Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Caught In The Act.......

No matter how well we feel we’re going on the bike, it’s almost certain that at some point we’ll all meet our match. It is perhaps, one of the more inevitable consequences of riding a bike.  It’s our reaction when this happens though which is more important than the act itself, and goes a long way in defining us as riders. Let me (try and) explain using a recent experience.

It was just a normal Saturday morning SCS ride; as we cruised along enjoying the fine late November weather, suddenly, and from seemingly nowhere, we had company. We’d been going fairly well though, and as our captor nonchalantly cruised past us, my initial response was one of surprise.  With little time to think it was an instinctive reaction to accelerate a little, not too much, but just enough to hold his wheel.
Surprise was quickly followed by reflection, and I was impressed by the confidence of a rider who seeing a group ahead, not only completes ‘the catch’, but then rides straight by and goes for the knockout blow of ‘the drop’. However confidence can be a dangerous thing, especially when misplaced.

We quickly settled into a fast pace, and I was more than happy to sit in and to take some time to assess our next steps. There was a drag of a km or so ahead, and I was sure that this would prove decisive.  Our pace was still fairly high, but as we hit the incline a gear was grabbed and our leader’s cadence rose. Not a great deal, but enough to indicate that his efforts to catch us were taking their toll.
Our pace dropped, but still I sat patiently in the wheel. A fast downhill section followed, and it was then time for another long and steady drag. Once again, gears were shed, and the speed dropped as the incline steepened.  We’d made our man suffer long enough, and as I think we’d ensured that any chance of completing ‘the drop’ had gone, it seemed high time that I introduced myself. Pleasantries were exchanged, and it became clear that at the approaching junction we were to go our separate ways.

Our time on the road together had been brief, but nonetheless was one of those encounters which make the act of cycling such an enriching experience. We said our goodbyes and parted company, our rides all the better for meeting one another…
Caught in the act perhaps, but pride in tact at thwarting ‘the drop’.

Vive la Velo

Monday, 27 October 2014

The New Recruit - #N+1

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Definately Not Steel

As a fully paid up member of the #SteelIsReal  fan club, I’m sure my latest acquisition will raise a few eyebrows. It couldn’t be more different from the rest of my stable, but to me that’s a large part of it’s appeal.
I’ve dabbled with time trialling over the last few years, but this year the bug has bitten hard. The more I’ve done, the clearer it’s become to me that if I’m going to progress further, equipment is key. As much as I’ve enjoyed struggling against the odds on a Steel framed #SingleSpeed, I’ve finally pulled the trigger on a ‘proper’ time trial bike.
Carbon fibre is everywhere, and the contrast to the elegance of steel couldn’t be greater. But it’s this contrast which I’m finding so appealing. This is a bike where form comes a distant second to function, but to my eye at least the end result is very pleasing. Almost industrial, it’s gun metal colouring giving it a real sense of menace. My only hope is that I can do it justice.
I’ve blogged before about the joy of tinkering with bikes, and there’s surely no greater pleasure to the home mechanic than when building a bike up from its component parts. Boxes of gears, handlebars, and chainsets , assembled with  great care and precision;  the end result being so much greater than the sum of the parts.
As I torqued up the final bolts, the pleasure of the end result was almost matched by the disappointment that the build was completed. But this bike, perhaps more than any of the others I own is built to be ridden. There was only one thing left to do……
I’m looking forward to the 2015 TT season already…….
Vive la Velo

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Way Of The Roses - Ride Report

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We made it!
Epic is a much overused adjective, but it really is the only way to describe the three days of cycling that 6 of the society have just been fortunate enough to experience. Granted, it wasn’t the longest ride we’ll ever undertake, and it’s certainly not the quickest. But, forget the numbers, is about so much more; the overall experience is what counts.

From Morecambe on the west coast of Lancashire, to Bridlington on Yorkshire’s east coast, this was a route that had a bit of everything.  It was however, the constantly changing views which were my personal highlight. From the Dordogne like features of the Lune estuary, to the rugged beauty of the Yorkshire Dales national park, the constantly changing vistas constantly threatened to overload the senses.
The riding itself was as spectacular as the views were breath-taking, and served to remind us all that some of the roads in this country are as tough as they come. Day 2’s climb out of Settle was particularly noteworthy and set the tone for 30 or so of the most testing kilometres I’ve ever enjoyed on a bike.

