Saturday, 25 September 2010


It dawned on me last weekend that the cross season was fast approaching and that I've badly neglected my cross bike over the summer whilst I've been out having fun on my singlespeed. So it was with some trepidation and a vague sense of guilt that I pulled my once much loved cross bike out of the shed to see what sort of state it was in.

A bit of a wash and some chain lube seemed to indicate that all was well with the exception of some pretty tired looking brake pads.

Having ridden mountain bikes since early spring, I wasn't quite sure I remembered what to do with a cross bike, so I commuted on it all week, taking the long, off road routes home from work (mostly in the dark) just to see if it all hung together.

The first memory that came flooding back was just how fast my cross bike was. Arriving at work with a big grin on my face after finally breaking that commuting time challenge I set myself at the start of the summer.

The next memory was that the brakes aren't quite as responsive as the disc brakes on my mountain bikes. Unfortunately I only remembered that as I was pelting down a rocky rooty descent, ever so slightly out of control. Luckily my arm warmers protected me from the worst of the bramble thorns of the bush I ended up in.

So after a week of commuter cross, I felt vaguely ready for today's mini cross race....a small, unofficial, friends only Skull and Cross Bikes race in some local woods. A short, pretty techy course with slippery roots, some rocky drops and some descents which I had to force myself to ride down against my better judgement (descents seem so much steeper on drop bars) and a beer short cut just in case the section through the nettles and brambles got too much.

It all flooded back after the first lap. Heart in throat as I'm hurtling down descents pulling on the brake levers with very little happening, running / stumbling up hills with my bike slung over my shoulder desperately trying to breathe as I'm slipping and sliding on the mud, cranking up the gears to hammer along the flat bits only to have to shift down in an instant to hit that hill, going through the start / finish hoping that this time the bell goes, but it doesn't, then finally crossing the finish line to be greeted by lots of other grinning, wheezing faces who're talking about how much that hill hurt or how sketchy that descent was or how that root just spat you off every lap.

So do I feel guilty for neglecting my cross bike since the spring? Not at all...I'm going to spend the next 4 months loving it and riding it and myself into the ground, suffering and grinning in equal measure.


Friday, 24 September 2010

things of beauty

2010 NW Gentlemen's Race from RAPHA on Vimeo.

"a defect in the gentleman's mind confuses pain with joy, and they ride on."


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Midweek microadventure

First light
Originally uploaded by jumbly
Charge lights. Ride bike. Meet friends. Eat chips. Drink beer. Ride bike. Seek shelter. Night cap. Forest noises. Warm bivvy. Sleep outdoors. First light. Drink tea. Ride home. Breakfast earned. Smug grin. Midweek microadventure. Do it!


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

tour of britain.

got up early on saturday and rode to the top of the hill to watch the tour of britain go by.

never mind that it rained.
never mind that i felt like shit.
never mind that from a choice of three brutal climbs, they cheated and took the riders the easy way up.


for an hour or so the bicycle folk outnumbered, outcoloured and outsmiled everyone else on top of the hill and that alone was worth the ride.



Friday, 10 September 2010

The Terrex (3)

Windermere is big. It rained and the end of the lake never seemed to get any closer. I resisted asking 'how far' (something I never do... so demoralising) but it was the closest I ever was during the race. Rain trickled down the back of my neck and I could feel my base layer soaking up warm rain water. The smell... my smell, of unwashed bodies and days old sweat puffed up warm and sickly every time I twisted my torso. The air was full of water. We were damp. Spirits, bodies, kit.

Eventually we landed at Winderemere Canoe and Kayak and rushed our boats through the carpark, sorted out our kit and got ready for the next bike leg. If we hurried, we'd make the next ferry. Steve lead the race... running around the buildings to the queueing cars. We didn't quite make it, but fortuitously ended up waiting outside a bacon butty van! So for 20 minutes we refuelled in the rain, drinking tea and eating delicious bacon rolls.

The ferry was surreal. People stared. We stared back. The rain lashed down.

Steve winced as we got back on our bikes. We were over 30 hours in now and his saddle sores were raw. He never once complained, but in his post-match analysis he wrote 'Things I would do differently: Buy bike shorts more than once every three years." I saw his sores. They were unbelievable. He resorted later in the race to wearing his shorts inside out and once put them on back to front because we got changed in the dark, on a hill in a sleeping bag. Not a good move!

The bike leg saw us fix our only puncture of the race and continue to storm past other teams. People were dropping checkpoints left right and centre so we had no idea what position we were in. We were fairly confident we had dropped back to fifth behind the other FGS team but that was fine.

