn’t content with the 25 miles parcours, being used to much much longer distances, so extended his race to 32 miles by missing a turn and then cutting back to do the route proper. Chapeau to G for upholding the good name of Team Douchebag and refusing to let go of his randonneur roots.

graham in the red and gold after his epic ride

it’s been a great start to the season and i’m looking forwards to next week with some excitement, it’s a very very strong field though…

the stats:

25 miles, 26.3mph, 700ft of climbing, 168bpm av, 178bpm max.

The Race Blade Longs Have Arrived!

Pretty much as it says in the title: the holy grail, the missing link, the ark of the covenant, all three of the above in one glorious triumvirate. or to put it another way, the fastest way to convert your blingety blong roadbike into a hapless, cowshit-encrusted winter hack.

the only problem is i haven’t got time to try them out, or photo them, or review them until Friday because tonight i’m going on an archaeological mission to a venerated BSCC club member’s house to look through copies of cycling weekly dating back to the 1920s. this is all part of a hush secret research project. I’m also looking at his memorabilia, which is also part of a hush secret, on the QT, never never, black ops project.

so many exciting things, so little time…. hold tight readers! all will be revealed!

Cyclo Cross

Cyclo-cross in the UK is increasingly popular, the recent Rapha Super Cross event put a spin on the Belgian version and saw huge crowds turn out at Ally Pally. it’s a slightly demented sport and a weird hybrid of lots of different things. it contains the mass start element of the road race, but once out and about there is no drafting benefit, so it becomes a series of intervals, thus suiting the stronger riders who can cope with sudden acceleration and the changes in tempo. it’s also incredibly technical, needing skills both on and off the bike. the dismounts can cause people real problems:

in contrast, at the recent ‘Muddy Hell’ event at Herne Hill in London, one of the more surreal and spectacular pieces of skill entertained a beer-soaked crowd, the technical bit came through the beer tent – an inspired piece of promoting.

i tend to avoid cyclo cross for the same reason that i avoid pottery classes and working with livestock, namely that  i don’t enjoy getting covered in shit. nonetheless, it makes for a great spectator sport. the western league promotes  a series of events in parks most weekends. today it was the turn of hengrove, an odd disused airfield that seemed to be popular with psychotic dog walkers, as well as the aforementioned cyclists. a great mix, i guess, unless (or maybe if) you’re cadel evans.

there was a large field, over 50 riders, including simon richardson of sigma sport. it was really great to be watching a race instead of riding. i was able to relax and chat to people, enjoy the atmosphere, rather than feelthe pressure associated with competing. i took my camera and shot some footage. it’s the club’s nominated trophy event so there was a bit of a ding-dong battle between steve green and kieran ellis.

Burrington Combe Hillclimb

At the beginning of the season I had a series of goals in the back of mind. most of those have now been met, and recalibrated, and met again. it’s been pretty good. however, the event i tend to target is the club open hillclimb on Burrington Combe. there is a vaguely sentimental reason for this – it was my first competitive event two years ago, when i first got a vague, and surprising sense that i might be quite handy at riding bikes uphill. other than that, it’s the club’s open, so it’s a key part of our racing calendar and everybody turns up in force. today the gold and red (slightly dated) club jerseys were much in evidence on Burrington’s fabled slopes.

calm before the storm

I have been nervous about this climb for a couple of reasons. if you target an event then there is immediately more potentially to lose – a puncture, a bad day, a mechanical of sorts, anything really – it scuppers the lot. it’s a club trophy event, my name and time is on there for the last two years, firstly with an 8.01, then with a 7.45 last year. this also means i felt pressure to improve the time further, with a desire to get under 7.40, somehow. i didn’t sleep well and woke up ridiculously early. nevertheless, i was confident my form was roughly in the right place. this is partly because on Saturday i rode the Weston Wheelers promotion on Westclose Hill, taking 3rd, some distance behind Tejvan, but only 6 seconds behind James Dobbin. This gave me cheer. Added to this was the sense that my training had been coming together and i was just about at race weight. i even thought i might be able to beat the Dobbster today. more on that later.

the weather was far warmer than last year, probably around 8-10 degrees. from the outset i felt edgy – i knew that others like Neil Blessit and Glyndwr would be right up there, especially Glyn who took confidence from his awesome second place at Catford last week. in fact, everywhere i looked there were fast riders ready to upset the applecart with a gurning, savage display of hillclimbing prowess. i wore my skinsuit for only the second time ever in a hillclimb. marginal gains!

i started in the small ring, but after the initial undulations changed up to the big ring and began to put the power down. this was partly a practical decision: if i use the 11 cog the cassette locks up; this is due to some seriously dubious bodgery with an 11 speed cassette and some loctite. In order to avoid this happening i changed up to the big ring and used that for most of the climb. Burrington is a steady 6% with some sharper sections. In short, i absolutely mullered it. Last year i remember riding steadily on the lower sections before really going much harder later on. This time i sought out a remorseless rhythm and kept turning it over, getting out of the saddle to mitigate against the gradient on the shorter, sharper sections, then sitting back down and churning it over again. i felt strong throughout, and it felt fast. over the course of the weekend i’ve found myself thinking about longer hillclimbs in very simple terms – find the biggest gear you can just keep on top of, and stick with it. grimace, breathe, shout, do what you want, but stick with it, and attack, attack, attack.

