Balance Bike Backfires?

Being a keen cyclist, I want my daughters to follow in my pedal strokes and discover the joy and freedom that the humble bicycle brings. To start our first daughter on her way to cycling independence we gave her a balance bike early for her second birthday. She loved it, but as I’ve written before, two years later, there was no quick and easy transition to a pedal bike.

In due course our youngest daughter inherited the balance bike. As before with her big sister, she loved it. The problem, if problem it really is, is that she still loves it.

For her fourth birthday we gave our youngest daughter her own bike. We knew we had made mistakes with her sister’s first bike, so invested in a smaller, lighter and all round better made bike. It didn’t make a jot of difference. Sure, on her birthday, when she came downstairs and saw the bike, waiting for in the lounge, she was thrilled. But will she ride it? Absolutely not. Getting her to even sit on needs intensive cajoling. Once on she’ll let herself be pushed along to a landmark, usually a feather stuck into the ground placed about ten metres away. Then it’s a lightning fast cyclocross dismount and she’s off to ride her balance bike. She zooms around on that, lifting her feet in the air and freewheeling around, loving its lightness and freedom. Asked why she won’t try to ride her new bike, she tells us she doesn’t like the pedals!

So, balance bikes haven’t provided the simple progression to pedal bikes, for either of our girls, that we had hoped for, but as I’m learning that’s a fair summary of parenthood. Although it hasn’t worked for us, I don’t think balance bikes are a bad idea. The one our girls have shared has given them hours of pleasure and for that reason alone, it has been a good buy. Our oldest daughter is riding now and thinks it’s one of the best things ever. She’s right of course and our youngest daughter will, in her own time, see pedals really are better too. Still, if you’ve got any tips to hurry her along, I would love to hear them!

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Tour de France Stage 3: Cambridge

On the way home from York I tweeted that the pressure was on Cambridge and London. The North had delivered but would The South? I had a few reservations and I don’t think I was the only one.

So why the doubts? First, when we went on a club trip to ride the Yorkshire Dales a couple of months ago, the county already looked prepared. There were plenty of advance notices, the bunting was on display and yellow bikes were all over the place. Every other farmer was offering their fields for parking or camping. What’s more the county seemed genuinely enthusiastic for the Tour. When we returned for the Grand Depart, it felt like everything I had seen in May had been allowed to ferment into a fevered, excited atmosphere. Driving to Ripon the local radio was all Tour talk. They were most definitely behind it. I hadn’t seen much of that attitude around Cambridge.

What I had seen and heard for Cambridge were dire warnings of traffic Armageddon – warnings I could easily believe. On a good working day, getting into Cambridge by car, from my side of the county, is an ordeal by congestion on overstretched and creaking infrastructure. On the eve of Stage 3, the council website had plenty of information about which transport services would be closed or suspended, but nothing about additional parking or buses laid on. Perhaps they hadn’t seen the weekend’s footage from Yorkshire?

Would it be a quiet day for the tourists?

Would it be a quiet day for the tourists?

To get a head start we had decided to stay with my in-laws; they’re that little bit closer to Cambridge and had offered a lift to save us the hassle of finding parking. We had BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on in the car. Unlike their Yorkshire cousins, the only Tour-related talk was about how quiet places were, and occasional bad jokes: Why didn’t Team Sky stay in Cambridge? Because there was no Froome at the inn… And how could I forget the advert warning people arriving by bike to use the official racks only or risk having their bikes carted away!

Still, despite the radio reports, you can imagine our surprise when we sailed along the A428, on to a free-flowing Madingley Road, past the Park and Ride and straight on to the Backs where we pulled up and unloaded. We felt a little silly, but clearly the scaremongering had worked. People were staying away from Cambridge.

King's Parade, quiet in the early morning sunlight

King’s Parade, quiet in the early morning sunlight…

We walked around to Great St Mary’s church opposite the Senate House. It was quiet, very quiet. There was a slight kink in the barriers there and it seemed like a good place to pitch up.

But as the race drew nearer the crowds picked up

But as the race drew nearer the crowds picked up.

In Ripon and York people had been handing out maps showing the route and timings. I asked one of the Cambridge Tour Makers if they had anything similar. No, instead they directed me to the tourist office. The Tour Makers were being supported by additional stewards with APS plastered across their hi-vis jackets. While the Tour Makers were chatty and friendly, the APS stewards seemed to be the opposite: sullen and obstructive. I guess that’s the difference between stewards who are employed to be there, and those who have volunteered.

McCain chips again... 3 posts in a row, you would think it's an advertising campaign, but I've yet to be offered a year's supply...

