New bike!

I wanted a road bike. I’ve been riding my Uncle John on the roads and it is OK, but it is not a road bike. I wanted something that was more delicate, something with thin tyres and tiny little brakes, something that looked fast even when it was still in the shed. Something that was fast out on the road. The UJ is a pretty capable piece of kit but it is neither delicate, small or fast looking.

The problem however is that I’m skint.

The good people at Cooksons offered me a hefty chunk off, which was nice, but it would still mean having to find the money up front which would take forever. Alternatively, I could get one on interest free, but I wouldn’t get the same deal. The only other way to get a discount would be to go through a cycle scheme.

When using a 3rd party cycle scheme the bike shop has to pay a fee to the scheme provider. If you set your own up then the shop don’t have to pay the fee and if they are nice (like Cooksons) they pass the saving on to the customer. So, with a small amount of buggering about I managed to set up an in-house cycle scheme through work thus enabling me to get a cheap road bike. I’d like to say that I went and bought one from Cooksons, but I didn’t. I found some 2010 stock Scott Speedster S50s going for a very reasonable price so I ordered one of them instead. However, I wasn’t the only one at work who wanted a new bike and I was delighted that I could send half a dozen people to buy them from Cooksons. I’ve been going there for ages but I’m not sure that I’ve ever spent more than £50 in one go despite them treating me very well. So I was quite pleased to be able to point a few people in their direction.

The bike then…

Is it delectate? Yes
Thin tyres and tiny little brakes? Yes
Does it look fast? Judge for yourself.


Is it fast? Faster than anything else I’ve ever ridden.

When I first rode it I wasn’t impressed to be honest. The ride was so harsh compared to my other bikes that I thought that my teeth would fall out through my arse and the cage on the front mech chattered on the chain. However, after a bit of twiddling with a screw driver and a 20 mile “getting to know you” spin I was used to it. It doesn’t help that the roads near where I lived are still pock marked with the off target attentions of the Luftwaffe and are capable of vibrating a Vauxhall Vectra to bits, so the ride of a carbon and aluminium road bike is never going to be plush round Prestwich. Out on the country roads though it is amazing. It seems to move at a reasonable speed without too much effort and riding it with its skinny tyres and twitchy handling is a real thrill. I’m converted, and this is only a cheap bike! How good must a top of the range one feel?

A by-product of getting something that is a polar opposite to my full susser Specialized FSR is that because it is so different I’m enjoying riding the MTB much more. It is solid, comfortable, predictable and has a feeling of confidence inspiring indestructibility. Another factor in me getting on so well with it could be that I’ve actually fixed it. I’ve sorted the “Chinese Water Torture” squeaky seat post, the jumpy transmission, the leaky rear shock, the air bubbled brakes and fitted a set of forks that actually work. The improvement in ride is probably not a coincidence.

Whatever… bikes are ace and now I have another one.

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The Dawn Patrol

“Let’s do it against the fence in the pub car park.”
“Wut?”
“Sorry. That sounded all wrong! I want to take a picture of the bikes.”

6:30am on Good Friday in the car park of the Pack Horse in Affetside. 10 miles into a 36 mile pre breakfast ride. A month ago a 36 mile road ride would have nearly finished me off but in the last 4 weeks I have probably done nearly as many miles as I did in all last year. Last year I wrote about bikes on the internet and organised races for them. This year I have made an effort to actually go out and ride one.
The plan was to do a reasonable (for me) road ride. Jason described it as a “spin”, but he’s allowed to as he did 93 miles the day before and The Mary Townley doorstep challenge the day after. I’d somehow managed to do 23 rides in the preceding 30 days, most of which were commutes to work or quick evening 10 milers, and I was starting to feel the benefit. Now was the time to see if it was actually working. It was.
The route was Simister, Prestwich, Whitefield, Radcliffe, Ainsworth, Walshaw, Affetside, Edgeworth, Hoddlesdon and back via Hawkshaw. All done by 8:15, so I could get on with the planned bank holiday jobs of gardening, potty training and building a scarecrow that looked like Darth Vader. Some of the climbs were a little on the rude side but there was nothing that made me want to get off and cycling along the quiet roads as the sun came up was a joy rather than a sweat drenched ordeal.
Getting fit and riding bikes at silly O’clock may have to become a feature of the summer. I enjoyed it so much that at 5:45 on Easter Monday I was at it again. This time on the FSR with its freshly serviced and none leaky rear shock. 17 miles round the local trails and not a single other soul apart from one dog walker, then back in time for breakfast before the rest of the family had even got up.


