Calendar Conundrum

On the face of it, organising a racing season should be relatively simple, but things are never as easy as they seem from the outside. A mixture of misplaced nostalgia, defunct championships & “I want my ‘traditional’ race date” mentality create various issues across the road season in Scotland. It needs a total re-think, I’m keen on the ‘destroy & rebuild’ approach to fixing this annual issue once & for all, it’s really the only way to fix the major issues in a short space of time. A softy-softy approach may fix minor issues, but to truly change the season structure in Scotland, we need big change, all at once to clear up everything into a coherent event structure & not leave any untidy strands running in the background.

Time-Trial Championships

If the rumours are true, then the imminent introduction of a CTT type organisation in Scotland (Cycling Time Trials run all time trials down south), solely running time trials, it may be a huge blessing in disguise for Scottish Cycling. A tired format of fixed distance time trials could be rejuvenated under the control of a new set of people & ideas. I’ve suggested this before as one way in which Scottish time-trialling could go, maybe it’s going to finally happen, I welcome it if it does. It could recharge the discipline & help it come up with solutions to lost courses, defunct historical championships & perhaps an alternative to the pre-occupation with imperial fixed distances.

You could argue that British Cycling are able to focus much more on the side of road racing, track racing & mass participation, rather than catering for, what could we say, the older gent’s sport of flat, fixed distance time trials. Maybe Scottish Cycling would also benefit, I’ve pointed out before that race levies across all disciplines won’t even pay them anything like a full-time staff members salary, so it may free up some resources to concentrate on other disciplines, British Cycling seem to do ok without time-trials. Of course, a big fight with a new governing body will be counter-productive, a low-key relatively public disagreement to show their commitment to the sport would suffice, followed by a mutually beneficial agreement between the two organisations & we then have real progress in all disciplines.

The effect of a separate volunteer-run time-trial governing body (who have zero interest in becoming the UCI affiliated representative of cycling in Scotland), would be quite large in my opinion. It’s really shouldn’t be seen as competition by Scottish Cycling (although, we can imagine it may very well be treated as that), it really takes an admin role away from them, which in real terms may actually save some money. As in ‘Sport V Funding‘, the very approximate supposition of 300 riders per weekend racing for 30 weekends a year raises £3.95 in levies per rider, which looks on paper to be a healthy sum of over £35,000. But if we consider that the insurance is actually through British Cycling, who charge £3.00 for races down south, we can assume that SC are making £0.95 on each levy paid to them, which leaves a well below minimum wage salary of £8,550 to cover all admin across all disciplines, it’s not really enough. So losing time-trialling isn’t really going to break the bank, or un-tick any boxes in development funding, which isn’t really associated with time-trialling on busy roads, it’s more focussed on youth, track & closed circuit racing, a world away in sporting terms.

The removal of these championships from the Scottish Cycling medal list would free up plenty of difficult admin constraints in the road calendar. We have the ’10’, ’25’, ’50’, 100′, ‘Olympic TT’ & ‘Hill Climb’, all dominating a weekend where clashes with other major events are avoided. We can forget this issue if it’s not run by the same governing body, but I’m sure any huge clashes will be avoided, it opens the door to have road & time-trial major events or championships on the same weekend.

This also removes the Scottish Cycling problem of having to enforce UCI equipment rules on their time-trial events, a universally unpopular set of affairs in the time-trial community. Currently time trials in Scotland don’t actually conform to UCI rules, as non compliant bikes & positions are allowed, if these events were run by a non-UCI registered governing body, it no longer becomes a problem for SC. As BC & CTT do, the ‘Olympic’ style championship could be run concurrently, with riders from both sets of bodies competing against each other. It would simply be called the ‘Time Trial Championship’ by Scottish Cycling.

Key Events

So if we’ve got time trialling removed, it’s then much easier to organise a road & track calendar, it makes things much simpler. We can arrange things by choosing a set weekend for championships, with a bit of thought we can design a progressive & more importantly a consistent calendar, by getting it right first time.

The men’s & women’s road race championships appear to now have slotted into the gap in the Elite UK calendar taken up by the BC regional champs. While many would like to say, “but we’re not a region”, while I agree, I think that’s relatively irrelevant to the purpose of this slot in the calendar. It’s a weekend where there are no other top-level events across the UK, like Premier Calendar type events, so all our best riders should be free to ride the national championship, without any issues with teams wanting them to be elsewhere. It almost guarantees the top UK-based Scottish riders turn up, they’ve got no other events to ride. It also provides a substantial amount of points for our upcoming riders keen to take part in the British road race championships in June. These events should be seen primarily as a tool to provide opportunities for our riders to progress. Helping the top riders move onto bigger events, while allowing the aspirational riders to see where the benchmark of performance really is, they can race against the best Scottish riders & see how they compare, for riders with ambitions, this is very beneficial.

The track champs are also key to the Scottish calendar, in recent years they’ve been moved all over the place, some at short notice, which is far from ideal. Track riders, more than any other discipline tend to peak for specific events, this requires a plan set several months out from the event. We need this pinned down, but far enough away from the British champs to allow a 2nd peak to be built into the training to hit best form for both events. (Which is why I really can’t fathom the way athletics do selection, they tend to run ‘trials’ reasonably close to the key selection events. If the athletes were training correctly for the big event, you’d assume they’d be in a build phase during the ‘trials’. Which forces all the athletes to hit their best form too early, in order to gain selection.)

The Gist Of It

As I’ve said, Scottish Cycling losing time trials may not be a bad thing for all disciplines. It allows SC to focus on fewer disciplines, increasing their involvement in developing them. We could also see time-trialling develop outside the constraints of UCI rules & the cost to the rider drop (CTT charge £2 per rider, while SC charge £3.95, due to their insurance being broadly based on the more costly BC road race insurance).

The road & track calendar would become much less complicated, removing the need to allocate specific weekends to the vast number of disciplines that require individual treatment. It would be up to the new time-trial governing body to come up with new ideas to develop the sport, encourage younger riders to take part & generally revive what may become a dead-end as courses & traffic issues grow year-on-year.

What we need are consistent event dates every year, the calendar released as early as possible & some other major changes. These changes may not make some of the more old-school happy, but the days of certain events assuming that their date is protected should be gone. The event strategy has to step on some toes in order to work, but if somebody is unwilling to move, it’s unlikely they’re going to be one of the progressive types that the sport needs to push things forward.

This weekends Crit on the Campus, run by Stirling Bike Club is a prime example of how things should be, let’s design a calendar that encourages more of this type of inclusive, well planned & innovative event. We can be progressive, we can be inventive, but that requires a little destruction, a field needs plowed to allow the new seedlings to grow. It really all depends on whether or not those controlling our sport see the need to alter things & grasp opportunities, I really hope they do.

 

 

Deadly Partners

Watching a Madison is like discovering the plot of a good thriller slowly unfold in front of your eyes. There’s so much going on, but you find yourself focussing on a few pairings, like the suspects in a “who done it?”, only in the case of a Madison, it’s “who wins it?”.

Such is the quality of the top competitors in the mens Madison event at the Worlds, that the outcome can often be predicted very early on, then half way through it’s fairly evident who’s going to take the medals. The prospect of the Madison being a World Championship event for women (as discussed on the excellent Pelotonwatch.com site, with THIS feature) should prove, dare I say it, a better race for the cycling fan to watch, even though the Madison is one of my favourites already.

Dirty Harry

From a UK perspective, I can’t see any better than the diverse, but equally effective combo of Katie Archibald & Laura Trott. In our thriller, Archibald would be the non-conformist gunslinger ‘Dirty Harry’, while Trott being enshrined in the scientific system from an early age could be ‘Ethan Hunt’ (sorry ladies, Hollywood doesn’t provide the same level of female cops, these riders are nothing like the drab Cagney & Lacey). If the UCI do decide to endorse a World Championship for the women’s Madison, I’m very sure that these two deadly partners could certainly be in the running, it seems unfair that we don’t get to see this race at the Worlds. As PelotonWatch reports, many countries now have national championships for women in this event, but still no world championship, there would surely be plenty of nations very interested.

Imagine what may go through Archibald’s head if she’s in with the chance of a gold medal at the Madison in the future, perhaps the same as Harry Callahan’s words below…

I know what you’re thinking: “Did she burn six matches or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a GB Superbike, the fastest track bike in the world, which would blow your socks clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?

The Gist Of It

With the longer distance associated with a Madison, the 50km distance may make the crossover from road to track much more palatable for the endurance riders. With World Cups & World Championships featuring women’s Madisons, we could find some more top female riders being able to supplement their income by riding for a road team in summer, then specialising in the Madison during the winter season. With funding very hard to find in women’s cycling, this could provide an additional incentive for national teams to develop road talent while also attempting to bank international medals to support their programme funding.