McCain chips again… 3 posts in a row, you would think it’s an advertising campaign, but I’ve yet to be offered a year’s supply…

By the time the caravane arrived, the streets were busy. Nearly every passenger in the Tour cavalcade, and many of the drivers too, had mobile phones and tablets in hand, photographing the crowds.

Mavic neutral service car - the rider's herald

Mavic neutral service car – the riders’ herald


When the riders arrived, the route down to King’s Parade was heaving; spectators were clambering up the walls of Gonville and Caius to get a better view under the gaze of inquisitive dons.

Nibali in yellow - looks like he's comfortable in it...

Nibali in yellow – looks like he’s comfortable in it…

The Cambridge crowd didn’t disappoint. It was as large, loud and boisterous as anything Yorkshire had given. The colleges provided a stunning backdrop to the race start, and yet walking through the town after the race had passed by, I couldn’t help but feel Cambridge the Institution – the University, City council, media and the businesses – hadn’t really engaged with the Tour. In Yorkshire, most shop windows I saw were dressed in vivid yellow Tour-related themes. In Cambridge, these businesses were in the minority. In York, the Minster and Rowntree factory were both draped in great yellow jerseys. Ripon town hall was a mairie for a day, but such frivolities were not for the Cambridge landmarks. Cambridge had at least managed a few lengths of bunting. But at the same time, Cambridge had put on a respectable event on Parker’s Piece. It had a widescreen TV, bar, Go Ride stuff, even a modest French market. Some effort had clearly been put in, it was…satisfactory. Top marks to the spectators, but for me, Cambridge could have tried harder (although I accept any yellow bikes would soon have been pinched!).

Parker's Piece - Cambridge scored well here

Parker’s Piece – Cambridge scored well here

What a fantastic and unforgettable three days though. Tuesday evening we were all exhausted. Just three days on the road, how on Earth do the manager cooks, soigneurs, mechanics, press officers and every other Tour follower, let alone the riders, cope for three weeks?

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Tour de France 2014 Stage 1. Ripon!

I had a sense of déjà vu. The difference was destination. This time we were parking in a race course outside Ripon rather than an almost deserted car park in Canterbury. Canterbury was seven years ago. Seven long years since I had seen the Tour de France and now it was back in Britain, starting in Yorkshire. Whether they liked it or not I was dragging my family on a pilgrimage north.

We’re lucky to have some friends living in York who were kind enough to put us up for the weekend. Saturday dawned. With mouse-like quietness and military discipline we crept out of their house to find le Tour. We drove out along the A59 expecting traffic, but found it remarkably quiet. Good for us and we parked up on Ripon race course at eight on the dot.

We stayed at the race course long enough to see the Grand Départ and the Jensie make his move then, with many others, drifted into Ripon.

Ripon Mairie

Ripon Mairie

Ripon market square was busy with a large crowd gathered before the mairie to watch the race on a big screen. The race wasn’t passing through Ripon, but skirting around on the bypass, so we ate lunch, watched some of the action then walked down to the bypass, with all the urgency young children will allow, ready for the caravane.

Spectators on Ripon Market Square

Spectators on Ripon Market Square


Chillin' and loom bandin'

Chillin’ and loom bandin’

The roads from the town radiated out to bypass roundabouts, and like tourists at a beach, most spectators had pitched around them. Further away, along the wide fast stretch of tarmac the spectators thinned and we soon found a good spot. Now we waited. I paced around; the girls industriously made loom bands; my wife applied the suncream.

The caravane was running late, but we didn’t have long to wait for the first police and gendarmes to come through, high fiving spectators, honking their horns and warbling their sirens. Then came some race cars followed by fan pack vans and gyrating girls selling off merchandise to thumping music. So it continued and the thin ranks of spectators started to fill.

We got free Yorkshire tea at the Ripon Race Course. Arriving home on Sunday after the drive down from York, it tasted delicious!

We got free Yorkshire tea at the Ripon Race Course. Arriving home on Sunday after the drive down from York, it tasted delicious!

More music announced the arrival of the publicity caravane. To the delight of my daughters they were showered with Haribo packets – “One of them hit me!” my eldest boasted. Loom band production was suspended while the sweets were devoured. Wave after wave of bizarrely decorated vans came through sending my youngest daughter into hysterical laughter, but then giant Fruit Shoots and bags of McCain’s chips are not normal sights on British roads. The main event was getting closer.