The sun came out eventually and we drifted calmly into transition at Langdale for the dreaded Langdale to Langdale trek. This was going to be an overnight trek, which would take us high up into the mountains; up over Scafell in the early hours of the morning. It was the Make or Break stage of the race. A lot of luck would be required to hit the checkpoints in thick clag and zero visibility.

Unfortunately luck was not on our side.

To be continued...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Terrex (2)

The start:

As I came to on the coach, I looked out the window at a massive flat expanse of sand: Morecombe Sands. Two lonely flags stood a few hundred metres out from the 'shore' and a wind-battered camera man was waiting patiently half a kilometre away. The Start.

Racers hugged their team mates and lined up under the clock, waiting for the count down. Adrenaline and fear was pulsing through everyone. 3... 2... 1... we were off. Teams ran 4 abreast, splashing through the enless puddles and dipping in and out of the streams and rivulets that cross the sands. Not a cockle in sight, nor a Chinese cockle picker.

Chapel Island never seemed to get any closer. Hours went past and then suddenly we were dibbing our first checkpoint and heading back across to the land. 25km of flat running on a hard surface. My ham strings were tight and my quads tired. I had 3 days to go...

In the first transition we grabbed our kit and sat out the penalty we had been given from the prologue the night before. We had 33 minutes to sit out (which was triple the time we finished behind the lead team). Barney looked unhappy. He had pulled a muscle in the prologue (explaining our slow time) and was suffering today. But we had a 14 hour bike leg to look forward to.

It felt wonderful swinging my leg over my bike and pedalling off across the grass. The miles flew past. We were riding strong but comfortably and picking off team after team. We were soon up in 4th place, despite Barney's crippling cramps. An orienteering stage saw Andy take over the navigation reigns from Steve and we stormed round the course, enjoying the tussocky running and the fading sunlight.

The first night snuck up on us at the top of a brutal uphill hike-a-bike which spurred off from the bottom of Hard Knot Pass. Reaching the top, the hiking just got harder, as we lurched and draggd our bikes down hill over bogs and boulders! Another push and we were up over the top and were greeted with the finest descent I have ever done. Rocks, boulders, loose shale... every inch of my tired body taught with concentration. Every little scrap of skill I had was employed on that descent. Four smiling and relieved team mates met at the bottom to discuss the next section (the Ghyll Scramble), fill camelbaks from the stream and give our brakes a chance to cool off.

It's lucky there is no rule about nakedness in AR. The Gyhll Scramble involved complete submersion and as it was 11pm we knew we would never dry off afterwards, so to avoid getting too cold, we decided to put waterproofs on and nothing else! The scramble was exhilarating and really bonded our team, who had been struggling under the weight of Barney's suffering until the descent. Now the mood was really up and we were forging ahead!

A final push and we arrived at transition for a quick kayak in simply beautiful conditions. It was still, the moon was full and clear and the clouds were illuminated. Coniston was peaceful and quiet and we were in heaven.

Finishing the kayak, however, the drizzle had started and we experienced a rather demoralizingly slow bush whacking trek over to the big tea-and-toast transition. 10km in 3hrs. Exhausting! Overdue a sleep, we changed, ate and grabbed an hour in the frame tents at Windermere YHA.

Refreshed and ready for day 2, we grabbed our kayaks and set off on the lake for some rainy paddling...

Research suggests a new era of cycling may be here to stay

What with the rise of the Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILS), Boris Johnson’s newly opened Cycle Superhighways in London, Clare Balding’s new BBC4 series on cycling tourism, and the outstanding sporting success of the likes of Cavendish and Pooley, could we be forgiven for thinking the UK is on the cusp of a new era of cycling?

This was the question asked by a team of academics at the Bristol Social Marketing Centre at the University of the West of England (UWE).

Professor Alan Tapp with colleagues Fi Spotswood and Sarah Leonard commissioned YouGov to undertake a UK wide survey that asked: what do British people really think about cycling? Their research investigated the opinions about cycling amongst a representative UK sample of adults. 3,885 people aged 16-64 were interviewed in early summer 2010.

Professor Tapp comments, “We wanted to find out if cycling is still the ‘poor mans transport’ populated by badly dressed social misfits muttering about gear ratios, or a fashionable activity of good looking people who rock up to the office with the latest carbon frame. We asked questions about how congestion, global warming and ever rising fuel prices might persuade us out of our cars and back onto two wheels.

42% of people think cycling has become cool.

“Our findings suggest that most people see Jeremy Clarkson-esque critics of cycling as missing the point. An impressive 42% of the British public think that ‘cycling has become cool nowadays’, and, good news for those forty-something men with mid-life crises, 38% agree that bike technology is much sexier nowadays. Perhaps surprisingly there was also encouragement for government initiatives, with 43% agreeing that ‘there’s a new push by the government towards getting people to cycle’.