Personally, seeing riders like Trott & Archibald using their bunch skills to the maximum, alongside their impressive world-class team pursuit performances, should provide one of the most thrilling races of any World Championships programme. These riders have a depth of talent & racing intelligence, that if developed further can only go in one direction. The Madison could be the event that helps to kickstart another angle in women’s racing, from grassroots to elite, if we think Trott leaves us on the edge of our seat in a ‘Devil’, imagine watching a Madison! Our UK pairing would by no means clear up in this, there will be hurdles to climb, but we know that Harry may get a doing a few times, but in the end, he always comes out on top. Come on UCI, give us another Madison, you know you want to.

Field Testing: Handlebar Width

Some time ago, my ‘Bend It Like Clancy‘ blog looked at narrow bars for road riders, I promised I would be doing some testing a while ago, I have been, the results are not quite as I expected.

The Findings

From the outset, I’d assumed that wide bars would allow better breathing, it’s what I’d always been told, but rather surprisingly I found the opposite to be true. It kind of makes sense now, when riders are climbing on the tops, their arms are in a narrower position than their shoulders, the elbows are naturally used to regulate the open-ness of the chest. I’ve found the same rules apply to the drop bar position, with the neutral setup (of not actively trying to tuck my elbows in by having the correct bar width) as the ideal position for breathing & for body mechanics.

For this experiment I used 3 sets of bars, all with shallow drop, in widths of 38cm, 40cm & 42cm. Each was initially on a different bike, but with identical saddles, saddle position (fore/aft & up/down) & identical reach. With a few short sessions on the rollers, what became immediately apparent was that the 42cm bars feel absolutely wrong compared to the narrower ones. Surprisingly, I found that attempting to get the elbows tucked away, in-line with my shoulders, actually closed my chest with the wider bars. The effect of this was quite surprising, the general historical opinion that gets passed about is that wide bars allow better breathing. This may be correct to some extent, but only if the bars are the correct width & you don’t try to bring your elbows in. So effectively, when you’re riding at your hardest, you may have a detrimental breathing effect with wide bars, but otherwise you may feel better when you don’t require the extra lung function, not ideal for performance or comfort really.

What I Found

The 38cm bars felt best for me, here’s why.

Measuring across the recommended bones, the acromium, gives me a slightly wider position than 38cm on paper. But I think there’s a posture issue here, the back may become arched, posture when hunched over is quite different to taking the measurement standing up. So if you’re going down this route, bear that in mind, your bones may adopt a different position when riding than when standing up (this may be identical for some body types). So for me, the ideal way to sort out your bar width for cycling, is by cycling (see below for how to do this).

If you’re riding behind somebody, quite often you’ll see their hands gripping the bars & the wrist rotated to (consciously or subconsciously) bring the arms in line, some tuck their forearms inside the line of their levers when riding ‘aero’ on the hoods. You’re best to avoid these twists altogether by simply riding the correct bar width, then you’ll never have your hands sticking outside the profile of the rest of your body. I’ve now realised that I’ve probably not paid too much attention to bar width on the road, on the track I always rode narrow bars. I didn’t think it was too important on the road & thought that there was some kind of breathing advantage on climbs by choosing wide bars, I was wrong.

Your body wants to be perfectly aligned, that’s when it’s strongest, it’s when it uses the least energy to fight things other than propelling yourself forwards. As an example, take your pulse sitting down, raise an arm, watch your pulse rise. Everything you do, no matter how small, that forces your body to use additional muscular energy to counter any misalignment or dodgy bike setup, results in energy diverted from forward propulsion.

Advantages

I did some power testing on the various bar widths, I didn’t really find any absolutely huge differences between 42cm & 38cm, but readings were always a little lower, somewhere between 5 to 15 Watts in general for the 38’s at 40kmh. Although that’s a wattage gain that’s hard to get from training alone, it’s in the margin of error zone & I don’t think I spent too much time trying to get exact measurements. I’ll take it as a gain, if it’s 5 Watts, great, if it’s 15 Watts, even better. I expected an advantage somewhere around this, but wattage gains of 40 or 50 Watts I’ve seen hinted at are probably false, but they may exist as you reduce bar width even more.

The main advantage I found was in overall efficiency, having everything in line makes a huge & significant difference to how your bike feels, it also seems to make riding on the drops much more comfortable. I’d go as far as saying the mechanical differences I found were dramatic. I rode 38cm bars while on one of those warm very windy islands, I’ve never felt so strong & stable in cross winds, bigger riders were getting blown all over the place & I felt very secure & controllable. A week after I used the wider bars at home on an old bike & I’ve never felt so bad in a lesser crosswind & felt very unstable, it wasn’t a fitness thing, the additional control was down to posture & alignment. Seated accelerations also felt like seated accelerations on the track, could that be down to alignment & efficiency too, everything seems to work much better. I’ve been riding the wrong bars on the road for many years!

How To Choose For Yourself

First, give this a try…..

  • Set up a mirror directly in front of your rollers (or turbo will do if it’s all you’ve got), but not too close, so you can get a good look at what’s going on without too much foreshortening.
  • Ride on the drops in your normal position & RPM, get relaxed, roll along for 5 minutes.
  • Start making some observations.
  • Are your hands straight & in-line with your arms? (sometimes riders compensate by twisting hands out to keep things in line)
  • Are you upper-arms & forearms in-line vertically?

If everything is perfect, you’re probably on the correct bar width already. If not, or you think something could be improved, you need to start experimenting with different bar widths.

I’ve worked out a simple way to go about this without buying new bars, simply base it on one side at a time. Loosen the bars in the stem & slide the bars across a little, you’ve probably got at least a couple of centimetres you can move without the handlebar reducing in size in the stem clamp, but a reduction in 2cm on one side, results in a 4cm drop in overall bar width (remember the other side will be way wide). Repeat the steps above & get one side aligned, then check that the other is more or less the same, get a happy medium for both, in case you’re built kind of funny. Now you can source new bars, they’re generally measured centre to centre.

The Gist Of It

Bar width was probably something I never really saw as terribly important, I always opted for narrow-ish bars, but didn’t realise until I tried a few different ones is succession how dramatic the effect of having correct bar width actually is. If you’re riding the correct width, you won’t need to listen to the advice to “tuck your elbows in”, you’ll already be perfectly aligned. The only reason you’ll need to tuck your elbows in is if you’re already on the wrong bar width, otherwise you’re creating more frontal area with angled forearms & it might even close your chest.

The number-one thing to learn from this is that your bike set-up is best tested on the rollers, if you’ve not got them the turbo is a poor second best. Rollers allow you to develop a much more balanced & natural position, with nothing supported artificially compared to riding on the turbo. Set up your position this way & you’ll be able to spot smaller differences easier & also realise what really doesn’t work for you (its ideal for aero positions that don’t make you too extreme & end up losing watts by fighting the bike, the turbo will lie to you in this case).

From my experience during this experiment, I’ve become a convert to a narrower bar than would be traditionally considered ‘correct’ for me, even by the bone measurement. I’m not quite as sure about keeping reducing the width for an aero advantage, as I found the biggest differences to be technical rather than watt-saving (which may in itself result in some watt-saving through more efficiency). I’m assuming (but I’ve not tested it yet) that the mechanical gains would reduce as bars get narrower, unless you have the muscle bulk of a track sprinter to counter the mechanical losses & reap the aerodynamic gains that must exist. Everybody will have a different ideal width, but increments are generally in 2cm steps, so choose wisely, from what I’ve found I’d err on the lower value if you think you’re in between. It’s really worth checking out for yourself & it won’t take you long to find out if you’ve got rollers (or a turbo) & a mirror.

Bike fitting is becoming a bigger deal these days, but if you set up yourself up in a mechanically correct position it is beneficial & from what I’ve found, you’ll not lose out on breathing efficiency. Don’t just go for the bar width I chose, do your testing as explained above, my 38cm maybe your 44cm, it’s all down to body shape & alignment. One thing’s for sure, I wish I’d done this little test years ago. If you’re not sure, get an expert to have a look over you, whether that’s in a shop like Hardie Bikes or one of the mobile bike fitters like VisualBikeFit, or many more now appearing across the country, they’ll be able to sort you out. Happy testing.

The Road Calendar – An early look

I’m just rolling my eyes over what’s currently been added so far up to the end of April, I’m well aware that if a club or organiser hasn’t paid their affiliation fees, then any events will not appear. But I’m assuming that taking a weekend snapshot (25/1/15), we’ll get a decent snapshot of how the first couple of months are looking for racing in Scotland.