I’m already hatching a plan to do it again on Who Gives A Rat’s Ass Day Royal Wedding Day.

Tally-Ho! Watch out for bandits coming out of the sun!

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Tilting at Windfarms

This could turn into yet another “I’m getting myself back on the bike” post but for the sake of variety I’ll try and steer it down another course.

 Last year I did the Ronde van Oost Lancashire, Alan “Crossjunkie” Dorrington’s 50 mile road ride round the hills and cobbles of East Lancashire. I hung on to the bunch (social pace my arse) for the first 30 miles but due to a lack of fitness and poor nutrition, a poach egg isn’t going to keep you going for four hours, I spiralled into a monochrome world of hurt and could only be saved by a steak and mushroom slice and a can of fizzy Vimto from the Coop.

 This year would be different.

1)      I knew the route.

2)      I was going to cycle four times a week for a month in the run up to it to get the old legs working.

3)      I’d bought a wedgie bag and bottle cage so I wouldn’t have to wear a Camelbak.

4)      I had Haribo… lots of it.

But, all of this careful forward planning was kyboshed by a double bout of what is medically known as “baby puking up bug” that took out the whole family for a month. So now I had a dilemma. I wasn’t going to try and fail on the Ronde again but I had all of the paperwork approved and signed for a day out on the bike. What should I do?

A plan was hatched with my mate Neil to go for a ride somewhere different. We decided on Ramsbottom and the Scout Moor wind farm because a) It was only a few miles away so more time on the bike and less in the car and b) We both wanted to touch a wind turbine. Then the plan got mentioned on a Singletrack thread about turbines and before too long our quiet pootle had developed into something a bit bigger.

 So, on Saturday morning about 12 of us headed away from The Rose and Crown in Rammy. The plan was to do The Rake, Peel Tower, Irwell Vale, Scout Moor, Cragg Quarry, Rooley Moor Road, Ashworth Reservoir and Nangreaves and end up in the pub. The weather forecasts varied from tropical to biblical with a bit of everything in between.

The Rake and Holcombe hill were dispatched with some ease but then it began to rain. Waterproofs on we set off down th’ill at a fair old pace. Half the group decided on a technical wet rooty option but I was more than happy bouncing down the track at 30mph, so a few of us carried on that way to Irwell Vale. After that we regrouped headed through Edenfield to The Coal Road and the climb to the turbines. One of the bunch with a bit of local knowledge lead us on an off road detour that cut out the “crap road climb” then it was time for Haribo and a cheeky alfresco wee before a tail wind assisted climb to Scout Moor. At the wee/sweetie stop I had the first of what would be several crap-falls™ where the left spd wouldn’t release. I must have looked a proper div when I pulled up to the road junction, stopped, swore, wobbled and capsized. At home I discovered that the pedal was full of a compacted clay-like substance.

The turbine field was an odd place made all the stranger by the gloomy weather and the moaning noise emitted by the blades and gearboxes high above our heads. After another stop we set off across a brief section of bog into Cragg Quarry… and I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment. Neighbouring Lee Quarry is great fun but this was just a bit too stop-starty for my liking and if felt that I never really got going. Some of the big berms and drops where great but the twiddly nonsense that linked them was a bit dull. Each to their own and all that, but I’d rather be moving at speed than huffing and puffing over several million 4 ft lumps.

