Monday, May 24, 2010

Look at the size of that bloody hill!

Five posts in a year. I think we can all agree that's a bit crap. Sorry, what can I say?

Once again, I blame the pressures of starting a business in the middle of the worst recession since the 1940's (we're doing very well, thanks for asking), raising a large family and just general - stuff. Plus, by the time I've spent all day updating Twitter, Facebook and the company blog, there's surprisingly little room left for making snarky comments about pro riders' shorts.

And everyone's at it now. Cycling, I mean. When I started, cyclists were the two wheeled equivalent of plane-spotters and traction engine enthusiasts - not positively harmful but to be viewed with healthy suspicion. Last weekend, I took my youngest to cricket practice and all the Dads were huddled together discussing the relative merits of Ultegra and Chorus. One of them has even started a new bike-related brand as, I'd better not go there, he may be reading this.

And not just one, but two, cycling related cafes have opened within half-a-mile of our office. The Rapha Cafe is evil. It tempts me away from work with decent coffee and big screen bike racing (in the 'eighties I rode for a London Italian club and we used to go to the Bar Italia at Giro time and try to convince the guys behind the bar to turn the TV over to the RAI coverage). But it also tempts me to spend money I haven't got. Not entirely its fault, I agree - when I developed a painful neck and back recently, my remedy was to buy a Rapha backpack. A course of physiotherapy may have been cheaper and more effective.

So why am I rambling again? Well, I promised I'd tell you about the Stelvio - and I will. This September, I will be riding from Venice to Milan in three days - over the Dolomites and the frankly terrifying Stelvio Pass. It's to raise money for a cause that I care deeply about - the Geoff Thomas Foundation, now part of Leukemia and Lymphoma Research.

We're doing it in memory of Steve Mead - who was supposed to come with us last year from London to Paris but, tragically, died from his own leukaemia before the ride.

Please feel free to donate money here. I may even write some stuff about my half-hearted training, and take some pictures. Arriverderci....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back to nearly normal

The rigorous dieting and training regime I promised myself has not quite gone to plan. I've given up alcohol - apart from an occasional glass of wine at the weekend, but my riding has been compromised by a combination of a bad chest cold and the worst weather in the UK for thirty years. Following the freezing cold day with Sky, the heavens opened and dumped feet of snow right across London and Southern England.

The Surrey Hills were a white wasteland and half of Richmond Park was closed off because it was little more than rutted ice. A few half-hearted attempts at the turbo were all I managed.

So this morning was eagerly anticipated. Clear blue sky, no snow or ice, my chest no longer sounding as though I smoked 40 a day - out to the park on the fixed gear. Along with every other cyclist in the southern half of the UK. At least that's what it seemed like.

After a couple of laps, we passed a young woman pushing her bike and, naturally, asked her what the problem was. It turned out that she'd forgotten her tyre levers, so I lent her mine on the understanding that she'd leave them behind the till at the cafe.

She said that dozens of cyclists had passed her while she was pushing the bike, but we were the first to stop and offer help. Not very chivalrous, but the old ways of the road seem to be disappearing.

Still, I'm back on the bike, so that's a start.

And why the picture of the Stelvio? Another story, which will have to wait.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cold Sky

Well, we went. 0730 this morning, the secret text arrived - meet up at the Guildhall in the City of London. I'd already discovered (don't ask how, I'd have to kill you if you knew) that the actual team launch was going to be near the Mall, so that meant a 40 minute ride to the City, followed by half an hour back into the West End. On the coldest day of the decade. I know that's not saying much, but it was.....bloody cold this morning.

My son and I rolled up at the Guildhall, frozen to the bone, to find a huddle of cyclists of all shapes and sizes - from wannabe pros to old ladies on shopping bikes - standing round a collection of team cars. A cut above the usual Skodas as well - sleek grey Jaguars. I know that Jags are basically Fords these days but still, they look smart.

And so does the Sky team kit - black, white and blue Adidas, matching the gorgeous team Pinarellos.

