Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Year....

Dear friends,

So, the festive period is, at last, coming to an end. The serious drinking is, apart from one last blast tonight, done. The turkey is finished, only the hard chocolates are left in the tin. Now is the time for the huge burden of self loathing and the dismal dark months ahead before spring.

But what about New Year plans? - a new bike perhaps? New adventures to be had? Certainly. Resolutions to be made? Without a doubt.

I won't be buying a new bike - I can't justify the outlay and the bike collection I have is ample for my needs. Do I need another? Of course not. Am I tempted? You betcha.

As for new adventures, this time of year, cold, damp, dark, is the perfect time to plan rides to be done when spring and summer arrive. 2014 has much in store. The Tour de France comes to England - surely we should be riding to watch the start? - Then there's the London ride which had its first run in 2013 - 100 miles. Gary and I are both entered into that. There's the Dunwich Dynamo - a through the night adventure starting in London and ending on the Suffolk coast at Dunwich - we've been planning to do that one for a few years - maybe this year? And what about our big challenge - we're talking about Ashby to Amsterdam - about 375 miles and once we're in Holland it's fairly flat I understand?

We'll be working on our planning now that 2014 is dawning and hopefully making some firm bookings to give us the impetus to keep on training through the cold months. I hope so anyway.

Right now I'm in my office at home - it's raining here. I'm dressed in my cycling gear and plan to make a short circuit between the showers. I have a few emails and bits and pieces of work to finish off before I can get out - I hope that the weather clears a little before then - if not it doesn't matter. I'll be heading for our local pub later and that will be the end of 2013. Another year passed but the new, shiny one following on immediately. Here's hoping it will be a good one for all of us.

Best wishes and a Happy New Year to all.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Beer after sport is good for the body....

A beer after playing a game of football, a long run, or a strenuous cycle ride can be good for the body, scientists say.
In a rare piece of good news for those who like a pint, researchers say beer can help someone who is dehydrated retain liquid better than water.

Prof Manuel Garzon, of Granada University, also claimed the bubbles in beer help to quench the thirst and that its carbohydrate content can help to replace lost calories.

Prof Garzon asked a group of students to do strenuous exercise in temperatures of around 40ºC (104ºF). Half were given a pint of beer, while the others received the same volume of water.
Prof Garzon, who announced the results at a press conference in Granada beneath a banner declaring "Beer, Sport, Health", said the hydration effect in those who drank beer was "slightly better".
Juan Antonio Corbalan, a cardiologist who worked formerly with Real Madrid football players and Spain's national basketball team, said beer had the perfect profile for re-hydration after sport.
He added that he had long recommended barley drinks to professional sportsmen after exercise.
Great news for us cyclists who enjoy a pint or two after a ride!!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

In the news....

It's been a good few days since Christmas. I've been out every day since Boxing Day - the most prolonged series of rides since.... well, I can't remember - but certainly since summer. Cold weather has hit the Midlands and it has been an effort to step out of a cosy warm house into the frosty, winter air. I've been layered up and wearing my thickest number 4 gloves - but the wind still produces a chill capable of penetrating to the bone.

There has been some interesting things happening in the world of cycling - I know this because I spent a quiet afternoon in the pub yesterday with a collection of newspapers, slowly trawling through them whilst enjoying a number of pints of Church End Brewery's most excellent Goat's Milk. Here's a brief synopsis of what I noted:

Lord Foster - the architect behind the Millenium Bridge and Wembley Stadium has created SkyCycle - a 135 mile network of elevated cycleways above london's main railway lines. The cycleways span 10 routes and will be accessed from 209 ramps across the city. Lord Foster, a passionate cyclist, believes that cities where you can walk or cycle rather than drive are more congenial places in which to live.

"To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists we have to make it safe. However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London's streets, where space is at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city".  he said.

