Day Of The Lost Hour

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This evening signals absolute horror for a tired & struggling parent like Chris Froome, looking after a new baby & trying to hold down a job (equally relevant if you work in an office or your job involves trying to hang onto Quintana on a summit finish). The treacherous loss of yet another hour of sleep is going to happen overnight, and you are powerless to do anything about it. For others however, it will quite often herald the arrival of your summer cycling season, the rides after work will start, chaingangs continue in earnest, and you can consider the removal of those yellow lenses to counteract the SAD symptoms you’ve been gathering all winter.

Clocks go FORWARD 1 hour at 1am tonight (Sunday 27th March 2016), don’t forget to check your phone or alarm is set up for this, or you’ll be turning up for your club ride tomorrow when nobody else is there.

Long Evenings

Asides from the #StravaMentals who try to out-do each other all through the depths of winter, for those of us who just enjoy riding our bikes these days, the clocks going forward is a key point in the cycling season. For me, it’s when I realise I need to put my non-mudguarded bikes on the road, realising I’ve not cleaned them since the summer. So a little bit of work required, but this is nice work in the grand scheme of things.

Evening bike rides & mid-week cycling club activities starting to pick up are the big ‘tells’ that summer is nearly here, well, what we call ‘summer’ anyway. Non-freezing temperatures, a bit of sunshine that feels slightly warm on your skin, the 3 or 4 evenings when you’re genuinely comfortable wearing shorts on the bike & the arrival of midgies to ruin your BBQ or beer garden pint.

This is also the time that the bulk of newbie solo cyclists appear on the roads, it’s been happening very recently when there’s been a few days with some sunshine, with riders appearing in shorts when it’s barely scraping 5 degrees. From next week, we’ll be seeing more of this, the cycling bonanza is more evident that ever after the clocks change, it has the same effect we used to only see in July when the Tour appeared on the telly. So be nice to the new riders you see out, be friendly rather than gloating or blasting past them in a sea of testosterone, only to slow back up 100m up the road. With any luck you might get to chat to them & save their knees by giving a little friendly advice on avoiding injury.

Wave At Everybody

Now that you’ll be able to actually see riders in the evening, wave to everybody, especially new riders, no matter how inappropriate their dress for the conditions, we’re all cyclists & you were that rider one day. Part of the problem may be that ‘seasoned’ cyclists no longer wave to riders who don’t fit their idea of ‘cyclists’. You have no idea where they’re going to end up, so treat them with respect, instill a habit in everybody from their first outing. We all see solo riders who don’t wave back time & again, if enough people wave at them even the most socially inept time triallist newcomer with be compelled to start waving back, then they’ll start waving at others before they wave at them. You can start social cycling to spread like a disease.

Hour Record Attempt, when the clocks go back?

The clocks changing the other way would be an ideal opportunity for a publicity stunt when they change back again, you’ve plenty time to prepare too. You could schedule your Hour Record attempt from 1am to 2am, I’m pretty sure even I could break Brad’s 54.526km over a 2 hour period from 1am, back to 12am, then onto 2am. That’s just 27.263km (or just under 17mph to any old duffers still reading), technically you started at 1am & finished at 2am, but the stopwatch would read 2 hours, surely somebody must fancy having some fun with this?

Or do it tonight, you can just climb straight off the bike without having pedaled anywhere & an hour will have passed, kind of. That’s possibly the least painful & appealing way to make an Hour Record attempt.

Australian Pursuit Sportive?

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Most riders who take part in road races will know what an APR is, it stands for Australian Pursuit Race & is a handicapped road race. The riders are set off in small groups, where the *theoretically slower riders getting a head start on the faster riders (*theoretical, as in there’s always a ‘ringer’ or two). The last group leaves at the back of the field, it’s called ‘The Scratch’ & aims to mop up the time deficit it’s given away to all the other riders ahead, which often happens if the handicapping is done by somebody wanting to see a thrilling race. Could there be a more inclusive, cost-effective & easier way to combine a racer’s training event & a cycle sportive, hybrid event, for the benefit of everybody?

Why Change?

Currently, an APR is considered an official ‘race’, but are they really considered a serious race by most? They’re often at the beginning of the season & used to test form, as a training tool or just to get used to a bunch again after a winter on the turbo trainer. We could probably fulfil all these requirements with a simpler & easier option for clubs to organise. The best riders won’t be boasting too much by the time the Drummond Trophy comes along that they won an APR. There are no licence points available for these events (although I know some have ‘slipped through the net’), so what do racers get out of having these as official races than just, say, a specifically structured sportive? Arguably possibly nothing.

Could we also use a APS (Australian Pursuit Sportive) as a stepping stone to riders actually sticking a number on their back in an official road race, by making these events accessible & attractive to more types of cyclists? Currently, the two sides of the sport don’t converge very much, apart from club riders taking part in some sportives, the old APR format could be remodelled to become the transition event that bridges the gap between participation & competition. Riders new to racing could hone some group skills, by riding mostly with 10 to 15 riders at first, rather than hanging around the back of a bunch & being afraid to attempt to move up.

There’s a huge semi-competitive market out there, as we see from riders ‘winning’ sportives & the Strava phenomenon claiming the hearts & minds of cyclists the world over, people like feeling competitive. So far the ‘race scene’ has done very little to tap into that, if it wants to survive long-term domestically with ever-increasing traffic volumes & police costs starting to be charged, the old model has to be updated, or at least reviewed based on how riders now choose to ride. Providing a semi-competitive event with a taste of what’s involved in the next competitive level up could be an eye opener for some, when the scratch group comes blasting past, looking organised & faster than they’ve seen a group move before, other than on the telly. Surely riders could be seduced to look a little deeper into the world of cycling. Alternatively, some riders who persevere at road racing but don’t have the time for specific race training, may see sportives as a better option for them, it could go either way.

Safety could obviously be an issue, I don’t ignore the point that I’m sure commissaires would make. But if we chose to run these events on suitable courses, with the road racers being made very aware that the rules of the road have to be obeyed in these events, then we shouldn’t have a problem. The sportive riders are already very familiar with this, so it’s actually the racing cyclists that need to take note, the ones who are used to a protected race environment. We should also ensure that very large bunches never come together, so things would have to be a little different, I’ll go into that later, read on & I’ll explain myself.

This APS format becoming popular could also open up a funding stream for clubs, so often we hear that it’s frowned upon to dare to attempt to make a profit from a road race. If you’re catering for a different mixed market, why not make one or two £’s from each rider, with a larger field than a road race would allow & boost your club funds for equipment or supporting youth riders?

Other plus points are that new riders are not immediately thrown into a 60 (or 80) strong bunch in their first race, which is where the understandable safety issues have been highlighted in recent years. In an APS, they would be introduced to a bunch in smaller groups, hopefully a place which makes it easier to learn the basic skills such as ‘wheeling about’ properly. We have to accept that the big clubs that teach these skills are becoming less normal now, access to the sport is becoming a much more solo affair, due to the vast online cycling community. While this introduces a huge amount of riders to cycling, it’s very different reading about skills than actually being taught them in a club structure. Road racing still assumes that these skills have been taught before an entry is completed, but this isn’t the case anymore & the sport has to adapt, we need a bridging event where skills can be acquired at a semi competitive level in much smaller groups than 60 riders.

Costs

If we look at basic costs, it’s just over £20 to register a Regional C event, like an APR, then the riders pay £3.95 out of their entrance fee as a levie to Scottish Cycling. A sportive has an initial registration fee of £50, then individual levies of £1.20 per rider. Below are some examples of the fees to the governing body you’d pay.

60 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (60 x £3.95) = £259
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (60 x £1.20) = £122

80 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (80 x £3.95) = £338
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (80 x £1.20) = £146

200 Riders

  • Sportive: £50 registration + (200 x £1.20) = £290

You’d get to 240 riders for a sportive before you reach the amount you’d pay to the governing body to run an 80 rider APR.

You’d likely have no different a cost for the race HQ for both, lets call it £100, same with first aid, lets call that £100 too. But for a sportive, you’ll not need NEG motos, nor the same requirement of marshals (although you may want them), no lead cars & commissaire vehicles, race radios, prize money, all those other bits & pieces that are not really required for what is essentially an organised training event.

If we add all that up, for a 200 rider field, we have £290 fees to Scottish Cycling (Note: more than they’d get for a 60 rider standard road race field), £100 HQ, £100 First Aid, so for the basic costs we’re at £2.45 per rider. This would allow chip timing probably working out to under £3 per rider from somebody like Mark Young’s MyLaps system (prices vary depending on riders, there’s a standing charge plus price per chip, so worth asking because my costings may be out of date, he’s on twitter @myeventtiming).

When we add it all up & you’re getting your event insurance, facilities & chip timing for about £6 per rider. If you want to do the sportive thing & provide a club sponsors printed event t-shirt & a medal for every rider, plus some spot prizes, you can get all that for under £15 entry per rider. All you’re doing is defining a training event as precisely that, not kidding on it’s a proper race, a more honest & potentially more useful APR. Another possibility could be upgrading a reliability ride to the slightly more formal format of an APS.

How Would It Work?

Early season only: Now I’m not suggesting these new APS events have to continue all through the season, I’m only talking about the first 6 weeks (or so) of a season. After that serious riders will either have a full schedule of big events planned out, whether they are road races (with licence points) or sportives, could be decided by their experiences in these early season multi-discipline events.

