NCRA Spring series Race 1: Hail over Naseby


Last Tuesday’s chain gang had been a good night ride. I had joined the route between groups. By the time the fast group caught me I had caught one dropped rider from the first group and the rest of them were in my sights. I slipped into the fast group easily and it soon became apparent the work was being done by just three of the riders, and now me. After the Raunds roundabout the four of us dropped the rest then went on to catch and pass the first group on the Chelveston climb. A few jumped on but only Wayne lasted. Simon and I peeled off for our homes and enjoyed the warm down in the mild evening air. It was a confidence booster of a ride ahead of the first road race of the season.

Skip forward to the weekend and the weather had turned Arctic; a cold north wind was bringing icy rain and battered cubes of hail to the Northamptonshire roads. Joe, Harry, Tim, Wayne and I had turned out for SNCC, although we were almost down to four men when Tim punctured during our warm up ride; fortunately we had the means to fix it before the start.

Wayne and I were in the fourth group with Tim and Harry ahead and Joe behind in scratch. Ours was a large group, but despite that we worked fairly well on the first lap and for so early in the season. I was feeling pretty good, but after half a lap a few cracks were beginning to show in the bunch. The first climb went well. Then an attack came. I had been expecting something, just a little later on. I had been at the front, wondering when the next man was coming through. The one that finally did was a young lad from Bourne Wheelers and he just kept on going. A handful of other riders bridged across but not me; I didn’t look like it would sticking so was happy for our main bunch to reel them back in. They caught the leading groups and sure enough they started fracturing.

My group passed Harry on the finish line drag. Tim was a bit further ahead and joined up. We caught the remains of the attackers on the gnarly stretch of road leading away from Naseby.

Onto the airfield road the wind was against us. My glasses were really quite filthy and I was spending most of my time wiping them clean, or at least trying to, so I didn’t immediately notice the growing gap in front of the rider ahead of me. I still had some one on my left so thought we were all right and working together, but no. Through and off had brought me to the back of the bunch and we were now being strung out. Realising the danger, I accelerated forward, riding to get back in, but after a couple of hundred metres my legs weren’t having it. I could see a couple more riders in between me and the bunch and started developing a hopeful plan to leap-frog back in.

At the start of the climb, the scratch group caught me. The main group were about halfway up. I tried to jump on the scratch group wheels but again my legs protested leaving still off the back.

Over the climb, I wasn’t the only one dropped. I could still see single riders to aim for. The first was an easy catch and I rode straight by. Next up was Arbis’ Karl, a tougher catch than I had expected, but I got him. Next up was a 45 RC rider to become my third catch of the day. We were a group of three although for the final lap I was doing the lion’s share of the work and we would collect no more riders.

On the final drag our little trio was still together and we were all well aware of that unwritten rule: we may have been well out of the points, but it was a race, we were a group and some one had to cross the line first. Tom, the 45 rider, and I rode side by side. His breathing seemed more laboured than mine, so passing the start line I applied some pressure and soon put in some distance when no response came. Karl still had something and he passed me on my right. I ramped up again, drew level then accelerated away for 24th.

Joe and Wayne had fared much better taking third and tenth, while Tim and Harry had dnf’d. A mixed day for the club with some good success, but I was disappointed. At the start of the day I thought for once perhaps I might finally finish the first race without being dropped. Next year…

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Hound


It’s January and my half-arsed training is, well, under way. After work, I rode straight from the train station to the Market Square to join up with the club’s weekly chain gang/winter base miles ride. I was cutting it fine, and that was before factoring the slow commuter shuffle from train to platform to bridge via the bottleneck of ticket gates (I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by standing by the train doors, ready to sprint for the stairs like some commuters do).

When I arrived at the Market Square, the only cyclists were two lads on BMX’s. The clock on one of the buildings was showing 8 minutes past, so I carried on, hoping to catch the group.

At the A1 flyover, on the Bushmead road, I caught a glimpse of flashing red lights down by the red house. I guessed the time gap at around a minute and a half. David had said they had altered the route since last week to use the larger minor and b-roads; some of the ones we had been using have deteriorated badly over Christmas, and in a group, in the dark, best avoided.

