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Monday, 31 December 2012

Reflecting on 2012

My 2012

I rather hate retrospectives on the year - it's just an excuse for rubbish TV tarted up as The "Best" of. Quite frankly, at a time when so many people are off work, there should be some good telly on to avoid having to talk to your in laws (not my lovely in laws, obviously). If you are reading this - the NY's Day City Centre Ski racing from Munich might be worth a go!

It's been an odd year. I was made redundant in mid summer and had some months of leisure to look forward and some challenges to meet before the hard work of finding another job started. The irony was that the leisure time was difficult and getting a job turned out to be straight forward.

In terms of of life possibilities, having some time off always looks like a good thing. It's odd though, having worked full time for 30 years (I did a science degree, so no slacking at uni) you forget how difficult it can be to move from an ordered day to one with infinite possibilities. I would suggest not getting injured just as your leisure time gets going as that can put a damper on things. Still the approach of July, summer and the open road/beach was what beckoned. A ride from Coast to Coast, becoming an expert surfer and getting all those household chores done all seemed possible.

Of course, as you know if you've been reading this nonsense, I spent July on the sofa watching the Tour de France with a rib injury and failed to cycle anywhere until August as my knee finally gave up after all those years of abuse playing cricket. As for surfing, someone turned off the supply of waves and I managed only a couple of trips before meeting up with the family in Wales to try and show I could still stand on water!

So what do I take from all this? Well, in many ways, I did discover fortitude........eventually. Frustration gives way to pissed-off'ed-ness and finally a realisation that you can do quite a lot of DIY especially if you can't go for a ride. Also, I realised quite quickly that having time to volunteer or help others is of limited use when you know, fairly soon, you'l have to go back to work.

One of the things you get to know, marooned on the sofa, is the demographics of TV advertising....... Apparently, watching when I did meant that I needed:
  • incontinence products
  • a stair lift
  • a pay day loan, or two,
  • an opportunity to play online bingo/bet on my smart phone, play the postcode lottery, and
  • an end of life insurance plan "for those last expenses"

The best bit of 2012 was of course getting married. In a year when rain was the default setting (well post April), getting a red hot weekend in May to get married was great luck. The photos look like we were in Barbados or at least a summer's day in England only existing in distant memory. We were rather greedy and did it twice in two days - probably a good thing as Bath Registry Office really only held about 12 people. Bath University did a brilliant job the next day and I hope everyone enjoyed - what for us was - a relaxed fun day.

I would sum up 2012 as being like an interesting cycle ride........one when you occasionally get lost!

2013

So what does 2013 hold in store? Well, I will become a Council Officer and will be trying to help Bristol City Council sort its finances out and do what the new Mayor wants to happen in my adopted City. If I can get off my butt and do it, I have an opportunity to get rather fit as public transport into Bristol is difficult, driving a no no, and cycling a natural fit for my journey to work. Having failed to get fit out of work it would be ironic to get fit in work. But with work eating into leisure time, it would be foolish to waste the opportunity.

The Alps beckon, at least once and I hope the current conditions are still in place in a couple of week's time. There really is nothing like that first morning on the slopes, the quiet, the whiteness, the sparkly snow and the knowledge you really have earned that rather large dinner you are tucking into. No one puts on weight on a ski holiday.

Apart form that, 2013 will look a little like 2012 except I rather doubt I'll be getting married this year or hopefully not be made redundant.

Cycling wise, I haven't any targets other than to get out more. I may consider doing the Coast to Coast as a holiday, even if the logistics are rather nasty and will rely upon the goodwill of relations to provide a pick up form the east Coast

Happy New Year and why not try to cycle more this year!


Friday, 14 December 2012

Strange MTBs and Cycle Safety

Cycle paths - a waste of time?

It's often said that cycle paths which separate bikes from traffic are best. Well, in terms of ring roads and dual carriageways they may be, but it's not the only solution.  They can reinforce the "them and us" issue with drivers and may contribute to making other roads more dangerous. Some of the glass covered, dog messed and poorly maintained excuses for cycle paths I have encountered makes the prospect of sharing a dual carriage way with cars at 70 mph seem quite attractive. 

So what is the solution? Well it's horses for courses. I like the Bristol Ring Road cycle paths - they are mainly looked after, well used and populated by cyclists and pedestrians expecting to see each other. I also like some of the cut-throughs that legally allow a left turn at red lights and clear white markings that give a cyclist at least some feeling of belonging on the road. Vague red lines on normal roads are just a waste of paint, and effort and probably piss off drivers who wonder what they are for.

So, use cycle paths, if they are relevant to your journey and safe to use. But don't use rubbish half hearted efforts - we all pay for the highway, so use them.


29'ers

29'ers are not cyclists who are forever 29.....(not me...) they are the new trend in mountain bikes which use the  "29 inch" wheel size, a wheel slightly larger than a "26 inch" wheel (obviously), the most common size on a mountain bike. 

You might ask why? Well, the reason for 26 inch wheels was more a matter of history than choice, but the size was good in that the wheel is robust (well as robust as possible - I've bust about three, none of my friends have AFAIK, but there again, I weigh in at least 4 stone heavier than most...) and is easy to turn, lift and is reasonably light.

So why a larger wheel? Well one of the main reason is easier rolling - i.e.  less resistance to rolling as the tyre hits the ground at a shallower angle and also being larger tends not to get "stuck" in so many smaller holes and rollers (apparently) It also means that stutter bumps have less of an effect and it's possible to use a hardtail bike with larger wheels and get a lighter overall bike.

Bike magic have done a review of a Santa Cruz and they really liked it. This is not a cheap bike, but it does give you cause to think outside the box a little, when thinking about a bike. 29'ers tend to be a better fit for taller riders as the wheels take up more room within the frame. And there is the question of cost. The frame is £1750 - and for that I can find you a nice complete full sus "normal" MTB with quite a few "trimmings" to add. However, I have found a recent review of hard tail 29'ers   which provides an alternative look. Now if I had room in the garage, I could be tempted, but it's not justified as I just don't get off road as often these days.....

Be interested to see what people think. Indeed, has anyone tried one?

Winter cycling update

Bike Magic also have an article about winterising your bike I am glad they covered the same ground as I did. Hope it helps.

Bristol Cycle Trails promo

For those who like the feel of a public information film from the 1960s, I've found a promo vid for Ashton Court. Taking the piss apart - if you are in the area - they are worth a visit as they provide an easy to follow workout where you can go really fast. Of course - let me know you are coming and I'll fire up the Gaggia for post ride drinks!

Ashton Court promo   You can even see what's on offer at the golf course...if MTBing is not for you!

I love the 4 year old kid used to show the trail! Look - MTBing is for anyone!

Of course - Ashton at full pace looks like this...... Ashton Court - fast and Leigh Woods looks like this Leigh Woods

Recipe corner - Lemon Drizzle cake - Vodka update

Having tasted the first and second batch of Xmas Pudding Vodka, I conclude that it's more "Mince Pie" flavour - but none the worse for that. Easy to make - easy to drink - straight from the fridge mind!
Lemon drizzle cake often causes the waste of lemon juice. This recipe makes the most of your lemony expenditure. I made this Lemon drizzle "cake" recipe from the Guardian last weekend. It turned out to be more of a lemon brick as it sank slightly in the centre - prob because I had medium eggs and not large ones - so the structure may have been a tad flimsy. 

Do pour the drizzle on top as directed, but keep it away from the edges until you have control of your "drizzling" It's really more like marinating and as it cools/sinks in, it will get harder. So if you just pour and go, it will be a bit of a mess - tasty, but a mess!




Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Swinley Forest - the end of an era

Never believe spin

The Crown Estates who own most of Swinley Forest have announced that the free cycling that has gone on for years is endangering ground dwelling birds and needs to be controlled. This control will result in three way marked routes. And that's it.

Now, that might sound great - there are trail centres all over the country that offer a choice of trails - but that's fine for destination centres. Swinley is not and has never really been a destination venue. It's a place where local people can ride and ride in peace and quiet on trails which are usually the result of races which have taken place around the forest

Oddly, when the Crown Estate harvest the timber, they plough through the forest in very large machines totally trashing the place. I presume that this probably pisses off the birds a wee bit more than a cyclist in a trail, barely a yard wide, with hardly any other trails nearby. Its also not like there are not extensive areas nearby which are ideal for birds - owned by the Army and really, really out of bounds........

I have no idea how they are going to police where people ride. I rather expect and hope that local riders will carry on regardless - I mean how can any sort of ranger (not that there are any...) catch up with an MTB on some singletrack through the trees (which is where there are no open ground birds anyway?)

Of course, this is nothing about birds, it's all about litigation. Apparently, there are a handful of people suing the CE's because they injured themselves on unregulated trails. Perhaps, given the resources of the Crown, they might take these time wasters to court and see what comes up - as its like slipping off a grass verge and suing the council because it owns the verge. If you are on a bike, you owe yourself a duty of care, surely?