Boris Johnson has seen the plans and has asked for further details on cost - an estimated £220m to build the first 4 mile stretch from Stratford in East London to Liverpool Street Station. It is thought the network would be completed over a 20 year period with work taking place at night to prevent rail disruption.

Then I read an article about British adventurer Maria Leijerstam from the Vale of Glamorgan - she has become the first person in the World to cycle to the South Pole from the edge of the continent 500 miles in 10 days.

The 35 year old set off from Novo Russian Air base on December 16 racing two other riders - an American and a Spaniard. On the way the sweat in her boots froze! - Snow drifts, complete whit-outs and crevasses marred her journey too. Her mother said that Maria's success was due to her meticulous planning, super fitness and sheer determination. To prepare for the event she entirely retrained her metabolism to burn fat and not carbohydrate.

Finally there was an interesting article about Chris Froome in the Daily Telegraph. He is out in Majorca training to defend his Tour de France title. 

He starts training in the gym at 7.00am - 45 minutes on leg strengthening and exercises to battle a weakness in his lower back. Then its onto the road for 6 hours. He does an extra hour more than anyone else because "I'm hungry - I really want to sink my teeth into next years Tour"

Chris believes he can get much better as a rider and has been talking to the great Eddy Merckx who stays just down the road from where Chris lives in Monaco. At the age of 28 there's no reason why he can't win the Tour again and again - he would like to join the greats like Merkxx and Hinault - multiple winners of one of the toughest sports on the planet.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day.....

So there it was, Christmas Day, all the frantic build up, the weeks of anticipation, the queues, the overspending, the overeating, the blatant commercialism..... all gone in a flash.

But I'm not complaining. I love Christmas despite what I know to be its short-comings. I don't care - and I do my best to make it last at least a week. Since as far back as I can remember I've dreamt of being able to stop time at Christmas - to hold on to its magic. I imagined never having to go back to school (or work) - that somehow, some mighty power would step in and that Christmas would just carry on, a perpetual state of everlasting happiness and comfort. Sadly it never happens.

Today I got up and decided to get out for a ride. It was a misty morning but  no sign of rain, cold but not freezing. 15 miles would be good. I had been tinkering with the old bike, I'd changed the battery in my mileometre and sprayed some oil over the drive chain area. I set off with two or three layers, warm leggings and number 2 gloves. It became immediately apparent that the mileometre wasn't fixed - I decided not to worry about it - The route is a familiar one - I know its distance off-by-heart.

The roads have a bright glassy sheen over them and as the low lying sun breaks through the mist the entire road becomes a giant mirror, unbearably bright. I am reduced to looking down, to the area just in front of the front wheel, with an occasional glance to the further distance. I pass a man on a bike who is out with his dog - he has the dog running loose in the road while he cycles - dangerous. He sees me approach and I hear him shouting to the dog who moves obediently to the side of the road - nevertheless a foolish practise I think. I cycle onward and revel in the tranquility and a feeling of wildness. It's quiet, no traffic at all, my hands are cold and I think number 3 gloves would have been a better choice. The sun is behind me now and is no hinderence. I see a large group of walkers up ahead - 20 or 30 people of all ages, as I close in I can see they aren't ramblers. They display none of the costume of the seasoned walkers - no boots or expensive clothing, no rucksacks or maps - perhaps a group from one of the villages getting together to walk off some of the Christmas excess? - as I pass the main party I see further smaller groups ahead - faster movers, split off from the main pack. I pass them all with shouts of "Morning" and "Happy Christmas".

I pass a field sprouting winter wheat, each blade tip has a bob of moisture which catches and reflects the sunlight - it's like natures own magnificent display of Christmas illuminations - the field glows and sparkles as if laid with a net of fibre optics. I turn to start the return loop and pass yet more walkers, perhaps part of the entourage from earlier, a flock of starlings rise from a field to my left, disordered, dipping and fetting across the open land.