I followed them, part guessing the route at junctions, part relying on thin wet tyre lines printed on the road. A light rain kept trying to get started, but never enough to entirely wash the group’s  tracks away.

Riding out was hard. The roads to the west of St Neots are all false flats and exposed drags and tonight were given steel with a brisk headwind. For a while I had fleeting glances of the group’s lights, flashing like a mobile disco, but all too soon I was relying on their tracks alone. At the top of Chequers Hill I scanned the valley below but saw only a few street lamps and the house lights of Wilden.

In previous weeks the group has turned left out of Wilden to Renhold, followed by a loop up and down Graze Hill. It adds an extra leg of road, but some bits are iffy, with gravel and holes, and I wasn’t sure if they would stick to any of this part of the route or not. The roads were getting wetter too and so my tracking was less reliable. I carried straight through Wilden thinking, and hoping, to head them off at Ravensden if they did, but not far out of Wilden I rode over a dry patch of road, sheltered by a tree. It was streaked with tyre tracks.

Shortly before the turn to Robin’s Folly I saw lights ahead, no, two groups of lights and stationary. I caught up with the first group – a puncture was being fixed with. Obviously I hadn’t been hoping for a puncture in the group as a way of catching them for some respite, but the company was nice.

Respite never came though. Before, I had tapped out my own rhythm, now I had to ride to the pace of the group, which on a single speed isn’t always easy. I did some turns at the front, but was spinning out into my single speed interval mode – rapid spin, cruise and repeat. While it gets the heart rate going it is hard to sustain for long, so I spent more time hanging at the back, but, that’s the training compromise I have to make. With not enough time to get home from work, to swap for a bike with gears, and my single speed the only road bike I’m happy(ish) leaving multiply locked at the station all day, the Tuesday night ride may become quite a work out.

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Missing the fun


Under the kitchen spotlights I went through the usual morning motions of the regular cycle commuter: looking outside and judging the forecast then choosing the thicker winter bib tights, tightening up winter boots against frozen toes and positioning my snood just so over ears and face. Expecting a bit of ice, I left a few minutes early. Outside I ran a finger along the side of the car, it was wet and the dark sky was starless, so perhaps no ice after all.

Away from home and onto a more open road, a band of orange predawn light, rising in the eastern sky, terminated under the fuzzy edge of thick clouds spreading from the west. After a mile a light rain started. Two more miles and a slushy spot of sleet wetted my lips. By the time I got to the station the sleet had given way to snow. 

I imagined the scene at home. My oldest grumbling out of bed, my youngest probably already dressed, then the sequels of delight, first from one and probably the youngest, then spreading virally to the other, when the first heavy snowflakes were spotted. A quick text gave me confirmation, and information, with my youngest hoping school would be cancelled. Wishful thinking for her I think, but perhaps there’s hope that the sleigh we brought them three years ago might finally get some use.

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Introducing…The Apparel Clinic #cycling


Introducing The Apparel Clinic. The concept. The passion. The brand. To you.

Who are we? We are you and because we are you we know who you are. We know you are a man, a cyclist, of impeccable taste. You are someone for whom style on the bike is important as style off the bike. You do not compromise, you know you deserve the best. That is why you buy only the most exclusively described Apparel from the brands that matter. We understand you don’t ride all four seasons. Rainy days, cold days these are man cave days and cafe days, but we understand the money you spend on all weather technical fabrics and tailored cuts is important to you. We know the toll sitting in a cafe, or perhaps even the virtualised environment of your turbo trainer, can take on your clothing; fabrics become distressed, stitching is made nervous and zippers turn prickly, then it’s straight to a laundry bin with your kids’ grubby school clothes.

Your cycling Apparel deserves better than this.

This is why we are setting up The Apparel Clinic. At The Apparel Clinic our mission is simple, to revive your beloved Apparel back to pristine condition, and all for a reassuringly exclusive price. But we aim to provide much more than that. We are not just a laundry service, but a lifestyle statement. If you are rushed we can always collect, but our advice is simple, bring your Apparel to us for the full Clinic experience and see how we roll.