I’m pretty sure you know I don’t really like flat TT’s, unless somebody’s tried to do something with them to make an event of it, so I’ll largely ignore them, but embrace hilly & team time trials. Links to BC calendar are on the event name.

Weekend 21/22 Feb: The Early TTT’s start

  • Sunday: In about a months time the season kicks off with a the Ice Breaker 2 Up TTT, by Fullarton Wheelers, a 2-up team time trial for the tough guys who are still carrying a layer of turkey fat.

Weekend 28 Feb/1st Mar:

  • No events so far

Weekend 7/8 Mar:

Weekend 14/15 Mar: Individual TT’s begin

  • Saturday: Loudoun Road Club Galston Hilly Time Trial, yet another event from the small club who take a big personal responsibility in providing events all through the year.
  • Sunday: Corrieri Classic 10, this Stirling Bike Club event feels a bit like an event compared to other flat TT’s, it’s the first chance for the testers to battle mano a mano after a winter spent on the turbo trainer, unless it’s a nice day they’ll be in skinsuit shock after only ever venturing out in full thermal gear, brrrrrr.

Weekend 21/22 Mar: Road racing opens with APR’s & a criterium, but where the Lake APR?

  • Sunday: Fenwick APR by Walkers Cycling Club. Lies & skullduggery, “I’ve not been out much” & lots of other treachery to deal with for any early APR organiser, as riders seek to slip into an easier group.
  • Sunday: Ythan APR. A great wee opening race for the North East season, held by another hard-working Club, the Ythan (as in Python).
  • Sunday: Crit On The Campus. A fabulous Stirling Bike Club criterium on closed roads at Stirling University, last year had world champion Katie Archibald racing, worth a visit as a spectator if you’re not riding. It caters for most categories, so plenty of races to watch.

Weekend 28/29 Mar: Road Races at last & a couple of interesting TT’s.

  • Saturday: Straiton Struggle, Ayr Roads CC 76km road race for 3/4 cats.
  • Sunday: Dick Longdragon Road Race, always attracts some of the top road riders for their first proper battle of the season. Open to E/1/2/3 riders. Hosted by Granite City RT
  • Sunday: Lang Whang Hilly TT, a testing course over an exposed moor & back, but still infinitely nicer than a flat one. Yet another West Lothian Clarion event.
  • Sunday: Gordon Arms Mountain Time Trial, Gala CC’s enduring early season hilly TT in Selkirk.

Weekend 4/5 April: Just one 10, we’re all missing The Girvan/TourDoonHame!

Weekend 11/12 April: A stage race!

Saturday: The BalfRonde, a new one, a short one-day stage race from Vortex RT, obviously in Balfron. Consisting of prologue, circuit race & a mountain top finish, open to E/1/2/3.

Sunday: GCRT Road Race No.1, an ingeniously named event from Granite City RT, open to E/1/2/3 riders.

Weekend 18/19 April: The Drummond Weekend!

Weekend 25/26 April: TT Champs

Cawdor APR, Moray Firth CC are also holding a 10 on the same day, so could be worth a trip for those from elsewhere.

The Tour of the Meldons incorporates the Scottish TT champs this year. Forget the 10 & 25, this one is much closer to what everybody other national champs looks like.

The Gist of It

I’d like to see a few more APR’s, we seem to be losing some for some reason, early season events are usually vastly oversubscribed, so are we just struggling to find organisers? There’s a good mix of events in there, demand at the beginning of the year is always high, so in an ideal world we’d all like to see more events, some riders will be struggling to get a start, especially if they’ve got no results. There also appear to be less 4th cat events than in previous years, I seem to remember everybody was complaining about this in the past, but now looks like 3rd cats have the best choice of all the riders now, maybe we’ve produced loads of them over the last few years.

 

Road Deaths: Political & Media Interest

The terrorist attacks in Paris, killing 17 people last week grabbed huge amounts of media & political attention. Attacks of this kind are incredibly rare in Western Europe, while the relatively common occurrence of death on the highway goes virtually unnoticed. I’m not suggesting that terrorist acts should get less coverage, I’m suggesting that road deaths should also be reported, currently you’re more likely to hear about the traffic jam caused by the incident than any information on the casualty.

Facts & Figures

I’ll take 2013 as an example, as we have data for that year & it includes the death of serviceman Lee Rigby & that of Mohammed Saleem, who was killed by a Ukranian student attempting to start a race war. There were no terrorist related deaths in the UK until we get back to 2005 & the London bombings where 56 lives were taken. In between we have some failed attacks, e.g the Glasgow Airport attack in 2007.

From Government Report: “Pedal cyclist deaths have seen a long-term fall, but have fluctuated between roughly 100 and 120 over the last six years. Since records began in the 1920s, the highest annual figure seen for cyclist deaths was 1,536 in 1934. The lowest annual figure for pedal cyclist deaths was 104 in 2009, 93 per cent lower than the 1934 high.”

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

Aside from the lack of media coverage & politicians making no statements whatsoever on road deaths, it also appears that other terrorist attacks also get little or no coverage. On the same day as the Paris attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine workers, there were other attacks in different parts of the world which claimed many more casualties. Boko Haram in Nigeria massacred approximately 2,000 people & a car bomb in Yemen killed 38 people & injured another 66.

This does throw up some possible reasons road deaths are ignored, we’ve may become numbed to them. This could be the reason why loss of life elsewhere in terrorist attacks is also ignored by our press & politicians, we almost expect to hear of incidents in far away places, but when it’s close to home we become emotionally involved. Do we now expect traffic deaths & have they therefore become ‘ordinary’, surely there’s something seriously wrong if that’s the case. Airline casualties are also reported extensively if there is an incident, while the 2013 worldwide total of 224 casualties is only twice that of the pedal cycle deaths in the UK alone. I don’t remember any cycle deaths being reported on the news, but airline stories go on for days & weeks in some cases.

What surprises me is that politicians are incredibly eager to offer money to be spent on anti-terrorism measures, even wars, when spending that money on helping to stop the many preventable deaths, which could be avoided on our roads if a fraction of those vast sums of money were spent in a productive manner relative to the death toll. It looks like media involvement in ‘dramatic’ death carries weight, politicians attempt to gain votes & popularity by offering to fix those problems, while ignoring the ones that affect many more families across the UK.

Another reason could be the pro-driving lobbyists, we could include Jeremy Clarkson as their media representative on the BBC. We all still buy cars which are not limited to the national speed limit, speed cameras are vandalised & complained about, speed restrictions are fought against. At least Edinburgh Council have had the guts to implement a city-wide 20mph limit to reduce deaths, but the lobbyists are already out providing countless reasons why it won’t work & they should be allowed to speed.

The Gist of It

I apologise for the morbid subject of this blog post, but it has become increasingly shocking how little regard is given in the media, or politically, for the loss of cyclists lives on our roads. We really need to increase awareness to the media that we don’t see this as normal, we see this as preventable & an area where resources should be targeted. Are millions of £’s going to be spent on snooping our emails & monitoring our internet use, or would that money be better spent on reducing something like road deaths, which affect many more people & families in the UK than terrorism? Does cycling need an effective lobby group to push for solutions to the death toll, by providing information to the media & political organisations, how on earth do we go about this?

Each life lost, whether that’s in a terror attack, on the road, or in an airline crash is tragic, but the response seems disproportionate to the actual numbers, maybe we need to have a proper debate about how best we can prevent the most number of deaths, rather than hastily jumping on a political bandwagons.

 

Free Garmin Maps

Anybody who’s been unaware of exactly where their Garmin device cover, may have experienced that sinking feeling when on holiday. You are about to go for a ride, switch on the Garmin & all you can see is one road, on the large island you’re on, you’re looking at the standard Garmin basemap, you’ve screwed up, here’s how to fix it without buying a new map.

There is an easy & cheap/free way to do this (only costs you money if you need to buy a new SD card). Garmin maps will cost you about £100, so when you buy your unit, don’t go for the map bundle, save yourself some money & go for the ‘Open Street Map‘ option, they’re constantly updated & is open source, so you can update whenever you like.

I followed the excellent DC Rainmaker‘s detailed instructions on how go about it, it’s quite simple & quick if you take it step by step. The maps it produces are very detailed & ideal for cycling GPS, I got one to include UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Balearic islands, Canaries, the usual cyclists haunts, the download was a 1.4GB zip file.

I highly recommend this method of getting hold of free maps for your GPS device, the full instructions are HERE, get downloading….

The DC Rainmaker site also has product reviews, ‘how to’ guides on various cycle related products, website guides, it’s well worth a browse, there’s plenty of information in there, especially if you need help setting up a device.