I use trail centres - but it's just so boring to have to follow the same trail as everyone else if that is all there is. Ashton court has such a trial - indeed its linked to another - and is called the "BMX Trail" by locals. It's fun, but its a MacDonalds of a trial. A fast fix, not a slow cooked home made meal of a ride. 

My only hope is that this takes people off the interesting parts of Swinley - which is left to those in the know

Yours

Disgusted, late of Bracknell

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Buying a bike as a gift and MTB racing

Ok, so you want to buy a mountain bike for Christmas...

If you are thinking of buying someone special a mountain bike - then the place to start (unless you are enormously flush) is a "hard tail" bike. When you spend money on a bike you are buying:
  • lightness
  • reliability, and
  • ease of use
A cheap bike might work well to start with, but if it's used regularly off road, you'd better be a good mechanic So what should you spend? (Lets assume this is for an adult - or at least someone who won't get too much bigger) Well, how does £500 sound? Does it sound a lot? If so, then maybe have a serious think about a second hand bike. And if you do, get expert help.

For a £500 bike, you really can't get much better than this Merlin-malt 2 mountain bike It has disc brakes and a full Shimano groupset, a light frame and looks pretty cool.

The other bikes of this quality are mainly £650 plus, this includes the Boardman from Halfords and the offers from Trek, and usual suspects. For me - I'd go for the Merlin, it has much better forks, which may appear to be trivial - but vital on an MTB and it stands out from the crowd.

Of course, if you are feeling really flush, then you could go for something like this, Santa Cruz Heckler which is my main bike. I built mine up from a bare frame - but it's unbustable, comfortable, and will last for ever. I did try and replace it, but I ended up preferring the Santa Cruz. For an American bike, it almost looks exactly like a bike designed for the UK. It's got single pivot suspension, so less to wear out in the rain and mud, it has loads of clearance and is not too heavy or too fragile.

I do wonder how it came about, I mean do they get much rain and mud in California? The company is good at replying to e-mails too - I had a query about forks if you were wondering (which of course, you were.......)

If anyone want to buy a second hand bike - then I'd be happy to help. I love spending other people's money.

It's too cold to go cycling?

There is never the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing. There are limitations - I have called off mountain bike rides when the trails were covered in ice, but most of the time it is possible to get out and ride. Snow if fine - so long as you are careful.



I prefer riding off road in winter. It may look less safe, compared to the road, but you only have to deal with nature and not a driver in a rush for dinner..and there are ways of making your winter MTB ride "easier". 

This would be my list of things to consider;
  1. Tyre choice. It really is worth getting a pair of more knobbly tyres 10-of-the-best-mud-tyres My view is that for loose mud, a tall knob is best, if it's sandy and grippy mud, a low wide spaced knob is best (stop sniggering at the back)
  2. Mud guards. You might not like a Crud Guard, but it's better than a back covered in mud
  3. Wash your bike, before you wash yourself. The Army has a mantra, Gun, Kit, Self. Now, whilst I don't pack a gun for most of my rides, I do clean my bike as soon as I get in. If there are a bunch of you, do it as a team - then go for a shower (not necessarily as a team), then go to the pub - you'll have earned it!
  4. Use winter chain oil. It's a no brainer - but it's £5 well spent - your chain will thank you
  5. Clothing
    1. Merino underwear is good (for cycling....) if  not that sexy.......
    2. Windproofing is better than water proofing if it's not raining, less "boil in the bag"
    3. Waterproof socks rock - I use Seal Skins
    4. Longs keep your legs clean and warm and save drinking time post ride
    5. Get a buff
    6. Wear a balaclava under your helmet
Give it a go, charge those lights. Don't go by yourself, just in case.....

Ease your way into racing - and winter is host to many races......

I am often asked how to give racing a go. Well it depends upon your discipline - but I will briefly look at XC (cross country) MTBing this time and Time Trails another day.. Whilst Sportive events exist for XC MTB'ers and are a useful way of "doing an event" it's not like racing. It doesn't really get your adrenaline going and you're not really competing, you're participating. 

So XC mountain bike races.  Events you can do on your usual kit or with very little adaptation. I'm assuming you have bike if you are reading this nonsense.

Cross Country Mountain Bike Racing (XC MTB)

I've done a number of these races. So what does a race look like? Well, it's a mountain bike event, usually using a lap of around 5 miles and over fairly testing but not difficult terrain. A starter race would last around an hour and cover two laps XC MTB is raced in classes and this makes it possible to find a level that you won't feel a complete berk in. A bit of a berk possibly.....but not a total berk.

Gorrick Mountain Bike Club are one of many who host races. They organise races around the Bracknell/North Surrey area and have a guide to entering racing The link goes to the class you should start in. what I call the "so called Fun Class". It's harder than you think, but not so hard you'll never have another go. You don't have to be a brilliant technical rider, but a decent level of fitness would help.

I would prepare by doing something like building up to a one hour of non stop MTB ride on your fav trails. When you you can do 10 odd miles in that time you're ready to roll. You'll probably end up in the middle of the finishers. If you can't do an hour without stopping at a reasonable (but not Olympic) pace, I'd keep the training going. If you can ride 16-18 miles in an hour on your road hybrid in an hour - you'll be fine too!

I know of racing with Gorrick and at Thetford Forest and East of England and XC Racer has a lot of stuff on  racing. And if I can do it anyone can. You could do beginners class, which is one lap, but that mainly for kids and the really unfit and you can do an hour on the bike, can't you? And in beginners' class, you will definitely look a bit of a berk........

Here's a link to a Race Day - Gorrick

Update on Xmas Pudding Vodka and a Xmas pudding link

Made the first batch - and it rocks - give it a go - best straight from the freezer. I just made this christmas pudding. I made just one (half quantities) and its a faff to boil for 8 hours - but it looks great. I used ready prepared citrus peel, much easier!

Recipe of the week - peanut butter cookies

This is easy, super tasty and will gain you friends. This Peanut butter cookie recipe makes about 12 very large ones - they spread on the baking tray - and you might need to separate then a little. Survives a little over cooking. They need to colour slightly and will fall slightly in the middle on cooling. They are chewy and fab

Make some now! Probably best to share unless you want that ever so fashionable "prosperous" look.....they are made from peanut butter........



Friday, 16 November 2012

Christmas presents for cyclists and why Pink Stinks

Christmas - a time for "guiding" your friends and family

Like many cyclists, I am rather picky about the parts and accessories I like. It's not being difficult, honest, it's just that my bike, like yours, is a very personal expression of me. Many cyclists have a very close relationship with their machine(s) and it's the customisation that makes a bike"yours". Of course, these changes are never ending as stuff wears out, or you notice a little carbon item that will be vital to your enjoyment and safety. Well, ok, vital to your bling factor......

So, what's a keen cyclist to do at this time of the year? Well, no one wants to look difficult or ungrateful but having in a previous life been given lovely cycle gifts of dubious origin I started to be very specific with what I might like as a gift. 

I have to say that Aldi and Lidl often have really good bits and pieces for bikes and bikers, but be selective. This offer (now expired) included a bike repair stand for £30. Now, it would only be useful for occasional use but it's the way to go for repairs and far better than wedging your bike against the garage wall. They have also offered some excellent value cycling shoes - so good, my wife has two pairs!

So - presents........ Gift vouchers might be a good way to go, depending upon where it was from. I know people don't like giving value presents - but it's effective. One of my favourite bike-part porn sites is ChainReactionCycles (CRC) and they do vouchers from one pound. They also deliver virtually everything for free. Merlin Cycles do a similar "e-voucher" and are also home to the UK's best value own-brand hard tail MTB's

The other possibility is what I might call consumables. Chain lube, energy bars, more energy powder (match whatever is already in the house, carefully) are all welcome. A bottle of Finish Line Green and Red chain oils would never be a wrong option, nor would any bike cleaning items from the big manufacturers such as Finish Line and Muc Off and Park Tools - name but three of the many cleaning products at Chain Reaction Cycles

Cycles for kids for Christmas

I had bikes as a kid for Christmas. As a kid, I didn't really care, but I guess things have changed since 1968.......Cycle fashions come and go and many bikes for kids are made to look a bit "mountain bike-y" or a bit "BMX-y" and there is nothing wrong with that. It is important to remember though that knobbly tyres offer less grip on tarmac/pavements and a BMX style one speed bike will be a pain to go any distance on.

So what's out there? Well, Halfords do a service and CRC have a long list of kids bikes. But whatever you do, please avoid PINK BIKES FOR GIRLS. Ok, so it's a personal bug bear.........

The Pink Stinks website is one to have a look at for "pink issues".

The pinkification of being a girl - and skiing......

It's not just cycling that has a pink problem, skiing has a similar problem. Apparently, a ski insider tells me, "women's specific" in skiing means "fat calves, wide arse, can't ski for toffee". This has a number of strange effects. Women's kit has to have some flowery/butterfly/kitten motif, probably some crystals (bits of cheap glass glued on somewhere) and a range of colours that we had hoped, died sometime in the 80's, but that designers think that women might just like resurrected. 

