Friday, 21 November 2014

The Watts Power Stations Cycle Challenge - COMPLETED

As you might recall, Sunday 9th November was the day of my big cycle challenge around the East and West Midlands to celebrate my Dad’s life in the area, 12 months after he lost his battle with cancer. 

I really couldn’t have asked for better weather for this time of year, the crisp morning giving way to some lovely sunshine in the afternoon.

I had a great ride down memory lane to Castle Donnington stopping off at Hockley Heath, Cheswick Green and the CEGB HQ in Shirley.   By the time I arrived in Castle Donnington I’d covered 60 miles on my own and was happy to meet up with AT&T colleges Ian Bramhall and Nick Barlow, who were to ride with me for the next 20 miles to Willington power station along with one of Ian’s friends, Ken.

After parting with the guys and my family at Merica Marina, in the shadow of the disused Willington cooling towers, it was another solo ride along the river Trent towards my final destinations.  Negotiating closed roads by the site of the old power station at Drakelow, and then on around Hams Hall to eventually arrive in the dark at the Marie Curie Hospice in Solihull at 5:15pm … to a welcome party of family and friends.  Along, enjoyable day in the saddle with a few unscheduled detours took the total distance up to 130miles!

So far I have raised over £850 to help Marie Curie continue their work supporting terminally ill patients and would like to thank each and every one of you for your support and generosity in this.

Just finished @ Marie Curie Hospice

Friday, 10 October 2014

Getting Ready for the National Trophy Series

The National Trophy Series is a season long set of 6 cyclocross races around the UK that starts in October and finishes in January.  The top racers from around Britain and occasional some up and coming Euro-crosser are attracted due to it's UCI ranking of C2, which means there are some reasonable points available in the elite races.  As supporting events there are races for veterans and youths.

This weekend see the series opener in Shrewsbury.  Always a good event due to the great organisation from Dave Mellor and his team at Sundorne Leisure Centre, where a fast and technical course is always offered up.

Personal organisation and preparation for the serious cyclocross racer is a little different from the usual athlete.  There is more kit and klobber to think about to make sure that every eventuality is catered for.  The weather conditions and terrain are key adversaries that can if not given the appropriate respect will cause more impact than a lack of fitness.

Time must be given for riding the course to familiarise the best lines at the start, but also an eye must be kept on how they may change throughout the race.  Assessing the ground conidtions with a view of how the weather may will determine the tyre tread pattern required, and the terrain will need to be considered when setting the tyre pressures so that the best traction throughout the course can be achieved without flatting at the wrong moment.  

Choosing the right clothing to make sure that the racer doesn't suffer in the cold or overheat if the sun does come through.  Making sure that if there is rain then clothing doesn't soak up the water becoming heavy and sodden.

What this boils down to is an approach that is 'never leave anything behind'.  Take everything and the kitchen sink, as you'll only be kicking yourself later if you leave something behind.  This is generally determined by what vehicle you have available, if any, to get to the race and whether you are sharing it with anyone.  If you watch any of the Euro TV channels that cover the big 'cross races then you'll have seen that all the top racers have their own motorhomes or the use of a team one that will allow them to have all their kit taken to the races and have space to change in the warm and dry. 

The first few 'cross races for me are usually used to back into the swing of things and make sure I have all my stuff sorted.  This is even more relevant this year as I'm now a sponsored rider for Cult Racing who have provided me with a great lightweight race bike, 2 sets of spare wheels, race kit and mechanical/maintenance backup.  So I need to make sure I can play the part even if the fitness/health is a bit dodgy at the moment.

WMCCL Round 4 2014

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Stickin' ya neck out

In the last week I have been and stuck my neck out on a couple of occasions to try something new and to commit another Winter of hard riding.

Firstly, I'm now a sponsored cyclocross racer riding for Cult Racing.  Owner of cult Racing, Paul, had asked for willing/wannabe racers to submit details to him for selection so I thought it would be worth a try and hit send, not really thinking anything would come of it.  Low and behold I got an email from Paul last Wednesday to pop in the shop to try out the bike and collect some kit!  

My first race in Cult Racing colours is coming up on Sunday 14th at round 2 of the West Midlands Cyclo-Cross League in Henley-in-Arden.  I then have quite a full racing programme over the next 4 months (see the Racing tab above).

The second time for me to put my neck on the block was yesterday when I announced that I would be riding 200km in Novermber (just 2 months away), to raise funds for Marie Curie Cancer Care.  It's something I had been thinking about now since my Dad passed away last year at the Hospice in Solihull.  I could have done any number of organised events, big or small, but I wanted to do something more personal and relvent to my Dad.  My Dad worked for the CEGB man and boy, for over 35 years, so I thought it would be relevent to cycle to those sites he had worked at in the Midlands after he and my Mum moved down from the grim northern mill towns of East Lancashire.  I had planned something much grander over a full weekend, including tough climbs on and off road, but my wife made me see sense with the fact that there will be limited daylight hours at this time of year.