It wasn’t all about the riding though, and along the route we sampled numerous cafes, pubs, and restaurants. Particularly noteworthy was the quite excellent Lion in Settle. If you’re ever in the area and want a place to stay I can highly recommend it.
Ultimately, as with any great ride, it has to come to an end, and as we rolled into Bridlington my emotions were mixed. Elation, at having ridden what surely must be one of the finest routes England has to offer, was mixed with regret that it was all about to end.  Over a well-earned beer or two that evening, thoughts were already turning to what would be our challenge next year. One things for certain, whatever’s selected, it has got a very hard act to follow.

A truly epic adventure, and 3 of the finest days cycling I’ve ever experienced. I cannot recommend The Way Of The Roses enough.
Lastly a huge thanks to Anna, Tori, Katie, Nellie, and Johnny for making the trip so special. Thanks also to Tim and Ashley for coming and collecting us from Bridlington.
Vive la Velo


Monday, 2 June 2014

#RealAleWobble2014 Ride Report – Riding with Mr Big Wheels(a.k.a. @936ADL)

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Now that's a Bidon!
As the sun rose on the morning of Saturday 10th May six society members looked across at their wives knowing that in 24 hours’ time their ladies would most probably dislike them. The morning was spent doing fatherly/husband type errands, the reality was that final bike prep was needed for this most epic of days. Cables and brake pads were adjusted; drive trains were cleaned, and one bike was even sprayed a manly silver colour. @936ADL declared his 29 inch hand.

We mustered as requested outside Silks for 2pm, but alas we couldn’t go in, it was closed. We moved to plan B and drank coffee outside a florist. @936ADL and I were joined by @AlScott, @martynbroVVn, @SJ1201 and finally @Owynjones. The bill was settled and we pedalled away heading to the gorge.
Our route took us down towards the manor, across Wesley brook and up past ‘Les reseaux d’egout’. We slid thru Kemberton in silence knowing the journey ahead was littered with hazards. As we approach Halesfield we hooked right onto the bridleway that runs the ridge. @AlScott reminded @SJ1202 that it was at this point in the 2013 Autumn Wobble that he fell off, giggling so much at his recollection that….he fell off, quickly followed by @martynBroVVn.  Two down already, and not a single energy drink had been consumed.

We rode passed the now empty brewery where last year’s wobble started getting wobbly. Across the iron bridge and down the old railway line to our first re fuelling point of the day, The Black Swan, overlooking the Jackfield rapids. Two energy drinks were consumed in quick succession, photos were taken, and mud was removed from faces. Over the Severn once more to The Robin Hood, and a further energy drink was imbibed.
Lloyd’s coppice towered above us, which was negotiated via a narrow muddy track, up what seemed like an impossible incline. We smashed it. Our prize could be seen thru the trees, The All Nations Public House. Three more energy drinks were hastily taken on.  At this point @martynbroVVn departed, his wobble curtailed by his mistress, a love of egg chasing. Madeley was shunned in favour of a return to Kemberton for the a final stop at the Mason’s Arms.  @AlScott had been warned by @SJ1202 at the Robin Hood that his choice of energy drink was too strong, and @SJ1202 was proved correct as @AlScott’s Tourette’s syndrome kicked in hard.  This was all too much for @SJ1202 who choose to drink alone outside.

We bumped in to @GreenAcres_Farm (quite literally) on the way to King Charles’ Wood, and photos were taken of us on his quite lovely vintage tractor. Quite a few offs took place in Charlie’s wood, but thankfully none were too serious. Back past ‘Les reseaux d’egout’, one more fall over the speed bumps and back to HQ for some rehydration. After a much needed shower we regrouped to discuss the day.
Mr. Big wheels never fell off, but he did fall asleep. The big wheel keeps on turning on a single line day by day, the Earth spins on its axis, one man struggles, the others relaxes……


Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Escape

We approached the traffic island marking the start of the climb from opposite directions, but crucially I would arrive 10 or 15 metres ahead. This could be interesting.

It’s at moments like these that being casually deliberate is oh so important. To panic would be to show weakness, and with this in mind, I settled into a steady pace. This was a climb I knew well, and my plan was to use this to my advantage.
I could hear the mechanical whir of chain over cassette as he approached; the raised pitch indicating a high cadence, a sure sign that he was trying. After all, there’s nothing like a nicely executed catch to boost morale.  I took a moment to put myself in his shoes.  Perhaps he knew the climb well too, entirely likely given its popularity amongst the local cycling fraternity. In front was someone (hopefully)struggling with too big a gear. Sit tight and wait for the inevitable shift down the gears, before gliding past and disappearing into the distance.  Back in my own shoes I held firm, and resisted the urge to accelerate.