At the performance end of skiing, this ends up with hardly any skis being long enough for good women skiers (who then properly, select a weapon from the men's range - or "unisex" range)

But are the marketeers so limited in their thinking that the only way they think they can sell sports stuff to women is to make it pink? It beggars belief!

Recipe of the week - Christmas pudding vodka...

Ok, so it's not a particularly healthy recipe, well, actually rather unhealthy, apart from probably some vitamin C content....but if you are struggling for a pressie for a cyclist, I have yet to meet one who after the tea, cakes and long ride, wouldn't fancy sitting down to a post shower "nip".

This comes from the Hairy (Motor) Bikers recipes, which of course now include odd diet food like lasagne made with leeks instead of pasta. Isn't that just spiced mince in a dish?

Anyway - this looks like it can be made in three days, I'm making mine next week, just in time for the festive season!

Christmas Pudding Vodka        Please note the recipe repeats itself. Odd for the BBC!






Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Keeping the faith (or how to keep motivated in winter)


Autumn, a time when cycling looks less attractive....

When the clocks go back, there is a temptation to let the bike gather dust and wait it out until spring. With less or no light in the evenings it's more difficult to get out on the bike, but in my experience, some of my most satisfying rides have been after dark. Just think how good that pint will taste if you've earned it and have not just sneaked off to the pub instead of watching TV?.

There are always ways and means to ride. If it's hammering down, or very cold, the turbo trainer is king. It's not just an instrument of torture for professionals but a great way of getting the odd 30 minute session in, which keeps the legs ticking over. I would recommend getting a tough tyre to use on the turbo, it's not the place for those feather-light expensive summer tyres unless you like shredding cash. 

I find the turbo is very effective. However hard you ride on the road, you always coast on the downs and some of the flat bits. In an hour's cycling, you'll not do an hour's  pushing. On the turbo there is no escape. You just have to keep at it. An hour on the turbo, three times a week, is enough to keep better than minimally fit. Indeed, if the time is used effectively, you can do better than that. 

Bike Magic has a useful intro article on workouts for the turbo. Don't be put off by the reference to Lance's trainer! Turbo training ideas. The best accompaniment for the turbo is Absolute 80's Radio on DAB. Not too much chat and plenty of cheesy beats to keep those legs moving. 

If you are really short of time, then doing ten, 40 second max effort sprints with 20 seconds recovery after a 10 minute warm up and a 10 minute warm down at the end will take just 30 mins and improve peak fitness. Another session is to do 20 minutes just on your threshold, after the warm up. This is a good, if rather nasty, session. Threshold is that hardest effort you can maintain for 20 minutes, it should be hard and probably "stings" a little - enjoy!

Mountain biking at night

Are you sure? Well, yes I am. When I lived near Swinley Forest, I was the meeting point for trips to the Forest. When the nights drew in we got our lights out and rode. It was often hard, cold and wet but so long as one person wants to go, others followed. Human nature is a funny thing. One friend would phone around 4, tell me he'd be at mine for 5.30 and I'd better be ready. This worked well. If you need inspiration here is a video of night riding. It's easier than it looks! The investment in lights is expensive, but they double up as excellent road lights too. Bikeradar has a review of the latest MTB lights. My recommendation is to go for a helmet mount first and a bar mount as a backup. Just having a light on the bars can mean a lack of light just when you need it. You need surprisingly little light, if it's directional - as it really is dark in them tha woods.

MTB video clips

I have been "sort of" promising to do a guided MTB ride - there are still weekends free before Xmas - so you never know it might happen. So to provide some inspiration, I trawled the web and found some video's of three of my favourite trails. If anyone would like to meet up at Swinley Forest, Bracknell on a Saturday/Sunday this side of Xmas - let me know.

Swinley Forest - the Corkscrew
One of my favourite sections of trail in Swinley. It's possible to clean this section fairly easily in dry conditions and the main trick is to keep up some speed as stalling may mean "stepping off" the bike. I personally prefer natural singletrack to "over constructed", and this is one of the best, anywhere.

NOVA Trail - Ashton Court, Bristol
The NOVA Trail is a good example of a "blue" graded, man enhanced trail. It's had a lot of investment and and is linked up to new trails in Leigh Woods and those in 50 Acre Wood nearby. The trail flows nicely, it's one way - so none of those embarrassing "after you....not after you.......THUD!" moments and is well served by a car park, visitor centre and cafe. It's a good trail for experienced riders to go for a blast and for newbies to give it a go. Enjoy!

Croft Trail - Swindon   Croft Trail Maps
This is a man enhanced trail in Swindon. It's all volunteer maintained and shows just what you can do in a tiny space. This near 3 mile trail weaves in and out of the trees on a patch of land next to the M4. It's like a dedicated singletrack skills course. I like to ride here before going to a larger venue, it really tunes your riding up. This guy is pretty good, I'm still a minute slower than this, and I was really travelling. Three laps is a good night's ride and sure makes that first cider seem "earned". The "red" route is the way to go, the blue is flat and short!

Recipe of the week - Saltimbocca (leap in the mouth)

I went to Hove the other weekend, the day before doing a Comedy Workshop.......and stumbled upon an unpretentious Italian restaurant. It was excellent, though I did get stick for being tight and not including a tip. Hell, dinner with wine was 80 odd quid! Anyway, I had (veal) saltimbocca and it was excellent. Now I have no objections to eating rose veal (approved RSPCA care stds apply). If you drink milk you are condoning the production of rose veal....but anyway, I wondered how easy it was to cook. 

Well, the answer is, very easy. I actually used chicken breast  (thigh works too), You need to cut the chicken into large thin pieces and then flatten it by putting the meat between layers of cling film and hit it with a rolling pin. My pieces were about 12cm by 6cm and less than 0.5cm thick. Wrap each piece in a slice of prosciutto (Palma Ham) and secure with a cocktail stick, fastening a leaf of sage to each piece. Dust in seasoned flour, and fry briskly in a little butter/oil mix until cooked though, keep warm.

Drain excess fat and deglaze the pan with a big glass of dry white wine (I used Sav. Blanc) and about a quarter of a good chicken stock cube. Reduce until almost syrupy.  Add any juices from the warm saltimbocca and then add a blob of crème fraiche/sour cream, combine and heat through. Serve with some mash and green beans and spoon the sauce over the saltimbocca. I promise you will not be disappointed. The combination of ham, chicken/veal and sage is great. For those who like game, rabbit can be used too. Rabbit saltimbocca recipe I prefer my method of cooking - using a single layer of meat rather than the two used by a "Single Fat Lady". 

It probably won't happen to you, but I made a cake last week, I had left some basil in the fridge and I reckon that the butter icing and the sponge had a hint of basil about it. Not sure what Paul Hollywood would have said about my "flavour combinations".....perhaps it was my imagination

Until next time - try and get out. And if not, at least cook something nice


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cycles paths. over protective parents and Lance

Cycle path etiquette

I was on the Bristol to Bath cycle path the other day. For a change it was during the week and it was quite empty but for a few cycles, dogs and push chairs - but nothing to bother getting a nice ride (34 miles if you were asking) . It occurred to me that one of the slight problems with mixed use paths is etiquette. I have a bell on my bike. But when to use it and how do you judge the likely outcome of using it? I generally ring a double "ting" when within 50 yards or so of a walker and at the same time make a judgement over what will happen next. 

What would be nice is that people accepted the "ting" as a friendly "hi, just coming past" but from the expressions and actions I've seen ,I'm not sure this is the case. The most extreme reaction is to react as if wired to the mains and run randomly across the path as if they keep moving, you can't hit them. This is of course the reverse of reality. People with dogs fall into two camps, those who call their dog/pull in the lead and those who think that Fido is intelligent enough to stay out of the way. I can vouch that Fido is not and thinks that cyclists are new play friends to run around with. I go really slow if I see an untethered or uncalled dog on my route. 

Over protective parents?

But its the reaction of parents that bother me mostly. Not grand parents - who are old enough to think that cyclists are not devils on wheels trying to kill or maim their offspring. Last weekend, I "ting'ed" behind two adults with walking child and their reaction was to quickly block the path. I wondered what was going on, until the child was picked up and the parents slowly gave way. I suppose I might have been a danger to  the child, but I nearly parked my bike up this guy's backside. No one was in any danger, I cycle slowly past children as do most cyclists - we were all kids once.

I do see this a symptom of over protective parents. The news outlets seem to suggest that kids are in constant mortal danger. But such shielding of kids will only make them less likely to assess danger and risk themselves and so be over cautious or to take more extreme risks. 

Now before I say "back in the day" its clear that people of my generation had much more leeway to explore for themselves. And I think that supported self reliance and appropriate risk taking is a good idea. I enjoy speed and risk as much as the next person, after all I own a 1000cc motorcycle and can be seen "making progress" across the Cotswolds.

