Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Perfect Commute?

Just Perfect
It was just too good an opportunity to miss. A lovely morning; the wet and cold conditions of last week a distant memory, now replaced with a feeling that summer was on its way.

With the trusty Pompino temporarily off the road with a very poorly front wheel, my CX bike has become the commuter of choice, and today it was ideal. My plan was to tailor the route in to make the most of its strengths.

Climbing out of gorge on the Silkin Way, the bike was in its element. Currently still wearing the 28mm slicks employed for the Liege Bastogne Liege trip, it was the perfect match for the hard packed path beneath.

The steady gradient offered by the converted railway line makes getting into a steady rhythm second nature, and as the hard pack path gives way to tarmac and the gradient eases, the speed builds naturally.

I was making good time, and with the drudgery of the day ahead looming large, it was time to take a moment. Time to reflect on last 50 or so minutes. Not the longest, nor the fastest commute, but in so many ways the perfect encapsulation of how special it is to be able to ride to work.

With an espresso in hand, it made me think. Had I just enjoyed the perfect commute?

Vive la Velo


Wednesday, 27 April 2016


On Sunday, Team Sky’s Dutch rider Wout Poels delivered the team its long awaited first win in one of cycling’s Monuments, La Doyenne - Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Normally a relatively anonymous member of the mountain train that shepherds Froome through the Alps and Pyrenees at the Tour, but on a freezing cold day in the Ardennes it was to be his moment of glory. He won from a 4 man sprint to cross the line in 6:24:29. He’d covered the 248km at an average speed of 38.7km/h. Tellingly, this is almost always the slowest of the Monuments. This fact alone speaks volumes about the course.
The previous day it was the turn of the amateurs to see how they would fair over the same course. I was one of them, along with 9 others in our group who’d made the trip from Shropshire. We’d all prepared as best we could given the day to day distractions which we all routinely face, and it was now the moment of truth.
The rain and freezing temperatures forecast duly arrived, and we were soaked by the time we’d got to the start. Fortunately the weather dried up, but what followed was without a doubt the toughest things I’ve ever done on a bike. The course is just brutal; the 10 categorised ‘Cotes’ are really no reflection on how tough it is. In isolation any one of them would be fine, but it’s the cumulative effect which takes its toll. Add in the almost permanently undulating sections in between the Cotes, and you’ve got one hell of a parcours.
The next 12 hours or so are now all a bit of a blur, but I remember having to dig deeper than I think I’ve ever done before. At times it was all I could do to keep the wheels turning. Messages of encouragement from @SJ1202 and @Gazdburns, as well as the promise of a cold beer keep me going, and despite getting lost, going completely the wrong way, and suffering from frozen feet (I’m still limping slightly 3 days afterwards) I rolled up to the Bar we agreed to meet in just after dark. Darren arrived shortly after me (having finished in time to have a shower and get changed) and as we enjoyed a  beer( or two) which had never been harder earned, we struggled for words to describe what we’d just done.
I won’t torture myself anymore by posting up my numbers, but will instead leave you with one statistic which serves to illustrate just how super human professional cyclists are. Taking into account our ride to and from the start and finish, Wout Poels road the course almost 5 hours quicker than I did. Just incredible.
Vive la Velo

Friday, 29 January 2016

Mayday Mayday – A Lesson Learned

With a long ride ahead of us the pace was fairly easy as we left Newport and headed north towards Market Drayton and our final destination for the day, Manchester. As I took a glance behind me I was suddenly aware that we (@SJ1020, @Gazdburns & I) had company, and we were now four. Interesting; where did he come from?

I always enjoy these chance encounters with other cyclists, and I have a tendency to put myself in the shoes of the other guy. Three guys up ahead; steady pace; a potential catch to brighten up my Saturday morning ride. Time to up the pace a little, and to see if I can latch on to the group. They’re definitely getting closer, in fact I’m on. Relax; take stock and see what happens.

Back in my own shoes, I’ve learnt that at times like this it pays to sit tight, and let the other guy make the move. This was a road I knew well, and hopefully this knowledge would work in our favour. But then again perhaps our newly found acquaintance was also familiar with the road, and was waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

The crossroads ahead forced us all to an almost standstill, and as we strained to get back on top of our chosen gears for the day, suddenly he was past and spinning off into the distance. A surprising display of confidence; perhaps he was fed up of our sedate pace. With an uphill drag approaching it was no time to chase; we still had over 100kms to go.

Now back up to a steady speed, the gap stabilised at perhaps 30 metres or so. We were moving along nicely, so we upped our effort ever so slightly to keep things honest. With a couple of slightly steeper ramps approaching the next few minutes could seal things. A nervous glance over the shoulder up ahead provided all the encouragement we needed.

