Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Fundraising continues....

A quick update on our charity fundraising - it's now over two months since we rode LeJog - but funds are still coming in!! - amazing.

A massive thank you, once again, to all of you out there who have helped and contributed. We have, at this point, raised £6230.14, that's way above what we (or anyone else) expected. It's a considerable sum; it will help two good causes and hopefully help change someones life for the better.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Many years ago - in fact very, very many - I had a go at some cycle racing - I worked with someone who was a racing cyclist and I went out with him training for a while, he got me interested in having a go - I wasn't very good at it - the dedication and sacrifices were too much and too many for me - they still are.

This weekend saw City Centre cycle racing come to Lichfield, just down the road. The roads were closed and a short circuit of about a mile or so was set up. It was arranged for various abilities and ages, and riders were able to turn up, sign on and have a go. Gary and I rode over there, braving the showery weather, See if you can spot us in the clips below.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The last pub ride of the season....

It doesn't seem right that these Wednesday pub rides should be ending so soon - it seems to me that we could have carried on, at least for another month or so? - But no, the elders have deemed this is how it shall be....

We rode into Burton with our usual haste - it had been a beautiful warm, sunny day; but by 6.30pm it was cold and the sky looked threatening. In fact it started to rain just as we set off. We paused to put on waterproofs - this is the first time we've had rain on a Wednesday ride this year! - quite a statistic!

We arrived in Burton with plenty of time to spare - there was a good turnout - probably because this was to be the last ride. We set off on a circuitous route heading for Rangemore and more specifically The Rangemoor Club.

Rangemoor Club
The Rangemore Club was provided by the Bass brewing family for the workers on the Bass Estate. It originally provided a library and a bar. In the late 1940s, when Rangemore Hall was sold to become a deaf school, the billiard table was donated to the club and is now used for snooker. It was originally located in the bar, but was later relocated to the library room

In the past, many of the club  members were farm operatives working for the Rangemore Estate. When the farms were leased out, trade from the farm operatives declined and there was a threat that the club would close as it was uneconomic. More recently its fortunes have revived as a new vibrant community has emerged in Rangemore village. The current membership is 80 people and growing. 

On our visit the beer selection was disappointing - only Marstons Pedigree - I opted for Guinness. Being the 'last ride' the elders had arranged for a platter of sandwiches and potato wedges to be provided. We enjoyed those and sat happily chatting for aboiut an hour or so - Outside the rain had ceased but it was particularly dark - we were out in the country, no street lights. We set off for home and made speedy progress via Barton under Needwood, Walton on Trent and Coton in the Elms - thankfully the rain held off.

We talked about maybe starting a small breakaway beer club for Wednesdays - for those who might be interested - so far there's four of us! - Maybe we'll keep riding after all.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Cycling clutter....

"The great thing about cycling," I tell my friends, "is that I can just get on my bike and go. I'm free, I don't have to wait for a bus or look for a parking space."

This is true, but it's a good thing they haven't seen me on a typical Wednesday night pub ride; I have a small rucksack, a helmet, a high visibility vest, mitt gloves, lights, ankle bands, cycle computer, water bidon, tool kit, padlock and cable, iphone, keys, money....... arm warmers, a waterproof jacket.....

I seem to be burdened with more and more stuff, either on my back or on the bike, which is there specifically because I'm cycling; if I went by public transport or walked I wouldn't be carting it around.

Could I do with less?, I decided to empty everything on to the ground, to see exactly what clutter was weighing me down. And to work out what I could do without.

First, a helmet. This is essential - my recent accident has made me realise that this is definitely staying. The hi-viz vest, two reflective anklebands and one wristband. And a front and rear light. These also seem to me to be essentials.

My padlock and cable?  Superfluous? Maybe, certainly not needed if I don't intend to leave the bike unattended - but pretty much essential if I do. Then there's my toolbag; spare inner tube, puncture repair kit. Multi-tool with various srewdrivers/allen keys etc - Cyclists live in fear of having a puncture several miles from a destination. We  really don't want to have to walk for hours, pushing a useless bike, or worse leave it behind and have to get a bus or taxi, or perhaps the ultimate humiliation – phone home to get someone out to rescue us. Essential then, as is the pump fixed to the downtube.