 After this we plummeted down a couple of miles of tracks back to Edenfield, which was much more to my liking, then it was back to Ramsbottom via a rocky stream bed, a housing estate, a park and another spd crap-fall™ in the middle of the town centre. I managed to pull my shoe out just in time so I didn’t end up sprawled across the pavement, but it was close.

 The ride finished where it had started four hours earlier but the weather had gone from April to July so a very pleasant hour was spent sat outside the pub in the sun eating chips and shouting encouragement at roadies as they attempted The Rake.

Not bad a bad morning. Not bad at all.

 

 

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Should I be cross?

Blimey! I actually got to ride my bike for a bit earlier this week!

After almost 2 weeks of eating cheese and drinking gin I thought it would be a good idea to do a cyclo cross race. I’ve only done one cross race before. That was 2 years ago and was my first outing on my cross bike. I thoroughly enjoyed it but, as my life has a habit of getting in the way, I didn’t do another one until this weekend. Indeed I must be the only bloke who has organised more cyclo cross races than he has competed in.

I set off for Todmorden with a clear set of aims.

1) Do not come last.

2) Do not DNF.

3) Do not make a tit of myself.

4) Try and enjoy it.

5) Try and say hello to a few people.

I’m pleased to say the I succeeded on all counts. The only downside to the entire day was when the lady at sign in asked if I was a Belgian. My response was “err…no” because I didn’t fully understand the question. If I had been paying attention I would have twigged that she was asking me if I was a member of the elite cyclo cross brotherhood “Her Come The Belgians” (think JedI Knights with lycra pants). I am a member. If I had said “yes” I would have saved myself £13. Bugger. If she had seen me spitting and coughing at the finish line it would have been very obvious that I was phlegmish. (Geddit?)

Some evidence of my efforts captured by Joolz Dymond

 

The day after was A Hit The North preview ride. 34 turned up. It was awesome. More details and other good stuff at www.hitthenorth.net .

However, one thing that dawned on me was that the HTN circuit is way tougher than the Tod CX. All the people interviewed on the British Cycling video were saying how hard Tod was… well, ladies and gentlemen you should sign up and help yourselves to some proper suffering.

To round off the week my Here Comes The Belgians team kit arrived. So next time I get asked it is written on my head to remind me.

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Rollerball

At the beginning of Rollerball there is a scene where the teams emerge through the player’s tunnel into the centre of the arena. They look mean. They look purposeful. They look ready for the fight of their lives. I felt like that as I walked through the tunnel to the infield of the velodrome last night. However the lack of grip of the carbon soled shoes on the polished concrete ramp soon brought me back to reality with a comedy wobble. I was Andrew from Simister, not James Caan from The Future.

Me, Neil and Jason had booked ourselves onto a ten quid taster session organised by Eighteen Bikes. Neil was struck down sick so Lee manfully took his place at the last minute. I’d never ridden a fixie before, let alone a fixie with no brakes on a banked track so I was expecting the unexpected. I was quite surprised at how easily the bike handled as long as I remembered to KEEP PEDALLING. Stopping pedalling would result in the bike riding you rather than you riding the bike. Stopping pedalling is bad.

After a 10 minute safety briefing we were away. First on the infield, then on the fantastically named Cote d’Azur and finally, once the coaches were happy that we wouldn’t die or cause others to die, we were up on the banking. The banking looked frightening from the infield but it was worse when you were on it. Speed is your friend, speed will keep you up on the banking. If you show fear you will slow and if you slow you are down to the bottom like a spider flushed down the khazi. I can’t say that I enjoyed the first couple of laps because it was so counter intuitive but when everything settled down it was ace. Awesome in fact. STAY ON THE BLACK… CHECK SHOULDER… UP PAST THE RED… OVERTAKE… BACK DOWN TO THE BLACK. Once it became apparent that the whole group knew what we were doing we were called back down to the pits for some organised party games.