I'm not feeling good by now - tired and lethargic - my fitness must be at all time low - at least since I embarked on regular cycling. This route I have cycled hundreds of times and yet feels strangely alien,  each slight rise is felt in the legs and I am aware that i am moving at a snails pace. As I approach home I'm relieved that I'm back - the last few yards require some effort and I feel as though I've been out all day. Once in the garage I strip down the faulty mileometre and change the batteries again - this time double checking all the connections and resetting the handlebar mounted unit. This does the trick - it flickers into life. All I need now is to put some miles onto it.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The weird and wonderful things we do on Christmas Day.....

Today, 10 million turkeys will be eaten in Britain.

If you're posh, you might be tucking into one of the 250,000 geese reared specially for the occasion - while pushing around your plate a few of the 10,000 tons of brussels sprouts that are sold at Christmas.

Or you could be one of the 1,548 people who will fill in and file your tax return on Christmas Day!...

Here's a few more interesting things that we get up to on Christmas Day.....

8000 people will log onto the DVLA website and tax their cars

200,000 of us will be at work - many on the minimum wage

95,000 people will eat Christmas lunch in the air as they travel to some far-flung destination.

One in three pets will receive a present - for 7% of them it will be clothes!

Christmas Day will see 120% increase in claims for a fire at home. With many people drinking from 9.00am there are numerous cases of people starting a fire whilst cooking the dinner.

On December 25 the average amount invested online in a savings account is just over £2000

Online sex shop 'Bondara' will see more than 30,000 visitors on Christmas Day

Last year John Lewis saw a 15% uplift of vacuum cleaner bags on Christmas Day

56% of people will check their work emails on Christmas Day

£76 million will be withdrawn via cash machines on Christmas Day

More than 4000 people will use Christmas Day to figure out how to challenge their parking fine online

There will be around 16,000 shops open

392 people bought a car on eBay last Christmas Day

1543 people will book a driving test

200 people will request life insurance quotes

674 people will die

1452 women will go into labour

A few people will probably bother to add things to blog sites!

Happy Christmas everyone

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

112 mph on a bike!!!

Have any of you ever seen Guy Martin on TV - he did a couple of TV shows about him and his mate getting involved in various engineering projects - a bit like a younger version of Fred Dibnah really.

Anyway - Guy has just broken the national speed record for riding a bike. 112 miles per hour - that's right - 112mph on a push bike.

He did it by riding in the slipstream of a racing truck fitted with a windbreak - he had to cycle no more than 4 inches behind it - scary or what?!

The bike was specially made and features twin chainrings driving a massive gear - almost eight times that used by a typical Tour de France rider - he had to be towed to 60mph because the gears are too big to turn from a standing start.

There's a TV programme on Channel 4 on December 28 - can't wait to see how they did it!

The bike - showing the double chain ring set up

Guy Martin

Monday, 23 December 2013

Ventoux on a Boris Bike........

Every now and then I see or hear something that reminds me, or takes me back, to when Gary and I climbed Mont Ventoux. So it was particularly interesting to read the story of three keen cyclists who tackled the task of climbing one of the toughest Tour de France mountains.... on a Boris Bike - and returned it within 24 hours!

Rob Holden, Ian Laurie and Matt Winstone hired the bike in London, put it in a van then crossed the channel and made the 800 mile journey to the South of France - then Rob climbed the 1,912 metre peak - using just one gear. The trio then drove back to London and managed to return the bike just 22 seconds short of the deadline which would have incurred a £150 fine.

Rob said " We went for a cycle ride and stopped for a coffee"

He paid £2 to hire the heavy 22kg bike from a docking station in Southwark, London. He managed to climb the mountain in 2 hours and 55 minutes.

Their prowess has been hailed by London Mayor Boris Johnson who said - "Huge congratulations to the trio who have conquered Mont Ventoux for charity and shown our Gallic cousins just how sturdy our city's hire bikes are"

Well done chaps - just amazing!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas post.....