After a gentle start the first test of the climb approached, a gentle sweeping S bend where the gradient kicked up noticeably. Still, I could hear my fellow cyclist behind me, spinning furiously, and waiting to pounce. It was time to push a bit harder, and to increase the pressure on the pedals a little. I wanted to test him, to see if he could respond to this change in pace. I was feeling good, and as my pace increased I heard the first indication that trouble was brewing behind me. The unmistakable sound as he grabbed for another gear was music to my ears, and I increased the pressure another notch.

Another gear was grabbed, and I could sense the distance between us growing. Out of the saddle for one final acceleration, and it was all over. Behind me I heard the final sound of capitulation, as he shifted to his inner ring. He was mine; the elastic band had snapped. I pushed on and all was suddenly quiet, I was alone on the climb. My escape was complete.
Vive La Velo


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Goodbye Five, Hello Dale

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Old Meets New
The cutting of the gear cable was symbolic, and marked the point of no return. After much agonising, it was time for the Orange 5 to go. Purchased back in 2007, it was the icon of a time before I’d discovered riding on the road.

The final nail in its coffin was the recent arrival of #N+1, another mud plugger and one which could not be more different from the Orange. However the big wheels and simplicity of Dale won the day, and made me realise that it was time.

As I stripped the bike down i remembered the great rides we’d enjoyed together, from crossing fells in Lancashire, to climbing the Wrekin. It wasn’t all good though, as the scar on my top lip reminds me daily.

With the parts now gradually making there way to new owners via the wonders of eBay I can only hope the bikes new owner(s) enjoy  it as much as I have.

Vive la Velo

Saturday, 12 April 2014

SCS On The Boards – Velodrome Report

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The Results Are In!

Cycling takes many forms, and this weekend we were fortunate enough to experience one of its more extreme variants, riding on an indoor Velodrome. No brakes, no gears, and no freewheeling, what could go wrong?
Two of our group had been before, but the rest were track virgins. Nervous laughter filled the air as we entered track centre as it dawned on us all what we were about to undertake. The steepness of the banking never ceases to amaze me; it’s something that the television doesn’t do justice. As the previous group’s session drew to a close it was time to meet Jodie, who would be our coach for our 2 hour track experience. Bikes selected, and faffage completed, Jodie briefed the group on the basics before getting us out on the track.
Lined up against the guard rail, I took a few moments to appreciate the bikes. Whilst most bikes are weighed down with all manner of componentry, the track version is perhaps its purist form. Quite beautiful; built without a single compromise, and utterly focussed on the task in hand.
Jodie started us off slowly, but we quickly graduated to the Cote D’Azur, the name given to the metre of so wide blue piece of the track which lies between the concrete track centre, and the track proper with its distinctive black, red, and blue lines.
Our speed and confidence grew in equal measure as we made it up to the blue line and beyond, and it’s up here that the steepness of the track makes itself felt. Speed is the key to holding a high line, and I found it helpful to accelerate ever so slightly into the corners and to use the straights for an all too brief recovery. The novices of all but half an hour ago, were now riding the boards with confidence.
After a break for drinks Jodie put us through our paces with a couple of drills. The first saw us riding on the black, or sprinters line, as a group, and then taking a lap on the front before swinging up the track and re-joining at the back once everyone had passed. Looking down on the group below from high up on the banking is something else.
Our second drill saw us working as group again, this time circling the track high up on the blue line. On the whistle the front man dropped to the sprinters line and accelerated to gain a lap before re-joining the back of the group. All I can say is that this is much, much harder than it sounds, and really took its toll on me. However, the sight of the back of the group acted as a magnet, and offered that last incentive to bridge the gap.
A last break and the mood amongst the group was buoyant, and everyone was clearly enjoying the experience, even Spider. The sight of him out of the pedals, and control, as he weaved up and down the banking was the perfect reminder to not stop pedalling!
With our two hour session drawing all too quickly to a close, Jodie informed us that to finish off we were all going to take on a 500m challenge. From a standing start, we had about 15 metres to the ‘start’ line, and from here it was full bore for two laps. I lined up 5th man, and in no time at all I was on. The first challenge was to get the gear turning as quickly as possible. I was up to speed on the back straight and the feeling of speed as I flew into the banking was just awesome. Lap 1 completed and my legs were burning. Into the back straight for the final time, and I was flagging fast. Time to dig deep for one last push and I was over the line. I’m sure it felt a whole lot faster than it was.
With the final challenge completed it was time for the results. It was all fairly close and only 5 seconds covered the entire group. However in any competition there has to be a winner, and @SJ1202 was narrowly beaten into runners up spot by @DaipacCycling but a mere 0.17 seconds. @DaipacCycling covered the 500m in a very creditable 41.02 seconds @ 43.88km/h(that’s a shade over 27mph in old money) to be crowned the inaugural ShifnalCyclingSociety Track Champion in the 500m Time Trial. Well Done.
A fantastic way to end a fantastic day. When can we do it all again?
Vive la Velo!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Newport CC Reliability Trial 2014 Ride Report