Sky High on Salbutamol?

Twitter has reacted quite badly, in the normal way expected to the piece on road.cc about ‘A third of Team Sky’s riders are asthmatic‘. It’s probably worth taking a look at some pretty obvious reasons why asthma diagnosis is higher in professional athletes than it is through a sedentary population.

For convenience, lets split the UK’s population into four groups, I’m going to make some estimates on percentages of the population, it’s not necessary to be precise on this small study, just indicative of what’s actually going on & where the statistics come from.

  1. The professional sportspeople. Lets be very generous & include the top amateurs in each sport too & give this lot 1% of the total population. These people test themselves to the limits in training & competition, if there’s any exercise induced asthma going on here, it’s going to be caught & diagnosed as such. It’s a condition that cannot go unnoticed at this level.
  2. The fun, competitive & hobby athlete. These may account for up to 10% of the population, I’m including people who take part in any sport, at any level other than elite. So runners, cyclists, martial arts, etc. These people probably push themselves quite hard, if they’re getting serious about their sport it’s likely that they’ve pushed themselves beyond the point where exercise induced asthma may kick in. So there’s a reasonably high chance that somebody in this category will have been to the doctor if it’s happened & got themselves an inhaler, but not nearly as many as in the category above, it may just not be that important to them or affect them that much for what they want to achieve.
  3. Obese & overweight sadly account for approximately 63% of the adult population according to studies. It’s highly unlikely that many of this lot actually push themselves to induce exercise induced asthma. We can assume if they did regular exercise, they wouldn’t be overweight. So I’m also assuming that the bulk of them don’t get diagnosed with asthma due to this. A very hefty part of the population who will be almost removed from the statistics based on this assumption.
  4. The normal fit & healthy part of the population. Unfortunately we’re left with only 26% of the population who fit into this category. I would imagine that they do some sort of exercise, so are reasonably likely to have been diagnosed if there is a problem.

The Assumption

I think asthma exists in many more than the 8 to 10% that have been diagnosed, probably more likely at the levels noticed in elite athletes. If we look at the groups above, I would assume that the same percentage across each group have exercise induced asthma, but the diagnosed percentage is very different. If Asthma is present in an individual, it probably has very little effect on groups 3 & 4, some effect on many in group 2 & would cause anybody in group 1 very big problems. So asthma is more likely to be diagnosed in groups 1,2 & 4, but less so in group 3. So we’re missing a huge proportion from the statistics, 8 to 10% is simply wrong, it’s much more prevalent than that.

You’ve probably noticed that in your bike club there’s plenty of folks using inhalers, probably more than that 10%. You wouldn’t assume that your club-mates are doping salbutamol in order to beat you on your local chain gang, would you? If you do, that’s the same mindset that assumes that somebody on team Sky is doping with salbutamol.

We can obviously discount the extremes here, there are some riders who have been caught with huge quantities of salbutamol in their bodies, they probably are cheating. As an asthmatic myself, I’ve found that if I felt a bit wheezy before a race I’d take a couple of puffs, that usually sorted it, but if not 2 more later. If I still felt wheezy I normally didn’t start. My peak flow was never more than 15% below what it should be for somebody like me, so even with 4 puffs I was still at a disadvantage to an ‘able bodied’ rider. I did experiment once to see if I could get my breathing level with a ‘normal’ person, I couldn’t, beyond 4 puffs across an hour it made no difference whatsoever, I was still well below average, plus the additional puffs made me feel particularly ill, probably not ideal if you were in a race.

If somebody’s cheating with salbutamol, they’re not going to be doing it with an inhaler, it’ll be injected in large quantities, an inhaler will make little difference, if at all to a non asthmatic. The guy in your club, Chris Froome, or any of the huge percentage of pro cyclists who use an inhaler & are diagnosed with asthma are not cheating, they’re still below the peak flow of a non asthmatic. The nonsense posted on twitter has probably got road.cc plenty of hits, which I suspect is what it’s all about, but it’s a non story.

References:

Discussing Development #1

This new blog series is starting out with a few key issues that effect the development of the sport in Scotland (potentially the same issues as elsewhere) & will grow & expand into other blogs, but all will be linked here. I’m very open to receiving ideas & printing them too, even if I don’t agree with them. I’ll start off on two subjects, cyclo-cross & time-trialling, both of which have very different issues, but both could suffer losses to other governing bodies if not looked after correctly.

Cyclo-Cross

Cyclo-cross has blossomed, it’s now the most inclusive discipline in Scottish cycle sport, with hundreds of riders at each race meeting pinning a number on & having fun throughout the winter. This huge success is down to individuals, clubs & Scottish Cyclocross managing to join it all together in a progressive manner. Series events have to meet a required standard & as a result, the events provide great racing & an excellent environment for all ages to compete. Cyclo-cross also has the advantage that road racing does not, that you don’t have to meet a high minimum ability level or you’re dropped & out of the race, in ‘cross you just get lapped (several times for some), but you keep racing & continue to battle with those around you of similar ability. I’ve been to a few, but not turned a pedal in anger at them for a long time, but even I’m getting interested in giving it a go.

Having said all that, ‘cross has reached this level through pure bloody-mindedness, by people who had a vision for where it could go in Scotland. It didn’t do this as a result of help from the governing body, some would say that this lack of support actually caused cyclo-cross harm, while others may suggest that removing itself from ScottishCycling/BritishCycling (apart from race insurance & commissaires) has allowed it to develop in a productive manner, without outside influence. There may be a couple of reasons for this lack of interest, funding & tradition. Cyclo-cross is not an Olympic sport, so the British Cycling plan doesn’t pay it any notice as there are no medals available, for them it could as well be bicycle polo or cycle speedway.

This funding attitude may have rolled down into Scottish Cycling, but it’s a rather shortsighted approach, with one glaringly obvious reason, Scotland doesn’t have an Olympic team (yet). We’re not chasing Olympic medals, we should be chasing event & rider development. Cyclo-cross isn’t a stand alone niche discipline, on the international scene we find road & MTB riders take part in ‘cross, so it seems like a missed opportunity to not look to an accessible sport like ‘cross & use it to feed into other disciplines. If all you’re interested in is sending riders to the GB squad for Olympic disciplines, perhaps cyclo-cross is going to work as a talent feeder into both road & mountain biking to identify those riders at an early stage, so it’s well worth looking if the primary focus is medals in other disciplines.

If Scottish Cyclocross want assistance, now is probably the time for Scottish Cycling to start offering some help, otherwise they could lose this valuable side of the sport to another governing body, TLI. The League International already have some ‘cross races in Scotland, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see more shift across in the next couple of years. With the recent success of ‘cross in Scotland especially amongst youth riders, is it really wise to ignore it when there’s a UCI World championship in the discipline? Those young riders could be taking part in non UCI recognised events & although of great ability, could never gain the licence points to enter UCI races down south & then move on to races on the continent.

Time-Trialling

I’ve written a fair bit about the future of time-trialling in the past, read ‘Comparing the Incomparable‘, ‘A Demographic Time Trial‘ & ‘Fixing Time Trials‘ for more info. There’s one huge issue with this discipline, it can be done much cheaper outside British Cycling insurance. Event levies in CTT events (Cycling Time Trials) are £2 per rider, in Scottish Cycling time trials they are £3.95 per rider. The CTT events are often held on very busy roads, but provide a very similar insurance cover. The problem is that BC (British Cycling) insurance is designed to cover bunched road racing on open roads, it goes beyond the requirement needed for time-trialling, so it could be done a lot cheaper. (British Cycling provide cover for only a handful of time trials in England, virtually all time trialling south of the border is run by CTT)

This could go one of three ways, allowing another organisation to step in & undercut administration & entry fees, Scottish Cycling deciding to arrange their own insurance, or the status quo.