So, now that it has been announced and I have donations coming in already, there is no backing down.  I'm a little apprehensive as the distance will be quite a lot more than my usual "long" commute to work, and now with committing to race there will be little scope for "getting the miles in" at the weekends.  I will therefore be trying to increase intensity in the hope that it will then help me "go long" at an easier pace.  I can but hope.


Monday, 1 September 2014

The Blink Of An Eye

WOW - Six months has past in the blink of an eye and quite a few things have occurred in that time.

I had a great race at Pembry Battle on the Beach and a few weeks later took delivery of a new Koga Beachracer which has been superb.  I've had over 900 miles of endless fun on it racing up and down bridlepaths, towpaths and it is surprisingly speed on the road too.  

I've taken the Tank down to the Devon coast and tried it out on the flat sands at Pembry and it has performed admirably each time.  At Pembry there was a noticable improvment riding over softer sand when compare to riding the Disco at the Battle on the Beach so I'm looking forward to next years edition with excitement.

Things have been a bit quiet on the event front, unfortunately I had a DNS at HoNC this year due to illness.  My planned TT failed to materialise due to pickiing up a particularly nasty stomach bug in May which knocked me out for a few weeks.  However my work's cyclo-commuting team took the team price in the Redditch Cycle Challenge again!

With the kids exams over and our holiday touring around Europe in the motorhome completed successfully, I'm now starting to gather myself for the forth coming 'cross season.

I have now re-started my running regime of 3 steady runs per week, and will be taking them on the trails soon.  The 'cross bikes still need a fair bit of feckling to get them in shape and I need to start some higher intensity work to get me back in shape too!  I'll be starting my 'cross skills work this week too and I'm hoping to get a full season of racing in this year.

Also, on Sunday November 9th I am going to be riding 200km around the East and West Midlands in an attempt to visit the old power stations my Dad worked at, and hopefully raise £300 for Marie Curie and they provided so much care and support for him this time last year.



Friday, 14 March 2014

Beach Trip ... with a difference

This weekend sees the UK’s inaugural Beach Race for cyclists at Pembrey Country Park in South Wales, Battle on the Beach. 

Belgium and Holland have been holding beach races along the North Sea coastline for quite a few years as an alternative was to keep fitness through the winter months, and now finally this masochistic side of cycle sport is coming to Britain. 

The interest in beach racing in the UK seems to be gathering momentum.  At the end of last year ran a very good article, “Beach Slapped” where the author was invited to the Netherlands to take part in the beach race at Noordwijk, a 52km out and back affair along the windswept beach.  Cycling Plus have a beach racing article in their March edition, and Koga dealers are getting ready to receive the first consignment of their Beach Racer bikes which won awards at Eurobike 2013.

 In a contrast to most continental beach races A Cycling, organisers of the Battle on the Beach, have taken the concept of the beach race and morphed it with some more technical looking single track ideally suited to a cyclocross race.  This increases the appeal to a wider audience than those keen on sadistic sacrifices to the wind and sand of the Welsh coastline and invites all with any off-road bike to take up the challenge, whether they are fat, medium or thin – and include the UK Fat Bike Championship!
There is a big cash prize list and trophies for the usual categories, though you’ll have to be on peak form as the organiser have had continental interest from Belgium and Holland with the Dutch KMC-Koga MTB team bring their entourage including demo bikes, and teams of beach racers from Belgium too.  

The organisation for the event is looking good with course signage and details emerging over the last few days, along with the usual race schedules and overnight accommodation options.  They have even planned to screen the rugby for the hardened followers, well it is Wales!
I’m hoping not to disgrace myself too much but running a ‘crosser that takes only 35mm tyres might mean I’ll be stretching my running legs a little more than others, though I’m hoping to claw things back through the technical single track sections.  I’m now getting more than a little nervous and floods of anticipation keep washing over me as mind keeps turning to tread choices and tyre pressures.  Here goes ...

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cycle Commuting Tips

During the last month Redditch Choose How You Move have been running a Winter cycle Challenge, encouraging residents and works to travel by bike in and around Redditch.  With various overall prizes for individuals and organisation with spot awards being given out to challengers over the period to keep riders motivated and interested during some particularly foul weather conditions.

For me taking part was a no-brainer as I am a regularly commute by bike right throughout the year, but the challenge was to pass on some of my experience to fellow challengers via the websites blog.

Over the month I posted a few blog entries and got some nice feedback from the organisers and challengers alike so I though that although the challenge has now ended I would pull them altogether here goes:

General (pre-amble)

We all know that there are significant benefits to cycling (improved health, good for the environment, cheap efficient form of transport etc), but it can be a daunting task to get your bike out and actually start using it to get from A to B.