First up was individual pursuit racing. We were split into two groups and sent to either side of the track from where we would each race the guy opposite over two laps. We were 4-3 down when it was my turn to wobble away from the fence to where the coach would hold the bike and wait for the start whistle. With a PEEP and a shove I was off. Head down, legs pumping, front wheel on the black line. About half way round the second bend I heard the other guy’s lap bell. I was getting caught at an alarming rate so I pushed harder. After turn three it felt like I would burst. This was probably more down to the fact that through the effort and concentration I had decided not to breath. With the lungs back on again I charged at the line (in my mind I did anyway) then took a lap to slow down before rolling back to my team. I was amazed to be told that I had won by some margin. The other chap must have run out of steam or tried my not breathing trick for the whole race. I hadn’t heard a THUNK so he hadn’t fallen off. Lee was next and he won too as did Jason who was the last man out. Jason also did the first race because we had one man less. He got beat by some 17 stoner so I won’t mention it further ;-). 40 seconds of effort had taken its toll though. I honestly felt like I was going to barf. I wasn’t alone in feeling queasy either judging by the expressions on a few other faces.

Photo by Richpips at QWERTY photo.

Next up was a timed flying lap. I put in a rather poor 22.06 seconds for 250m because I still felt like I was going to blow my tea all over the track. Lee beat Jason. I won’t mention that again either.

We finished the session with 10 minutes of free riding so I had a go at riding at the top of the banking which was an experience. I couldn’t go to the velodrome and not do it!

The night at the track was brilliant fun. If I had the time and the money I would do it more often, but I haven’t so I’ll have another go in a year or so if I can get on another session.

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Back in the saddle – Take 2

Having got myself back up to speed various events overtook me which have resulted in a 5 week layoff.

Let’s begin with having the snip! Not nearly as bad as you would think actually. I have had more uncomfortable dental procedures although none of them have involved someone hacking away at my spuds whilst four other people (three of them ladies) looked on. The worst bit was waiting for three hours in a paper kimono with the Jeremy Kyle Show on in the background. After 30 minutes of listening to scum arguing whether their children were legitimate* and opening the poor kid’s DNA results live on TV I was tempted to ask the surgeon to cut some tubes in my throat instead of “down stairs”. It was a bit uncomfortable for a couple of days but now The Twins are back to their magnificent best.

I got out for the first time on the bike 15 days after the op and apart from rattling my knackers on the nose of the saddle whilst messing up a rocky stream crossing everything was tickerty-boo. I have also discovered to my cost that Oliver’s head is exactly at the wrong height if you have bruised fruit, so I’ve been working on my side step for when he comes running at me.

We have also spent the best part of a month decorating Ollie’s room and painting a great big Toy Story mural on the wall. The majority of the work took place in the evenings so we’ve been absolutely knackered as a result. It’s all finished now and we can’t afford to buy any more paint for a few months which leaves us free to do what we want to do, as long as it is free. This should be the first Christmas in ages without a brand new baby or wet paint in the house and I’m quite looking forward to doing feck all.

Hit the North is back on February 12th with another Winter Sprinter. Jason is in sole charge now and whilst I envy him greatly I’m also glad not to be involved as it was taking up an awful lot of my time when I should have been working or playing with the kids. Good luck to him. From what I can gather (he keeps me updated) it should be another blinder. We rode the course together last Saturday and it is probably the best one yet incorporating all of the good stuff in Philips Park and a sizeable chunk of the new trails in Waterdale. More details and entry at www.hitthenorth.net. I shall be there on the day doing a bit of marshalling and whatever else Jason wants.

I’ve also had the CX out for a bit of a play doing frozen night rides. Great fun although I did have a double rear light failure on Tuesday. Luckily I did have three lights but the one that was left working is the one that is prone to packing up most frequently. Something better is on my Christmas list. Also on the Christmas list is a Here Come The Belgians jersey and silly little hat. Buying a jersey means that I am now by default in the club, in the same way that buying a ski mask by default used to get you arrested for being a terrorist. I hope to be sporting my new kit at the Tod CX on January 2nd. I shall look the part right up to the moment that I try a rapid re-mount and end up flat spotting my goolies again.

http://teamherecomethebelgians.blogspot.com/

Enough of my rambling. Time to charge up the lights and go for a ride. Over and out.