  1. An organisation like TLI, or one of the groups running sportives who are used to dealing with insurance issues could step in & take over time trialling in Scotland with only a little organisation & some friendly chats. I’m quite surprised it’s not been done already actually. It would also remove the need for riders to conform to the UCI bike & position rulings, making it an oddball sport internationally, but it would keep some people happy. It would obviously create a war, as Scottish Cycling like to see money flow through their organisation, regardless of whether or not it funds anything, they need to be seen to raise funds & there are plenty of time trials & riders each paying the £3.95 levy to SC every year. There is that tricky UCI rule, where they may try to place a ban on riders taking part in non UCI events, but that would fall at the first hurdle if anybody decided to test it legally. For amateurs that ruling would hold the same weight as SC telling somebody they can’t play non UCI regulated darts, they can’t regulate what you do in your spare time, pressing the issue would likely wipe them out if a well funded individual took offence. So this is a viable alternative & there really isn’t a lot SC could do about it if it was well organised, it’s really up to them to provide an alternative.
  2. Scottish Cycling could relatively easily set up their own event insurance for time trialling. By the example of CTT, they could do it for half the cost of their current British Cycling insurance. As a sweetener to those vocal riders who don’t want to conform to UCI rules & result in the binning of their current bike, they needn’t run it under the rules & it could be out with the UCI rules of the affiliated body of British Cycling. So equipment rules could be waived but I’d suggest they should still stick to the position rules, the CTT ones allow the sport to drift quite far away from international sporting regulations. Maintaining the UCI position rules would help the development of young talent to & from track & into international careers, rather than allowing them to sit in triathlon style positions & then having a difficult change in order to take part in UCI recognised competition. This would allow SC to retain the time trialling side of the sport, but also address the issues raised by the membership regarding rules. Otherwise they may lose it in the near future by not providing value for money, which they are aware of, or if not, they will be now.
  3. The status-quo isn’t going to work in the long run, as I said before somebody will eventually get round to taking it over & there are plenty of voices of dissent out there on this subject. SC can’t really sit on this one forever, they can start work on No.2 (above) any time they like.

Spokey’s New Year Message

This isn’t so much a message to readers, but more of a statement of intent for 2015, outlining which path this blog is going to take in the next wee while. Living in Scotland during the incredible events of 2014 & witnessing the public’s re-engagement with politics (where almost nobody now thinks a Barnett Consequential is the aftermath of a dodgy haircut), maybe we can also channel that engagement into a healthy debate on sports governance & developing forward-thinking ideas? In 2015 SpokeyDokeyBlog is going to be all about pushing the sport forward, right from grass-roots level & how that affects the tiers above, feeding your governing body with your good ideas & working out where the hell the UCI rollercoaster is heading. As things have progressed, I see where I can modify my ideas, so I’ll be rewriting the development blogs too. Alongside that I’ve got a busy year with Hour Record attempts, the Scottish calendar & I’ve got a fair bit of product aero calculations up my sleeve mid-year. I’m also going to try & get to more events, aside from local ones, a return to the Kuipke Velodrome in Ghent would be lovely (photo above is a reminder).

Defining ‘Our’ Job

What’s important to consider, is that bodies like ‘Scottish Cycling’ & ‘British Cycling’ are chiefly administrators, they exist to carry out the tasks that are given to them, not the tasks they don’t know about. That role is controlled by the sports structure we have in place, as explained in ‘Sport V Funding‘. In the past when our governing bodies were run by unpaid passionate volunteers on a shoestring budget, ideas may have existed, but couldn’t be implemented due to budget constraints. In the modern-day what we can’t expect employees having carried out their contracted duties, to spend some time coming up with innovative ideas to develop our sport. That’s not an admin task, it’s our job to do that, we’re the people on the ground, running clubs & events, coaching, out on our bikes & developing master plans to help our sport.

Perhaps myself & many others had unrealistic expectations in recent years, our governing bodies are never going to be ideas based organisations without outside input or a dynamic gung-ho insider willing to rock the boat, as briefly happened in British cycling a few years ago. For us lot, this means it’s now time to get engaged & pass those ideas on, our governing bodies need people like us to pass on those ideas & show them how they could work in practice. We need to make it easy for them, we need to push them in the correct direction by providing plans & showing them how they can be implemented in an economical & constructive manner with the minimum resources, preferably the resources that already exist. It is the time of austerity after all, in order to progress sport in those times, we need to get smart & we need to get active. In Scottish Cycling’s case, the RDO’s (Regional Development Officers) appear to be getting much more involved & the right people are moving into the job, if you get correspondence from them, pass it onto your club mates, you never know who might have an opinion, they require as much feedback as possible. As I’ve said in the past, I’m quite willing for organisations to adopt & adapt any ideas printed on this blog & never acknowledge where they came from, it’s about developing the sport in the best way possible with the resources we have, that includes any ideas that are fed to me by other like-minded folks out there.

It’s fair to say I’ve had differences of opinion with Scottish Cycling, but I feel in every occasion when I’ve highlighted something I’m not particularly happy about, I’ve also highlighted a solution rather than just ranting as is so often seen on forums. After political & sporting events calming down a little (especially for us in Scotland), I’m guessing all will be as-it-is until at least 2018, i.e. Scottish Cycling using British Cycling insurance to run events in Scotland & the UCI remaining the World Governing body (unless they do something incredibly stupid & illegal).

In our own localities, the administrators & the sporting volunteers need to form a better bond, for the volunteers that means getting involved. The dire turnout at the Scottish Cycling AGM compared to days-gone-by, consisted of predominantly the same OAP’s who have been turning up for the last decade & have changed nothing (apologies to those outside that group who turned up, potentially the future facilitators of change). On the plus side, it has to be said that the youth side of the sport looks like it’s very far ahead of the mainstream thinking, with clubs & individuals helping young riders gather the required skills & know-how to become bike riders.

The Final Word

Those who voice forward thinking ideas or try to move things forward are often labels as activists. These individuals have a tendency to become the disgruntled ones who stop turning up at meetings & remove themselves from the process, clubs are littered with former willing volunteers simply became ‘scunnered’ with SCU & Scottish Cycling over the years. I’d like to see an effort to win these people back. For the administrators it means it’s time to be open & accepting that somebody has a good idea, not treating each passionate ‘activist’ as a direct threat. Once ‘the establishment’ chooses to listen to an ‘activist’ (whether in politics or in sport), that person (or group) generally becomes part of the solution to the problem, not the problem itself. In that way you solve the underlying problem the ‘activist’ is unhappy about, but as a bonus you also solve the ‘activist’ problem. Bingo!

Lets move things forward, put your ideas directly to Scottish Cycling, send them an email, write a blog. The initiative has to come from the governing body to actually listen, without that there’s little indication that they see either a need for change, or the impetus to do anything about it. If you stand still in any business you go backwards, that’s obvious is sport more than anything else, and not just in athlete performance. Become bothersome in 2015, it might make all the difference.

 

3600 Seconds: Part1

That old fella Jens Voigt ended my ‘199 Laps’ series of blogs, simply by doing more than 199 laps, so I’m carrying on with a more permanent title for the Hour Record blogs, ‘3600 seconds’. A new era of record-breaking has arrived, which I don’t expect to continue in large numbers beyond 2015 (for men anyway) where somebody will put it at a level that will take a momentous effort to beat. Whether that’s Wiggins, or somebody who can beat the performance I think Wiggo is capable of, the record will be stratospheric in a years time. My archive of Hour Record blogs is HERE.

Quick Update

Jens Voigt was first to have a go at the Hour Record after it was reset by the UCI, but we’ve covered that before, plenty of times (check out my Hour Record archive for more info). He covered 51.110km on the 18th September 2014 at the 250m Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, that’s a fine start to rebirth of this record, not quite as fast as the mark set by Francesco Moser of 51.151km in 1984. Followed by what one must assume was a nice retirement party & the obligatory watch was hopefully presented, quite fitting for what he’d just done. Then, on 30th October 2014 we had a rider I had little or no knowledge about, Matthias Brändle. He broke Jens record with 51.852km on the short 200m track at The World Cycling Centre (Aigle, Switzerland).

Since then we’ve had several riders talking about attempts (hopefully outside Switzerland for a change), thankfully including one woman, here’s a run down on what we have confirmed & what we have rumoured in anticipated chronological order. It’s looking like a lovely year for the Hour Record, plenty of attempts, unless of course, somebody knocks it out of the park very early, which is the trouble with a record attempt, you either win or lose, there is no 2nd place.

  • Jack Bobridge: January 25th, Melbourne
  • Rohan Dennis: February 8th 2015, Velodrome Suisse
  • Alex Dowsett: February 27th, London. (updated)
  • Sarah Storey: February 28th, London (confirmed) 46.065km womens record to beat.
  • Thomas Dekker: rumoured spring 2015
  • Bradley Wiggins: June 2015, likely London.
  • Alex Rasmussen: rumoured Autumn 2015, likely Copenhagen
  • Rasmus Quaade: likely Copenhagen
  • Ondrej Sosenka: Date unconfirmed, likely Moscow.

The Women

The 2003 record set by Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel will be first assaulted at the Olympic velodrome in London by a rider with too long a palmarès to list, Sarah Storey. She’ll go at the Revolution meeting on 28th February, the target to reach is 46.065km. For old timers, that’s as fast as riding a ’25’ in 52 minutes, but I think Storey will break it, possibly by no more than a km. Actually I hope it’s not by too much, an incredible performance at the first attempt may put the womens record on the shelf, I’d like to see as much interest as there has been from the men (hold a little back for the rematch Sarah). There could be a multitude of riders capable, tried & tested track riders like Sarah Hammer & wild cards like accomplished time triallist Emma Pooley might promote their tri-bike to another audience with a rapid hour (remember she took silver in the Glasgow 2014 TT only a few months ago).