I do wonder if the over protective: what time are you back, I'll pick you up, take you to school attitude that some parents demonstrate is self defeating and will reduce the number of people who cycle? Some research has been done which suggests that compulsory helmets reduce cycling because "it must be dangerous" if helmets are needed. Now I am pro helmet, not compulsion. I probably had my life saved by my helmet. Hitting a tree stump with your head at 25mph is a good recipe for brain damage - but my Giro deformed like a good 'un and I just had concussion. (Which has worn off, ok, it was over 5 years ago)

Personally, I think getting into scrapes and losing skin is the best way of assessing risk. Pain is good for judgement. Risks need to be taken. Exposure to risk and reality a good thing. A few of those drivers in the rain on the M5 last week might like to think about that too. Air bags and ABS etc is no use if you hit that spray covered truck at 50mph, regardless of how good a driver you think you are, the insulation from risk in modern cars almost encourages poor decision making!

Lance

Oh dear. I feel personally let down by Lance. I wanted to believe that he was the man he said he was. I once wore a "Livestrong" wrist band (now safely "lost") I think we all knew that turn of the century cycle racing was involved with drugs but somehow I liked to think that it was "just dabbling" and that it really hadn't made such a difference.

I suppose I could not have been more wrong. But what bothers me is the denial and the facts - as reported in the press - that Lance was druggist in chief for his team and is reported to have bullied his team mates into the systematic doping that it is alleged went on in his team.

The evidence is clear that the peloton is at worst not drugged up much. Times over identical stages have increased since 2000, often by quite large amounts. But riders are still getting banned. I love cycle racing. The TdeF is one of the big spectacles in modern sports - but cycling is especially prone to cheating as it relies upon fitness and recovery more than skill and so the rewards from drug or substance abuse are greater than for say football. You can be as fit as you like, but if you are no good, it will never be enough. 

The stand taken by British Cycling is to be applauded and I believe that British Cycling is clean. I use the same sports science that they do (not so extreme) in terms of training and recovery products. In effect, smart eating. It must still be frustrating if you think that competitors are not playing by the rules. Blood samples are kept from winners for years now - so if anything turns up, samples can still be tested. This is I hope a good incentive not to cheat. I guess we'll find out over the years to come.

Recipe of the week - Great British food revival

I saw Michel Roux Jr supporting the British strawberry. Michel is a British as I am, being born in Britain and basing his cuisine on good local food. Its just a shame I can't afford to eat in his restaurant!

None the less this strawberry souffle recipe looks fantastic. I would recommend looking at the programme which examines the development of better strawberries for the supermarket. This may avoid having little choice but to buy "Elsanta's" which taste of turnip. Always look carefully at the variety and don't just opt for the cheap big berries - they will taste of very little. This recipe will be much improved using a good strawberry. You just have to wait until next year to try it unless you can get some good frozen ones. I'll be on the lookout for some next week!


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Is there anyone there?

A bit of cycling "cod" philosophy....or "Faking it"

Whilst writing a Blog, it can easily appear you are alone with your thoughts and musings. I'm pretty sanguine that I mainly write for myself. Expressing yourself can come in many forms, but writing, at least, has the benefit of allow me to see what it was I was actually thinking at the time as opposed to spouting off. At this point, you might be thinking "what on earth is he warbling on about this time?"

Well, it struck me that in cycling, like life, we are really all alone. I certainly don't mean that we are in some Matrix style "reality", where everything is illusion. No, what I mean is that is it hard for anyone to know what its like to be "you" and for you to be "them". This is why cycle racing or just hammering your mates is both a physical and mental challenge. You are alone in your world of pain as you grind up that 3+ km climb (out of Nailsworth, for those interested in next year's Sodbury Sportive...), and whilst you know that your fellow cyclists are in a similar world, you can't be sure who is going to make it to the top first.

Many a time, I've known I'm not the fittest cyclist in a group (certainly the oldest) but I've kept up or got to the top of a climb or been fastest in the singletrack. This is a skill I call "Faking it". Using the slope to your advantage, looking more tired than you are,  braking in a strange place to put off a follower. Faking it is a skill that cyclists develop over the years. I mean who wants to be last at the cake shop, if "tail end Charlie" is going to buy the coffees?

So, if I was to strike off into philosophy again, cycling is a bit like life. The confident are often covering for their fears and the fearful are being true to themselves. Admitting what you can't do is hard. But the first step to improvement is an honest assessment of your strengths AND importantly, your weaknesses. Becoming a better, fitter, lighter cyclist requires an assessment of where you are right now. I have found it quite liberating to admit (in life terms..) that I am rubbish at parking cars and have a useless memory for places and maps. (This might come as a worry to those who follow me round ski resorts....but I am a good faker!) My next task is to make an honest assessment of what will make me a better cyclist.

Actually, that assessment has not been hard. Pushing a small dog (as I call my excess weight) up a hill may be good for the soul, but pretty bad for my pace and my now ageing knees. So once I get over eating Canadian sized portions, I need to get back on the straight and narrow (and no, that is not my favourite singletrack in Ashton Court) and eat less and do more. Well, we'll see!

Sea to Sea (C2C for the text generation)

Ok, if I am going to improve, I do need a target. The JOGLE fell by the wayside in a combination of  injuries, and failing fitness. I was reminded the other day that I was pretty lucky to cancel as the two weeks ear marked for the ride were amongst the wettest we've had in this "summer". I think after 5 days of continuous rain and wet cycling clothing, I would have arrived home courtesy of the rail system, rather than leg power. 

So, instead of the JOGLE (which is parked, not abandoned, perhaps for a joint "holiday"...) a C2C looks do-able, and indeed fake-able. The C2C for the uninitiated, is a ride from the Far West (of Wales) to "near Holland" (Suffolk) crossing from sea to sea. I am planning to leave from St Davids in Pembrokeshire and aiming for Southwold. 6 days, 60 odd miles a day, getting flatter as you go East.

Before I actually commit, I will be spending a couple of weeks riding as often as rain allows, to see if anything falls off. Not off my bike, but off me, even 6 days is a long time, if you've got a dodgy leg! 

Recipe of the week - pancakes...not with sugar and lemon

Whilst in Canada for my hols, I was offered pancakes for brekkie by my kind hosts and indeed pancakes, bacon and maple syrup ended up on my plate, all at the same time. Looking at the recipe used, it looked a lot like a Scots Pancake, only given that I was in North America, it looked a lot like a Scots Pancake on serious body building drugs!

So this Pancake Recipe is from James Martin. It looks good and includes all you need to know for a real "heart stopper" of a breakfast. Indeed, guests may get offered this for brekkie, next time anyone comes to stay as its easy and the batter can be made the night before. Enjoy (but do go for a long cycle if you indulge!)

Winter maintenance

Ok, so its not actually winter, but the challenges are the same. No salt on the roads yet, but I think its probably as well to be prepared. So if you have the time, I would recommend doing this:

 - clean chain and lube with winter chain oil
 - fit mudguards if you can, a face full of muddy slurry is never fun or healthy
 - if you have a winter bike, service it now and do the above if required
 - get a garden sprayer like this fill with cold water - use to remove salt and mud after every ride

If you were wondering, cold water is recommended by Motorcycle Magazines to clean off salt as hot water may increase the reaction between salt and metal. A quick sluice takes no time. Useful for cleaning the bike properly too. And chasing cats off your lawn

Monday, 10 September 2012

Olympic cycling legacy

What is the effect of the Olympics - if any?

A recent Guardian Blog suggested that in the short term, there may have been a change in attitude to cycling and cyclists. Guardian bike-blog.  What I have noticed is that cycling has started to look a little more trendy, accepted and mainstream. The new ITV 4 Cycling Show shows promise and usefully mixes personalities from the world of cycling, celebs and reports, all of which make cycling look more like an activity not confined to oddballs and fitness freaks.

It's harder to know what the longer term effect will be and if it will be sustained. Living in the West, there is less of a problem of conflict on the roads, many of the Councils here have the space to provide good cycling facilities and Bristol is "Britain's First Cycling City". (I think Cambridge might disagree...)

Bristol is a good place to cycle.It is well served by cycle paths off the roads and has a great link with Bath on the old railway, Much of the ring road is served by cycle paths and it's fairly easy to navigate around "outer" Bristol. In Bristol itself, there are some handicaps to cycling. Firstly, Bristol is built on a number of hills, ones you might not want to cycle up too often. The roads show evidence of the dead hand of 60's "planning" imposed upon a tangle of inner city streets and the centre sees a lot of traffic. That said, for a city, it's a good place to cycle, and you will not be alone. Bristol people have taken to cycling in a big way, facilitated by the Universities, the army and one or two big Firms who encourage cycling. Even Cribbs Causeway, the out of town shopping mall, is accessible by bike, though it is aimed at the car driver. The areas near to Bristol are also well served with cycle routes and access from say South Gloucestershire (Yate) is good and new building works/estates  come with cycle provision.