MacCain's Carbing it up

MacCain’s Carbing it up

More official cars, police and gendarmes came speeding through or waving leisurely, alternating with urgent press vehicles and safety cars warning the crowds to keep back off the road.

Looking up and down, the bypass was verged with humanity. Dedicated fans mixed with the bemused and curious.

To my wife's disappointment, no freebies from this Conor Sur cabbie

To my wife’s disappointment, no freebies from this Conor Sur cabbie

Four helicopters flew over. A wave of excitement travelled along the bypass.

Race officials and more police motorbikes sped through, and above it all the solitary whump whump of a hovering helicopter. People looked skyward and there it was, a single black dot, framed by a white fluff of cloud drifting across the deep blue Yorkshire sky. The race was close.

The last I had heard of Jens Voight was that he was now solo having dropped the two French kids who’d escaped with him. To see the legend alone, ahead of the peloton, would have made my day.

Ripon Bypass

Ripon Bypass – not as picturesque as Ripon town

A flash of yellow – the sunshine Mavic car, loaded with spares, went speeding past. More press and police motorbikes pursued it and then finally, after hours on the roadside a wave of human noise surged along the road; but no lone hard man came powering through, hurting for his sponsors and some air time, just the multicoloured peloton of the Tour de France.

Alberto Contador, in the yellow Saxo-Tinkoff Kit, with weirdly elongated arms

Alberto Contador, in the glowing yellow Saxo-Tinkoff Kit, blurred and with weirdly elongated arms, but it’s the best I’ve got…

I saw Chris Froome’s back, the only detail my eyes could focus on. Then they were gone, chased by team cars, roof tops crammed with a small mortgage worth of bikes, a few riders weaving between them, and all moving so fast that surely they must pile into the rear of the peloton.



With the road clear, we joined a mass exodus up the hill back into Ripon. The Market Square was packed. 4km to go. We watched and cheered as Cav’s OPQS train took control, followed by a mass intake of concerned breath as another train formed up and seemed to forge past, but they didn’t. Cav’s team still had the advantage and we cheered again. Cancellara had a dig. If anyone had the legs to go against a charging peloton it was him. But no, not even Cancellara could stay away. And then it happened. Two riders wobbled and went down to a groan from the crowd, which only deepened when the camera flicked back to Cav lying on the Tarmac, his team mates around him. Kittel crossed the line then the cameras were back on Cav, riding across to the finish but holding his arm in that familiar, hateful way. I could relate to his pain – I am still not liking my turbo – but I cannot begin to imagine the depth of his disappointment.

We went to an Italian restaurant for tea, then headed for home: tired, elated, excited and disappointed. What a day, what a start to the Tour de France, and chapeau Ripon!

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Tour de France stage 2: York

Eight of us, four adults and four children, rose early for a walk / ride over to York race course, for the start of stage 2 of the Tour de France. I’m not sure what Vicky and Jono, our hosts for the weekend, were expecting, but a gang of tour motorbikes, speeding alongside us on the closed roads, certainly got the children excited. A squadron of helicopters thundering in to land, like a scene from a Vietnam war film, ramped the thrill levels higher. But the excitement looked like it might be short-lived. We had arrived moments after a service road entrance into the stands was closed to allow the caravane through. Our way forward was temporarily blocked.

Day at the races, well bike race

Day at the races, well, bike race

Hmm, tasty

Hmm, tasty

The caravane came through, but it was a bit of a disappointment – no freebies and no Haribo raining on to us, although the clouds were threatening the wet stuff. But the caravane is never a complete disappointment and a Miffy traffic jam followed by giant wine bottles and McCain chips averted any sulks.

Shouldn't these be Fries?

Shouldn’t these be Fries?

Chatting to the Tour Makers we learned the riders would also be coming along the service road. We filed the nugget of information away.

We did eventually get through to the stands but they were packed. We would be able to see little more than the odd flash of bright lycra, so we conferred and came up with a plan. We retreated back to the entry road, looking for coffee on the way. It proved to be a good plan, a very good plan…

Miffy Jam! I've never been to Utrecht, maybe next year...

Miffy Jam! I’ve never been to Utrecht, maybe next year…

Running alongside the service road was a scrappy overflow car park. Nothing was mentioned about it on the site map the Tour Makers were handing out, but it did have a small merchandise gazebo, an underemployed coffee vendor and a row of portaloos. Further on was a temporary metal stockade. Inside it were a handful of team buses and more were arriving. Bingo.