It seems that all of this 'clutter' is there for seemingly good reason; the locks because of a need for security, the lights and reflectives for safety and to be legal, the tools, inner tube, pump and patches are there so a minor mechanical or puncture can be fixed and won't ruin my ride. It just seems too much and I know the bike rides better when it's stripped down and carrying nothing. I wonder if I can lessen the load but still remain safe, visible and not have the bike stolen?
Does anyone else have this problem, I really don't want to have to go and buy a bike trailer.

Getting back on form....

I took the dog out early over the fields on Sunday morning. I had arranged to meet up with Gary at 9.30am and didn't want to be rushing around at the last minute. As we meandered down past the allotments and a small copse of trees I could hear machinery. As we climbed over the next stile I saw a cloud of debris being thrown up by a combine harvester mowing a field in the dip ahead.

I wandered down to get a closer look - it was an impressive sight. But then I got to thinking about a book I'd been reading. One of the characters mentioned mowing a five acre field by hand with a scythe - I got to thinking how much more impressive that would be.

Gaz and I were riding one of our usual and favourite routes today. It had been a while since I had ridden my Madone with Gary; the last few times out I've been on my Trek FX - a good bike but heavier and nowhere near as fast as a carbon racing bike. Hence, combining my lack of riding of late with the bike issue I had been struggling to keep up. But not today - today I was back and I felt good; strong and energetic. Of course I should point out that Gary had drunk a couple of bottles of red wine the previous evening - he wasn't feeling too sharp!

We rode at a brisk pace, eating up the miles. Everything clicked together for me, it was one of those days that I felt fast and tireless - I zipped away and met up with Gary at the bench we use for a welcome drink from our bidons. There were lots of cyclists out today - really lots - fast, club riders, older touring riders, families, couples - it seemed there was someone else at every turn. We turned down one lane and saw a couple of riders up ahead and a vehicle stopped in the road. As we got nearer the driver of the vehicle signalled to us to stop and we duly pulled over. The two other riders there were both girls; one in full club kit and looking fit and the other a Sunday morning rider in a tee shirt - then we saw why we'd been stopped. Lumbering up the road came a combine harvester, straddling not only the road but the verges on both sides too. It heaved and jerked its way past trees and walls, breaking branches and flattening flowers - a man carrying a scythe wouldn't cause this problem.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Two wheels good: How cyclists generate £2.9 billion for the UK economy...

It’s funny, how a downturn affects behaviour. This time five years ago, the nation’s upper echelons wouldn’t have been seen dead being transported by anything other than a ginormous Chelsea tractor, preferably with blacked-out windows, preferably with the remains of a woodland creature still stuck to the bull bars. These days, though, the glitterati are somewhat humbler: David Cameron, as we all know, loves nothing more than to stare in astonishment as the hoodie he’s just been hugging makes off down Portobello road clutching a shiny new Pashley Princess. And don’t even get us started on Boris’ passion for wobbling about on two wheels.

So it hardly threw us from our saddles when a survey suggested cycling has become quite the thing. But the sheer scale of its popularity is practically puncture-inducing: according to figures from Sky and the London School of Economics, almost a quarter of the UK population are now cyclists, with 208m cycle journeys being made in 2010 by 13m cyclists. And what’s more, it’s having quite an effect on the economy: in 2010, cycling and cycling accessories generated £2.9bn. Worth a ting on the old bell…

But it’s not just the nation’s finances cycling is stepping up a gear: individuals who cycle are much healthier, taking one less sick day a year, thus saving £128m. Apparently, over a 10-year period, the benefits of cycling (including reduced congestion and reduced pollution) could save the economy £1.6bn in costs. If the number of cyclists rises by 20% over the next four years, it could save the NHS £52m (although presumably that’s not taking into account the number of broken hands/dislocated fingers they have to see to when people take a fall…).

Of course, this is all well and good – but if you live in, for example, the Yorkshire Dales, jumping on a bike to get to work is going to be more exhausting, and require a lot more maintenance, than a quick pedal down Oxford Street. But Sky insists there is £516m in untapped economic potential. And cycling is a very British business: bike producers like Brompton and Pashley rank among the UK’s finest manufacturers.
What’s not to like? Perhaps it’s time to start encouraging more people to turn out in their finest Lycra…

On foot!!!.....