I find it frustrating that most of the popular commentary on cycling is London-centric. This is where the press is based and where the broadcast media will find its "evidence" of cycling conflict or success etc. However, the specialist cycle press is not all London based and that is a bonus. The main publishers are in Bath (Future Publishing) Croydon (IPC) and one or two indies like Singletrack Magazine.(Up North)

I did think that a critical mass of cyclists might be the key to acceptance, but London has a load of cyclists and yet appears to have less "cooperation" between road users. Bristol has an acceptance of each other on the road and this translates mainly into good road relations, which has to a small extent has made the roads a shared space, just like people treat the roads in Holland.

So will the Olympics been a factor? I certainly hope so. It's about time too. Cycling has long been seen as the poor relation to motorised transport. Yet cycling should be equal at least. It provides freedom, a freedom long gone for drivers. Its good for you, you can have guilt free cake stops and earn a beer and it doesn't (literally) cost the Earth.

We won't know the effect of the  Olympics right away. Surveys and traffic flow analysis will be required, but the Olympics has the capacity to start to get Britain towards a Dutch model of cycling, where cycling is the smart choice.

But, we all have a role to play. A key role is to encourage people to give it a go and to that end, here are a few suggestions that might be helpful in getting a friend to start/restart cycling. Think if it as volunteering with benefits, the benefits of getting more people to cycle and to have the pleasure of spending someone else's money!

Help a friend to become a rider

Choice of bike

It's hard to choose a first bike by yourself. Even a trip to Halfords can end in confusion so why not volunteer to go along with a non cycling friend and "translate" for them. For a first time/returning cyclist, there is a range of "opinions" on what to ride and how much to spend. This can be "advice" such as, "a £50 secondhand bike is all you need, I know a bloke down the pub....." or  "£50 only buys an average tyre, now my mate owns a cycle shop, he'll sort you out......"

So where to start?

I personally believe that most first time cyclists will ride on cycle paths (to start with) and explore further afield as they gain confidence, so a good choice would be a 26" wheeled hybrid/mountain bike style machine with road tyres, NO suspension and NO disc brakes. Robust, comfortable and easy to maintain. New, such a bike will cost from £100 up, and can be light and fast if you want a little bling....Here are some ideas, right down to 150 quid Communting and hybrid bike ideas

Proto mountain bikers may need more help, but ask where they are likely to ride and that will help guide you. A Down Hill (DH) Bike is not an option! Most cheap full suspension Mountain Bikes (MTBs) are only useful for chaining outside the pub, but a mid priced hard tail (no suspension on the rear) is a good place to start. On-line resources are there to help. Bike Radar has a guide to sub £500 bikes. I'll think about a mountain bike article another time

If you really know what you are doing, you may well be able to help a friend buy off eBay and get a hybrid or my fave, a vintage MTB (rigid) with slick tyres. This can be a bargain way of getting a bike, but you do need to know what you are doing!

Clothing

This is the "lycra issue". So a few things for the beginner to think about.  A short with a liner is a good place to start, don't wear pants underneath, and gender specific fit is important. Some cycling mitts and a helmet that fits are vital too. A cycling shirt might be nice too. I wear bright colours on road, occasionally HiViz, good deals are available online.

Kit to buy

A pump, tyre levers, puncture repair kit, basic multi-tool, a bottle cage and bottle and chain lube. This is the bare minimum to get at the same time as the bike. A basic repair book might be useful! Many bike shops will "do a deal" on these items. If they don't, say thanks, but no thanks and get a friend to help you order off the internet. You will make savings and get a better choice. If they are going to leave the bike anywhere public, get a good U lock, as cable locks are useless.

Women specific issues

A women specific saddle is a must. A cheap upgrade that will improve comfort. A "step thru" "women's frame" is not needed, just get a bike that fits. Narrower grips may help those with smaller hands.

Help the new rider use their kit

This is the really important bit. Go out with your new rider. This WILL require patience and time. You might think that 20 miles is a short ride. Your new rider will thank you for starting with a half hour gentle starter ride that may only cover 5 miles, and include stops. Make that ride fun, with a cake stop and try and go somewhere away from traffic, on a good surface and with nothing even like a "slope". Get your new rider out as often a possible. Twice in week one and moving SLOWLY on from there. If they want to ride to work, perhaps go with them, or get them to buddy up with someone to help maintain that enthusiasm.

If it's going well, get them (and you!) entered into an event, a SKY Ride or similar and then think about a Sportive, but one within their capability.

Recipe of the week

After much opprobrium, the recipe resurfaces. Butternut squash and sage risotto is a real winner if you need a quick supper. I wouldn't bother frying sage leaves for decoration and the amount of cheese to add is up to you, but more is good!

Butternut squash lasts for ages in the store cupboard so this is one you can do without too much planning. I tend to use chicken stock (from a posh cube) I use less butter, and I like my risotto softer than "al dente" which in some cases means "chalky" but that is up to you. I would take time to chop up the onion nicely as this makes the finished dish better tasting IMO

Enjoy with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.







Friday, 31 August 2012

The surfing issue

Other sports are available

Can I recommend Wales for surfing? Well, obviously I can, but to be more specific, Abereiddy in Pembrokeshire. Even for those of us who live near Bristol, Pembroke is long way and on an August Bank Holiday Friday at 5pm, approaching a traffic jam at Newport, it seemed an awfully long way! 

The SATNAV is good in many respects, but as it updates its ETA, a note of depression can affect the driver. That said, "Helga" (as my SATNAV is called) is pretty good at estimating when you will get to your destination and eventually 8pm came up and stayed on screen, as the traffic cleared. This allowed a quick dump of kit and a rush to the pub for sustenance and "a plan" for the morning.

Saturday started bright but windy, so we trundled off to Abereiddy beach to read the papers and stare at the sea. Surfing requires quite a lot of staring at the sea. The tide was wrong (high) and had killed off the waves, so even though the car park was filling (more of that later) we popped off to St David's for a bit of tourism.

St Davids is the smallest City in the UK and has a lovely cathedral, any number of coffee shops and pubs and an excellent visitor centre where we had a snack and waited for the rain to stop. A wander round town revealed that surf fashion is still mainly "Californian/Hippy" style, the cathedral was looking a little worse for wear inside, and the side of a hill is still a hard walk, even if you are supposed to be fit enough for surfing. 

We made a detour on the way back, via Whitesands beach. All I can say is if you don't like your fellow man, this is not the place to go. Lovely beach, crowded as hell.

Back at Abereiddy, the tide was out and surf's up. It's my first surf this year and the waves are powerful and slightly confused with several swells making getting out difficult, and dumps regular. I'd give that session 5 out of 10 for surfing and 9 out of 10 for creating an appetite. The family had turned up by now, so it was off to the pub and a well earned cider.

Not a happy bunny after a Saturday bashing!
Sunday dawned sunny. The wind had dropped, Nice!. A pre breakfast surf had been scoped out the previous evening, so post fry up, we were squeezing ourselves into our wetsuits (damp) hoping our guts would fit! The swell had dropped off, so patience was needed. A pleasant couple of hours was spent in the water until a nice cuppa beckoned. 

Posing and back lit - nice!
We all waited around to see if the swell would pick up later and we were rewarded with a great early evening session. Only the 5 of us in the sea, and lovely sets of nice clean waves were coming in.  This gave me the best session in a long time. Two hours in the water left me needing the BBQ laid on by my Bro in law.



Almost look pro here - mainly an accident!

Surf art - nice one Leona (camera holder)


Monday dawned wet - well wet is probably not sufficient, but shall we say that it rained like it did when I was last in Bali - and I didn't actually see any tarmac for 60 miles. 

So what's so good about surfing?

Well, I think it's rather like mountain biking. You are reliant upon the natural elements and your skill (or lack of) Surfing is harder, but like MTBing is free once you get to the ocean. It's addictive too. Once you've got up and stood there, "walking" on water, you just want to get a longer and faster ride. As they say, a bad day surfing is better than a good day at the office, and even what looks like a hopeless surf can be transformed by just one good wave. I've met really nice people surfing, the guys at the North Devon surf School  have been very encouraging and I would recommend learning to surf there. Westward Ho! (their base) is a super mellow beach with loads of room. It's better than Croyde to learn, more room and better ice cream. Give it a go, the worst that can happen is that you can end up having a guilt free slap up dinner and few refreshments whilst improving your fitness!

Foot note - competitive parking

I know it was August Bank Holiday Sunday, but blimey, us Brits are not at our best when it comes to car parking. There is a tendency to try and claim as much space a possible and sod anyone else. We got there on Sunday at 10, and parked out of the way and about 10 yards behind a camper van, parked across the beach, in a space that three cars would call roomy. We got an evil look from a seated "beige clad" senior as if we were encroaching. Little did they know what the rest of the day would be like as they were virtually surrounded by cars, squeezing into the smallest gap. One van was later asked to move across a little and "couldn't possibly" as "he had set his chairs up....."