Jono and I strolled over to the travelling barista and gave him something to do, then went for a gander. We could glimpse riders preparing through open coach doors. Race-numbered bikes were being lined up and given final checks by team mechanics, otherwise the area was quiet, save for the regular hiss of a track pump being pulled off a valve. A Sky staffer was handing out freebies including lollies which turned the children’s tongues blue – it was some compensation for the lack of Haribo. I found myself walking alongside David Millar and said hello! Wish I’d had the nerve to ask for a photo.




The press were gathering around the OPQS bus. Booms and cameras were waved about. We couldn’t hear the statement being made, but we could guess the sad content.

Media scrum outside the OPQS bus

Media scrum outside the OPQS bus


Andrew Talansky chatting to fans

Then the riders started to emerge. Cofidis and Europcar were first and I saw Tommy Voeckler, Hero of France! Garmin’s Andrew Talansky was chatting with a small group of fans, but otherwise it was still amazingly quiet. No one in the stands seemed to know what was out here! Other riders, elite professionals, lifted their bikes over the railings then rode along a gravel track, weaving through the fans; skinny athletes on thousand pound bikes rode alongside tubby men in hi-vis jackets on battered machines with squeaking chains.

The Glamour of Pro-cycling

The Glamour of Pro-cycling

I went back down to the service road, leading into the race course, to watch the riders make their way down to the start line. They rode by in ones and twos at a leisurely pace. I saw big names like Rodriguez and Nibali, but the biggest shouts went to the Sky riders. Geraint Thomas pootled along and chatted with fans. Then Froome went by, shielded by a minder, to an even greater cheer. I got a quick “Allez Tommy!” off as Voeckler again went by and then we shot across to Campleshon Road to see the peloton pass.

Geraint Thomas - our last hope?

Geraint Thomas – our last hope?



After we had cheered on the race we crossed Bishopthorpe road, temporarily reclaimed by the people, and walked to Rowntree Park to watch the race on a large screen TV. For the first and only time Yorkshire let us down. The screen hadn’t arrived yet and the only food outlet was selling greasy burgers. We hung around for a bit then returned to the race course.

Froome, with minder, or should that be stabiliser?

Chris Froome with minder, or should that be stabiliser?

The race course was a lot quieter now. We stayed for a while but with relatively few people the atmosphere was a bit flat, so we watched the recorded end of the race back in the comfort of our friends’ house.

The race course, like the one in Ripon, had been designated as a spectator hub. It was a nice idea, but with hindsight, perhaps misjudged. I think a lot of people turned out for the spectacle of the Tour without having much interest in the race – I can understand that. Watching several hours of bike racing, especially if you haven’t really got a clue what’s going on, isn’t for the majority. True, the race course did have plenty of other activities laid on, but I think the free party on Bishopthorpe road was a bigger, more atmospheric draw for many, and a couple of streets further on, the big screen at Rowntree Park did arrive in time for the finish.

We left Yorkshire in the early evening. The North had delivered, and we’d had a truly great and memorable weekend. Listening to local BBC radio, even a self-confessed skeptic admitted he had been wrong about the Tour; but what really summed up Yorkshire for me was the overheard phone conversation of a middle-aged woman. We were walking back to Ripon town centre after the race had passed and I heard her say, “bah gum (no, she really did!), it were reet great!”. She was right, and thanks to the Tour, the next time we holiday up that way, we’ll make a point of properly visiting Ripon.

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How to Wear an Inner Tube Sling

For turbo training with a broken collarbone I’ve found an old inner tube makes for the best sling – thanks to club mate Joe for the tip! I’ve never tried it on the road, and hope never to, but I suspect the inner tube would double up as practical piece of first aid kit too.
So, how best to wear it? Well I’ve found there are two pretty good options.

1. Round the neck

sling1Simply drape the inner tube around the back of your neck. You should have two loops dangling down either side. Put your forearm through the loops. If you space the two loops out so that one is by your wrist and the other by your elbow, you’ll have more even support and greater comfort.

MTB tubes, being wider will better distribute weight around your neck, but being a smaller hoop will raise your forearm higher than a road tube.

2. Over the shoulder

sling2This option is only really suitable for a 700c tube – a wider cyclocross tube will give a bit more comfort.

Put the injured arm through the tube and let it hand from your elbow. With your good arm, take the hanging end of the tube and bring it over your shoulder. Place your wrist into the end loop hanging down your chest. This option is tighter, but the weight is taken by the good shoulder rather than around the neck. I’ve found this more comfortable for turbo training.

You can do a variation on over the shoulder. Instead of bringing the tube over your shoulder, bring the dangling end around and put your good arm through it. Pull it down from your shoulder and rest your injured arm on the tube. I don’t think this works so well for 700c tubes as it is too loose, but it might work OK for a 26″ MTB tube.