200 riders max: Lets say that this style of event would have a cap of 200 riders, purely for safety reasons & to keep it simple for organising clubs & to fit the event in their local facility. 200 riders would provide the critical mass to dissolve the chip timing costs amongst the riders to keep the costs of the event to a minimum for clubs & riders.

Modified Handicapping: This is probably the big change over an APR. With chip timing, we don’t actually need to have everybody cross the line at once in a big bunch sprint, everybody would get their own time. I’d envisage that we could spread the event over a longer period of time, to avoid large groups assembling together.

How I’d lay the field out would be as follows, but I’m sure other people have plenty of other ideas.

  • The riders towards the rear of the event would be laid out in a similar fashion to a traditional APR, with the riders being positioned in groups according to race results (i.e. these would be race licence holders). I’d make the second scratch quite hard to catch from the scratch group, which would make sure everybody has to work like hell together to make inroads into the other riders, this is a semi-competitive training event for the experienced riders after all. Other accomplished sportive riders, with high sportive placings, can elect to join one of these ‘racers’  groups, apart from the last two groups, which would consist of experienced racers (just to be safe). The time gaps between groups would be larger than a traditional APR, to avoid large groups assembling.
  • The first riders out on the road would be the slower sportive riders, again with significant time gaps between groups of 10 to 15 riders. It would be expected that these groups would fragment, as the assumption is that the opportunity for group skills amongst these groups had not been available.
  • The ‘sportive’ groups would steadily get faster until the ‘racers’ groups left the start. You could slip in a group of super-vets somewhere too, amongst the ‘sportive groups.
  • The fastest sportive groups are likely to be a fair bit quicker than the slowest ‘racers’ groups, so there is a possibility that there could be some intermingling of the ‘sportive’ & ‘racers’ groups here, it would require a test event to find out.

Clear Routing: This isn’t a race, so the riders are to obey the rules of the road & any marshals & signs are for routing purposes only. A carefully planned course can alleviate these issues to maybe only one or two junctions where the riders do not have priority, where this isn’t the case, turning onto a relatively quiet road may be possible. As I said previously, this is the major education issue if these events are to be considered, that if you are required to stop at a junction, you’ll have to, this may need to be enforced in some way. Any dangerous corners must have highly visible marshalling & signs, obviously.

The Gist Of It

There’s really nothing new in this at all, all I’m proposing is an early season calendar of these type of event, allowing all categories of riders to take part in one event While also opening the doors to sportive riders to let them get a glimpse of the ‘racing’ side of cycle sport which they are also welcome to dip their toe into, the other way round too.

If you think your event carries a high risk & you can’t find a more suitable course, keeping the event under the safety & control of a race day organisation will ensure that things are as safe as possible. But if your event could be considered more of an early season training event, that nobody is going to risk their life to ‘win’, then changing its status could be an option next year.

Our sport evolved before the mass appeal of cycling hit the general public, to not adapt & to ignore sportives & mass cycling is a mistake. We should be embracing it & providing events that both racers & sportive riders can take part in, with the hope that some may be enticed into official racing. Otherwise we’re living in the past & ignoring those who are now the majority of cyclists, there’s likely some very strong talent out there to be discovered.

I’m going to throw this idea out there for discussion, I’m sure I’ll get some concerns. It could get more riders entering semi-competitive events, a bigger crossover to racing & open a funding stream for clubs, with no less money going to the governing body, all with less effort than organising a ‘proper’ road race. “Why not” I ask, I’m sure you’ll tell me, because I’m absolutely certain some will absolutely hate this idea, but it’s just an idea? Some may see it as an opportunity, but maybe with some tweaks it could prove a welcome success & a boost for the sport.

Sagan – The Combine Harvester

SaganCombine

The 1989 Tour was memorable for the incredible victory of Greg LeMond over Laurent Fignon in the final metres of tarmac in Paris. But something died that year, something that had a special charm to it, a jersey that the Tour de France could really benefit from re-introducing, sitting quietly on the shoulders of Steven Rooks, it would never reappear. It’s been won by giants of the peloton like Merckx, Zoetemelk, Hinault & LeMond. It was distinctive, yet a patchwork of the other jerseys, some didn’t like it, but there was something very special about it. There’s one man in the current group of riders who would really embrace the flamboyance & daring of taking this jersey from the hands of the Tour leader, I bring you the perfect partnership, Peter Sagan & ‘The Combine Jersey’.

The combine jersey been introduced & reintroduced several times since 1968. In its initial guise the combine jersey was pure white, it finally emerged as the patchwork styled jersey in 1985, but built quite a following in the small number of Tours it was present in. It represents the rider who’s doing best in all three classifications, with points awarded for general classification, mountains & points competitions. So to win this, you’d have to be reasonably well placed in all classifications, you’d have to be a strongman. There’s currently no rider who could be described better than a ‘strongman’ as Tinkoff-Saxo’s one man army Peter Sagan, he has more impact on the race than some entire teams, and he does it relatively all by himself while also helping out his team leader.

I’ve been hugely impressed by him during this Tour, it’s almost a blessing for the cycle fan that he’s not won a stage so far, his exploits off the front may be blunted if he stops hunting that win. If a jersey like this was up for grabs, we could have riders like Sagan sprinting for cat 3 & 4 mountain points, desperate to get into breakaways & then hanging on for as long as they can to the GC men as the altitude gets higher.

This is our 26th Tour without a Combine Jersey, maybe it’s about time that ASO thought about bringing it back. I’m sure Sagan’s a bit bored with the Green Jersey now, he needs a new goal. It may also allow them to focus the Green Jersey even more on sprint stages. I can see plenty of other riders with very different skills who could really challenge for this, among them Kwiatkowski, Teklehaimanot, Rolland, Gallopin etc. It’s an opportunity for the Tour to re-invigorate itself, to give the good all rounders something to fight for, or a consolation prize for former GC hopefuls.

The young rider jersey is won by a rider who can stay with the front group in the mountains, the same for the mountains jersey, so all we have left is the green jersey. The combine can be a goal for teams who’s best rider is a classics star, other than occasional stage wins, this gives focus on a day-to-day basis for these teams, adding another dynamic to the race. Lets get this one back, it looks great on Sagan’s shoulders.

(Thank you very much to my excellent photoshopper, I’m in no way talented enough to make Sagan look any good in the jersey, great work)

Road Deaths: Political & Media Interest

Embed from Getty ImagesThe 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.

 

Sky High on Salbutamol?

Embed from Getty ImagesTwitter 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:

Riding In the Rain & Cold – #1 Mudguards

Embed from Getty ImagesWinter 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.

 

 

The Horner Effect

Embed from Getty ImagesA 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™

Embed from Getty ImagesIn 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.

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.

Skinnyfixation

Embed from Getty Images

A significant number of high-profile riders have been reported ill in 2014, both before & during events. This seems to have been occurring more often in the build-up to the Tour de France, with several riders dropping out of events recently. Could this poor health be a result of the extremely low body fat percentages riders are now attempting to reach before the primary target of the year? Are we on the verge of another big problem in the sport, with the Tour starting tomorrow, may some riders have developed eating disorders as a result of pressure from themselves or others to gain an unhealthy performance advantage?

Percentages

Fat is required to keep us healthy, we all need some reserves, some have lots, some seem able to keep very little, but pro riders often look like they’re running dangerously low these days. We don’t have a recommended average body fat percentage figures for professional riders, although it’s been reported that pro men have been recorded well below 6%. ‘Essential Fat’ is 3% to 5% for men & 8% to 12% for women, so running near this without proper supervision is likely very unwise & particularly unhealthy.

It has to be noted that these riders don’t have to operate in the normal world that most of us inhabit, traveling to work on the bus & train around the general public with their coughs & colds. You & me would find it very hard to function at this kind of fat level, it’s not conducive to normal life & health. I have to admit, that in the distant past I too had developed a bit of interest in my weight, while I was at a point I was racing several times a week & getting obsessive with my training. At the time I’d probably not think/admit that it had got to a problematic level, but I was getting regular fat skin fold measurements & weighing myself daily, while marking it in the training diary. I managed to ‘survive’ for approximately 2 years at a level below around 8%, dropping right down to nearly 5% at one point. during this period I did get some good results, but I suspect my low body fat percentage contributed to a combination of health problems, mostly the ease by which I was able to contract colds & other illnesses, I got very run down & had the Epstein-Barr virus, all too common with underweight cyclists. It wasn’t a healthy or sustainable way to live, but at the time it seemed the ‘normal’ thing to do with those I was spending time with, who were all similar racing obsessives, caught in the same bubble.

Having a low fat percentage makes us look ‘ripped’, it intimidates our rivals & makes us look more ‘pro’. But what we don’t consider is that the professional riders who can stay healthy at very low fat levels are monitored by their teams physicians & coaches. They also don’t have to go to work 9 to 5. Everybody probably has a healthy range where they can fight off coughs, colds & other more serious illnesses, but without experiencing these negative effects, we don’t know where that line is drawn with each individuals physiology. Percentages are irrelevant, the warning signs are always there, but it is incredibly hard to discount them when riding a bike fast is really all you’re bothered about.

Carlos

Lets take Carlos Betancur as an example. The recent information regarding Colombian climber Carlos Betancur’s weight brings back memories of Jan Ullrich’s expansive winter issues. Betancur’s weight gain is in no way similar to Ullrich’s, it’s very mild by comparison, but the Colombian has managed to put on 6kg over the winter, when you consider his race weight is 56kg, that’s quite a large percentage increase (although he has just managed to win a stage Haut Var). At 62kg (about 9stone 10pounds) & 167cm (about 5’6″) tall, Betancur would still be considered quite a little chap in normal society.