Not much else to report, we rode through a bemused first-day-back-at-work London - led by Russell Downing and Edvald Boasson Hagen (who coped very well with the usual mix of idiot pedestrians, big red buses and psycho van drivers) and rolled onto the Mall, where we met up with the other two rides. Bradley had led people in from the London Eye.

Three laps round St James' Park with the pro riders at the front before we peeled off to get our stylish Sky musettes and the riders got on with the real business of launching a team.

Good day, one that my son (pictured above failing to listen to Tomas Lovkvist extolling the virtues of Shimano electric shifters) and I will remember for a long time.

And good on Team Sky, for at least making the effort to reach out to ordinary bike riders.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Here's the deal. Team Sky announce a competition - if you're available for a ride Monday morning, sign up. If you're picked, then you get to ride with the team for an hour or so. I'm not free, really - I'm supposed to be working, and neither is my son, he's supposed to be at school. But we both entered.
Guess what? He got picked, and I didn't. Now, that's not going to work. I may have to sneak in somehow. Hope they don't notice. And before you say anything, I know that's not Team Sky in the picture, it's the Sky+HD track team. But how hot does Victoria look?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just don't call it a fixie

A young colleague asked to interview me recently about "the fixie scene" in London. She was writing a piece for one of those style and music magazines aimed at a readership of 200 in Hoxton.

Once I'd told her never to use the word "fixie" ever again in my hearing, I agreed to the interview.

I struggled not to sound like a grumpy old man as I told her that there was no such thing as a "fixie scene" when I started riding bikes seriously. Riding fixed was just what you did in the Winter because, well, that's what everyone else did and there was a vague theory that someone in the club had once read that it improved your pedalling technique. Plus, it marked you out as someone who took their cycling a bit seriously - like shaving your legs or putting a twist in your Binda toestrap as it passed under the pedal.

I gave up riding fixed for several years because I used a mountain bike for work and a geared roadbike in the Summer. But then, sometime in the early nineties I spotted a couple of couriers on fixed, realised it could make a sensible but fun commuting bike, and dug my old track bike out of the loft.

For several years, it was a rarity to see another fixed on the road in London - probably no more than one a week. And if you came across another fixed rider you would automatically start chatting, usually comparing gear ratios and bemoaning the difficulties of getting decent and reasonably priced parts.

All that's changed now, of course, since everyone and their cousin seems to be riding fixed, or its less coherent relation - the singlespeed. And the bike shops near us had their Xmas windows stocked with racks of glittering ready-made fixed gears as ideal stocking fillers.

And I genuinely don't have a problem with that. It's much easier to get decent fixed parts like cogs and chains, and anything that gets more people out on bikes is a good thing. Plus I sold my lovely, but ancient, Condor track bike on eBay for a ludicrously inflated sum, having had serious inquiries from all over the world, including Tokyo and Milan.

And when the immediate fashion dies away, as it inevitably will, I hope that many of those attracted to bikes through the matching pastel gates of the "fixie scene" will remain committed riders.

That's what I said in the interview. Although I expect it will just end up sounding like a grumpy old man's droning.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Me again

Now, where was I? Oh yes, underneath the Eiffel Tower on the day that Michael Jackson died. For a second, as we rolled to a stop beneath one of the most famous landmarks in the world, we imagined that thousands of people carrying candles and wearing one glove had turned out to welcome us after our epic bike ride. Not so, and their off-key, multilingual renditions of "We are the World" provided a surreal backdrop to the rest of our weekend in that beautiful city.

I've been shamed into writing something by the realisation that I've got two new followers, which seems a bit odd given that there's been nothing to follow for at least six months. But welcome, both - and I'll see what I can do.

If you're unfamiliar with the blog, here's a quick recap. I started writing it because, after decades of riding, building and occasionally racing, bikes - I felt like having a new audience to drone on to. The specific impetus was a serious illness in 2007 which left me struggling to walk and unable to work for a couple of months. As part of the recuperation process, I built up a new bike - sort of occupational therapy, and began gentle riding around Richmond Park.

Within months, I hatched a ludicrous plan to ride the Paris-Roubaix sportive, which is why the blog is still called "A Year in Hell". That project was scuppered by a ski-related shoulder injury, but by then I already had plans for other ambitious rides, and was anyway busy blogging about random fashion-related issues, cycling etiquette and pro riders genitalia.