With my hand/fingers now healed I had been looking forward to accumulating some much needed miles on the bike. My fitness, stamina and speed are all markedly diminished, getting out and on the road would be the appropriate elixir.

There was however a new issue to be considered. I have a dog to look after.

Fizz is from a previous life. She is with me for a week while her owners are away on holiday. I'm okay with that, the idea of having a dog for a week and then handing it back seems altogether the best way to go. But of course it does mean 'walking' now has to make a return into my daily time allocations. Inevitably that has to mean less riding (I think).

So, on Saturday Cate and I decided we would take the dog out for a long walk, we'd wear her out. We consulted maps, picked out a route, I got my camera, we had a little rucksack and off we went, straight out of the door and away. No driving. We had planned a route march of some 8 miles or so, some of it along the road but mostly on green footpaths, it was a lovely bright day, sun, clear blue sky, perfect.

It's been a while since I've done any walking, okay, obviously I have walked, but you know what I mean. The sort of walking where it is for it's own sake, where it is meant as a pleasant distraction, a time for reflection perhaps, breathing the fresh air, looking at things, taking time...... definitely not a shopping trip.

It all went splendidly well. We stopped to wonder over wild flowers, struggling to identify them. We collected blackberries and Sloes from the hedgerows as well as various varieties of plums and apples. We walked past farms and peered into the cavernous barns, along canals and watched the boats, we saw many farm animals, lots of trees and not many people. It was great. And at the end we sat outside a pub and enjoyed a couple of pints of exceptional Timothy Taylor 'Landlord' and Hook Norton 'Old Hooky' along with a platter of nibbles. We walked back and our plan had worked - the dog collapsed in a heap and seemed to be in some sort of coma. We sat down with a cuppa and quickly followed.

I think it would be fair to say that walking is fine if you have lots of time to spare. Certainly you do 'see' more. Those people who think you see more on a bike are wrong really. On a bike you see a little bit more than if you're in a car, but what with concentrating on looking out for potholes, being aware of vehicles or other cyclists and generally staying on the right lines, you don't really see that much on a bike - especially if you're riding fast. With walking you see everything, you stop to look, you check a map, you look at an iPhone App, you turn around and look back etc etc - but it's sloooow - I could have got to the pub and back on my bike in about 20 minutes - job done. This expedition seemed to take most of the day! - Then there's the pain.

I woke the next morning and thought my legs had caught fire. I had aches and pains and hobbling to the loo gave me an idea of what it's like to be a geriatric. My feet felt like they'd been massaged with an angle-grinder and my lower back creaked like an old barn door. Worst of all the dog was sitting there waiting to be taken for a walk.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Two pubs!!!

Our Wednesday 'pub run' had a new twist this week - we visited two pubs!

Meeting as usual at The Abbey Arcade in Burton on Trent we cycled about a mile to 'The Burton Bridge' - which aptly stands just on the edge of the old bridge across the River Trent. Originally known as The Fox & Goose the Inn was built in the late 17th century and was taken over by Burton Bridge Brewery in 1982. The modest exterior hides a deceptively spacious interior with two bar areas decorated in period style with various bits of memorabilia and a couple of real fires. I sampled a pint of the most excellent 'Golden Delicious' - a pale, straw coloured beer with a dry bitter finish and then we were off. The 'Elders' had planned a route that saw us pedalling through Burton and out to Clay Mills to join a new section of the Sustrans Route 54 which took us to  Shobnall and then back into Burton to finish at 'The Coopers Tavern' in Cross Street.

The Coopers is my favourite pub in Burton on Trent - In fact it's probably my favourite pub anywhere. Although I don't visit quite as often as I'd like I probably consider it as my 'local'. It's a square, squat 19th century brick-built building hidden down a side street, it was once a sampling house for the beers of the mighty Bass empire.
Brewers would come here to taste, ensuring that their products were up to scratch. These days it’s discerning punters who come to sample great beer straight from the barrel and drink in the Coopers’ unique atmosphere.