If we assume that he was at least 8% fat percentage, then at his 56kg race weight, he was carrying about 4.5kg of fat. So we can deduce that his 62kg weight increase resulted in a fat percentage of about 20%. As a comparison, for this piece I actually reverted to the long forgotten past & checked my own fat percentage using one of those fat-guessing bathroom scales, it said 14%. I’m a Sunday cyclist these days, fit enough for club rides but not for racing, I’d suggest that Carlos has indeed let himself go a bit if he’s fatter than a chopper like me.

This may not be the whole truth here of course, we’ve no idea if this is all fat that he’s gained, some could be muscle, he may have been doing some weights over the winter break. The rider in question has other issues, so the weight gain could be linked to problems back home in Colombia, but is still useful as an example.

Why they do it

If we take things on a simple watts per kg basis, we can see some examples of the performance advantages riders can get running at very low body fat percentages, while gambling with taking weeks of with illness & perhaps missing the their target events.

We can take our Carlos Betancur example again. At 56kg & a perceived 8% body fat, we deduce that he carries 4.5kg of fat. If we take Carlos’ fat percentage down to 5%, his total weight will be 54.2kg. If we then add some W/kg values we see where the gains are made. From the Andrew Coggan chart, an international pro has a functional threshold ranging from 5.69W/kg to 6.4W/kg. So if Carlos (for example) was at the bottom of this range & at 8% body fat, he would be expected to produce 319 Watts at threshold. If he managed to reduce his body fat percentage to 5%, his W/kg would increase from 5.69 to 5.9W/kg. What this means is that the weakest of the international pro’s can gamble with their health to elevate themselves from somebody struggling to maintain a contract, to a rider who is around a mid-level international pro & should be much more employable. The danger is that it’s likely only at the higher end where the pro riders have the medical support which can allow them to make such changes to their bodies, without the expected detrimental effects of their physical condition. Others may be making bad decisions in order to reach the pro level, without any medical support.

The Gist Of It

Losing weight for the hobby cyclist or weekend warrior is most likely always possible, but it’s a very different case for elite level riders, who could already be teetering on the edge of health problems, while being in the form of their lives.

An 85kg club rider who reduces his fat percentage from 20% to a reasonable & healthy 15%, would save the weight of 6.8kg, an important number because it’s the UCI’s minimum bike weight. By eating a bit better, riding your bike more & cutting down on beer & fizzy drinks you could shed the weight of an entire bike! So getting rid of that belly or bum is a big bonus to riding a bike for most people.

For elite riders, losing some weight may result in an increased risk of illness, meaning that all that training could be wasted by losing a big chunk of the season. If you’re racing in the UK, getting to dangerous fat levels is not only unwise, it’s also not going to benefit you as much as it would if you were racing up 15km long Alpine Cols. We have to deal with bad weather, especially in Scotland, leave the dangerous fat levels to the continental pro’s, racing in temperatures above 25°C & monitored by trained medical staff. If you try to race here at ridiculous fat percentages, you’ll probably have to wear extra clothing to just keep warm most of the year, best to keep that safety buffer in natures choice, a healthy layer of fat.

An unhealthy obsession about weight can develop into an eating disorder, this can happen to anyone, not just the to the media’s common target of teenage girls. Athletes can can encounter this problem too for an entirely different reason, performance, not body image. Stay healthy, stay lean, but let your body find its own level by eating a healthy balanced diet while training, if you go overboard on weight reduction, you may get more than you bargained for. Some natural weight reduction advice that anybody can do, as told to me by a former coach, “make sure you have a thorough visit to the toilet before every race”.

 

Spokey Dokey League

Embed from Getty Images

If you think you know better than Dave Brailsford, if nobody ever listens to your team selection choices, this is your chance to prove yourself. Sign up (it’s free) at Velogames.com, choose your team & enter the Spokey Dokey Mini League Code 30191854 to join.

How It Works

You have 100 credits to build your team, each rider has a value, going from Chris Froome who’ll cost you 26 credits, right down to Scrabble expert Xabier Zandio on 4 points. You get points for stage placings, each of the jerseys, , team assistance, overall positions after each stage & final GC.

I’ll devise some kind of suitably rubbish prize for the winner, as long as you live in the UK & I don’t have to post it far far away. But you will get regular updates during the Tour on who’s doing well in the league, as my team likely fade & wilter & fight to stay off the bottom rung. Happy picking & get it sorted before the Tour starts on Saturday!

 

 

Throw-Away Bike Culture?

Hope

Only ten or fifteen years ago, cycling was very much a minority sport in the UK. Nowadays, after the success of the GB Olympic Team, Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree, Chris Hoy & Victoria Pendleton on the track, then Mark Cavendish & Bradley Wiggins ‘winning stuff’ at the Tour de France, the British sports fan now has an understanding of what our sport entails, it’s etched into their consciousness. This has led to the popularisation of cycling as a hobby, which coincided with a general rise in interest in ‘sporting achievement’ & fitness throughout the population, like running a marathon, completing a triathlon, or taking part in a sportive. The sport of cycling is now grease-packed full of middle-aged men with disposable income, some who have moved from participation to competition. We still don’t have the big base of competitive junior riders, although youth competition is flourishing mostly in racing, there still seems to be no increase in the number of kids ‘playing’ on bikes.

Side Effects

Along with all this success, the cycling market is now targeting the area with that large disposable income, crudely referred to in some press articles as MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). This has perhaps led to the reduction in other areas of the bike industry, where the ‘throw-away culture’ doesn’t fit. Frame building, repair & painting, wheel building & repair, and your local bike shop, which I’ve covered before.

Wheel building in your local area has been dramatically affected by the rise of factory built wheels, which has reduced the hand-built market significantly. Most local bike shops now have displays with factory built wheels, with the wheel jig hidden away in the back shop. Wheels have become a throw-away item, we used to buy nice hubs & keep them running for years, replacing the rim when that one wore out. The huge developments that have been made in component technology have also had an effect on this, by the time your rim has worn out a new groupset advance has been introduced. In my cycling time we’ve gone from racing on 6 speed blocks (down tube friction levers, you had to ‘find’ your gear), to 11 speed cassettes & press button gearing. All these changes make a difference to the hubs spacing & dimensions, one is called ‘dish’, simply put, the space that’s required to fit these extra gears requires an ever steeper ‘dish’ on the gear side spokes. It could be argued that the standard spoked wheel these days is weaker than the standard wheel of the lesser gear times, just down to the ‘dish’ factor.
Fixing wheels used to be a simple matter, now it’s more complicated, fewer people are able to provide the service & the spokes are different, some factory wheels require special spokes, other ‘direct pull’ spokes need to be threaded at both ends & be a very particular length. Some shops can provide these items, some can cut & re-thread spokes, but when your factory wheel breaks, you’ll probably buy another one & the old one will go in the bin. Wheels have become a throw-away item.

Frames are now in much the same way ‘throw-away’ , although the craftsmen who formerly built you a made to measure steel frame were much harder to find locally than wheelbuilders. I’ve also gone into this subject previously too in some detail in You’ve Been Framed & Strong, Light, Cheap, pick two. Frame repairs are also seldom requested these days, aluminium & carbon frames are much harder to fix than steel frames. Steel usually consists of a standard tubeset, the repairer knows exactly the thickness of what you’re working with before they start, which makes it much easier to alter, plus you were normally working with solder rather than welds. This makes aluminium frames something most people will avoid working with, you could end up finding a very thin wall thickness & blow a hole in it while attempting a weld. Carbon isn’t really something you want to work in your local bike shop either. This makes both carbon & alumium ideal for the industry to adopt as a throw-away item, if it breaks you just buy another, a big difference to the very recent past.

Frame respraying was also incredibly common, but now quite rare. When you look into the cost of resprays it becomes all too obvious why, we can now buy an off the peg frame for the same price. So if your paintwork is in a mess, it’s more likely you’ll buy a new frame than send it away for a new paint job.

Choice

I’m certainly not a traditionalist, I also have a healthy disregard for nostalgia that holds us back, what I’m not a fan of is the current ‘throw-away culture’. We’re losing vital cycling services due to the markets focus on one demographic, our small local businesses suffer & can’t compete with the economy of scale of big-business buying power. They’ve managed to switch the market in things like wheels to ‘factory’, from ‘hand-built’, which has forced the cyclist to purchase the same products as everybody else, we now look the same & ride identical or very similar kit, is this a good thing, does it actually remove choice without us realising, have we become commercial slaves? The UCI have even got on this bandwagon by ‘approving’ with their infamous sticker system factory built wheels for competition use. Everything is turned against small business due to market demand, the custom wheel built in your local shop, the hand-built frame constructed by a craftsman, even the old local fella who used to fix & sew up your punctured tubs, it’s all disappearing.

So why not buy your next pair of wheels from your experienced local bike shop? Chat about the number of spokes a rider like you requires, what you’re using it for, how you ride. Choose your hubs, choose a rim & take advice on what spoking pattern is best for you. I’m quite sure it will give you a better understanding & appreciation of what’s involved, along with the security that these wheels can be fixed locally in a very short period of time. Maybe these are the ones that get the most abuse, winter or training wheels, which nowadays may be the wise option for a hand-built wheelset. Choosing a set of wheels from scratch helps you analyse exactly what you are as a cyclist. It may show you’re a ‘bling’ merchant, you may need many more or less spokes than a rider of similar weight (a lesson to change you’re riding habits perhaps). Remember that factory wheels are built for everybody, which means they are designed for the larger gentleman, if you’re not that rotund individual, maybe you can benefit from something else?