“These pro cycling feelings might be a symptom of traffic jam stress as much as anything. A whopping 43% of us agreed that ‘When I’m stuck in a traffic jam I sometimes wish I were cycling’. The success of the likes of Chris Hoy and Mark Cavendish might be rubbing off on us as well: a surprising 18% of us admit that ‘The success of British cyclists has encouraged me to think about cycling more myself’.

“But cycling lobbies can’t quite break out the champagne just yet. It was quite clear from the study that Britain is still a divided nation over cycling, with a die-hard 28% of people agreeing that ‘roads are for cars not bikes’ - In fact, only 12% of us cycle quite or very often (once a week or more). What’s for sure is that getting over our love of cars isn’t going to be easy: 54% say ‘I would not support any measure that penalises car use’. Perhaps the divided nation theory is best highlighted by the finding that 39% agree that ‘global warming has been exaggerated’with a similar number, 38%, disagreeing.

Can things get better for cyclists? Well, we could certainly use our Olympic and Tour de France heroes to help us market cycling as a way of getting about. After all, at the moment, more people recognised David Cameron (picked out by 59%) as a cyclist than Chris Hoy (53%), and Boris Johnson (48%) was a more famous cyclist than Victoria Pendleton (27%).

Commuter cyclists not serious career people

Accepting that the UK is still dominated by a ‘car culture’, the researchers investigated whether UK cyclists see themselves as a breed apart. How do cyclists see themselves, and what do the motoring majority think of them?

Findings suggest that the way cyclists see themselves isn’t always matched by how outsiders see them.

Cyclists see themselves as independent minded and free spirited, environmentally aware, adventurous, and even a bit rebellious. They are also less likely to see themselves as conventional or boring.But a different picture emerges when non-cycling people were asked what they thought of cyclists.

Some descriptions such as fitness conscious and independent minded were not surprising but interestingly the general public thought that cyclists were less happy than they were- perhaps because they see cyclists getting wet and cold. Professor Tapp concludes, “We were also surprised to find that cyclists were seen as lazy and non-cyclists percieve cyclists as less hard working than they are. Maybe the perception is that if you are a serious career professional in the UK, you don’t cycle – you drive a 5 series instead.”

*insert prefered term here* on bikes

women/damsels/divas/lasses/ladies/bitches/chicks/girls on bikes.

You might have seen and responded to Sacred Rides' call for input from female mountain bikers a few weeks back. The report from their survey is now up and it makes for interesting reading.

(If only for IMBA Canada's fantastic 'been there, done that' slot on the back page.)

Thoughts? There's a lot in there that to me is blindingly obvious - the majority of respondents are in the affluent 30-50 age group, are type A characters who are deeply immersed in an active lifestyle and who love the outdoors, who got into mountain biking as a result of an introduction from a friend or partner. And then stayed into it because they like it.

But also plenty that was surprising. Is mountain biking viewed as *that* 'hardcore'? Do we lack female role models? Is finding other women to ride with - or men that you can tolerate/will tolerate you - so difficult that it puts women off riding entirely?


Comments please...


The Terrex (1)

Over a week has past since Barney, Andy, Steve and I (Team FGS! Choc Malt) sprinted across the finish line of the Adidas Terrex Expedition Adventure Race. Yes, we sprinted. After 3 and a half days of racing with only 2 and a half hours of sleep, we took it upon ourselves to sprint from the end of the Canadian Canoe final stage to the finish line in Keswick Town Centre. It was an emotional moment. Barney could barely walk and yet the drive to finish with a bang got his adrenaline pumping and had him gritting his teeth and dodging through the shoppers and the tourists up the high street. As the race planner Bruce gave me a hug, I wouldn't let go. He whispered 'Fi, you're shaking'. I was fighting the tears. It had been a tough weekend.

... to be continued...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Big Wheels

Originally uploaded by jumbly
Today was the Knutsford Great Race. A once every ten year Penny Farthing race. We went to spectate. I now so want to try riding one. I wonder if by the time 2020 rolls around I will have managed to not only acquire one, but have mastered riding very big wheels at speed?


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Ride the Lights

Originally uploaded by jumbly
Met up with Amy last night for Blackpool's annual Ride the Lights. The prom is closed off to all traffic, open to bikes. Thousands of people pedalling along under The Illuminations. It's not hard riding, or fast riding, just pure, cheesy grin, fun riding. We factored in a chips and beer stop too, just for good measure. A top evening!