Sit down in our cafe and relax with a premium artisan coffee, brewed with beans grown by native labourers on our own organically farmed plantations. Sample our collection of wheat, dairy, gluten and taste free cakes while you discuss the puny output from your powermeter. Alternatively watch our team of traditionally indentured washer women hand wash your garments on vintage wooden wash boards and using only pure mountain spring water imported directly from the crisp Alpine streams of Alpe D’Huez. In the evening, while your Apparel air drys using bespoke peg and line technology, kick back with a heritage craft beer and raw, sea salt crisps and listen to our genuine 1950s skiffle band playing on the washboards. Finally, why not treat yourself to one of our stylishly upcycled jute Apparel Bags to keep your garments pristine for the drive home.

This is our vision. This is us. This is you. This is The Apparel Clinic. Coming somewhere too hip for you.

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Tooling up #BorisBikes… with lasers


A few weeks ago Transport for London started trialing Blaze laser lights on some of their Boris Bike fleet. The device is a simple green coloured laser which projects a bike shaped beam a few metres onto the road ahead. The marketing reckons that this gives other road users warning of your approach (although from my car, if I’m at a T-junction, my bumper obscures the bit of road immediately in front but which is where the bike projection would fall).

Before today I had only ridden the laser equipped Boris bikes in daylight and I’ve been unimpressed. Whether or not the designers intended it to be effective in daylight I’m not sure, but it isn’t. The projected image appears faint and spidery; its hard for me to see it when I know what to look for, so I can’t imagine it being readily noticed by other road users. However, with the end of British Summer Time and the onset of dark evenings it was as time to see whether the laser would come into its own.

There was only one laser equipped bike in the Berry Street racks so I picked it. In the dark the projected laser image was immediately crisper and brighter than in daylight. It was clearly visible to me and anyone else staring at the ground. When I stopped for the first set of traffic lights it switched to a blink mode and that I think is perhaps it’s only genuinely useful feature over an ordinary light. If you’re sat in an HGV’s blind spot it *might*, just might catch the driver’s eyes. Of course, do you really want to be sat in an HGV’s blind spot in the first place? I know I don’t. Otherwise, I didn’t feel the projected bike image made me more noticeable to other traffic, it is easily lost in the morass of traffic and other lights. Any feeling of improved visibility I had came from having a bright green laser dot shining from the front of the bike.

The laser beam probably looks good in fog.

One area where I think it could be of benefit is around pedestrians. First iPeds, either glued to a screen or listening to My Bloody Valentine and oblivious to the world around them. Just before they step out, the projected green bike might stir a memory of those public information films from school days. Second, on shared use paths the projected light is an other warning to pedestrians with their back to you that you’re approaching, just not as effectively as an old fashioned bell.

So I think it is a bit of a gimmick. It feels like a solution to a problem which has already been better solved. I would rather Boris Bikes were equipped with brighter and better positioned lights, especially at the rear. I would rather TFL invested in better infrastructure, education and policing rather than sticking plasters.

Would I buy one for my own bikes? From experience so far, probably not, although I should point out the retail lights combine the laser projection with a 300 lumen front light. It costs £125. For that money you can get a similar USB chargeable 1500 lumen light from Lezyne; £50 will get you 600 lumens, but without the laser gimmick. In the dark I ride with 2 or 3 front lights pumping out either 300 or 600 lumens. They are positioned on my bars and helmet and I have various reflectors and bits of reflective clothing. Despite this I’ve twice been t-boned in the dark on urban roads, with SMIDSY the proffered excuse each time. I doubt the laser would have altered either outcome, but a fully weaponised one might have. Disappointly that isn’t on offer.

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Uses for a GoPro #50 / Blue Peter Fandom


Sunday morning and I was skipping the club run to drive up to Southwick with the family, and it wasn’t to watch me race either, although we were travelling to watch a sport …kind of. My oldest daughter is the proud owner of a Purple Blue Peter badge. A few weeks ago at some event or some one had noticed it, they got chatting to my wife and let on that Blue Peter were planning to film at the World Conquer Championships at the Shuckburgh Arms, Southwick. Since both girls are fans and its fairly local, we obviously had to go.

These were World Champs in the tradition of darts or snooker in that the majority of competitors were British. The venue had the atmosphere of a village fete rather than the Olympic Park; there were craft and charity stalls, tombolas and face painting. Food was from a smoky BBQ and tea was from the village hall while stronger refreshments were real ales direct from the barrel. No generic lager and all the better for it. But we were here for Blue Peter more than conkers and presenter Lindsey had been spotted near the entrance so off we trooped.