Some manufacturers don’t operate in this manner, recently I’ve had experience with Hope products, where they carry all spares, even for each component in their lights. In my opinion this may work out cheaper in the end, a relatively expensive product but one which can be repaired & seems good quality. The same goes for my extensive cycle computer graveyard in a box in the bike-cave, which required no more gravestones once I purchased a Garmin unit, which works & was repaired once by Garmin in a matter of days.

The Gist Of It

Take the experts advice. But remember that all ‘advice’ is a form of nostalgia, based on what worked well & what failed for the person or business dishing out that advice, then it’s passed onto & applied to yourself. I’d much rather trust the person providing that advice if I saw them on a regular basis & they had a better idea of what I need, rather than advice from marketers in a corporate boardroom deciding what you’re riding next year. This kind of informed & personal advice is good nostalgia, don’t throw it away.

Being Batman

Modified Creative Commons Licence photo by Dale Beckett http://www.flickr.com/photos/84800532@N02/
Creative Commons Licence photo by Dale Beckett @ flickr

Batman requires his secret cave in order to be a super hero, it contains all his specialist vehicles & provides the means he requires to progress his fight against crime, without it he would be nothing. Most cyclists require their ‘man cave’, or ‘bike shed’, which serves a similar purpose for the pursuit of their hobby/obsession. The subtle difference is that ‘The Bike Shed’ is very real for us, we all try to make it the best home for our bikes that we can. How & where bikes are stored often has a huge influence on how we cycle & how much tinkering we can do, this important aspect it’s often forgotten & is virtually unmentioned in most training literature. It’s one of the most important aspects to consider to fully enjoy your hobby/obsession, here are your options….

Reality

The desirable image we all have in our minds is of something like the Garmin Service Course or another similar unobtainable ideal, which is as close to the ‘Bat-Cave’ as anybody can get. In this fantastical world, bikes are stored & repaired in harmony, everything easily accessible & ready to ride instantly. This utopia also includes a training suite with a turbo & rollers, a full sound & video system and the largest cooling fan you could ever imagine.

The reality is always quite different, it’s impossible to devote half your house to bicycles, in most cases we’re squeezed into a small space & the turbo is cast into the most unsuitable space, or even the cupboard under the stairs. We live in a world where our obsession has to fit itself into an ever compressing space over time, with some occasional & sudden expansions at key moments in our lives, a world away from the pro riders team support.

1. Outdoor Storage

This is really the base of the ladder, if you’ve got nowhere else, you’ll have to keep your pride & joy outdoors. At worst this would be chained up out in the street, at best a makeshift storage area in a back garden. We’ve probably all been here at one point in our lives, whether as a student or in temporary accommodation. Our bike has had to suffer the indignity of the weather without the company of a rider, bikes get very lonely outdoors without the scent of coffee & cake while their rider recharges.

We can usually find some place inside for storage, so hopefully if you’re in the situation, it’s only temporary & you can move on to one of the other more desirable options below. This is very far away from a Bat-Cave.

2. The In-House Storage

If you live on your own or with other cyclists, your bikes will be living in your hallway, kitchen or living room, whether or not that’s the initial plan, it will evolve into this pretty rapidly. If those places are unavailable you may have to keep one in your bedroom, but this is the least ‘cyclist’ place to keep a bike, we’ll somehow always choose the public rooms to show off our bikes. However, if you live with a non-cyclist, especially if they are a wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend, then you’ll be encouraged to locate your bike in a ‘hideaway’ somewhere in the house, while they’re about anyway. We all know that if nobody saw change a tyre or take a chainset apart on the living room floor, it probably didn’t happen.

The ‘hideaway’ domestic bike storage often consists of a cupboard, in which your bike may be forced to share its accommodation with the hoover, ironing board & a plastic christmas tree, often with the indignity of a front wheel removed to fit. This isn’t ideal as we all know, for some reason unknown to cyclists, people tend to complain when the ironing board has an oily chainring mark on it. Your best bet in to commandeer an entire room, go large. There really is only one way to do this if you have a spare room, you need to offer to decorate it. As you ‘find’ more problems & ‘issues’ with this room, it’s your ideal chance to move some bikes in. The ‘issues’ are going to take time & money to fix, so it’s probably best to make better use of the space while you work out exactly how to make this room of your dwelling perfect for you partner’s wellbeing. Plenty of cyclists I know have their project room, which prior to the arrival of a child, will serve your needs, it may also encourage the in-laws to hire a B&B when they visit. The last thing you want them to see is your project/bike room & suss out your plan.

The only way in which the in-house storage can be considered a Bat-Cave is if it’s in your cellar, which nobody else knows about & it has a secret exit. If you’ve somehow managed to have it accepted than bikes could potentially be in every room in total harmony & the turbo is in full view, read no further, you have attained something we mortals can only dream about. I currently only know one such nirvana.

3. The Wooden Shed

A detached property for your bike collection is a real step up. I’ve witnessed various guises of ‘the wooden shed’, from a basic garden shed to a fully equipped & heated mini log cabin, with full coffee-making facilities.

The ‘basic shed’ is secured with a padlock if you’re lucky, the window is blacked-out & it can often leak a bit. In the worst case you may be sharing it with a lawnmower & various garden pots you will never use.  You can make this space work for you & it’s amazing what you can fit in a garden shed, but unfortunately the bike you want is always at the back, so you have to remove the lawnmower, spare wheels & the other bikes to get to it. This is a hindrance to your cycling, it also doesn’t have room for a turbo to be set up. Sometimes the basic shed option results in at least one bike remaining in the hall.

The luxury shed is a completely different scenario, I’ve witnessed a few quite stunning examples of this type, well-built large wooden sheds, complete with power, turbo, TV & a kettle. In some ways the ‘extreme shed’ solution can be better than a garage, as it often won’t become a dumping ground for all those things you may need some day but never will, your partner thinks that’s what the garage is for. It can also accommodate a turbo trainer, which is another huge plus point. This option can be very close to the Bat-Cave, if planned & managed correctly, but can be very expensive.

All other variations exist between these two extremes of the wooden shed, it’s up to you to make the most of what you have available, they can all work very well.

4. The Garage

Nobody uses their garage for a car anymore, we’ve all got too much junk for that, only your car insurance provider thinks it’s a useable motor vehicle space. The garage has to be very carefully managed to secure your space for our two-wheeled friends, it’s often a free-for-all for the whole family, whether that’s a dumping ground, DIY chaos, or at the very worst a home for a train set, which will remove all available bike space.

The trick here is to claim some area, this will often involve a few small constructions to display/store your bikes correctly. This keeps the others away to some extent, while allowing you to have all bikes to hand, also forcing you to keep them in more or less one piece. There are various solutions for this, too many for me to go into here, you can make them with some simple hooks & some timber, or you can buy all sorts of hangers, lifters & holders for all sorts of prices. Your solution fits the space you have available, just don’t pile them all against a wall, as with the shed solution, the one you want to ride is always at the back.

Once you’ve claimed some space, you can start developing things, hanging bike tools on the wall, wheel storage, a workstand & a space for the turbo. If managed correctly, the garage can provide all this & become a partial Bat-Cave (or as close as you’ll get), but you also need to keep it under control, there’s always somebody wanting to invade bike space. You can start making it comfortable by plugging the gaps that send a cold wind blowing through you when you’re sweating on the turbo as it’s too cold to ride outside & finding a TV where you can watch the pro’s race as you train. Ultimately what was formerly your bike storage area could become a club room, a refuge for other riding companions to visit if they are stuck with a lesser option.

With this organisation comes a calmness, all your bike kit sorted & in place, but, as we all know, that won’t last long will it? Defend your garage space with all your might, it can easily slip away, keep it under control.

The Gist Of It

All the above options can provide you with your own Bat-Cave to some extent, it’ll take work to get there. Ultimately you’re aiming for yourself or a club-mate to develop a club-hut scenario, a refuge for like-minded souls, where the coffee is strong & the chat is bike. Get it in place for July, start building now & invite your buddies over after the Sunday ride to watch the Tour stage from York to Sheffield (6th July), all in your bike specific area, sitting in bike gear on your deck chairs in the garage with a nice cold beer & a TV.

Don’t settle for a place to put your bikes, find a place for your bikes to live, it needn’t be expensive, it just has to be tranquillo. Be the best Batman you can be.

“Strong, Light, Cheap, pick two”

The Ikea Allen Key, designed for a single use. Light & cheap, not strong.
The Ikea Allen Key, designed for a single use. Light & cheap, not strong.

Keith Bontrager’s well-known quote, “strong, light, cheap, pick two”, still rings true when it comes to bike components. It’s a very simple but incredibly effective description of any bike parts, or engineered components in general. If something is strong & light it’s not going to be cheap, i.e. a top end carbon frame. If it’s light & cheap it’s not going to be strong, we’ve all probably broken something that seemed a bargain at the time, whether it was a lightweight seatpin, superlight bottle cage, or minimalist chainring. If it’s strong & cheap, it’s not going to be light, such as that first ‘racer’ frame you had as a kid with the ‘gaspipe’ tubing. Lets see where can you save a bit of cash & still get the performance benefits?

The Upgrade Rule

Before we venture into actual parts, there is a golden rule that could save you a lot of heartbreak.