* He was legitimate. Yay.

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Back in the saddle

After months of not riding at all I’m finally back at it. The plan is to do one night ride and one commute a week until a) I’m fit again b) My bikes all break c) I can’t be arsed. The long term goal is to actually do an event rather than organise one or follow mates via twitter feeds as they perform epic deeds whilst I make apple crumbles or decorate the kids’ bedrooms.

Night ride #1 Myself, Neil and Jason. 16 or so uneventful miles round the local stuff trying to hang on to the other two. When I got home my bum felt like I had been on the wrong end of a prison romance.

Commute #1. I rode to work and rode home again. Nothing spectacular to report other than my bum feeling like I had just been slippered for climbing on the school roof.

Night ride#2. Myself and Jason. Much better on the bum front. Rearranged my lights with the P7 LED job now perched on my lid (heavy, but not too distracting) and my old piss-weak halogen Nite Rider on the bars. How on Earth did we just cope with halogens back in the day? How on Earth did Nite Rider come up with a bracket that requires you to rotate your brake and shifter controls in order to get the light to point at the ground? We did the Clifton Cheekies and “The Chimney”, a descent that I would have got down without a dab if Jason hadn’t repeatedly said how technical it was as we approached it. As it was I dropped in expecting some sort of rock strewn mine shaft of pointy death but it wasn’t too bad at all. I’ll have to go and have a sneaky practice before we do it again.

Things took a turn for the worse when Jason clobbered a low branch with his head. From 20 yards back I heard a CRACK and a yelp and watched the lights from his bike go all over the place before they eventually settled pointing back up the trail at me. My initial thought was “he’s broken a leg” because I couldn’t see him or the branch until I got close. Luckily he was OK apart from a stiff neck and a Charles Manson style mark in the middle of his fod. The helmet (that made the CRACK) was a goner, but that it what they are there for. It was all a bit twitchy for a moment or two but by the time I caught up with him he was sat up and complaining so I knew that everything was OK ;-).

We carried on for a few miles more before turning round and heading home.

Tomorrow I shall commute. I’d better root out my Buff because it was a bit icy at 7:30 am this morning.

I don’t know whether it is the endorphins, the exercise, the “bloke time”, the fiddling with kit or the simple pleasure of riding a bike, but I feel much happier for it. My bum is happier too now.

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Absence makes the legs grow thinner.

I haven’t ridden my bike properly since August 14th and as a result my legs hang out of my undies like two strands of knotted pink wool. I have however painted a big “fuck-off” picture of Snow White on my daughter’s bedroom wall.

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Hi-Ho Hi-Ho It’s off to work I go…

On Mondays I have to drop my son off at nursery so I need to take the car to work.

On Tuesday I have to drop my son off at nursery so I need to take the car to work.

On Wednesday I do the shopping at Tesco on the way home so I need to take the car to work.

On Friday I finish early and I need to get home quickly so I take the car to work.

On Thursdays I can ride my bike to work.

It is only about 6 miles and I usually take the CX bike. Half a mile is fun stuff on farm tracks and the rest is chasing buses into Middleton. However, through the witchcraft that is Google Earth, I’ve found an off road route from my doorstep that will get me to within a mile of the office. Awesome! (as they say in bicycling circles). I thought it may be a bit rubbish as it would be through Alkrington Woods which legend has it is a hive of scum and villainy – like Moss Eisley but with puddles and flashers – but it had to be more exciting than trundling along Manchester Road with the No. 74.

So this morning I dug the full susser out of the shed and set off into the bad lands… and was delighted to discover a few miles of single track that popped out behind the washing up liquid factory and at no point was I mugged or shown a greasy cock.