It is easy for people who don't do it to over estimate the difficulties of everyday cycling.  However, statistically cycle travel is pretty safe and those statistics include many whose riding style relies on others taking care of them.  If you are vigilant you are very safe indeed.

If you can start, stop and steer reliably, look behind over either shoulder while riding and give authoritive hand signals then you're ready to enjoy practical travel by bike.  Not sure, then find a safe place to practise and check these skills on traffic-free routes or sites near home. 

The Basics

Road Position:
Don’t ride in the gutter – by riding about a metre away from the kerb, you make yourself more obvious to other road users.  If you can be seen, then you’re safe.  Everyone on the road looks where they are going and where they expect traffic to be.  Traffic is less able to squeeze past you, and is more likely to over take you properly.  The space to your left keeps you out of the way of drain covers and roadside debris.  It also serves as a buffer against careless pedestrians or vehicles creeping out of side roads and driveways.  Always scan ahead for any possible hazards and monitor the situation behind with quick glances over your shoulder.  Don’t rely on other peoples signals.

Before any change of position, always look behind.  When there’s traffic around you will need to signal your intention and negotiate with other road users.  Make eye contact and keep sideways movements gradual.  Before any move or turn, take another look over your shoulder just to be sure.  At junctions or overtaking parked cars get into position early.  For example, to turn right from a major road into a minor one, first look behind and signal right.  Check behind again and when it’s safe to do so, cross the left carriage way to ride just left of the centre-line of the road.  Start this process early so you resolve any conflicts with following traffic before you get to the turning point.  Initially some major junctions can seem intimidating, you can walk around them; it won’t add much time.  Try watching other cyclists negotiating the junction, or similar ones.

Problems and punctures:
Road surfaces vary and can sometimes be very poor.  Look out for tram/train lines at level crossings, drain covers, and shinny tarmac sealing lines; when wet these are all very slippery.  Potholes are less of a problem, either move out in advance – checking behind first – or rise up and under weight the bike and roll through it; it’s safer than swerving out.  Punctures happen, very rarely but they do happen.  A moderately tough tyre, properly inflated, will shrug off broken glass and small thorns.  Carry a pump, a spare innertube or two and some tools to fit it.  If you can’t fix a puncture, then learn, and take a mobile and £10 for an emergency taxi.  A good lock is also useful if you need to leave your bike, but lock it where it’s visible so if someone tries to tamper with it then they might be seen.

Cycling at night:
Obviously you need a good set of lights, front and rear.  Always carry a set of back up lights in case your primary ones fail for any reason.  In the dark it is more key to be wearing items of clothing with some sort of reflective detailing which makes you noticed in other road users lights.   If your commute takes you down dark country lanes, like mine, where inconsiderate road users might dazzle you with high beams and rob you of your night vision then try these little tricks. Look down at the road just in front of your front wheel, this works well if you have a peak on your helmet or a cycling cap under it that will shield the beam, and you can also close one eye whilst they pass to help readjust your vision when they have gone, used by the Pros in the Tour when going through tunnels down mountain passes. Be careful to avoid the natural instinct of being drawn toward the light, stop if you have to.

Make sure you wear appropriate clothing, flappy trouser legs or skirts can easily get caught and snagged in chains or spokes.  Use the layering technique to ensure you stay warm; start with a base layer (preferably a wicking one to help move sweat away from the skin), a mid-layer to trap air and keep in the warmth, and an outer shell layer that is appropriate for the conditions (waterproof, windproof, both).  As legs will be pedalling they will manage to keep warm with less protection, but a good pair of short will protect your derriere and improve comfort.  Cycling longs or ¾ quarter length tights are advisable in low temperatures to keep the knees warm.  Extremities like fingers and toes will thank you for doubling up with inner gloves and extra socks when the mercury takes a nose dive.  Also make sure that outer garments are bright and reflective, especially in low light conditions, and don’t forget to keep them clean as a viz-jacket is not so visible if the back is covered in road spray.  

Carrying Items:
If you need to transport items on your commute then the best place is in a set of panniers, especially if the items are heavy.  Distributing the load between two is much better than loading in one single pannier.  Pannier help keep you centre of gravity low and don’t put pressure on your back like a rucksack does, though lighter weights can be easily managed in a backpack.  Don’t hang bags or other items from handlebars as they will easily swing into the front wheel and propel you over the top!

Finally ... The Bike:
Make sure it is road worthy, and that the brakes operate effectively before embarking on a trip.  Keeping tyres inflated to the correct pressure will help the bike roll more easily, and less susceptible to impact punctures. Wider tyres help to improve comfort, and tyres with an appropriate semi-slick tread will have much less rolling resistance than a tractor-like mountain bike tyre if you are riding on the road or cycle paths.  A good set of mudguards is essential in the winter months to keep road spray of you and your bike, and any of your friends that choose to ride with you.  A weekly check of brake and gear cables, tyres and a little lube of the chain should help to keep things running smoothly.    

But above all else, enjoy the trip.