“Don’t race it if you can’t replace it”.

It’s all well & good taking your incredibly expensive bike out with trusted comrades who are very unlikely to cause a spill. That trust generally goes out the window when you have a number on your back, potentially with 79 other individuals, in a highly competitive environment, all intent on stopping you winning the race, by whatever means necessary. Another area where the rule could be applied is in a sportive, although not the same cutthroat attitudes as a genuine race, you may still encounter some aggressive behaviour, which isn’t partial to maintaining your pristine machine in its current immaculate condition.

Some Examples:

Frames

Frame material choice is a much disputed subject, in the end it comes down to personal choice as I emphasised in blog ‘You’ve Been Framed‘. Costs are vastly different & weights also vary considerably, so I’ll take some examples from popular manufacturers you’re likely to find (or order) in your local bike shop, with a similar-use frame.

Kinesis provide a very close comparison, their Granfondo frameset comes in Scandium & Titanium (Scandium is an Aluminium alloy with different weld characteristics provided by a 0.5% Scandium in the alloy, so not really Scandium as such, just a little bit in there). The Scandium frame comes in at £750 for a weight of 1.46kg for a 57cm frame (excluding forks). The Ti frame costs £1500 for a weight of 1.56kg. So we’re talking twice the price for the same product, in a different material. Generally standard Aluminium & Ti frames come in around the same weight, although you will find some very light ones, but you’ll pay for this, as the rules state. What you’re paying for in the Aluminium versus Ti battle is strength, the Ti frame isn’t going to corrode over your lifetime, it’s highly likely it’s going to outlast you. The wall thickness of the Aluminium required to provide an oversized tube at this weight is very thin, so it’s more likely to get dented in a crash, a Ti frame will mostly survive all but the worst possible crash fully intact with a couple of scratches (plus you won’t ruin your paint, most have none).

Steel is making a comeback, with bespoke framebuilders like Brian Rourke now using top end steel products like Reynolds 953. This material can result in a frameset weighing maybe 0.1 to 0.2kg over an Aluminium or Titanium frame, still lighter than the old school steel frames you may have raced on for decades. The advantage is that you can have it made to measure, not anything like as popular as it used to be, but has some advantages over off-the-peg frames. This can work in one of two ways, you can either know a good bit about frame design & characteristics, handling & fit, or you can know nothing. An experienced frame builder will gather your information, help you choose what you’re looking for & build a frame for you that rides as you like it. The sit down & chat with the frame builder is an eye opener in itself, I’d advise everybody to do this at least once, it’s an enlightening experience & will remove some of the demons you created by buying that fake Pinarello from China. You’ll like the bike it results in. A custom 953 will cost about the same as a Ti frame.

Carbon fibre, in its many guises, is now the standard for a road bike. But unlike a metal tubeset, not all frames are the same. If you buy cheap, the quoted weights are similar to the metal frames, which indicates that the material is not being used correctly, you’re buying it just to have a carbon looking frame & you’d probably be better off with a metal frame. This is down to the fact that in order to reduce weight in a carbon frame you need to know where you can safely reduce that weight & improve the ride characteristics. The development costs involved in this are quite high, with modelling & finite element analysis being employed to detect the areas of highest stress. The cheaper frames don’t do this, they take the hit on the weight & provide you with the product you want to buy at a cheap price, wrapping as much carbon as acceptable to make sure it’s not going to snap. The cheap frames should be safe enough due to this, but be very wary of any carbon frames that are cheap & light, it’s safe to assume that they will not be strong. The lightest carbon framesets are probably in the region of 1.0kg, but you’ll pay for this, the bottom end of the carbon market seem to add an additional 3kg into their frames, whether in carbon or resin I don’t know. Carbon frames probably show the strong, light, cheap rule in its full splendour, the perfect example of the philosophy.

Tri-Bars

Another example, clip on triathlon handlebars for time trialling. As an example, the Oval Concepts S-Bend comes in two varieties, aluminium & carbon fibre. The profiles are exactly the same, both round, so there is no aero advantage from the carbon extensions, they are also both strong enough for the purpose, the only advantage is weight. The carbon variety (model 950, rrp £109.99) weigh 510g, the aluminium set (model 750, rrp £79.99) weigh 551g, so for an additional £30 you save 41g. To put that in perspective, a bag of crisps weights 35g.

What this tells us, is that saving that extra £30 if you’re riding flat time trials isn’t going to make any difference for the tiny amount of additional weight, we’ll get to a different scenario later on, under ‘Marginal Gains’.

Bottle Cages

The diminutive bottle cage tells us a lot about the strong, light, cheap rule. There are plenty of standard bottle cages, which work perfectly well, are robust & don’t weigh very much. Also on the market are various lightweight cages, titanium, flimsy aluminium & carbon. These super-lightweight cages only save a few grammes, but cost multiple times more than the trusty standard cages. In my experience, you need a malleable cage, so it holds your bottles in place over bumps, especially hiding in the wheels in races when you can’t see the bumps coming & avoid them. We can really put these into the marginal gains area.

Marginal Gains

This is a much documented phrase, brought to the cycling public’s attention initially by Team Sky, but now generally adopted as a means to improve performance. If you’re not familiar with it, the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ involves combining multiple small improvements to create a combined large improvement. As an example, shaving 10g from 50 components to reduce weight by 500g, a significant combined improvement, created from a large number of seemingly insignificant improvements. The main component & materials area where these improvements have been considered is not necessarily in weight, due to the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum weight rule, but in aerodynamics. In a round-about way, the UCI’s unfair rule has forced teams to look for technical advances in other ways, one of which is aerodynamics.

This isn’t a new thing of course, the phrase is relatively modern, but Merckx was drilling holes in chainrings to reduce weight decades ago, a practice which would now be frowned upon by the wind tunnel testers as it would produce more turbulence than a smooth surface. In those days weight was measurable, but aerodynamic drag was not, so weight took preference.

Today, we see many drag saving components available to the club rider, but these need to be used correctly in order to gain an advantage. My personal gripe is with aero drop bars, with the ‘tops’ area shaped into an aerodynamic wing profile, great if used correctly, very bad if not. You’ll often see the aero section at an incorrect angle to allow the rider to be comfortable on the drops, creating much more drag than a round bar, such as an F1 cars ‘trim’ creating plenty of downforce on corners but reducing its top end speed on the straights. The other issue is that if you set the bars in the horizontal position, then your hand position & angle on the drops is determined by the manufacturer, which is probably not ideal for most, as we know the human body causes the most drag, so changing that is going to cost even more speed. I’m not a fan of these bars for those reasons, but they do look nice, so if you’re more interested in aesthetics than performance they might be correct for you.

The Gist Of It

If you’re buying an off the peg bike, it’s worth noting where manufacturers are saving money or weight, a quick look over the full specification can reveal some important clues. When constructing a bike yourself, be very aware of the ‘strong, light, cheap, pick two’ rule. You can mix & match, buy a frame which may not be the lightest, but rides like a dream & seek out light & strong components, it’s possible to bring most race frame builds down close to the UCI limit of 6.8kg for the full bike, you just need to be smart about it.

Consider what & where you’re riding, the lightest TT frame isn’t going to give you an advantage if you ride flat time trials, but if you’re into hilly ones, it may have an impact. If you’re carrying an extra 10kg round the waist & you’re seeking out very expensive frames that weigh less than 1kg, you’re opening yourself up to some ridicule. Best to sort out that belly first, ride your bike & then worry about weight when it’s going to make an impact on your overall (bike+rider) weight. Half a kilogramme in extra bike weight is insignificant if you’re already carrying an extra 8 frames-worth in body fat.

As a coach once told me when I used to fuss about such things as tiny weight savings, “go and have a proper visit to the toilet before a race, that’ll make just as much difference”.

More Spin in 2014

It’s that time of year, the Turkey is stripped of all edible meat, you’re full of mince pies, bloated on wine, lacking exercise & feeling a little guilty perhaps? Well fear not, the rookies & the insane will be road racing in Scotland by February, but you’ve got plenty of time to get yourself ready for a new season, if you start right NOW!

Other Riders Performances

Our new breed of winter racers, not the antisocials & the old-school club ride racers, or the new-age Strava group-ride destructors, but the socially acceptable & quite positive ‘cross riders & indoor winter trackies are going to be going well early in 2013, but perhaps too early for the actual road season. So if you’re intending racing in 2014, it’s time to take a reality check, don’t compare yourself on New Years Day against a race ready ‘cross rider who’s just completed his season of racing. It’s time to get realistic.

Another thing not to be put off by the glut of information you find on social media, with all these riders doing a pile of miles in the off-season, then posting their accomplishes up on Strava, Twitter & Facebook, along with their impressive power data & KOM accomplishments in mid-winter. Looking at these accomplishments & the attached comments is quite interesting, well, to me anyway. Especially the lack of understanding of things like the numbers they’re posting & the heart rate data. Some riders seem to brag about their heart rate going over 160 for example, but showing their complete lack of understanding of the intricacies of heart rate measurement, that it’s a very personal thing & somebody the same age could have a wildly different max heart rate, that 160bpm could be close to somebody elses recovery level. If anybody is still using 220bpm minus their age to guess their maximum heart rate, you’re going to be beating them pretty soon with a decent bit of proper scientific training. In fact, whoever is still using maximum heart rate to set their zones is living in the 90’s, they are most likely training in the completely wrong zones. These days it’s much more accurate to set your zones from the functional threshold, I’ll not go into that here, but if training with heart rate, then Joe Friel’s ‘The Cyclists Training Bible‘ is for you, if using power then you’ll need Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan’s ‘Training & Racing With a Power Meter‘. Both books explain things in a methodical manner & allow you to set your zones yourself, by either heart rate or power.