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Slings: Lancaster vs Collar and Cuff

The clavicle is a sod of a bone to break. There just isn’t that much you can do with it and, if the skin isn’t broken, for the amateur folk in the UK at least, natural healing is the preferred low cost treatment. So, for a comfortable rehabilitation sling choice is all important.

After my second break and several cumulative weeks of sling wearing experience behind me, I’m now a bit of an expert on the things. I hope you never have to go through it, here’s my advice…

You find yourself in A&E cradling your arm against your chest. You shift around on the seat and grimace as bone scrapes against bone. The doctors send you off for an X-ray to confirm what you already know. Back in A&E a nurse will probably come in with a reel of foam, a zip tie and some sticking plaster. In the best Blue Peter tradition they’ll cobble together a collar and cuff sling; a figure of eight loop pinched together by the zip tie and neatened off with the sticking plaster; a nominal gesture to prevent future fraying. One loop goes around the neck and the other around your wrist.

Back home, your other half has been around all the local pharmacies and supermarkets to bulk buy the necessary quantities of paracetamol and ibuprofen. You’re consuming them like smarties, but the collar and cuff is still bloody uncomfortable. Your arm pulls down on your neck; even my skinny cyclist arms become a dragging dead weight after a while. Your wrist goes limp – it’s about the only thing that does, every other part of your arm to the neck stiffens uncomfortably. After a couple of days the foam has stretched.

First time around I got so fed up with the discomfort it was causing I went back to the hospital. They gave me a Lancaster sling to try. They’re a bigger hit on the NHS budget, but compared to most other breaks collar bones are managed on the cheap. I didn’t feel guilty wearing it and I don’t have impending obesity issues to worry the budgets with.

The Lancaster has a foam arm which supports the whole forearm and is supported by an over the shoulder loop instead of around the neck. Overall the design is a huge leap forward in comfort. You can even adjust them using velcro straps. Visually they look better too – dark blue rather than peach which soon becomes grubby peach. They’re also more obvious, they shout “injured person”, something which comes in very handy if you have to resort to using the tube.

But don’t think the Lancaster sling is perfect - it has one design flaw. Collar and Cuffs may be uncomfortable but they are at least cool. With a Lancaster it’s like wearing a muff and in warm June sunshine it does get uncomfortably and prickly warm. Still, I suppose in the winter it’s wonderfully snug. The Lancaster, as you can imagine, is also a poor choice for turbo training, collar and cuffs aren’t great either, so here’s a tip I got from a club mate: use an old inner tube – surprisingly comfortable and the smell! Inhale the worn rubber, close your eyes and you could almost imagine you’re back on the road!

So, if you ever do need a sling for your fubar’d collar-bone, ask for a Lancaster, put up with the slight discomfort of warm weather and dig out an old inner tube when you decide to hit the turbo. I am sick of my turbo.

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Fracture clinic 2: disappointment

So, four weeks to the day since I broke my collar bone and I was back at the fracture clinic to see how the pieces of me were knitting back together. I arrived early for an X-ray and, after a short wait behind some hobbling children suffering the consequences of overexuberant pre-lesson play, was sent through.

Under the tuition of an old hand a trainee radiographer lined up my shoulder against a plate then retreated into a glass screened room. The machine whirred and took its made spectral photo. The trainee came out of hiding to retrieve the plate. She loaded it onto a computer and bit by bit the ghostly impression of a part of my skeleton was drawn onto the screen.

I wandered over to look.


It was quite clear to me that my shoulder wasn’t healing as fast as I would like. A triangular gap shaped like an absent wedge still sat between the halves of my clavicle.

Back to the clinic and a nurse ushered me into a consultation room then left me. Alone. My X-Ray was on the screen. I wiped out my phone and in covert James Bond style, or my version of it, stole a shot of my X-ray.

A couple of minutes later and the consultant came in. He pulled up my X-ray from three weeks earlier and compared it with today’s. I could see a difference. Now there was more bone, but there was no getting away from the very obvious break. It hasn’t healed and I can still feel it hasn’t healed. I’m back in four weeks. If it hasn’t healed by then I’ll probably be looking at surgery. Great, more time off the bike.

I was disappointed. It doesn’t look like a I’ll be back on the bike in the immediate future. I’m still hoping I won’t have to write off the Circuit of the Fens, but after today it’s looking less likely – and I’m sick of the sight of my turbo. Perhaps I need to start looking at the cyclocross season instead…I might be fit by then.

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