We spotted her and with a bit of physical encouragement to overcome their shyness the girls went up to say hello. Lindsey was lovely. She commented on I’s Frozen top and wellies and asked all about S’s badge. Then she asked if they wanted a photo. Of course they did. We said good-bye and as we walked off heard her greet another group of children with equal enthusiasm.

Not long after, Barney and Radzi, the other two presenters walked through the gates with the rest of the film crew. Barney noticed S’s Purple badge and immediately made a beeline to her to ask how she had got it.

Rule briefing

Rule briefing

The conker arena was set at the rear of the pubs extensive garden. At one end was a scaffold for the commentators and at the other a gazebo where the competitors lined up. In the arena were four podiums for the players to battle upon. In between round bellied men with pints judged the competition. It was a knockout (what else) competition and there were rules. Each player took a shoelace from a bag from which dangled their conker for the game. The shoelace was wrapped around fists and the remaining length measured (not too short and not too long). Each player took a few turns hitting the opponents conker then swapped. If, after 5 minutes, both conkers were still attached, the game went into a kind of penalty shoot out. Each player had a an equal number of swings and who ever gained the most hits won. The winner was given their conker as a prize and proceeded to the next heat while the loser was unceremoniously striped of their competitors vest.

Barney Vs Lindsey and the Arena

Barney Vs Lindsey – with some intervention on fair play…

From the Blue Peter team Radzi was up first, and went bee against bee with last years Conker Queen. Fancy dress was the order of the day but this was a tough first round draw for the presenter. Still like a professional, he stayed calm and took the win, much to the children’s delight. Lindsey and Barney fought each other in the first round. Before the game started the judges’ mugs of beer disappeared from the edge of the podium, showing sensitivity to younger viewers. I put my own pint of accurately named Dark and Delicious out of camera shot, lest I jeopardise the girl’s chance of a Blue Peter background appearance. The game was slow to start with Barney gently swinging his conker from side to side. The judges weren’t happy, but he persisted, playing up for the crowd. In the end his unsporting behaviour was reined in by a yellow card, then he went on to take the win.

Radzi Vs Elderly School Boy

Radzi Vs Elderly School Boy

After the game the GoPro came out. A favourite tool of extreme sports, I doubt the makers ever envisaged the use it was about to be put to now. Tied to a piece of string the camera substituted a conker and the Blue Peter players started first swinging conkers at the camera then the camera at the conkers. Next, a camera man lay on the ground while one of the crew threw bits of shattered conker at him. All tricks of the trade and it was interesting to see. Meanwhile the presenters were chatting with the children and it was Radzi’s turn to spot S’s badge, but it was Barney who demonstrated just what utterly brilliant people Blue Peter presenters are. He was chatting with the girls again and he had remembered I’s name. A small thing perhaps, but they must go through this sort of thing week in week out, meeting the same types of eager, shy and rowdy children, yet they made time for everyone one of them with and genuine enthusiasm too. I can’t imagine how many kids days they have made, but they certainly made it for ours.

With Lindsey

With Lindsey

Anyway Radzi was knocked out in the second round while Barney defeated an elderly school boy. His luck ended against a pro-conkerer – his conker was smashed spectacularly with just a couple of hits. They had a replay with exactly the same result.

Serious Conker discussions and a nice walking stick

Serious Conker discussions and a nice walking stick

It was a good day out, we met up with some friends too, although next year may have a hard time living up to this year’s big draw. Perhaps…

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Filling potholes…the @Sustrans way


Riding home last night I saw a cowboy. He wasn’t wearing a Stetson and his steed was a digger rather than a lousy piebald. He was shovelling gravel, like you would find on a driveway, into potholes on the farm track which passes for a national cycling network in Sustrans’ world. Yes, gravel, not a surface dressing known for being cycle friendly.

Anyway, I knew he was a cowboy, and not just because his workmanship was questionable. The NCN is a shared use path, shared with tractors and their big deep treaded tyres. In a few weeks the gravel will be spread across the track and the potholes will be back, then he’ll come along with another bucket load of gravel for more unsustainable repairs.

gravel 1gravel 3a

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