So if you’re looking at others data, decide yourself whether or not it’s relevant to you. Will you be racing against these riders? Can they hold that form until the road season starts? Why are they training at such a high intensity at this time of year? Do they really know what they’re doing or are they just bragging, or worse, Strava doping? If anybody’s beating Strava KOM segments at this time of year, you’d have to take a judgement view on whether or not that’s a good idea, if the rider doesn’t race then that’s fine, but if that’s part of their mid-winter race preparation they obviously don’t have a plan for the season, or are being encouraged by those without a plan to step outside of their base training. Doing high intensity efforts in the worst weather outdoors, probably isn’t going to do you any good in the long run, a weekly blast on the track could be the answer to keep things ticking over, but mostly you’ll be wanting to do reasonably low-level training outdoors at this time of year, don’t get sucked into pseudo uncontrolled races or any bunches where people talk about getting a result, it doesn’t matter if you’ve not got a number on your back.

March Hares

If you want to have a good racing season, collect lots of points & improve your category, then peaking for a race at the beginning of March isn’t going to help matters. Normally a peak will include some pretty good form prior to that target weekend, including several weeks of improving form. If you peak too early, then you’ll not have any events to ride while you have that improving form. The early peak mistake also means you’ll risk it all on one weekend, which could dent your confidence if there’s ice, a crash, mechanical, or some other obstruction to getting a result, you may not even get a start in an oversubscribed target event. You would look back on all that hard work to see it going down in flames, not exactly motivational for the rest of the season. The early season attracts new racers too, keen as mustard, but while looking very strong & fit, new riders obviously lack actual race experience. This used to be ok, as riders were educated on the etiquette of bike racing by their clubs, but increasingly fast riders are dodging the whole club membership situation until a very late stage. The reason for this is good for the sport, more people wanting to take part, but somewhere along the way the club structure hasn’t been promoted, with governing bodies more interested in numbers of British Cycling members than helping direct those riders to join clubs. This needs to change, but identifying ‘good clubs’ is a whole other blog, on which I’ve touched on before.

Don’t place too much importance on these early races, target something later on & use these for building your race skills, take a few risks, try an attack, make the race & use the experience for later successes in important events. As road races have moved to dates more winter-like, even into February, the unpredictability of our weather has also played a part, the last couple of years have seen many events cancelled due to ice & snow. The ‘March Hare’ rider isn’t making the best choices to be flying for these events if they want a great season, but then again, some people like that kind of thing.

Science?

You can have all the gizmo’s you like, power meters, GPS devices, heart rate monitors, virtual reality turbo trainers, it’s all out there & marketed at you, but do you really need it? As more riders move towards scientific training, the short answer would be that in order to remain competitive against riders of similar talent to yourself, then scientific training is going to make the difference. But in reality, as I’ve mentioned before, only a small percentage of these riders are actually using the devices properly, most who have the devices probably use them as a toy. Basing training programmes on heart rate & power data (especially) isn’t simple, it requires constant re-evaluation & small changes to the training programme, it’s not an A4 sheet that you stick to for a whole winter. So unless the gizmo’d cyclist has a good coach or has read the correct books, and understood them, then that expensive power meter may just be a fancy looking toy they can impress their cycling buddies with. Having the gizmo doesn’t make you fast, using the gizmo correctly does.

With the above in mind, if you refuse to get involved in technology, then there are other ways. I’ve seen a few ex-pro’s & some other former international riders commenting on the use of fixed gear bikes by some current racers & the good results they’re getting from this. The best use of scientific training is to get the best out of yourself with the minimum time required, a fixed gear is a slightly older version of the same thing. Consider your club ride, if you went out on fixed, while others were geared, you’d be working very hard downhill, while those freewheeled riders were cruising, doing nothing. Imagine you looked at the heart rate profiles of those riders, the fixed gear rider wouldn’t drop much on the descents at all, they get more from every ride if you consider it a training session, sometimes twice as much aerobic work. So if you don’t like technology & don’t like fixing your bike, a fixed gear may be the ideal winter steed for you. It may take you a few weeks to stay in contact on the downhill, but a fixed gear for this type of training actually works better on terrain you’d imagine wasn’t suitable for fixed, i.e. lots of hills. But please put two brakes on it, don’t go riding with others on freewheels if you’ve not, otherwise you may cause some problems.

Get Out More

Clubs can help you ride your bike, just knowing there’s a ride on locally & that somebody will be there is a good piece of motivation to get yourself out of your bed. It would be nice if clubs could arrange things so that if there’s a fast & slower group, they could start out together, head to a cafe & either the fast boys keep going or all stop together. I don’t think we allocate enough time to the social side of cycling these days, which is probably one of the issues with people withdrawing from the club system. Emphasising the social side of cycling, not just the performance side is something that seems to be in retreat, I think we all need to have a think about how we can make that happen. Cycling is after all about getting out & riding our bikes, performance & racing are an afterthought, if you don’t manage to get out at all, then it’s hard to consider how you can get fast enough to race. January’s priority should really be about getting out there, no matter how bad you consider the weather, surely you’ve got some new Christmas kit that will allow you to ride in all weathers, or at least buy some mudguards to make it luxurious for yourself, and pleasant for your comrades.

The Gist Of It

Lets get the miles in during January, whatever your discipline or ability level. Use your gizmo’s if you have them, if not, just enjoy riding your bike. Once you’re out there it’s much better than it looks from indoors, but the big push is just getting out there in the first place. Set out your clothes the night before a ride, buy a good set of lights or charge them up (now) if you’re intending doing any evening rides after work. Please don’t get put off by others digital accomplishments on their bikes, it’s not relevant to you. Renew your club membership & go out on a club ride with them, the time to start is now, not February when you’re a bit fitter (and likely still not been out), the camaraderie of a cycling club should renew your passion & help remove that Christmas gut you’ve been cultivating recently.

Most of all, I wish you all more spin in 2014, it’s going to be some year & like most others, I got no tickets for the velodrome at Glasgow 2014, so the free events will be my stomping ground, the road race, mountain biking & time trial (yes, I might even watch at time trial!). Get yourselves out for a short ride on New Years Day, once you sober up, it’ll make you feel a lot better, whatever the weather.

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The Red Light District

128983484_1fd77c8fa8_oCyclists behaviour on the road is a contentious subject right now, the media are attempting to portray two sides to a perceived conflict between the two fairly obvious tribes, drivers & cyclists. This provides some sort of pseudo-battleground & an opportunity for hateful column inches which feed into the prejudices of some readers & make dramatic headlines. The perception of an ongoing battle between two opposing sides who live in completely separate worlds but are asked to share a road. The realists among us know this perceived battle to be very far from the truth.

Drivers V Cyclists

I’ve been a member of various bike clubs for years, meeting probably thousands of cyclists, with a few rare exceptions I can deduce that most club cyclists also drive, any cycle event car park will demonstrate this fact. The biggest group who don’t drive are obviously the under 17 years old, who all seem to want to drive as soon as possible. But many stories are attempting to make us to believe that cyclists hate drivers, and drivers hate cyclists, ignoring the idea that anybody from the cyclist tribe is highly likely to function within the driver tribe too.

It’s a good idea to not get drawn into this debate in polite company with normally rational individuals, I’ve found recently that more non-cyclists are bringing up this subject with me, danger on the roads, red light jumping, cyclists think they own the road etc. I tend to point out that actual incidents are very rare really, but unfortunately as cyclists all know, if two cars bump into each other the damage is often repairable, while the same relatively slow speed impact with a car & bicycle will generally end badly for the cyclist. Drivers run into each other all the time, with the additional safety measures now installed in cars, air bags, ABS etc, the driver ‘feels’ safer, driving is no longer perceived as dangerous as it used to be. This perception flows through to general behaviour on the roads, with the dominant vehicle type being the motor vehicle, the biggest threat to a drivers safety is from other motor vehicles, not the low threat of a bicycle. The implications for road users if a cyclist is killed or injured due to the other road users actions, also looks particularly one-sided, with a few hundred pounds being a common fine for seriously injuring or killing a cyclist.

Culture

In distant pre-war times, cycling was popular with the general public, but since the rise of the motor car things have changed dramatically. Cycling became the poor man’s method of transport, with the idea that only us oddballs in cycling clubs keeping it alive, with racing being hidden away from the public for many years, an embarrassment to the forward-looking modern society that we all think we live in. Meanwhile in continental Europe, myths & folklore were being formed, with cycling superstars in the public eye & becoming icons of their age, in the UK the sport of cycling was seen in a very different light. Things are taking a huge turnaround again, perhaps driven by the economic crisis & the ever rising cost of fuel, people are realising that cycling can often be the smart choice for commuting, along with it becoming cool now that there are sporting icons in cycling who hold a British passport. The ‘bike to work’ schemes have also had a hand in making good quality bikes popular & affordable, where there is government income tax & VAT incentive to purchase a bike with up to 40% off its retail value as a salary sacrifice, so you don’t even need to pay it all up front. Most bike shops have plenty of good bikes in the ‘under a grand’ price bracket, which as most of us know, but prefer to ignore, these bikes are good enough to win domestic races on.