It has a comfortable, well worn timelessness. A snug off to the left offers quiet and contemplation in its parlour-like surroundings, while the front room is a hotchpotch of brewery mirrors and old faded portraits of Burton worthies on the wall. The floor is tiled and the furniture distressed wood with comfortable settles lining the walls. Further inside there's a short corridor leading to the open bar with raised seats and barrels for tables, there's a high vaulted ceiling and more bits and pieces. There are plenty of real ales (as well as a handful of carefully picked ciders and perries) on offer tonight. My usual favourite is the Castle Rock, Harvest Pale a 'British Champion Beer' it's a lovely, sprightly drop with a dry, citrusy and bitter finish - sadly not available tonight. However I did quite enjoy the light and refreshing Joules 'Blonde' For something stronger, there’s Jaipur, a modern IPA with a waft of tropical fruit on the nose and a great big bittersweet character. Other beers include Sarah Hughes’ strong mild.
The Coopers is a historical gem and a total beer paradise - a complete and evocative experience of the English pub. This was a great Wednesday ride - we finished off with a bag of hot chips with lashings of malt vinegar - the 9 mile ride back seemed suitably fuelled.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A welcome return....

... My bike is back!

At last, after what seems like an age, I have just collected my injured Trek Madone - to be fair it had been ready for a while, but I'd asked them to replace the tyres with the same ones as those that were on - that was the stumbling block. It seems Bontranger no longer manufacture those tyres - or at least are unable to supply any. Fed up with waiting I told them to forget that part of the job - I wanted the bike back - I'll buy some tyres from Wiggle and put them on myself.

The bike looks good - completely new Shimano Ultegra rear mech, and a new chain and cassette. They serviced it as well and I've ended up with new brake pads and brake cables. I rode it around the car park at the shop to test the gears, everything is good. I'm hoping to go out for a ride this afternoon to give it a more thorough test - but as I write this it's raining here so I might have to wait.

For those interested I'm reading a good book at the moment - 'In Search of Robert of Robert Millar' by Richard Moore.

The riddle being, the whereabouts of Robert Millar, the finest grand tour cyclist ever to come from Britain. The enigma being the contrast of Robert Millar's personas - the same man that performed so spectacularly and explosively in the arena of the high mountain passes in the biggest bike races in the world was also the man who gave monosyllabic answers to journalistic queries. In a way Robert Millar refused to provide his fans with any gratifying, instant emotional fix. Something that sits poorly with the modern confessional culture. The questions are simple enough, but Richard Moore's book takes us on a fascinating journey.

There's no doubt that Robert Millar was a complex man and not easy to know, but when he spoke it was always something worth listening to. He never provided the usual `lazy' race analysis. He was always more pithy and constructively critical. Perhaps this is why he wrote so well once he stopped riding a bike for a living and maybe this is also why he never really made the opportunity to impart his undoubted wisdom to the British domestic racing scene.

Even if you don't have an appetite for attempting to solve riddles, this is a cracking good read. There is a lot of raw emotion, with interesting and valid parallels being drawn with those of similar mercurial climbing tragic talent. There is also a lot of sometimes surprising character references from Robert Millar's old teammates, friends and managers. Robert Millar, for reasons that become clear when reading the book, had nothing to do with the writing of the book. A fact that make this volume all the more valid as far as I'm concerned. You are left to draw your own conclusions.

For all that was perceived about Millar he is a man of passion. An over used phrase certainly, and one that might not sit well with such a phlegmatic Scot. You won't `know' Robert Millar by the end of the book, but you will understand a lot more about him, about the sport of cycling and what makes some of the athletes tick. Buy the book and read it, you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

I think I'm jinxed.....

Last night was my first time out on the Wednesday 'pub-run' since my accident. My fast bike is in for a service and awaiting new tyres so I reverted to my trusty Trek 7.6Fx. This bike is a good workhorse, okay it's slower and heavier than the Madone but perfectly functional and ideal for an easy Wednesday night ride.

I met Gary as usual and the two of us headed off to Burton. I'm a bit rusty after a layoff of a month but we rode steadily and arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare. It had looked like rain was possible, and with the added burden of a blustery headwind I was encouraged to don long bib-tights and a warmer long sleeve jersey. Arriving in Burton I realised I was wrapped up a little too snuggly.