So what have I been up to since June? Working, mainly - trying to establish a new business in the face of the worst recession since the Second World War. And a bit of bike riding, when I can.

And I've bought a new bike. My trusty, much loved steel Casati has been replaced in my affections by an all-carbon Condor Baracchi, with Mavic Ksyriums and a Veloce groupset. It's gorgeous, but I can't help feeling a little sad that I've finally succumbed to the lure of the black magic.

Two things assuage my carbon guilt. First, the Casati has been passed on to my 16-year old son - who's showing a real interest in some serious riding next year. Second, the lousy weather in the UK has meant I've spent most of my time on my steel fixed Carbon Tempo, the ideal winter training iron.

So what does 2010 have in store? My son and I have committed to ride up the Tourmalet in July, the day before the pros cross it for the second time in the Tour. Ferry booked, hotel booked - all we've got to do is ride up 2-thousand metres of vicious Pyrenean col.

He needs to practice. I need to lose weight. A combination of long working hours and excessive food and drink have left me at least a stone over climbing weight. So, starting January 1st, a vicious new regime, inspired by the great Bradley. Goodbye exotic Belgian beers, chips, and bacon for breakfast. Hello abstinence.

Hope you can join me on the journey.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Londres-Paris - fin

Well.  That's that, then.  520km in three days, over some of the biggest hills in Southern England and Northern France, through torrential thunderstorms and 30-degree heat and finally an emotion-charged ride into Paris and the Eiffel Tower, roads closed, gendarmes blowing whistles and holding back traffic, motorbikes with their horns and lights blazing. A long, frequently painful, always challenging and occasionally ecstatic experience.  Three days later, random memories are probably all I can manage. 

  • The sheer, grinding slog of dragging bike and body up the long final hill into Dover on Day 1  - after 170k in the saddle on a blisteringly hot day, it seemed like the final straw.  Until logistical issues delayed us getting to our French hotel until hours after our due arrival
  • The remarkable restorative powers of one glass of red wine,  one hot shower and two dinners
  • British motorists shouting abuse at the outrageous affront of cyclists getting in the way and delaying their progress on THEIR roads -- French motorists smiling and cheering, French people coming out of their houses to cheer the peloton on.
  • The sheer exhilarating joy of flying through French towns at 40+kph in something approaching a racing peloton, with the brilliant motorbike outriders brushing your elbows as you take the bends.
  • The camaraderie that shared suffering on the road quickly generates, among a group of widely differing backgrounds, skills, experience and nationalities
  • The tears at the Eiffel Tower from some of our team, strong, tough blokes riding in memory of a friend lost to leukaemia
  • The torrential, relentless rain that appeared seemingly from nowhere on Day 2, coating everything with a fine mixture of what the early US pros called Flemish Toothpaste - rainwater, agrochemicals and cowdung.  The wrong day to wear white shorts
  • Learning a whole new language -- Australian pro.  Examples:   "Rolling" - bloody hilly.  "A bit lumpy" - really bloody hilly.  "A sporting challenge" - absolutely f****ing vertical.
  • The enduring mystery of why triathletes can't hold a bloody wheel.  Don't they want to make things easier for themselves?
  • The number of people who could tell you their exact wattage, power output and heart-rate but had never heard of picking  flints from their tyres after rainstorms.  So many punctures which could have been avoided. 
  • 520k and not a single puncture or mechanical issue, apart from one set of knackered brake blocks.  Thank you, messrs Casati, Mavic, Campagnolo and Schwalbe.
  • With ten kilometres to go, our team dropped to the back of the 300-strong peloton and tightened into a high-speed rolling pack of green jerseys. There is nothing, repeat nothing, in  cycling to match riding in tight formation with your team-mates through the traffic-free streets of Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower loom unexectedly into view.
  • As I swung my foot over my bike at the end of the third day, I made a solemn promise never to do anything so stupidly demanding on a bike again.  Now, I can't wait to sign up for 2010.