So more riders are on the roads, mixing with motor vehicles in towns & cities, where the majority of conflicts occur. As bicycle traffic increases & motoring costs continue to rise, I expect we’ll find that the tiny minority of irresponsible drivers (the same percentage as cyclists, a certain percentage of people are irresponsible) become more irate & more vindictive. Cultural change is happening rapidly, too rapidly for some, cycling usage is increasing all the time, more bikes were sold last year in Europe than cars.

Red Light Jumpers

This brings us to the subject title, the seemingly ubiquitous red light jumping cyclist. I’m not sure many of us can say that we’ve never done this, but most of us will have done it at some point away from anybody’s view, perhaps in a very early morning commute, at a deserted road works in the wilderness, or other such occasion where nobody would see you. What irks everybody, drivers, responsible cyclists & the media reading public, are offences carried out in broad daylight, at busy junctions, even at points where pedestrians are crossing. This kind of behaviour can never be condoned, not only is it irresponsible & dangerous, it’s idiotic, people risking their lives to save a couple of seconds, I’d advise them to get out of bed early or have a dump at work instead. This kind of behaviour relies on everybody else obeying the rules, so having evidence that people break the traffic rules (i.e. you, now), the perpetrator continues through a red light, assuming everybody else is stopped, two cogs short of an 11 sprocket.

I expect most people would be very surprised by how many drivers also break these same rules, away from the eye of the world. Anybody who’s commuted well before rush hour in a major city will have witnessed countless taxi drivers & others driving straight through red lights after a slight pause to see if there are any other users about. Generally cyclists witnessing this are not bothered about, as the perception is that they will also break the law.

Most drivers would be also be quite surprised by how inflamed the responsible majority of cyclists become when they also witness another rider jumping a red light. It makes us all look bad, we’re labelled along the law-breaker as being the same, even though we’re quietly waiting for the light to change. I’ve been the subject of abuse while obeying the law, like many others I’ve been shouted at by drivers who having seen a red light jumper go past me, take it out on me, the only cyclist they can find as the other is far away, even if that cyclist is a responsible traffic law obeying one. I’ve chased down red light jumpers too (legally within the traffic laws, I might add), to let them know what the effect of their transgression could be, one of which nearly ended in a fist fight, all ended in abuse or silence. The responsible cyclists all pay for the wrongdoings of others.

Repercussions

Unfortunately for the organised side of cycle sport, the effect of bad behaviour can come back to the club level. Some cycling clubs receive irate letters & emails from drivers, simply due to them running a cycling club in the area where the offence occurred. The rider who broke the rules probably has no idea the cycling club even exists, nor has connection to the organisation associated to cyclists, or really cares. But it’s the visible part of cycling that takes the hit for something they cannot control. We’re an easy target, but we probably have never come into contact with the habitual law-breaker.

Most club people will know, or have heard of, a rider who has been seriously injured, or killed by a motor vehicle (could be the same rider across many clubs, or a nation of clubs, but aware we are), their awareness of the dangers of cycling are perhaps higher. While the non associated city commuter likely has multiple times more of his hidden compatriots who have met the same fate, but he doesn’t know them, he’s not part of any cycling community, so as a result, never hears of any accidents unless he’s directly involved in them. The perception of danger is less for these people, therefore they take less care, they break some rules, their likelihood of injury is elevated as a result.

Meanwhile, club riders are out on the roads, taking abuse from drivers who have witnessed the behaviour of the red light jumper type rider. These drivers don’t realise that the opinion in often shared, perhaps more so by the club rider, who has probably been ingrained with how to ride safely on the road & how to be a responsible cyclist. Club riders are proud to wear their club kit, but wearing club kit while breaking traffic laws is worse than idiotic, it’s setting up your club officials & club-mates to abuse & in the worst cases, retaliation from drivers. Behave correctly, whether in club kit or not, your actions associate you a group, whether it’s a club, a pastime or just #BloodyCyclists. Lead by example & make sure everybody knows it’s unacceptable, we can re-confirm this right now within clubs, explain that rule breaking has repercussions to us all, next time it could be their son or daughter.

The Insurance & ‘Road Tax’ Questions

A commonly thrown about argument for removing cyclists from the road is their lack of insurance. As anybody who has British Cycling or CTC membership, we all have 3rd party insurance while cycling, some also have full legal cover in the event of an incident. The warning to irresponsible drivers is probably that a fully insured cyclist will have no hesitation in taking you to court, it probably won’t cost them a thing. So they should really take this approach to all other road users.

As we all know by now, Road Tax hasn’t existed since 1937, Churchill abolished it! What we have is Vehicle Excise Duty, a tax based on emissions from vehicles. It doesn’t pay for space on the road, all information on this can be found on Carlton Reid’s website, ‘I Pay Road Tax‘, which explains things better than I ever could. Bear in mind that drivers of cars exempt from this tax, like classic cars built prior to 1973 (changing to ’74 soon) & low emission vehicles like electric cars & a few petrol cars which meet the CO2 emission regulations, don’t get abuse from drivers for taking up their space on the roads, even though they also pay the same tax as bicycles do, people spouting this nonsense are quite plainly ill-informed, or idiots!

The Gist Of It

Cyclists are people, there’s nothing inherently different about them. Some people break rules, other try no to, but invariably everybody breaks some rules some of the time, knowingly or unknowingly. Some people break unwritten rules, a moral code so to speak, some don’t. What we have to consider here is that people are more likely to willingly break rules if they won’t get caught, especially if there’s no comeback from their rule breaking on the part of society that they are most aware, their friends, acquaintances, family & work colleagues.

What a club cyclist would consider a cyclist is possibly different to what the general population consider a cyclist. It’s assumed that we are all associated in some way, if one commits a crime we’re all to blame, but some cyclists never speak to any other cyclists, even though their actions can have repercussions on the public world of cycling. The same can be considered by hearing cyclists talking about ‘drivers’, when most likely it’s one driver in 10,000 that has passed them & caused some grief. When things run normally without incident we largely ignore them, it’s only when ‘something’ happens that we take more notice, such as a cyclist jumping a red light or a driver coming close to knocking you off your bike.

In general, these rule breaking & dangerous incidents are very rare for cyclists or drivers to perpetrate, it’s up to us to keep educating the riders we do know, we can’t do anything about the ones we never come into contact with. New riders to your club may have come from this dark world without repercussions, impart your knowledge on the subject & lead by example, teach cyclist how to behave properly. At this point I’d also encourage riders to join a club, I wrote a blog a while ago on how to find the right one HERE.

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Presents for Cyclists

It’s often very hard to buy presents for cyclists, especially if you’re not sure whether they’re Campag or Shimano, buying the wrong component would really label yourself as a prime ‘eejit’ in the eyes of your cycling friend/hubby. So a very safe bet is a quality book, in most cases a training book is probably out of the question, unless it’s Graeme Obree’s excellent The Obree Way, which is less of an actual training plan (but you can use it for that), but more of an insight into a champions way of thinking, with time spent on areas which no other training manual covers.

Here’s a few that I’d love to see in my Christmas stocking, I’ll send the blog link to my significant other too, maybe I’ll get some of these on Christmas morning too. (Bear in mind I’ve not read any of these, so not a review, I’ll do those later if I’m successful in this endeavour). Web links in titles.

The Cycling Anthology 3 by Lionel Birnie & Ellis Bacon

Prendas, the online shop well-known for selling some great bike kit, with its undergarment labels often sneaking into photos of famous riders who are contracted to wear other clothing, has a small book store HERE. There’s Sean Kelly’s autobiography, a history of Raleigh bikes & the much heralded Cycling Anthology series of books by Lionel Birnie, all suitable presents for the cyclist in your life. The latest one, Cycling Anthology 3 would be top of my Christmas list. I’ve enjoyed listening to the Humans Invent podcasts, with Richard Moore, Daniel Friebe & Birnie this year (all who have books out, but I’ve got plenty of Moore’s already), there’s a huge depth of knowledge that comes across from Lionel, despite him sounding like a cloth cap wearing Hovis bike rider. This book brings together other contributors, such as Ned Boulting, Richard Moore, Ed Pickering &  Kenny Pryde to name a few, each with their own chapter on varying subjects that have been prominent throughout the cycling year. Have a look at the chapter titles in the link for an overview on what it contains, stick it on your Christmas list. Buy it from Prendas if you can, rather than a large non tax paying monster, otherwise we’ll have no bike shops & even less book shops sooner than we know it.

Rouleur Centenary Tour de France

It’s sold out on the Rouleur site, but a quick internet search can throw up a few copies if you’re quick (I hope you act soon…..). Normally Rouleur have a review of the year, this time they changed tack & gone for a fresh angle. Taking each stage of the 100th Tour de France & sending journalists & photographers out looking for a different angle on the incredible race. There’s a huge variance on what they looked at, Rob Hayles interviewing riders, a look at the broadcasters & showing how they cover le Tour, inside a team for a few days, every stage is covered but in a different way, not the racing as such, but more the lifestyle & hidden stories attached to an event of this size. Alongside that, the books are beautiful, lovelier than even the magazines of which I’m also a fan. For more info, the Velo Club Don Logan covered it on one of their excellent podcasts, linked HERE. Shout it up your chimney, but do it quick, they’re running out, DO IT QUICK!!!

Inside Team Sky by David Walsh

David Walsh published a series of books on Lance Armstrong, which he was sued & now proven to have been truthful, including some money returned by the former champion over one case. Considering this, Walsh was embedded with Team Sky for several months, possibly to remove doubt about their cleanliness, a two-sided deal, access allowed in exchange for the content of a book derived from those few months experiences. I’m fascinated by how this team is managed, with the conflicting interests of Wiggins & Froome being balanced into a team structure, so really looking forward to what’s included in this book.