The Men

Looking at the above list, it’s highly likely we’ll not see an attempt by Rasmussen later in the year, the record will likely be well out of reach by then. We can probably also discount Rasmus Quaade unless he does it very soon. Ondrej Sosenka, who held the ‘Athletes Hour’ & was later caught for doping, also looks unlikely, he needs to wait a while until he has some biological passport data after his break, so he may have ditched plans already. That leaves us with some high quality riders who can all set a very high mark, by March this record will only be taken seriously by the riders at the very top of the sport, in their very top condition. There’s plenty of online chat about Tony Martin, but I don’t believe he’ll ever hold this record. His style won’t work well on the track even if he produces more power than everybody else & could smash them in a straight line, the Hour Record is a different beast, it rewards a mixture of souplesse & power.

The Gist Of It

An incredible year ahead & at last the Hour has come back into the spotlight. The mens may be considered unbeatable by June, but the womens may become more interesting during the second half of the year. If Sarah Storey gets plenty of press it may spur some others into having a go. The womens peloton may be more open to embracing it in future as they attempt to increase their earning power & try to add additional value to sponsors, to a side of the sport given much less TV time & publicity than almost every mens discipline. A great year ahead, but those 3600 seconds will be some very painful & memorable ones for the riders.

Book Review: Climbs & Punishment by Felix Lowe

C&P Final Cover

Cyclists from elsewhere than the central lowlands of Scotland may not understand the ‘gringo’ reference, but it helps me explain the book very quickly. The author starts the book as what would be considered a ‘gringo’ & ends it an experienced cyclist, having suffered a multitude of cycling experiences condensed into a few short weeks on a ridiculous organised-ride from Spain to Rome. It’s a voyage of discovery & it’s the ideal Christmas present (to yourself) or to that hard-to-buy-for cyclist. It’s got something in it for everybody, from the die-hard racer to the complete newcomer, you’ll all recognise personal experiences & the personality types the book deals with, plus your non cycling partner (who pretends they don’t watch the Tour) will also likely enjoy it. This book, although at first glance not my normal cycling read, made me smile, it made me smile quite a bit.

The Author

This book comes with a warning, well, it’s not actually the book that has a warning, it’s the person who wrote it. If you ever go on an organised ride & somebody called Felix Lowe is present, go home or give a false name. When you read this book you’ll understand why, all your quirks & abnormalities may be magnified & published for all to read about.  The Author, Felix Lowe may be known to many of you, he’s the man behind the Eurosport ‘Blazin Saddles’ blog & can be followed on twitter @saddleblaze. He also writes the final article in ‘Cyclist’ magazine every month, so if you read about cycling a fair bit, you’ve undoubtably read some of his stuff.

The Review

I struggle to define ‘Climbs & Punishment’ as a particular genre of cycling book. It’s a mix of a travelogue, history book, gastronomy, cycling adventure & bike racing anecdotes from pro riders (including some fantastic ones he gleaned from chats with Greg LeMond), all written with plenty of humour, innuendo & not-so-veiled accusations. What makes this particularly interesting & different is the perspective it’s written from, the author first gained a deep knowledge of the sport of professional cycling by being involved in cycling journalism, before they ever became a cyclist. So this is his story of his initial voyage of a mans physical cycling discovery, potentially this is his unconscious quest to become a ‘proper’ cyclist. We follow his experiences during a rather bizarre (100km per day) organised ride which follows the route of Hannibal’s army into Rome from Spain, over a period of a few weeks. The full content of the book is probably not conveyed in the cover, but then, what could really.

You’ll also find some things discussed which won’t come up on your polite club-ride, mostly to do with bodily functions, body parts & the peculiarities of the effects of cycling’s motion & kit do to your body. Scrotums seem to be mentioned a fair bit, along with his ‘clock’ position in his shorts & the problem of eliminating that last drip, especially in his poor choice of shorts colour. We also get some descriptions of things he encountered on the way, dogs in a not so romantic embrace & an old man peeing in a car park. Normally the things we leave out of our descriptions of our wonderful cycling holidays we pass back to our families. Lowe experiences from a ‘newbie’ point of view what it’s like to get into cycling, but due to his journalistic experienced, Lowe does this with a knowledge which your normal sportive rider wouldn’t possess.

Competition is part of cycling at all levels, regardless of where we are in the sport. We see the authors competitive trait develop rapidly during the trip, with some full-on mountain battles later in the book when other groups turn up on the ride for a few days. Lowe tells you exactly what he’s thinking during his riding, which is especially revealing when the red mist takes over (although stopping to take a photo while having attacked on a mountain isn’t allowed in cycling etiquette).

His fellow companions get a bit of a pounding too, he didn’t know any of them beforehand, including his room-mate Terry, whose character is well & truly destroyed during this book. We discover far too much about these people (but you’ll find yourself wanting more), even people who helped him along the way get ‘the Felix treatment’, such as “Martin, the manager of the hotel and owner of a nose that could have hosted its own ski-jumping competition”. I won’t ruin some of the revelations you’ll discover, which is why I issued the warning at the beginning, it really is relevant (but it’s entertaining, you’ll laugh & your partner will ask what you’re laughing at, you’d probably would find it hard to explain without going into the finer details, just say “nothing”).

There are plenty of character types you’ll recognise from your cycling club, or at least recognise some aspects of their personalities. Lowe is a people watcher & is able to describe this to you in graphic detail, which is why you shouldn’t go on holiday with him. Under twitter questioning he has assured me that they took it all very well, having joined the Tour in 2014 for a few days where he met some of his 2013 ‘crew’, who shook their first in mock castigation.

Pro riders are mentioned frequently too, like Quintana, “with a birth certificate that makes a mockery of his crinkled-as-an-elephants-knee face”. The best ‘pro’ bits are with Greg LeMond, although some of that includes graphic bodily functions (as we’ve come to expect from this book) & Greg’s story of accidental Giro race food of parmesan, sausages & beer.

Hidden behind all the character assassinations is an incredibly well researched book, which perhaps is easy to forget amidst the humour & witty observations. Each significant area or road we visit has a brief resumé of what happened to Hannibal, with plenty of stories of grand-tour battles on the same terrain. This is where Lowe’s knowledge of the sport shines through & we can relate his struggles compared to those of our hero’s & villains of cycling (there’s plenty of doping innuendo here too). There’s also some analysis of a cyclists psyche hidden away & discovered by Lowe, such as “You only ever ride a climb like Ventoux alone anyway, even when in the presence of others”.

Who’s This Book For?

This is almost as hard to define as the book, it’s really not aimed at anybody in particular but will appeal to cyclist & non-cyclists alike. I’d suggest it’s a ‘must read’ for anybody about to book, or having recently booked a training camp in the new year.  You’ll meet plenty of the characters described in ‘Climbs & Punishment’ during your trip to warmer climes, it might even help prepare you for dealing with a trip. I’d suggest that you should have a little cycling knowledge to get something out of this book, but just occasionally watching the Tour over the last few years would be enough.

I’d also recommend Climbs & Punishment as a ‘catch-all’ Christmas gift for your cycling partner or friend (or a stocking filler suggestion for those asking what to buy you), everybody will get something out of it. I enjoyed it, now I need to catch up on some of his equally character destroying ‘Blazin Saddles’ blogs.

Climbs & Punishment is published by Bantam Press & is available HERE for £11.99 if you use Amazon.

(I only publish reviews of books I really like, I was sent this by the publisher, I have others than won’t appear here. Just because they’re not my cup of tea doesn’t mean I should slag of folks who are better writers than I am. Please don’t send me any more, I’ve no time to read any more!)

Riding In the Rain & Cold – #1 Mudguards

Winter cycling in Scotland is often seen by some as one of the most miserable things you can do on a bike, that’s not strictly true, I’m writing a series of posts on not just surviving it, but enjoying it. In this post we discover that mudguards are fundamental & the number-one necessary evil.

Riding without mudguards during a winter of “getting the miles in” really is a terribly miserable experience, it likely leads to plenty of riders becoming big sellers on ebay & gumtree while taking up snooker, darts or some other indoor pastime. This also allows them to indulge in their new-found alcoholism from having the after effects of repeatedly chilled wet feet & bumhole. It doesn’t have to be this way, fit some bloody mudguards & your winter of misery turns into an experience that a little bit of freezing rain can’t dampen.