A dip in the road followed by a sharp left handed ascent meant we lost sight of our target for a few moments, but as we crested the brow the gap has narrowed markedly. His noticeably raised cadence said it all, he was struggling.

The upcoming canal bridge up ahead presented us with the perfect opportunity to attack. As we closed the gap, the right had flapping frantically at the shifters signalled it was all over. “Mayday, mayday” said @Gazdburns as the gap was bridged, and we exchanged casually deliberate  pleasantries as we passed.

Time to commit, we now pushed on and upped the pace. We couldn’t afford to offer a wheel to cling onto at this stage. After a minute or so, a glance over our shoulders confirmed our suspicions. We were now three again, and our earlier acquaintance was nowhere to be seen.

If you pass people on the road, just make sure you can make it stick…..

Vive la Velo


Thursday, 31 December 2015

#Festive500 Ride Diary

The Rapha #Festive500 Challenge sees participants attempt to cover 500km over the 8 days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. That’s a relatively modest 62.5km a day, but with all that the festive period involves, as well as the British weather, this is a tough ask. I also knew I needed to factor in at least 2 cycling free days.

My 2014 attempt was scuppered by the icy conditions we suffered at the end of last year, but this just made me more determined for 2015. The promising weather forecast, at least in terms of temperatures, as well as the fact that another SCS mate was also going to give this a go sealed the deal.

Day 1 - Christmas Eve – Shifnal to Preston

A good start was vital, as family commitments meant that I wouldn’t be back on the bike until the 27th. This made the sound of the rain bouncing off our kitchen’s velux windows all the more disheartening. The forecast was for things to clear up as I headed north though, and so as I rode down to meet the lads who were to escort me to the county border, my mood was one of cautious optimism.

As we split at Cheswardine, the weather ahead was looking better, and sure enough as I passed through Nantwich towards Warrington the rain stopped and the skies began to clear. The tailwind was proving helpful as well. A re-fuelling stop in Warrington also gave me an opportunity to try and dry out a little, and I was soon on my way again.

Through Wigan and Chorley, picking up signs for Preston were just the boost I needed, and even the hail storm which I encountered 2 miles from my destination didn’t dampen my mood. An imperial ton was passed and day 1 was done. I could relax over the next couple of days safe in the knowledge I’d made a fairly decent start. Time to put the bike away and to enjoy a well-earned beer or two….

Daily Total: 161.58km - Challenge Total: 161.58km

Days 2 & 3 – Christmas and Boxing Day

Eating, drinking, and being merry. We did however manage our traditional walk up Parlick!

Day 4 – 27th December – Out with @ASL191

A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours with Anna, doing a lap of Preston. The previous two days torrential rain meant that we had to pick our route carefully to avoid the worst of the flooded roads, but we still managed 40km, which took me past the 200km mark for the challenge.

Daily Total: 40.10km - Challenge Total: 201.98km

Day 5 – 28th December – Preston to Shifnal

I’d had this pencilled in as perhaps the most important day of the whole challenge. If I could get another 150km plus ride in I was confident of success. However, the excesses of the previous night’s Gin and Tonic session with my brother in law very nearly put paid to this year’s attempt. A second career as a stuntman is on hold, as I learnt that falling down stairs is not a pleasurable experience. Ouch!

Just getting on the bike was painful, and as I rode away from my in-laws I very nearly turned around and threw in the towel. But I pressed on, if only to see if things got easier as I loosened up a little. Unfortunately it didn’t, but somehow I kept going anyway. The next 5 hours or so was perhaps the hardest time I’d spend all year on the bike. My spirits were fading with the light, and enough was enough. I was done; thankfully @ASL191 came to the rescue, and swept me up from Market Drayton. I may well have suffered, but I’d still notched up nearly 130km so all was not lost.

Daily Total: 129.60km - Challenge Total: 331.58km

Day 6 – 29th December – SCS Midwinter100

Back on home soil, and although very sore, I was feeling better. We had a really good turnout for this ride, and being back riding with familiar faces was a real boost. My fellow Festive500 challenger was out as well. He’d been on fire and was looking to complete the challenge on this ride, with 2 full days to spare.

 The weather was good too, and so I also enjoyed an all too rare winter outing on Bike #1. We rode our regular Market Drayton/Wem loop, and although we didn’t quite make the metric ton, I was still pleased with just shy of 95km. The beer in HQ was as sweet as ever too.

Daily Total: 93.96km - Challenge Total: 425.54km

Day 7 – 30th December – Only 75km to go…….

#Rule9 conditions all day, and after putting things off for as long as I dared I rolled away from home in the rain and wind. It’s days like this which illustrate what makes this challenge so tough. I may have covered over 400km in the previous 6 days, but this would count for nothing if I didn’t get over the line. Just relentless……..