tora tora tora! big ring riding!

i’ve been riding without the garmin or anything else, just going completely on feel, like the old days. there’s a simple reason for this, in a hillclimb of any duration you end up way over anything you can sustain for any length of time. ideally, i need a device that measures mental fortitude, pain thresholds, moral fibre, ignoring of oxygen debt – the key components of the hillclimbers toolkit. it’s been working well.

i went 12 seconds quicker than last year, bagged a new club record of 7.33 with an average of nearly 16mph for the climb. i came 4th behind tavis walker and james dobbin who clocked 7.10 each, with the Dobbster marginally ahead. Clearly, Dobbin was sandbagging at Westclose, or something, either way i was a good 20 seconds behind the twice National Champion. but all of that pales into insignificance in the face of a stunning ride by Tejvan Pettinger. He has been in sparkling form this year, and is undefeated in all hillclimbs, even over shorter distances. he defied gravity in an utterly awe-inspiring fashion, and annihilated Danny Axford’s 10 year old course record of 7.02 with mindboggling 6.51. to put this into perspective, if Tejvan had started behind anyone outside of the top 5 on the day, he would have caught and passed them. Chapeau.

christian: old school

Chapeau also to Christian Smith, who rode a 64″ gear to 14th place, and thus made it onto the prize sheet but also secured the BSCC team prize with me and Glyndwr (who went under 8 minutes for the first time on this course). It was a great day, and a fantastic weekend. sometimes after a proper hillclimbing weekend like this, with the heady insanity of riding uphill dominating thoughts and physical activity over two days, it’s hard to get back down again. doubtless tomorrow when i tell colleagues what happened and contemplate their nonplussed, confused responses, i will be ‘back in the room’.

i will also retain one lasting memory of the weekend. i was privileged to see this chap riding up the climb and back down again. he is quite simply the best attired cyclist i have seen since the heady days of super mario.



The Western Time Trials Association run an annual competition called the ‘hardriders’. It’s essentially a series of at best sporting courses, and at worst; evil, uncompromising, brutal undulating parcours. The banner on the website reads ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’, which pretty much sums things up.

Some of the courses are suitable for sprinters, the hills tend to be shallower. Others are pretty nasty, with constant ups and downs. Most riders tend to go for uber-bling time trial machines, the biggest time-savings can be had from aerodynamics. this is where bike design is at its most radical, moving steadily away from the conventional diamond shape.

Today’s course went Tomarton-Marshfield-Lanhill-Castle Combe-Acton Turville-Marshfield. It had some really lumpy stuff and some very very fast sections. I rode the Condor with clip-on tribars. On the whole, i got the effort right, which may be another way of saying that i felt pretty good, and rode the 23 mile course in 59.19, coming 12th out of about 70 or so riders. I am pleased with this; especially to get in under the hour. Next week I have to repeat the endeavour in the Bath event, with the added bonus of Rebecca Romero being on the startsheet; i never ever in my wildest cycling dreams imagined that one day i would be in the same race as an olympic gold medallist. She is training for the time trial in the Olympics, having had her chosen event arbitrarily scratched from the Track programme. i’m sure switching within the same discipline won’t be quite as taxing as switching sports entirely.

the riders ahead of me in the pecking order are quite a frightening bunch; seriously fast, with seriously pornographic cycling gear. this time i managed to get slightly further down the road before being passed at a rate of knots by a swooshing disc wheel and huge-cranked cadence. i nearly didn’t get my time at all – i pinned my race number on myself (this ritual is usually done by a fellow rider, but i felt small and frightened by the wealth of talent and muscular definition on the freshly shaven legs, so opted to pin the tail on my own donkey) – and thus made a pig’s ear of it. visibility was a problem, so when i got back there was a bit of a hoo-ha about the time, and the timekeepers, who were the loveliest, most amazing people ever, were confused. they nearly did the switcheroo with me and some lumpenmenschenfresser who turned in about 20 minutes slower. all was resolved though, and ended happily. i felt calm, but also wary that i had nearly transgressed, and it was all my own fault. i shall not make the same mistake twice.


first chaingang of the year; unexpected – other plans i had fell through so i went out with the club this morning. last time i went it was horrible, really genuinely unpleasant. this time it was much better. the rotation worked well and the two lines were paced evenly; people coming through were dropping back and it was easier to dose the effort and the recovery.

the 15 miles out to Aust were steady, followed by an absolute blast on the way back, average speed crept up and it was a lot harder. nevertheless, i clung on all the way and certainly feel it now.

here’s cambridge cc doing their chaingang; anticlockwise. we go clockwise.


21mph average.

32 miles.

the chaingang is hard work, there’s no other way of describing it; high intensity and at times very quick; it requires a certain level of fitness and a lot of willpower. it’s also a good way of gaining fitness; riding for 60 miles at an even pace doesn’t leave me as knackered as 32 miles at a brisk pace. it’s no club run – not much talking goes on at all, but when everything is rotating smoothly there’s a great feeling of (dis)comfort; effort, but calm; limited time on the front, short recovery.

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