The Advantages of Mudguards

  • Protects frame & parts from salt corrosion – If you ride your ‘good bike’ during winter without mudguards, it won’t be any good by March, you’ll be needing a new one, or at least some new parts. The roads are soon to be covered in grit & salt to keep the ice at bay, your bike will suffer hugely from this. Under the accumulated dirt, the components will start to corrode, as the winter progresses & you clean off the surface dirt, underneath the bearings, springs & moving parts in your drivetrain & brakes will deteriorate to the point they’ll need replaced.
  • Protects cycle clothing from degeneration & discolouring – Your expensive state of the art winter kit is going to suffer from getting repeatedly sprayed with road dirt & salt, so is your chamois, it’ll take a beating from repeated attack from salty gritty water. Treated fabrics lose their waterproof coating much quicker & you’ll also have to wash your outer layers on a continual basis to avoid looking like you’re a minger. Forget wearing anything white, it won’t be white for long.
  • Keeps you warm – Summer road spray is much more tolerable, winter road spray is a different beast altogether. Winter spray is generally just a few degrees above freezing, which makes all the difference. In summer on the worst of days a rain jacket will protect you, sometimes you’ll even be too hot. In winter the spray causes a constant chill which your body has to fight, it also costs you energy. Your body uses additional fuel to attempt to keep your body at the correct temperature while it’s extremities & your backside are to a continuous tap of water at chilled-beer temperature.
  • Stops feet from getting soaked (with addition of mudflap) – Mudguards without the addition of a mudflap will lose you one of the best & most useful advantages of mudguards. A correctly sized & positioned mudflap bolted onto the rear end of your front mudguard will protect your feet from all but the worst of soakings. Without the mudflap, the spray from your wheel seems to spray under the back of the mudguard & disperse directly onto your toes. Fit the mudflap & make it yourself from a plastic bottle, just cut it out & bolt it on, it’s easy & will make things much more pleasurable.
  • Makes the cafe stop a pleasant experience – With mudguards, you can sit in relative luxury sipping your coffee at the cafe stop, while your ‘road washed’ comrades are soaked through to their base layers & want to leave as quickly as possible before you’ve stuffed a cake down your gob. The water has been thrown up & drained over-the-top of collars & overshoes, having fully waterproof kit doesn’t make a difference in this situation, the water finds its alternative route in.
  • Chaffing – Grit ingressed & soaking wet chamois & pedalling don’t make happy companions, your bits & pieces won’t be happy for too long & your partner may ask you where you got that nasty rash, answering “the club run” is going to throw up more questions than answers. If anybody left a baby in a wet nappy for the period of time that your club run takes, the social services would be called in, it’s just not going to be good for you, fit some mudguards.
  • Allows you to train with mudguard-users without becoming a social leper – People with mudguards hate riding with people without mudguards in winter. It’s disrespectful, all the above issues become problems for the mudguarded riders due to inconsiderate riders who inflict their freezing cold spray on others. The reasons are often lazyness, vanity (they think it ruins the look of their bike, but don’t care that it covers them & others in dirt). For extra brownie points with other riders, the addition of a rear mudflap doesn’t protect you, but it sends out a message, it means you consider others by preventing any water at all spraying up into your club-mates faces, it’ll make you the most popular wheel to follow.

Fitting Options

If you’ve got mudguard eyes & a bit of clearance, you’re laughing, if not, you still have some options if you want to fit the best option of full mudguards with stays. Personally, I’d only fit the ‘race-blade’ type of mudguards if it was my last option, I’ve tried a few & they’re not nearly as secure & don’t offer the best protection for yourself & your ride-buddies. But ‘race-blades’ may be the only option if you’ve got very little clearance to fit mudguard between your fork crown & tyre on the front, or between your brake bridge & tyre at the rear.

  • Additional Fittings – These come in two options, fitted to either end of your quick-release skewer as seen HERE, or as metal clips with a plastic or rubber coating that clip round your frame HERE. Once you’ve got these fitted, you can fit any of the traditional mudguards that are available in your local bike shop (assuming you’ve got that necessary clearance). These fitting parts are hit-and-miss whether they’re in stock at you local bike shop, but they’ll all stock mudguards. They’ll also be able to tell you if it’s possible to fit mudguards, so if they give you their free advice, buy the mudguards from them regardless of whether they’ll supply you the fittings.
  • Clip-On Plastic Mudguards – If you really have to use a close clearance race type bike in the winter, these are your only options. You’ll often see them waving about in crosswinds & while mostly offering protection to the owner, other will sometimes get a face full of winter road dirt. It’s also less easy to fit effective mudflaps to these as they’re less secure. You’ll get these in your local bike shop & the most popular are branded ‘race-blades’, but plenty of options appearing on the market. A bit of advice I’d give is to forget the rubber fittings that allow you to take them on-and-off easily. You’ll get a much more secure fitting if you use cable ties to fix them on your bike for the whole winter, they tend to move a lot less & provide the protection from the elements you need in the middle of winter. It’ll also remove the need to constantly move them & the incessant rubbing can cause a bit of annoyance to you & others.

The Gist Of It

You’ll see photos & articles about the pro riders riding on training camps on their race bikes, that’s unrealistic for the amateur or club rider. They go somewhere warm, you might too, for just a week in the spring maybe, but the rest of the time you’re on the UK roads, the further north & west you get the worse the weather is. Fitting mudguards won’t make you look Italian, but over time it will save you money & help avoid time off the bike feeling unwell or with the bike requiring spares. It also protects others from your spray, it’s generally the inexperienced or inconsiderate riders who choose not to have mudguards, perhaps some just haven’t thought about it, so let them know, show them this & you may get a much cleaner bike ride next week. Fit some mudguards this winter, you’ll never go back.

 

 

Young Guns

It’s a tough challenge to replace somebody of the stature, charm & medal-count of Chris Hoy, but it looks like Scotland’s young track riders have risen to the challenge & are slowly rising onto the international stage, some with a big bang. For those who follow the sport closely, some may be well-known to you, for those with a passing interest in track cycling, it may be a welcome surprise to see what’s on the horizon.

The Well Knowns

Top of the list is Katie Archibald, whether or not her ever-changing hair colour has elevated her profile, it’s her results which really do the talking. Having been part of the all-conquering GB Team Pursuit squad, she’s now branching out on her own. In a very short space of time the Scottish star has risen from British Junior Individual Pursuit Champion in 2012, to World & European Team Pursuit Champion in 2014 & just last week made a significant step by taking the European Individual Pursuit title. Katie can only get better, she’s just 20 years old & looks able to turn her hand to any endurance events on the track (e.g. Bronze in the Commonwealth Games Points Race at Glasgow 2014). Road events are the obvious next step after mastering the track bunch races, with a 5th place at Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games Time Trial, then fading in the final lap of the road race, a little experience is likely to make these position numbers much smaller in the future. Not even the shackles of the British Cycling system has broken Archibald, her individuality shines through & looking at all the world-class female endurance riders they have, most look to be static at a very high level, not getting much quicker & not getting slower. Archibald on the other hand is noticeably improving & learning every time we see her compete. European, World & likely soon Olympic Champion Katie Archibald is one of the brightest sports stars of either sex that Scotland has produced, the British public or Katie herself haven’t quite come to terms with how far this star is likely rise as a sporting icon & positive role model once we get to Rio.

Callum Skinner has been smouldering under the radar of most cycling fans for a couple of years now, the 22 year old is now looking like he’s up to cooking temperature & the man most likely to inherit the titles that Chris Hoy made his own in the track sprint events. Skinner, who is still on the Olympic Development Programme beat all the riders on the full Team GB on their stealthy Team GB super-bikes, the Scot on his stock ‘Development’ Pinarello track bike. He won three individual events at the British Championships, the Sprint, Keirin, Kilometre Time Trial & took the Team Sprint with two Team GB Olympic riders, the British Championships require a world-class performance to win them. He followed this up by taking the European Kilo title last week, which strangely was held in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. To make things even more unusual for the Europe’s Elite track riders, the 333m track is outdoors & bumpy, very unlike their usual wind-less & indoors 250m tracks. Skinner however recorded a time 1:02.399, I’d be surprised if this isn’t an outdoor Kilo record at sea level (if he’d recorded this time at the British Championships, he’d still have won gold, which shows how fast he’s going in any conditions, on any track). Again, a rising Olympic star looking to Rio 2016.