Nothing special, just a loop of the local lanes, but all kms in the bank!

Daily Total: 45.68km - Challenge Total: 471.22km

Day 8 – New Years Eve – Getting over the line

I had to go into work, and so what better way than to get over the line than to lengthen up the commute a little, and to put this challenge to bed.

The previous days’ efforts were really making themselves felt, and I could really feel the fatigue. However, as I counted down the kms, this was all the encouragement that I needed.

As I rolled into the works car park, I’d passed the 500km mark and the challenge, for this year at least, was done.

Daily Total: 30.49km - Challenge Total: 501.71km

Total Riding time for the challenge was just under the 20 hours mark.

Massive Congratulations to Gary as well, it was a real boost knowing I wasn’t out there suffering alone!

Thanks also to all those who rode with me over over the duration of the challenge, and especially to @ASL191 for rescuing me at a real low point.

Vive la Velo


Friday, 18 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Ho Ho Ho
After a year that’s tested my supply of superlatives, I’d just like to take the opportunity to wish everyone who’s helped to make 2015 such a special cycling year for the society a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

We’ve already got plenty of plans in place for 2016, but we’ve got our work cut out to reach the heights of this year. Whatever happens though, we’re going to give it our best shot.

Thanks again all, it’s been emotional.

Vive la Velo


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Commuter Encounters – Escaping from my Shadow

It all started like any other co-incidental meeting between two hitherto un-connected cyclist. It’s always nice to see a fellow cycle commuters, if only to remind you that you’re not in this alone in your efforts, and that others appreciate your trade.
My friend appeared out of the darkness from the right, and turned in front of me, perhaps 50 metres ahead. An ill-fitting rear mudguard caught my attention immediately, but given that I was on the Pompino in full on winter mode, I was in no position to pass judgement.
The gap held steady as we approached the tricky motorway junction island where the only concern is making it across in one piece. It was as we left the island that things were mixed up a little. My preference is always to take the road, whereas my friend chose the short section of cycle path. This resulted in our relative positions changing , and as the cycle path re-joined the road and our paths converged once more, I was a few metres in front. This could get interesting; it was decision time.
It’s formation started slowly, very faint at first, but as the road dropped away and our speed rose, the edges got sharper. I could sense the gap closing as my shadow formed in front of me; I was being caught. No time to panic though; I was confident that the pendulum was about to swing back in my favour.
The approaching incline couldn’t come soon enough, for me at least. The gear which only seconds ago was way too small, was now perfect for the road ahead. My shadow’s edges began to blur slightly as I increased my effort; I could feel the gap growing. This was all the encouragement that was needed, it was time to go for the kill.
My shadow was disappearing fast before my eyes, the edges dissolving into the light. Suddenly it was gone; the elastic had seemingly snapped. A brief glance behind me confirmed that my friend was all but gone, the escape from my shadow was complete. I only hope he’d enjoyed our encounter half as much as I had.
Vive la Velo

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Battling Barney

The forecast was not looking good; Hurricane Barney’s arrival was due to coincide almost perfectly with our regular Tuesday night ride. Gust of 60mph (or should that be 100kph?) were promised, and warnings against travel, and of widespread disruption swept across the twittersphere.

Barney was getting closer on the ride home from work, and it was becoming clear that riding on the road if the wind got any stronger (as per the forecast) would be at best foolhardy, and at worst, damned right dangerous.

Giving up on the evening and heading straight to HQ would have been an easy option to take, but where would the fun have been in that approach? No, instead we chose to change bikes, leave the tarmac behind, and to hit the trails. We were going to tackle Barney head on.

And what a fine decision it was. Over the next 2 hours or so we enjoyed one of those rides that remind you why you cycle. I’ve not laughed so much on a bike for a long time, and we enjoyed moments of pure comedy as Barney gave it his best shot. I’ve never cycled in anything quite like it; at times it was a full sensory overload.

At one point memories of Geraint Thomas at this year’s Ghent-Wevelgem came to the fore, as I took a Barney enforced, and entirely involuntary, left turn off the farm track and into the adjacent field. Scott and Max suffered the same fate and followed me into the field in almost perfect formation. Getting going again was another challenge in itself, but we were soon back with the rest of the group.

The rest of the ride was a real battle against the elements, and it presented some of the toughest conditions I think I’ve ever cycled in. But what a ride it was; just awesome.

As we rolled back into town, auto pilot was engaged and we headed straight for HQ, and the hard earned refreshments it offered. Heads were shaking as we walked through the door, people seemingly bewildered by the fact that we’d been out on our bikes. Somehow this made the beer even more enjoyable than normal.

What an evening, and what a ride. We’d taken on Barney, and whilst perhaps we’d not beaten him, I think we managed to more than hold our own.

Vive la Velo