From the off this had all the makings of a special ride. With numbers undoubtedly swollen by the fine weather, we had a few minutes to sign on, catch up with a few of the familiar faces dotted around the car park, before the scratch group lined up at the ‘start line’(Remember – This is a Reliability Trial and NOT a race – honestly). Some of the area’s strongest riders were amongst this group, and in an instant they were gone.
Next up, the ‘B’ or middle group were called to the start. Dai, Johnny, and I shuffled towards the start. This was going to be a very large group out on the road, and it was decision time. Getting stuck towards the back of wasn’t really where I wanted to be, so I decided to make a fairly quick start, and see what happened. Traffic at the very first island split the group, but the good news was that Dai and I were on the front of the chasing bunch. As we passed through Forton we could see the front group and they we were coming back to us. We pushed on a little, and crossed the gap.
Although fast, the pace was comfortable and I was able to pick my way through the group towards the front. The familiar figure of Nova Raider @Middy_Middy was amongst those pushing the pace along at the front in spite of a lack of gears, and I was glad of the shelter offered by the leading half a dozen or so riders. We passed through Eccleshall without any problems, and I comfortably held position as we neared the turn onto the A51.

As we headed west towards Woore, the long flat sections offered the stronger riders the opportunity to really put the pressure on. It was on this section that perhaps my biggest weakness was apparent, a lack of top end speed on the flat. It was time to dig deep and hang in there for all I was worth. The group had thinned by now, and thankfully Dai was still with us. We exchanged a few words of encouragement as we clung on towards the back of the group. The good news was that we were still there; the speed was, for me at least, fairly ferocious.
As we passed through Woore, the pace seemed to go up a notch and I was in trouble. Looking behind me all I could see was road. I’d lost the wheel of the man in front of me, and the gap was growing. To get dropped now would be a disaster, and it would be a long ride back.

Fortunately, as we made the turn for home just past Woore, the terrain changed in my favour, as the roads narrowed and encountered a series of small but rolling hills. The group dangling just in front was getting closer, and after one final big effort I was back with them. Time to take a well earned breather in the shelter of the pack.
As Audlem passed and we headed towards Market Drayton I started feeling stronger, and as the roads undulated I made my way back up towards the front end of the group. Could I hang in there all the way back to Newport? I was certainly going to give it a shot. One final nagging climb up to Cheswardine was the last hill of the day, and from there it was just a downhill blast back to Newport. As we got onto the hill, it was clear that I wasn’t alone in my suffering as riders all around dug deep to keep with the group.

As we reached Cheswardine little did I know that I was about to experience one of the finest finishes to a ride I’ll ever experienced. 30 or so riders were left in the group as we sped down the lanes, the familiar roads passing underneath me quicker than ever before. With no traffic coming the other way, the group made full use of the road. Whilst not a race, it was perhaps the closest I’ll ever come to the feeling of one as the group rode 3 and 4 abreast using the whole road. The pace was manic as we swept past some of the slower riders completing the 30 mile loop. As we turned onto the A41 for the final mile or so, I decided to empty the tank. As I hit the front I knew I’d gone too early but the sheer ehxileration of the experience made it all worthwhile. I was swallowed up by the remainder of the group as we approached the ‘finish line’, my legs were screaming at me and on the point of cramping. A fitting way to finish an absolutely awesome ride.
When I checked my watch I was genuinely shocked to see that we’d got back to the start before 12. That meant we’d made it round in under the 2hrs 20 mins mark. Bloody hell! Then I checked my average speed – 35.1km/h! I’ve not managed all that much quicker than that on a 10mile TT. Amazing.

Without a doubt one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve ever experienced.
Vive la Velo!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Hammer or Nail?

To truly savour success one must have experienced failure, and in the last week I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy both of these emotions.

One of the appeals of cycling, to me at least, is the fact it offers us the ability to regularly experience both of these extremes in (almost)equal measure. As the saying goes, some days you’re the hammer, others the nail.

Let’s consider failure first. Never planned, but always a possibility, even the greats of our sport experience it. Think Cav on the Champs Elysees last year, or perhaps Sir Twiggins at the 2011 tour. Our failures may be smaller, but nevertheless a fail is a fail.