Both these riders have been chosen to represent UK at the November 8-9th World Cup event in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Not-So Well Knowns

British Points champion Mark Stewart is another rapid improver, as I said above, to win a British title now requires a world-class ride, Stewart has likely sent shock waves though the established endurance stars with this gold medal. He took part in the Commonwealth Games for Scotland & was a surprise entry for the Individual Pursuit, he’s already 6 seconds quicker than his time from Glasgow 2014! Stewart is newly enrolled on the 2014/2015 intake to British Cycling’s Olympic Academy Programme, rapid improvement is not just expected, it’s required to stay on this programme, he proven himself a winner of a technical event, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a Scot in the GB Team Pursuit team at the 2015/2016 World Cup track season. You can read his interview with Veloveritas HERE.

Others I’m hoping to see step up are riders like Jonathan Mitchell & Jonathan Biggin in the sprint events, then Phil Trodden & Charline Joiner in endurance events. The last two probably are not exactly considered teenagers anymore, but Trodden appears to be rapidly improving, with 5th place in the British Scratch championship & Joiner has a new lease of life after breaking her back & fighting back to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I also wouldn’t write off Rigmar Racers from producing some surprises in 2015, they seem to be gathering even more experience & developing a talent for producing champions, will be interesting to see what young talent they have coming through.

Special Mentions

I was waiting to hear which Scottish riders had been enrolled on the new British Cycling Olympic Development Apprentice Programme (ODA), which invites the most talented youth riders into the machine. I saw on the GlasgowRiderz site that two riders have been invited, Ellie Park & Lewis Stewart. Both have some impressive palmarés, a youth rider taking silver in the recent Scottish Junior Sprint Championship caught my eye. Lewis Stewart was allowed dispensation to race-up into the junior event, where he was only beaten by British junior silver medal winner Jack Carlin, another rising sprint talent to keep an eye on (Lewis may have been allowed to ‘gear-up’, but regardless, it’s still very impressive). It’s always important to take note of a name for the future, one who performs against high quality opposition of a different age category, duly noted.

Good luck to all our up & coming riders, I know I’ve missed loads, sorry to those, but I’ll keep a close eye on the riders filtering through & performing well.

 

Contaminated Supplements: Beware & Be Aware

Worth watching this quick video on how products can become contaminated, it’s easy to get caught out if you don’t take any steps. It even happened to one of our Scottish Commonwealth team before Glasgow 2014, so everybody needs to watch what they ingest, ultimately you’re responsible for anything that turns up in there, not the manufacturer. You’ll also find UKAD’s supplement advice HERE.

The Horner Effect

A contact close to the UCI has divulged some details to spokeydokeyblog of a new plan due to be introduced for the 2016 season. One previously unaddressed aspect of aerodynamics will be tackled & a level playing field will be attempted. Experts have carried out a series of advanced calculations, using stopwatches & guesswork, to determine that if Chris Horner had possessed a full head of hair at the 2013 Vuelta Espania, he would have lost the title to Nibali by 23 seconds. This advantage has been seen as against the rules of a fair sport by Brian Cookson, well endowed with his full head of hair & ample beard.

The Science Bit

According to our source, the aerodynamic experts have created two versions of Chris Horners head for the wind tunnel, one with hair & one with a Cancellara style mullet. The airflow & turbulence under the helmet produced by the mullet was significant, although actual figures will not be released for data protection reasons. This data was analysed & calculations applied to determine the expected advantage Christopher Horner gained over a crew-cut Vincenzo Nibali. The results were apparently “staggering” & it’s now likely that a middle-aged man will never win a Grand Tour again if the new regulations are applied.

The AigleWig™

In Tennis we know that players such as John McEnroe have employed the use of wigs during competition, we currently don’t know in which form the UCI standard wig will take. What we do know according to our source, is that the wig will be named the Aiglewig™ & will be the only approved turbulence producing device able to be used during UCI events. The source confirms that if a hat is worn, then the AigleWig™ will still be required underneath. It will be identified as valid by the introduction of a UCI sewn badge system.

Bike shops & other retailers will be allowed to stock the AigleWig™ for what the UCI will describe as a “fair & appropriate purchase fee, which will obviously include a distribution of the costs involved in carrying out the research & paying the experts.”

The AigleWig™ will be also required to be attached in a recognised manner. On the track this will be by the use of approved rim cement only, while road & TT use will only require tub tape. It’s expected that the mechanics will not require any additional training.

 The Gist Of It

We are likely to see even more beard growing in the 2016 peloton, as the UCI are reported to be considering removing the requirement for an AigleWig™ if there is sufficient facial hair growth on any folicly challenged individual. This will be measured using a special jig which national federations & race organisers will be required to purchase from UCU headquarters for a “fair & appropriate hire fee”. 2015 may be the last chance for middle-aged gentlemen to attempt to win bike races if the alleged UCI proposals are voted through, Chris Horner may yet have his 2013 Vuelta title revoked if the rules are backdated. I’ll be reporting on any further developments on this story from some more reliable sources.

What a Mug

mugs

Some old cycling kit looks a bit naff, some a bit neon, there’s now a range of retro team mugs & espresso cups on the Cycling Souvenirs website, which have chosen some of the kits from the Lemond/Fignon/Millar era & made them into stylish mugs. I got these as a present, so I’m not supposed to look at the price, but I was so happy with them I thought I’d let everybody else know where to get them, after an internet search. The mugs are good quality, survive the dishwasher & the designs make them stand out from your normal mugs. Now I’ve just got to find a way of slowly replacing all our mugs with cycling themed ones, a mission in progress I think.

Get them at Cycling Souvenirs, retro mugs linked HERE, but there’s plenty of other mugs & things to pass on to your dearest as potential future present ideas for the cyclist who doesn’t quite have everything.

 

Braveheart Ride: Saturday 25th October

BraveheartPoster

Get your entries in for this ride starting in Kilmarnock on Saturday 25th October, it’ll fill up quickly, should be a great ride, for a good cause. Entry links HERE, along with routes & other details.

If you’re around the area, why not make a weekend of it & ride the Irvine Beach cyclo-cross on the Sunday, full details & entry on Scottish Cyclo Cross.

That Referendum Blog

There used to be an underlying distaste in Scotland for most things English, I’d suggest that was a very long time ago, things have changed since then & attitudes have matured significantly. The current debate over Scottish independence is absolutely nothing to do with that outdated viewpoint, we’ve moved on.

Irvine Welsh perhaps portrayed one transitional aspect of the beaten down Scottish attitude perfectly in ‘Trainspotting’, with the outpouring speech of ‘Renton’ on his own personal realities on being colonised by the English. This film, set in the late 80’s, amid the Thatcher years, showed a transition in the Scottish mentality. Into 2014, we’ve now moved much further on, Scotland’s attitude has matured incredibly.  The Scottish Parliament had a landslide victory for the SNP in 2011, a voting structure which was always designed to have multiple parties in power, instead Scotland voted for change. You’d be incorrect in assuming that Scots who voted for that particular party hold the SNP & Salmond in very high regard, they were voted in a tool to instigate change, not because people particularly like them or their policies. No other party offered anything other than Westminster control, we wanted our own say in constitutional matters. The current engagement of 97% of the Scottish voting population is testament to that, unseen in Western democracies before. This 2011 result created a mandate for change, which is what the underlying feeling always was, not ‘separatism’ & the press portrayal of hatred of our southern neighbours, that’s so 1980’s, that’s not 2014 Scotland at all.

Regardless of what you read in the press, during the debate I’ve not seen any hostility in the streets, I’ve seen no shouting or harassment, even the Police say it’s been blown out of all proportion. I’ve worked the last few weeks in the midst of what I would expect to be a flash point, I’ve witnessed conversations, but all have been amicable, I actually expected something different, I was pleasantly surprised. England, or even Britain isn’t the target of bitterness as far as I’ve seen, all I’ve seen is a scrabble for information, well-mannered debate & an acceptance that Scotland should take responsibility for itself.

As far as sport goes, my blogs make it obvious, I’m very much somebody who embraces change, it’s no different in cycling or in governance. All of these islands can benefit from having a progressive & hopefully modern country in close proximity. We can design our structures from the bottom up & ignore the tired old confines of a badly evolved & outdated sporting structure. We can set a template for how things could & should be done, that’s the opportunity we can have once we know the result at 5am on Friday. A chance to design a structure & plan from the ground up, cycling can thrive if it’s planned to fit Scotland & meet the needs of a smaller population.

Scotland now feels like that slightly odd 40-year-old, one who’s still living at home & all the neighbours think it looks a little odd, but they wouldn’t say out loud. If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ tomorrow, all that happens is that we get a girlfriend & feel happy to leave home. We’re perfectly capable of looking after ourselves, it’s just that we’ve not had the opportunity or the motivation before. We’ve contributed hugely to the household, we’ll still come & help out when we’re needed, but the household will just have to manage without us from now on. If you need us, we’re just up there, call in, you’ll be welcome.