Later, there were always three cars circling the car park, waiting to pounce, should a space come free. Still, the nice thing was, that by the time we surfed Sunday night, most people had left, missing the nicest part of the day (well except for the "sharp shower")


Friday, 24 August 2012

Dangerous Roads??

Is it really that dangerous to cycle on the roads?

It's a question that strikes me every time I get out on the bike. I don't think I am taking unnecessary risks going out for a ride, yet the Times noted that 72 cyclists have died on the roads this year, so far. My view is that cycling is not inherently dangerous, yet with such stark stats, it's perhaps time to have a think what impact each of us can make to our own safety and for the safety of all cyclists.

I am not one to be particularly critical of the odd "traffic violation" by cyclists, they are mainly a defence mechanism, such as starting out early from the lights or hopping on the pavement to avoid a dangerous junction. But it seems to me that the main danger of such infractions is not the action itself, but the impact on opinion and the opinion of other road users.

Like most cyclists, I am a car driver (and motorcyclist - if you want risk!) and because of understanding how vulnerable cyclists can feel, I take care not to endanger people on bikes (or horses for that matter). But there are motorists who are seriously annoyed with and by cyclists. Now that is their problem. They will need to keep a close eye on their blood pressure and often, ones I've met, have serious anger management issues. But it can become our problem too. In a clash of me and 1500kg of car, I am not coming out on top.

So I now try and ride with an eye to other road users. I make eye contact, wave and smile and often wave cars through, if like yesterday, I was first to some temporary lights at road works. It was quite a revelation. I had some fun banter with the first car and friendly waves from others. I got through the road works with little delay. And I genuinely believe that spreading a little happiness (as the song goes) can promote cycling and cyclists as fellow road users and not "a nuisance".

BTW - if anyone goes on about "why do cyclist not have licences etc like car drivers" could I suggest politely pointing out that motorists are in charge of tonnes of metal, capable of high speed and responsible for nearly 3000 deaths a year, tens of thousands of injuries and millions of pounds of damage and pollution. Whereas cyclists are not and a licencing system would be a big literal price to pay just because some motorists get miffed with cyclists!

Recipe of the week - banana flapjack

Not tried this one, but it looks really nice, and what's not to like in a banana chip flapjack!


Got to be better than anything shop bought!

Keep safe

Monday, 20 August 2012

Chipping Sodbury Sportive

Chipping Sodbury Sportive - 60 mile route

Well a 6am alarm is not my idea of fun any morning, let alone on a Sunday morning. But it was at my request. The Chipping Sodbury inaugural Sportive had sign in from 7am and start slots from 8. So we needed to eat before we left home. Two Oatibix and a banana later we were on our way to the start line. 

We were amongst the first to arrive and having signed on, I took a moment to have some water and reflect on what was going to be quite a hard day. The sun was poking through occasionally and when it did, it revealed the potential for heat to add to the already humid and airless conditions. 

Deciding that the key aim was to avoid the broom wagon, and knowing that training had been "minimal" we pushed forwards and got in the second group out. We were amazed by the bike porn on display. My bike for the day was a Cannondale Bad Boy (no really), a 26" "hybrid" and my wife's was a similar part bin special I constructed for her around a Merlin Cycles HT Mountain bike frame. Whilst not sounding glamorous, it is light and effective (and cheap!) and when I lifted the back of my bike round to face the start line, I was a little jealous!

So we set off out of Chipping Sodbury, allowing the expensive carbon bikes to head off into the slightly murky morning as we quickly approached the first challenges which would get us up to Hawkesbury and Hillesley, "up" being the appropriate word. as our 60.5 mile route claimed 1203 metres (3945 ft) of climbing and most of this was in the first few miles as we got up onto the edge of the Cotswolds.

I got off and walked once, then twice as my early morning leg muscles protested, but was pleased that this was not repeated during the day. The organisers had good sign posting and the roads chosen were mainly quiet, except for the odd farmer, boy racer and at one stage a lost milk tanker!

Having swung across the A46 towards Tetbury (signposted but never seen) the first 25 miles ended in Nailsworth, a town noted for being at the bottom of 4 large hills. The organisers had laid on excellent feed stations and we loaded up on banana, flap jack or in the case of my wife, a cheese and pickle roll. We filled the bottles and cycled off towards the next challenge. 

The climb out of Nailsworth led up towards the M5.........eventually. It's a climb with several false summits and by the time we made it to the top, we were hot and wondering where the broom wagon was! The next few miles passed ok, and we had the highlight of a long downhill where I managed 40mph and stormed past a few of the younger, lighter riders!

The legs were not so happy at this point and with ten miles to the 48mile feed station, I started not so much "hit the wall" as start to "bounce along the fence". Luckily, my wife who had suffered a little, early doors, started to assert her much better endurance fitness and I slotted in behind to benefit from the draft.

Talking of draft - does energy drink give you wind? It's hard to know if it was the drink or just the gut being asked to perform overtime! 

Eventually we got into Rockhampton and the feed station, again excellently stocked by the Rotarians, and banana and flapjack were fired down the throat along with some water and an energy gel!

Off again, the legs gradually improved and after the long but steady climb out of Thornbury, the route gently rolled us back to Chipping Sodbury. A short but unwelcome climb into the High Street was the last proper effort before rolling back into the finish and a well earned pasty!

Reflections

Well, I think we will do it again. Hopefully one or two of the roads might be missed out as the recent rain had brought stones and mud (and minor streams) onto the tarmac. Training might have been good, but injuries and time did not allow, so all in all an excellent result

Our vital stats were 60.5 miles, 3945 feet climbed, ave speed 11.5 mph and top speed 40mph
Riding time 5:15 (elapsed time will be a bit longer - waiting on the results)

Bananas consumed (both) 8, liquid drunk, at least a gallon, (between us)

Estimated kcals used, me 4,200;  Leona 3,000 (yes really!)









Friday, 17 August 2012

Olympic Verdict

So what did you think of 2012?

I'll admit it, I've been blown away by the Games. I liked both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I felt they represented GB well, made us look original and quirky and also "bigged up" the NHS. What other countries would have made of it I really don't know. But I guess that was half the point.

I also liked the way that it did not compete directly with Beijing. It did compete, it was just on another level. It was saying that, hey, all that fuss and fireworks was easy, directing a two hour play is hard. I even liked the sing a long at the end with Macca, not because of the quality, but because it worked in getting a huge singalong.

At the closing ceremony, I thought the "Frankie goes to Hollywood" style shirts saying "IMAGINE" was great, the John Lennon mask was dead clever. Not sure how it might have gone done in some Southern American States, where they watching on a Sunday, but I guess that's just one of those things........

My highlight of the games

This is actually rather difficult. As any sports fan with a bit of time on their hands, I watched everything, but for pure guts and for showing the streets around where I used to live, Bradley's Gold was the number one for me. Many of the other much-repeated highlights were about racing. Now normally, I would be all for racing but having done a little time trialing a long time ago, I have a flavour of what winning this event meant in terms of effort and confidence.

I was fortunate enough to see the great TT'er Tony Doyle (double World Pursuit Champ) do a sub 20 min 10 miler on a cold November morning on a less than fabulous out and back course. That is like seeing Bradley turn up on the A46 for a Sunday Club 10 with only parents and dogs for company. That day, I knew that cycling, least racing in that form, was not for me. I was too much of a "rugby player" build and liked ball sports. But the time and effort just to turn up and do what he did was an eye opener. He warmed up for ages and the level of concentration  devoted to a Sunday 10 was on another planet.

So why Bradley? Well, to do what he had to do, less than a week after the effort and disappointment of the Road Race showed his physical and mental class. But over and above that, the ability, without helpers and totally exposed as you are in a TT, to perform to that level was quite remarkable. And this is why I put it above Mo's achievement, say. But only just, Bradley had to ride as fast as he could on the day, no tactics to "hide" behind, no fast last lap.

Mo's victory did provide one of the most heart warming Olympic moments for me. I was sitting in a Bracknell bar when the 5,000m was on, the race held the attention of everyone and there was shouting and cheering as Mo came in to win. It seems that Mo might be a catalyst to perhaps a little more harmony in GB?

I liked the spice Girls too, they were so wrong, it was right! And any ceremony where Fat Boy Slim emerges from an octopus, must be getting something right!

The Cycle Show on ITV 4. Monday 8pm

It's rare that TV gets cycling. The recent series (still going) of The Cycle Show on ITV 4 might have got near. Its based on an interview and film excerpt format and has a 400m sprint challenge for guests. 

On the first show, Graham Obree and Gary Fisher turned up and it was interesting to hear them "unscripted" for a change. Graham is the cyclist who used washing machine parts (well in the popular press)  on his track bike and traded records with Chris Boardman many years ago. Graham tends towards seeking a low tech solution. His energy source of choice is jam sarnies! Gary was one of the pioneers of mountain biking and all MTB'ers owe him a debt for where our sport has got to.

Anyway, give it a go, let me know!