Good planning is no guarantee of success, just ask the team GB road race team at the 2012 olympics, and our failure in the #TwoShiresEnduro is no reflection on the preparation. The route was meticulously planned, and the objective was clear. One day dedicated to the objective of an off road metric century. Whilst 100km on the road is nothing out of the ordinary, on a #Mtb with big fat tyres, and on muddy trails, it’s a different story.
This was a very personal objective for me. I’d got close a number of times before, but like a test batsman stuck in the ‘nervous nineties’, I’d never been able to convert an off road ride into the magic three digits.

As we rolled away from the start the mood in the group was optimistic, and early progress was good. We were approaching the 35km mark when we turned onto a unassuming and innocent looking canal tow path which would take us to potentially the highlight of the days route, Cannock Chase. I immediately noticed the hedge trimmings that littered the path, but the Stan’s Tyre milk sloshing around in my tubes meant I wasn’t overly concerned. Not everyone however, had discovered its magic. As the first puncture of the day was being fixed it quickly became apparent that we had a far larger problem.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it before; puncture after puncture after puncture. In a short three mile stretch of canal tow path, 7 of the group of ten experienced in excess of 20 punctures. All available tubes used, puncture repair kits were called into action.

As we re-grouped in Milford on the very edge of Cannock Chase, it dawned on us all that our target for the day was slipping away from us. Cold, hungry, and dejected, we took the difficult decision to abort, and to return to Newport. As we re-fuelled at KFC(surely a measure of how low we were), the consensus was that although we’d sealed our failure, we’d made the right decision. On that day, we were most certainly the nail.
Fast forward a week, and this time a very different objective was in my sights. I’m by no means a Strava lover, but I do find its challenges intriguing, and its Gran Fondo 1 challenge had piqued my interest. To ride 130km in a day. Not the longest ride granted, but in January in the UK, the weather was almost certainly going to be the toughest part.

It turned out this was to be a solo affair, but this only added to the challenge in my mind. As much as I enjoy riding in a group, sometimes lone efforts are the most rewarding.

With the rain beating down on the Velux windows it wasn’t looking good. Postpone maybe, but a final check of the forecast was more encouraging. Rule #9 conditions could only add to the experience. My descision was made!

Early progress was good, and without a doubt aided by a significant, but at the time unknown, tailwind. An added bonus, and one that was entirely unplanned, was my first solo ‘Project 330’ ride. 100km in under 3 hours 30 minutes. It was over coffee and cake in Market Drayton that I realised this was in the bag. The last 30km was all about hanging in there and just making it over the line.

As I passed through Sheriffhales, the 130km mark was passed, and less than a week after failure came success. On this day at least, I was the hammer!

Vive la Velo

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Highlights of 2013

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I’ve just logged the details of my final couple of rides of 2013 and it seems like the perfect time to reflect on what’s been a quite incredible cycling year.
From a personal viewpoint the most pleasing aspect of 2013 is the way that our society has grown. We’ve picked up a number of riders as the year’s passed, and collectively we’ve completed hundreds of rides and many tens of thousands of kilometres.

Testament to how great a year it’s been is how hard it’s been to pick a couple of highlights to share. A trip to Le Tour in Alps, as well as a day in the Pyrenees are just two of the experiences which have both missed the cut. Time Trial PBs, crashes, a first ever double imperial century, and the quite unique Telford Toothpaste are also left lying on the cutting room floor. I just hope you enjoy reading about the two that made it.

My first highlight was from earlier in the year, and was a very personal experience. It featured a solo, two day, near 400km ride from our current base, to my hometown of Margate.  A vicious head wind was my companion for what seemed like the entire two days, but it was the snow that so very nearly broke my will. However, the Golden Arches came to my rescue(and not for the first time), and thankfully the snow flurries passed. Riding into and out of London was a highpoint of the ride, especially with the knowledge of having started out northwest of Birmingham. As I rode along the promenade in Margate I can safely say I’ve never been so pleased to see its old Victorian clock tower. An epic in every sense of the word.
The second highlight was also an A2B ride, and was an experience I’ll never forget. London to Paris, a ride that I cannot recommend highly enough. Three days of pure unadulterated cycling pleasure. It was all @ASL191’s idea as a way of marking a significant birthday which she celebrated in 2013. Five of us undertook the challenge, and my role was one of chief mechanic and the logistics & route planner, as well as being a general source of encouragement along the way. Highpoints along the ride are too numerous to detail, but an abiding memory is from day 2, as we enjoyed mile after mile of lightly traffic’ed French countryside. As the French would say, Chapeau!

What’s for certain is that 2014 has much to live up to!
Vive la Velo