There's a pure, morning clarity to the sky. Pale blue and infinitely clear. The wintry beauty of the bare trees is enhanced by it and I enjoy the view as a cycle out to Market Bosworth. All is quiet and still and the soft sunlight, thin and weak sends feint sparkles from the gathered puddles of rainwater on flat, bare land.

It is briefly windless as I toil up the hill into the town centre - I am riding on a mission to post Christmas cards, a collection which sit snuggly in my rear jersey pocket.

The town is busy. There is a market, a small affair, perhaps half a dozen stalls and the Christmas lights are already switched on - even though it is barely 9.00am. Every shop has a Christmas display and people busy themselves window shopping, darting in and out of the various vendors and up and down the alleyways between. I post my cards and press on. The swoop downhill towards the waterpark is welcome - although the wind now has lifted again and cools me more than I'd like. Soon I'm heading to Far Coton and from there to Sutton Cheney via the big hill past the Battlefield museum. Another challenging push and I'm quickly warm again.

I wonder when we'll get any serious winter weather? - despite the gales we haven't had anything like the bitter, cold snaps that we might have expected for the time of year - I think there has been no more than two mornings when I've had to scrape ice from the car. But we know it will come, and while it is placid now, the winter beast is out there, a sleeping lion, waiting.

As I get back the postman arrives with another armful of packages - everything except the one I was really wanting. Typical. I push my bike to its berth and change into warm, thick clothes. I think about my daughters - both of whom love the cold weather above hot. I wonder what they're wearing today as I pull on a fleece over my tee-shirt.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


There has been much whipping-up of winter gales here recently. The wind roars and strikes with a whining fury from a racing tempestuous sky. The clouds hurl over, low, thick and furious and rain is lashed from them in torrential streams. The landscape has been once again changed, there is complete barrenness as the last leaves are stripped - the sound is very much like the sea, glorious and relentless. I wait patiently for a respite and the chance to make a quick 10 mile dash.

It came yesterday as I enjoyed a day off from work; the chance to wrap some Christmas presents, catch up with some much needed housekeeping and organising. All morning the rain battered my office at home and my constant monitoring through the window did nothing to help. But then a brief pause and a brighter, calmer spell saw me leap into action. A quick change and I was out on the road. The wind was still fierce enough to chill me through - even though I was well layered,  but half a mile of sustained effort an I was acclimatised and feeling more comfortable. I rode 14 miles and got back feeling as though I had ridden 40.

The thing about being out in the cold is that make you hungry - the last few miles towards home are fired by the prospect of a steaming mug of something along with cake or biscuits. Today biscuits seem to fit. I recall watching something about biscuits recently - the programme showed one of the forefathers of the modern biscuit - a ships biscuit, so hard it needed to be smashed with a cannonball to be eaten - it might be ripe for a modern makeover - Ideal for the busy, health-consious executive looking to combine eating with exercise - this nutritious snack that must first be defeated in hand-to-hand combat. According to the programme biscuits were Admiral Nelson's secret weapon and it's a bracing and patriotic thought to imagine HMA Victory bombarding Napoleon's warships with a barrage of sponge fingers. Then there's the rusk - described as 'breast milk in biscuit form' - an interesting metaphor but perhaps the way forward for McVitie's newest and edgiest bestseller? There were people on the programme who remembered where they were when they first learned of the existence of Chocolate Hob-Nobs - standing on the grassy knoll perhaps?

Fired up with biscuity imagery I brew up and crack open my favourites - Ginger Nuts, which must be carefully dunked to the point of disintegration - a skill that takes practise but results in sublime satisfaction. Custard Cream anyone?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Christmas has started....

The decorations are up. Most of my present shopping is thankfully done. I have just one final hurdle to overcome - my eldest daughter requested an antique roll-top desk for her present. A tad unusual I think you'll agree. She's been looking out for one for almost a year - and her Mum and I agreed we'd go halves if we could find something suitable - and we did. Forget what I said in my last post - Ebay is where you need to be if you want to find anything. And best of all we secured an antique piece, solid oak, looking like something from the set of Downton for less than £400 - cheap at twice the price. We just need to get the thing now - antique roll-top desks are big! and this one's in Oxfordshire.