Recipe of the week - Chicken and Broad Bean Pasta

No cake this week. This Recipe is from BBC Good Food and is easy and tasty. I used full fat creme fraiche as that was all I had to hand and I used milk to thin it and not pasta cooking water. I cooked the beans by themselves to avoid over cooking. Add some garlic puree and use lots of cheese and it's a winner. I used a grill pan for the chicken for more flavour. Tagliatelle is in the recipe, but it is difficult to mix in the sauce. I will try penne or spirals next time. 

A glass of slightly chilled Pinot Noir would be nice.




Friday, 10 August 2012

Explore your local riding and bake some brownies

Hey, I'm riding


It is good to be getting out on the bike again. Partly because it feels great, being outside and partly because if I didn't, I would have no right to be writing posts on cycling.

It's just in time as I had forgotten that me and my wife are entered into a "hilly sportive" on Sunday week, and when it says "hilly" in the Cotswolds, you know you're going to earn that cider by the end.  So we've been getting out on the bikes and that means working out new routes suitable for our current state of "fitness". I have said to friends a number of times, "I can fake 60 miles, it's not so far....." Now I'm going to find out!

Mapping rides

I find using an on-line mapping resource an excellent idea, as it lets you gauge the distance and "degree of difficulty"  before setting out. And in addition, it means that the "route less travelled" can be incorporated into your ride. A car can be good for researching routes, but I find that I generally use the main routes in the "polluting box" and when cycling for fun and fitness, the side road is king! So I use "Bike Route Toaster" It has a silly name, but is intuitive to use and you can store your routes online and download them should you be lucky enough to have a suitable GPS gadget. I have one, but generally only use it when I am in danger of getting lost.

Getting lost

Getting lost. My wife would think that I would be risking that on most rides. Indeed she often reminds me of the second time we went to Chamonix (it was about my 30th visit) when I could not find the Omelette Restaurant (recommended BTW) and she said, "it's in the next road, I though we were going the scenic route......" as I blundered around.

Anyway, contrary to her belief, I can often navigate quite well. I often use the sun to remind me which way I need to travel to get home. I do take my mobile with me when cycling, just in case. In our area its easy to get lost. Not quite sure if she could navigate me home from me phoning, and describing the scenery, but I suppose its always worth a go!

Explore my local routes

One of the nice things about the cycle route website is that you might find a local route shared by another cyclist and so discover roads and trails you would never have considered.

This very Thursday, I travelled around Yate and was only on road for 2 of the 12 miles (obviously, a short ride) I went down cycle routes, RUPPs and hard surfaced bridleways, seeing some lovely houses, some great views, the Virgin Train to the Midlands and more excitingly, a wooded area, crossed by trails.

Door step MTBing is a luxury, I've had for many years. It's interesting that now I am in the middle of the countryside and in horse country, access to the that countryside is so restricted. However, careful study of the maps and by cycling around the roads, it is starting to come together. Hopefully at some point in the near future, I will be able to report a mountain bike route - mainly legal with any luck!


Recipe of the week - quick brownies


Like there is never an excuse for ugly shoes (I am told) there is never an excuse to buy brownies, when you can make them in no time and earn err, brownie points from your friends. I have long looked for a "base" brownie recipe to which I can add ingredients as I like.

This Brownie Recipe is it. A few pointers. Please use the best cocoa powder you can get. I like Green and Blacks, but anything "not budget" will work a treat. Do use golden caster sugar, it add flavour. It will take all of the time to cook and a bit. Get it out of the oven and let cool in the tin on a wire rack. Get it out when there is a little "wobble" left in the middle or else it may get a little dry.

Added ingredients. I add chopped walnuts and or chopped glacé cherries and/or chocolate bits (chopped up from nice chocolate - not supermarket special!) For luxury, cherries and dark chocolate take a bit of beating

A final word. If, like me, you need to lose a few kilos, but love baking, make sure you give this away to work colleagues, friends, neighbours and bask in your selflessness......grrrr!

Glacé cherries - factoid

(BTW - did you know glace cherries don't last for ever? My brownies were nut only this week, as when I tried a sample cherry, it tasted stale. Buy fresh and buy ones which are not that nasty fake red colour. Waitrose do them!)



Saturday, 4 August 2012

I've been to the Olympics

The Sailing Post

I'm no sailor, I've no fear of the water, but my occasional forays onto the water have mainly been for fishing. My main claim to fame is sinking a wind surfer. But beggars cannot be choosers when is comes to Olympic tickets and when the shock of the ticket system working wore off, I found myself the proud owner of a ticket for the sailing at Weymouth.

It was a 12 noon start to the action and I timed leaving on the motorcycle to avoid the "isolated heavy showers" promised for Friday. I failed on this account and got thoroughly drenched but by the time I started to see Olympic flags, directions and shuttle buses, the sun had come out and Weymouth was looking like a little part of the Med rather than a corner of Dorset, known for its fossils (Jurassic and human)

Slightly concerned about where to leave the bike, I pulled up to a "road closed" barrier only to be waved through and directed to motorcycle parking by the harbour, only 5 mins from the venue. I followed the crowds and lined up to queue. Everything was well organised and I was through in 10 ins, got my tickets with only slightly less checks than I would get visiting the Pentagon, was cheerfully searched and off I went.

The Nothe venue was really well set up. Hats off to the organisers, not only was the choice of food excellent and varied, it was at a reasonable price. The coffee was good and the loos clean enough to eat your lunch off, not that I tried that. I wandered over with my lunch and took my place on the grass by the big screen, really not knowing what to expect.

The Nothe course is one of many used on the day, and it runs right in front of you. The 49er class was the most exciting as they were fast and colourful. A cheery crowd were enjoying themselves, I'm sure more Pimms was consumed than at Wimbledon as jugs of the stuff was slurped all over the hill we were sitting on. A kind fellow spectator helped me out with what was going on and I finally felt part of the Olympics.

The big screen was good for following the other races and, the local announcers did a fab job and Seb Coe turned up to general acclaim and did a good interview.

I left before the end, to get ahead of the traffic, which mainly worked, though I did find that the Jurassic Coast is also home to some "Jurassic Drivers" who though that 42 mph was just fine. Luckily, the motorcycle meant I could "make progress" and I was soon heading back into Bath and off home.

All in all, a brilliantly run event, who would have thought that sailing was a spectator sport? The image I'll take away, walking back to my bike, was that of Weymouth, of people sitting outside, enjoying an early evening drink and making England look a lovely place to be.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Random thoughts on a Friday

Usual ramblings

Its funny how just after a week, having a British TdeF winner appears normal, run of the mill, ordinary. I am always amazed how humans can move on and take on board the incredible and make it almost mundane. I suppose its a survival tool, as the good stuff is often outweighed by the bad and by evening it out, it keeps your head in a good place.

Enough of the cod psychology. So what is on my mind this Friday? Well, its the men's road race tomorrow. As a kid I lived within cycling distance of Box Hill, which is a popular picnic site in the Surrey Hills, a "honey pot" in the trade and home to the only decent climb within reach of the Mall for a "Cav Sprint". I occasionally took my bike up Box Hill, which was a good effort for me at the time. Not because I was unfit, but because, I was and still am, more rugby player shaped than cycle racer.

I did the research for my MSc. Rec Man on Box Hill. Spending many a happy hour wandering around with a questionnaire and cue cards, hassling dog walkers and families who's greatest wish was not answering a number of questions based around where they have come from, how old they were and what they thought of the facilities. One question missing was of course, "do you think this makes a good climb for an Olympic Road Race?"

Now, that's not too surprising as I was 25 years too early, and I doubt anyone would have cared! If you do ride your bike to Box Hill in the next few months, then I hope you enjoy the climb. I recommend coming down the "switch backs" in the sun as this is the nearest you'll get to a mini Alpine descent. Do make sure your brakes are up to it as the corners are not forgiving and nor are the trees.

I am hoping that the facilities at Box Hill are now excellent. If so, my work back then was not wasted, if not, then they should have paid more attention to my findings!

So, enjoy the Olympics, good luck to Cav and boys (Cav or David Miller or any of the team could win,....) and with 24 HD BBC Channels on SKY, I guess my sofa might be getting more use than my bike, least over the next two weeks

Recipes
I made a frangipane tart. Its terrific. The recipe is in the Co-op mag I picked up a week or so back, its stuffed full of good recipe ideas.

I can't find an online version by this is not too far off  -frangipane-raspberry-tart

A couple of extras

a) I made my pastry with two egg yolks, it's delicious, but a pain to work with. In the end I just pushed the pastry into the tin with my fingers
b) I blind baked it for 20 mins
c) I spread the base with raspberry jam before filling with fangipane
d) Just cream the butter (soft) and sugar, beat in eggs with a little ground almond to avoid it splitting too much and mix the rest in

I pushed the fruit in and sprinkled with flaked almonds

I used a long loose base tin (oblong) not round - easier to cut slices - cook until nearly all the "wobble" has gone!

Friday, 20 July 2012

BUG News - 20th July

Opening ramblingsA recent  YouGov  survey suggested that the main reason that cyclists cycle is for "enjoyment". A number of other reasons including fitness, stress busting and saving money.