The Old Crown - Wigginton
We waited around for other riders but it remained just the two of us. We knew that some people would be heading straight to tonight's venue so we decided to carry on. We picked up Ken on the way and the three of us rode through the lanes heading to Lullington before making our way to Wigginton and The Old Crown Inn. Suddenly I heard a shout from Gary who was riding behind. He had stopped at the roadside and Ken and I turned round and rode back. His back wheel seemed to be locked up, hindered by a brake block. Closer inspection revealed his rear wheel was locked against the bottom of the frame - he said he heard a pop? - we examined more closely and soon the problem was obvious. Two broken spokes on the back wheel.

With no chance of a roadside repair I volunteered to cycle back to Gary's house, leave my bike there, pick up my car and drive back to pick him up. Ken would carry on to the pub to meet the others and we'd meet him there later.

As I cycled back to my car I couldn't help thinking: the last 3 pub-rides for me have each produced a drama of some kind. First the gears on my bike exploded, next I went over the handlebars and ended up in A&E, and now this..... Things happen in threes so they say?. Perhaps I'm jinxed?

I picked Gary up in the car, we loaded his bike and drove on to the pub. Ken and Tim were there but no one else. We enjoyed a few pints of quite refreshing Boondoggle beer, a light, citrusy brew. The pub was a slight disappointment though, no real atmosphere; everything seemed too new and bright and almost 'club' like.

Soon it was dark and for those riding bikes it was time to get moving. Now it had started to rain. As we climbed into the car we were slightly glad that we weren't riding!

Monday, 8 August 2011

School Holidays....

I took my youngest daughter to London for a day trip - she wanted to go on the London Eye, ride around the city on an open top bus and buy some Jimmy Choos - I agreed to everything except the last request - that really meant I would have had to buy the shoes - do you have any idea of the cost????

We travelled down by train - I got a great on-line deal, first class tickets, so everything was good. As usual for me on a trip the weather was good - in fact it was sweltering. We did 'The Eye' and wandered towards Trafalgar Square where we hooked up with one of the 'Tour of London' bus companies - this was expensive, I think it cost me around £30.00 - but for anyone staying in London for a couple of days it was probably reasonable value - the tickets last 24 hours and entitle you to unlimited travel on any of the various routes they cover, plus evening 'specialist tours' such as Harry Potter, Ghosts, The Beatles in London etc etc - and also you can travel on the River tours. We did the tour of London with a guide, followed by the river trip from Waterloo Bridge to The Tower of London and back - it was good and the guides were excellent - our bus guide was a Shakespearian actor who performs at The Globe, he does the tour thing for some extra cash and because he enjoys it - it showed, he was great.

Whilst in London it was interesting to note how many cyclists there are. We had a picnic sitting on some grass close to quite a busy road - we counted 300 cyclists in about 15 minutes - all of them zipping through the traffic with confidence and, in some cases, alarming abandon. Apparently there are 500,000 cycle journeys in London each day - extraordinary! That's a 91% rise since 2000. I watched with interest but felt that riding in London wouldn't be much fun for me. It's just too chaotic. When we rode LeJog we went through quite a few busy town/city centres - and it was okay, quite enjoyable even. Especially when the traffic was queuing and we could speed past without joining the frustration. But London is different - so big and unforgiving - everyone seems to know exactly where they are going and they travel at a pace - it's no place to dawdle around looking at maps or signs if you pause it's quite likely that someone would hit you from behind. I saw a number of close-calls, mostly with pedestrians stepping into the edge of the road without properly checking... ouch!!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Plaster off!....

I've taking things into my own hands. Or more specifically 'hand' singular. I've cut the plaster cast off using some garden secateurs - well, the thing was disintegrated around the edges, my hand was wobbling around inside the cast, I suppose since the swelling reduced, and whilst my dislocated finger still hurts the hand felt ok.

Anyway its done and I have been out on my bike for a couple of rides this week. Once with Gary who consistently pulled away from me. It's to be expected I suppose. Almost a month off and my fitness is reduced, my legs feel like jelly and there doesn't seem to be enough oxygen around! - Nevertheless being back out was good and things can only get better.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Sponsorship update...

Our fundraising to the end of July now stands at £5616.13 - amazing! - thanks a lot everyone - We're still hoping to make it to £6000, there are some pledges still to be collected and we have another Pokey Hole bucket collection gig coming up soon.

Check out our Sponsorship page above for latest details