In the meantime I have started my annual photography job - taking pictures of children sitting on Santa's sleigh with a reindeer standing next to them. I keep thinking about the grumpy Punch and Judy man from Hi-de-Hi.

Another short blast on my bike on Saturday morning identified a problem. I noticed my mileometer has stopped working. This was a big deal at the time. I screeched to a halt. Well actually I just stopped. I twisted the connections, moved things around a few millimetres, took the battery out, wiped it and put it back, twisted everything again. It still didn't work. I carried on.

The mileometer is crucial - every bike ride for the past 4 or 5 years has been logged - the miles duly entered as part of the ritual. It provides a focus out on the road - watching the numbers click along is sometimes the only thing to look at. There's that great sense of achievement as it tips slowly towards 100 miles - barely believable sometimes. But now I've got nothing - I'm lost without it - like a sailor in a storm - no idea what speed I'm going or how far I've been.

Then suddenly an epiphany - I don't need it - not today - the speed I've been moving of late has been a constant letdown anyway - but now I don't need to worry - just coast along at what feels comfortable - who cares?  And as for distance - well, give or take a mile or two, I can guess. And suddenly this ride has become the most pleasurable for weeks. I amble along without a care - not even bothered if someone overtakes - let them. Yes, I'm glad in a way, i really enjoyed the simple pleasure of being out in the fresh air, not hung up about average speed or covering 25 or 30 miles or whatever - it was good enough just to do it.

Of course I'll be getting new batteries - but maybe not this year.

Monday, 9 December 2013

High winds and shopping....

Although the ash and sycamores have long been bare, there was still a feint rustle of oak leaves to be heard in these parts - that is until last week. The latest spate of autumnal blasts has stripped what was left  - and took my fence down too. But we had it fairly easy here - I saw the pictures on TV of some of the coastal floods.

I ventured out for a short ride on my old bike - it was a bright morning and I headed on a tour of familiar villages in a circular route designed to be not too taxing. My mileage has been pathetic for more than a month. I feel almost angry with myself for not getting out more but I counter that with the logic that I simply haven't had the time or space. Nevertheless it's a disappointment - in fact most of this year has been a struggle when I recollect. Soon will be the time for resolutions - I already know what mine needs to be - add to that a challenge for 2014 and I hope to get myself back on course.

Meanwhile I struggle up a series of short sharp gradients. I stop at the top of the final one, to survey the scene, or to catch my breath. The horizon shimmers like a distant sea and a couple of jackdaws tumble and call from a church tower. As I pass through quiet streets I wonder where everyone is. I've barely seen a soul all morning. The villages are still, quiet, no sign of anyone. It occurs to me that had I been passing through 50 years ago it would have been a much different scene. There would have been life, shops, traders - people going about their daily business. Every village had a bakery, a butcher, a greengrocer, a blacksmith maybe, and many other trades that made up the community. Now there is, for the most part, nothing. If you're lucky a newsagent. And towns seem to be following the same path. So many boarded up premises, the ubiquitous charity and fried chicken shops seem to be the only ones that can survive. I wonder if we'll ever kick back and realise that in the end people need a community - or at least to feel like they live as part of one. Independent shops help to provide that.

I'm as guilty as everyone else for shopping online and driving to the supermarket - but if there were more local outlets I'd definitely use them. I used to think that big shopping centres were the future - now I think perhaps we should look to the past if we're to move forward - to the old model of a high street, a town centre that had everything you needed, nearby, all in one place - smaller not bigger. Smaller but better.

As I approach home the sky shines with golden vapour trails like veils of lace as the sun dips behind a scatter of clouds. The whole landscape is flushed with a fresh radiance as the light moves along, a transient loveliness that makes me smile. Now I have to go shopping.