Now, I am pretty sure that I've never saved money by cycling, indeed, cycling is my biggest cost outside of buying a house! I've certainly spent less money by building my own bikes, doing my own upgrades and buying "bargains" off the web, but buying an £800 fork for £400 is only a saving if you can justify the £400 in the first place. Still, the fork looks great on my wife's mountain bike - the one that used to be mine........grr

Anyway, back to the theme of enjoyment. Enjoyment covers a wide range of emotions and satisfactions, so the survey made me wonder what people meant by "enjoyment". I "enjoy" many aspects of cycling, I enjoy getting up a steep climb on the road, I enjoy "cleaning" a difficult technical section of trail, I "enjoy" the feeling of having "got away with it again" after a helter skelter ride down a rocky chute.

So, perhaps what I enjoy is achievement. The achievement of 30 seconds across the rocks or a 50 mile ride amongst the hills.  I also enjoy the sensation of cycling, speed, the sound of the wind, the corners. Cycling is a very sensual sport in the way that surfing or skiing are.

So perhaps YouGov needs to do a little more research on this, if they want to find the motivations for cycling. For me it varies day to day, but whilst "enjoy" might be a cover-all definition, it doesn't really drill down to the detail. And that detail is needed if cycling is to be encouraged.

My definition of "enjoy" might scare the pants off many proto-riders - hell they don't want to follow me down the last last mile of rocks on the Whytes Trail at Afan, well not unless they don't value their safety, but as a starter might enjoy the solitude of riding a tow path in the early morning light of a summer's day? Actually, I quite fancy that too!


Cycling in the news

Olympic lanes to include cyclists?

A group of five MPs from all three major parties has tabled an early day motion calling on Transport For London to allow cyclists to use the special lanes reserved for athletes and Olympic bigwigs to woosh through the congestion of London traffic.
The call comes in the wake of last week's claim by the Environmental Transport Association that banning cyclists from Games Lanes would put lives in danger, and the somewhat clueless response from Transport for London.
Cyclists face a £130 fine and possible impounding of our bikes if we stray into a Games Lane, for example to overtake stationary traffic gridlocked because half the road has been allocated to the Olympics. The Environmental Transport Association said that the combination of the ban and the removal of bus lanes from routes with Games Lanes would put cyclist's lives at risk.
Amazing - a £130 fine and concerned for safety! It must be "A London Thing" as here in Bristol, the "special lanes" are for buses, taxis, motorcyclists AND cyclist. We all get on fine. We share the fact we're being eco friendly and slightly privileged.

But is not really a matter of safety in London, is it? Its the way that in a "meritocracy" cyclists are seen as "lower down the food chain" than others and so compromising their safety is allowed or tolerated, "otherwise you'd be in a car, no?"

Victoria Pendleton - on the BBC

I don't know if you saw the documentary on Vicky. Wow, it was honest, perhaps all too honest. It was on the BBC and is probably on I-Player. I found it painful to watch and to find (I think) that Vicky's need for approval appeared to provide the spur for her efforts rather than an inner confidence. It may just be me but I prefer my sports people to be more like Daley Thompson or Steve Ovett or Kelly Holmes where confidence in themselves leads to not even considering defeat or "doing badly" as an option. It might even be called arrogant. 

That a load of work had been done by the Team GB psychologist means that this public image of Vicky is the one after she had been "worked on". In one way, I'm really impressed that Vicky has held it together to be one of the best track cyclists of all time, but my concern for her as a fellow human being means that I will be secretly happy once she retires and doesn't have to put herself through the torture every day. If you see the programme, you might also agree that it would be good for her Dad to get over himself, too.........

Recipe time - millionaire shortbread

This  recipe is one like the one I found in the Co-op food magazine and which I made this week. This one is made by someone called Ginger, apparently. I include it as it look a good recipe, only I included ginger in the base, using crystallised ginger, a couple of "balls" plus some syrup.

Be careful when making the caramel, I slightly burned the bottom of the pan and had the odd "fleck" in the final product. I used "light" condensed milk, but its still a million Kcal per slice. Anyway - its way better than shop bought and a treat to definitely share......


Maintenance task of the week

I hate look at the doing it but its worth cleaning your bike frame and inspecting for damage. Most modern frames are made of aluminium and usually well over engineered. But it is possible to break or crack your frame and aluminium does not have the resilience of steel once damaged. So the occasional inspection of the welds and the tubes especially around the head tube is not a wasted 5 minutes. But first - you have to clean the bike! It will also make you feel good and encourage you to go and make it dirty again!

Ride on!



Friday, 13 July 2012

BUG News Friday the 13th of July

Introductory rambles
Its funny how things turn out. In another parallel universe I am currently cycling between Moffat and Penrith as I successfully negotiate the middle section of my JOGLE. As things turned out, it's probably just as well that I'm not.

Anyone who has followed any of my ramblings over the last few months will know that my JOGLE plans were some what scuppered by a knee injury forcing a break from the bike and in turn creeping sloth and unfitness. However, two other elements have contrived to make this cancellation look fortuitous in the extreme. Firstly, it been November since April, apart from the very nice weekend I got married which was August in May. The amount of and intensity of rain over the last week means that even if I had no fitness issues, no one would have blamed me for throwing the bike in a ditch, thumbing a ride to the nearest station and heading for home and a warm pub. Secondly, I have managed to stuff my back up so that I am woken every morning at 5 with a searing pain in my rib cage. Apparently, my facet joints are "not having a good time at present". So I am at the osteopath more often than fiscally sensible, and mainly sitting on the sofa watching the TdeF with an ice pack on my upper spine.

Now a number of people have told me that adversity is a good thing as it provides a testing environment against which our achievements can be measured. All I can say is, you are welcome to the extra satisfaction of cycling in a monsoon whilst your back is in spasm and you're on your tenth puncture of the day. These are the same people who asked if I was rough camping or going soft and using camp sites. My reply, least the printable part, was that I was going to travel light, indeed the first thing I was going to pack was my credit card and the list of nice B&B's I had booked which provided drying rooms, cyxle storage and a less than 5 minute walk to a pub serving pies.

So what are my plans for a challenge now? Well, having lost a little confidence in the body to stand up to 16 days cycling in a row (well "a day" at present) I am looking at the "Side2Side". This is a ride linking St David's in Pembroke with Lowestoft in Suffolk, the longest crossing of the UK, if you ignore that pesky SW peninsula. It's 400 odd miles, doable in 7 days and gets easier the further you go. The hills in East Anglia needing a survey team to find, let alone worry about.

So finger crossed that my "sofa time" is not wasted and I recover to full fitness ASAP. Of course, anyone fancying 7 days of B&B's and pubs and pies is of course welcome to get in touch!

Cycling in the news
Oh no, it's "Cycling on the pavement" crackdown time in Wales. Apparently the Cardiff police are going to run a 7 week operation because of "concerns raised by residents"

I know I go on about this, but really, is that the worse thing that people have  "concerns" about? I mean given the carnage caused on the road by drivers, I hope the Cardiff Police will be just as vigilant on drivers in the same period. I'm not holding my breath.

One comment on the BBC page said this
Sure, there are bad cyclists, bad drivers and bad pedestrians. Instead of wasting money patrolling the streets looking for cyclists that sometimes don't have any other possible way to go due to illegal parking and aggressive driving the council should apply that money to create a valid cycle network in Cardiff. That might even change the attitude of most drivers and they might even start cycling. How many people I ask why they aren't cycling and the reply is always due to the road being dangerous... Get the police to patrol the roads instead and no considered cyclist will use the pavement. It's too slow to get to places anyway
This sounds sensible and proportionate, otherwise it looks like a Police force has some KPI's to fulfil.

Read all about it Here and Here

Any in "other news" Somerton Residents were apparently "outraged" by cyclist at a charity event urinating in the bushes.......Busting for a Pee

I'm not quite sure what the great British obsession is about bodily functions, it's not like cyclists were flashing at residents, I mean, how could they be sure, were binoculars invoked, were people so outraged that needed to take several looks just to make sure?

As one commenter said

“You had better not ever visit Paris luvvies! . Your vituperative spirit would be crushed, and your poor prim hearts just would not stand it.”
Which about sums it up!

Recipe time
I like a curry, it's been a long time obsession, which started in the 70's when my parents would go to the Taj Mahal in Staines and have a Malaya Curry or a Meat Madras and share a bottle of Black Tower. As a kid keen to eat anything, I got to go along and move on up from a korma and a coke to vindaloo and beer. not with my parents, that was with the cricket club!

One of the concerns about curry is the high fat content and consequent calorie load, not helped by your choice of "beverage". So over the years, my visits to a proper takeaway have been less regular and homemade curries have been the way to go. I particularly recommend Pataks Curry Pastes, but it's even better to make from scratch. This   Low Fat veggie curry is made from scratch and takes no time at all.

Enjoy

Mike