You take what you can get if you can’t get out much and I’ll have this.

Roll on next Thursday.

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A Grand Day Out

I first went to Austwick with my bike about 12 years ago and was blown away by it all. Up till that point I had mostly ridden the local stuff and a couple of trail centres. I’d never been out somewhere that needed a map or didn’t have multi coloured arrows telling me which way to go. Since then I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for it and try and get back for a couple of hours when time and family constraints permit. It isn’t the longest or prettiest ride in the world but it is quite tough and it is my favourite.
Neil and I met at 9:00am at the rendezvous point, chucked all of my gear in the back of his car -big boot, wipe clean seats (!) – then set off up the M66 towards th’ills with joy in our hearts and Fruit Pastilles in the glove box. Neil has done “Austwick” before and if we have time we’ll look for evidence of the several pints of blood that he left all over a rather sharp lump of lime stone during our last visit. I too have some crash history in this part of the world having executed an over the bars manoeuvre similar to that bit in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Sean Connery sticks a pole through the front wheel of a motorcycle.

An hour later we pulled into the car park in Clapham and started to get our kit together. There were no other mountain bikers about but there were hoards of walkers including several sturdy looking “Jolly Hockey Sticks” young ladies with stern faces, pneumatic cleavages and expensive boots.

Ten minutes off faffing later and we were off. We rumbled past the ramblers who have rallied outside The New Inn and head off into Austwick for the first and second climbs. Both are pretty awful on a cold start (like doing The Rake, then doing it again) but after a mile or so you get the reward of the descent through Austwick Beck and down Blue Bell Lane into Wharfe. It has everything that you want in a technical descent. Rocks, roots, tight corners, changes in gradient, tight sections between walls and speed. It also has walkers. Lots of them. We slowed for each group and said hello etc and everybody was pleasant. Everybody except the bloke in the last bunch who informed me loud and boorishly that I had forgotten my bell. The cock. Still, they had as much right to be there as us so I nodded and smiled and rode past at a considerate pace safe in the knowledge that I had been courteous and that he was, and forever would be, a cock. I smiled at his wife. I bet that she hated him. I hope so.

After that it was the bridleway into Feizor. Previously this had been a tricky couple of miles of roots, pot holes and rocks the size of your fist. However now, due to trail sanitization, it is as smooth as industrial lino. Bugger. What used to be a testing 20 minutes was now an uneventful 5. I can see why they’ve done it though because it used to be a real ankle breaker.

Out of Feizor it’s another climb punctuated by gates which break up the flow. The advantage of the gates is that you are forced to stop and take in the view. I just wish I’d had the foresight to take a picture of it. Without the gates I would have just spent the climb looking at the word MANITOU on the top of the fork arch.

Over the other side is a screamer of a farm track descent towards Helwith Bridge before heading back towards Austwick. At this point we decided to do the climb up to the beck and Blue Bell Lane again. With 10 miles already in our legs the climb was a breeze and with only one set of walkers to say “hello” to the descent was a blast.

The last bit of the ride is the climb over the hill back to Clapham and the grand finale. A steep descent through tunnels. Awesome! As Neil pointed out it is like going as fast as you can down a rocky descent then having somebody steal one of your senses. Temporarily losing the ability to smell wouldn’t be a problem, but losing the ability to see means that when you pop out in the village centre at the bottom you are giggling on an adrenaline overdose. Apparently the tunnels were built by the land owner because he didn’t like the sight of his workers trudging across his eye line on their way to work. They must have been a bloody ugly bunch if he was prepared to shell out for a couple of hundred feet of underground road to stop his sensibilities being offended.
 

 

And then it was back to the car.
The discussion on the way home was that it wasn’t as tough as it used to be. The hills haven’t got smaller so we must have got better. The Austwick Ride is still a favourite, but we need to find something a bit more taxing.

 
 

 

 
 

 

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