Hope I can get some of those for Christmas…….

Other’s I’d recommend are Domestique by Charly Wegulius which I’ve reviewed HERE & The Race Against Time by Edward Pickering which I’m reading now, both excellent.

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Scottish Classics

teacakeThe Scottish Road Racing scene changes significantly every year, races come & go, others seem to have been with us forever. But very few of the multitude of past & present road races are universally accepted as having the ‘Scottish Classic’ label attached to them. It’s probably about time to take a fresh look at some possible reasons why we’re losing these races & what we can do to create races for the modern era, with a sustainable format & room for growth, a true ‘Future Classic’.

Past Classics

I asked a question on Twitter & Facebook, “Which races do you consider to be the Scottish Road Classics, now, and in the past?”

The responses were particularly interesting, most riders viewed the races which influenced them in their ‘form-years’, not necessarily the ones that stood the test of time. A few events were brought up time & again, but if we asked a group of riders of varying ages to name the top 5 Scottish Classic road races, we’d probably end up with a very heated debate, potentially a fight. It appears that we personally determine a ‘Classic’, its predominantly an opinion formed from a generational perspective.

With the small amount of spectators at domestic events, you probably have to be there to experience them, it follows that if you’re there, you’re probably a rider in that particular era, so you’re going to inevitably choose races you actually rode in. Event officials have experienced many events over decades, so in theory may have a better perspective of the answer to the question, but our ‘Classic’ definition isn’t formed from an onlookers point of view, it’s from the battle within the race & how that felt, win or lose. We need think about how we define what we mean by describing a road race as a ‘Scottish Classic’.

Races that cropped up a few times, were the now defunct Glasgow-Dunoon, The Girvan, Tour of the Kingdom, Inverness-Elgin, Tour of Clydeside, while The Drummond Trophy, Davie Bell & Sam Robinson are classics that still exist. This is by no means the full list, just a handful that were mentioned, so don’t go sending me any letters.

Classic Definitions

One particular repeated characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’ is distance, with the 100 mile barrier being mentioned a few times as helping a race become a classic, but distance alone is no measure of monumental status. Over the years the distance of most races has reduced, racing is faster, but potentially less of the endurance test it was for the previous generation of racers. I’m not convinced that distance can define a true future Scottish classic.

Another is ‘point-to-point’, with these events being another example of a classic format. These used to make up a significant part of the calendar, but are now absent. Constraints of crossing regional borders, police permissions, marshalling & the logistics of getting riders back to the start likely stop these taking place. I have suggested a Tour of Scotland in a previous blog, this may be the only viable option for point-to-point racing these days, included within a stage race.

Sporting importance is another key characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’, the Girvan & Tour of the Kingdom attracted some of the UK’s finest riders, allowing our home-grown talent to compete on our roads against the best riders we could find in the British Isles. The ability of races to attract a top quality field is important for definition, at the very minimum they have to be open to Elite category riders.

Essentially, a ‘Scottish Classic’ is a completely different beastie to a classic defined in Europe. Continental Classics are seen as culturally significant, part of a country’s sporting mindset, so comparing those with ours isn’t where I’m looking. We need to redefine what we are actually expecting from these events in Scotland.

Sad Loss

There’s many reasons our events disappear, we can probably condense these down to a few simple points.

Manpower is required to run big events, if you consider how clubs have changed over the years, you can imagine that there are a lot fewer individuals likely to give up as much as their time as in previous years. Many club members don’t just cycle, they’re involved in all sorts of sport & non-sport clubs, they have added time committed to their offspring’s growing leisure & social commitments too. Standing at the side of the road all day probably isn’t seen as a good use of time, by them or their families. Race design has to be set against that backdrop, you have to make the time commitment appropriate to the modern way of life. A very long race which demands more manpower (our 100-mile-plus old-time ‘Classic’) would gather a handful of willing helpers, while a morning only event would allow most club people to help out, it doesn’t infringe on their child collection time or Sunday roast dinner. Obviously, unless you can pay your helpers something for their time.

The rise of veteran racing over the years has probably had a detrimental effect on the availability of individuals who would previously have taken over the reigns of club  ‘race organiser’. Rather than being clubmen, there are huge amounts of riders now racing into their 60’s, or later. Don’t get me wrong, the old boys staying at a level of fitness that embarrasses riders half their age is a good thing, I’m just pointing out that this cultural change has also contributed to the lack of experienced riders willing to design races which could meet the ‘Classic’ tag. These riders have the knowhow, potentially the organisation skills from the workplace, and the vision to construct a race of a very high standard, it’s just they they’re all still racing & giving the young men a pasting!

Complications & bureaucracy like risk assessments, insurance, permissions, booking equipment & HQ’s, race convoys & the task which carries most hearsay & negativity, the marshalling, all help to put people off running an event, or increasing the status of their current event. This is all very understandable, it can seem like a daunting task for the newcomer, but often the perception is worse than the reality if the club is supportive, if the club treats the organiser like a leper as soon as they take the job on, well, that’s a different kettle of fish……

Tradition can be a killer for an event, but can also be its saviour, especially in the case of memorial events. If we look at some of our remaining ‘Classics’, they have potentially endured due to a name being attached to them. This can create a commitment from people who may have known the individual on the trophy, by helping to find an organiser or taking an active role themselves. Either way, it creates an emotional attachment to a race, it allows it to endure. In one way a memorial race will struggle to develop beyond a certain point, the title may prevent this by removing the possibility of naming it after that big name sponsor you’ve finally found, or associating its name with a region or council who are willing to fund a major event. So it’s a double-edged sword, a memorial event probably allows endurance, but can impede development. A tricky situation which has to be handled well.

Money. The bigger the event, the bigger the pot of cash that’s required. A Premier Calendar event requires a significant prize fund & has to carry a Temporary Traffic Regulation order as a minimum. The minimum prize fund is currently £2000, which has dropped from a higher sum very recently, you can’t get this from entry fees alone, so to run these types of events you need some cash from sponsorship. Finding this money year after year is a big issue, the Girvan had to move from its traditional location, to Dumfries & become the Tour DoonHame in order to secure regional support. Events can grow to a certain size, attain our coveted & emotional ‘Scottish Classic’ status, then disappear due to funding. For the organisers who’ve made their event reach a certain level, then lose some funding, it’s often not in their nature to drop their event a level & to feel like they’ve taken a step back, so the events disappear. Big events require funding, but more importantly they require a driven team of people, if the funding is reduced through no fault of these people, then it’s understandable that their drive may diminish.

Modern Classics

So we’re looking at our future classic races having some features which help to cement their position on the calendar & hold a place in the racers heart, as a battle worth winning at the top of the domestic race scene. We need these events to have some of the following characteristics.

Prestige: The ability to attract all the top riders from Scotland, or even better, from the whole of the UK. This in turn attracts the much-needed publicity that attracts sponsorship & website or press coverage beyond the live audience.

Sustainability: A model in place which can secure an event for a number of years, whether this is from regional or local council support, a long-term sponsor, or a committed group of individuals who are determined to run the event for a number of years.

Innovation: The organisers of the event need to plan ahead. If you want to create a classic, you need to either have a very good idea, incredible organisational abilities, local support, or all these! Remember that most events on our calendar never attain the ‘Scottish Classic’ status, it requires a plan or incredibly good luck, only one of these can be chosen.

I’d define the 2013 British Road Race as the ultimate Scottish Classic, it will transform into the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 2014, imagine if it continued beyond that? We’d have a pro-level race on a set course, those who witnessed it will discount the various shouts of “it didn’t go over the Crow Road” & such other nonsense. This event was compelling to watch from the side of the road & captured the imagination of the public in vast numbers, it will be even more popular in 2014. As close as we can get to a true continental classic race.

The Jist Of It

We only need a few sustainable & resilient ‘Scottish Classics’, not every event can be a Tunnocks Teacake or Wafer, we also need Rich Tea & Hob Nobs, there’s a place for all events. By experimenting with race formats & moving away from standard events, we can hopefully find our resilient events with the capacity for growth, capable of moving road racing forward by providing headline events which attract the top riders.

What we really need is a well thought out & carefully planned calendar, with a wide cross-section of events, which will allow space for the top-level events to flourish. I attempted to provide a structure to that in a new Road Race League system under the Race Development topic. This in turn would provide the platform for new organisers with fresh ideas to step up & perhaps provide the Classics we all desire at the top rung of the domestic road race scene, along with encouraging our current organisers to continue with their sterling work.

An enduring Scottish Classic for the 21st Century is going to be quite different to the races we enjoyed in the last century. We need to take a step back in Obree-style & redesign them from the ground up, forgetting what we understood them to be in last century. It’s an excellent opportunity to spend some time having a good think about over the winter, who knows what you’ll come up with.

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The demise & the rise of the cycling mag

I’m a subscriber to Rouleur, it dropped through my letterbox last week. It took me four or five days to open the substantial packaging & start reading it, not because it’s something I’m uninterested in, but because it doesn’t matter whether or not I read it now or later, it’s virtually timeless. With the internet providing us with instant race results, photo’s, interviews, previews & other current stories, the ‘traditional’ magazine is pretty much redundant, it’s a business model that simply isn’t sustainable anymore. The new model of a high quality magazine carrying historic stories & snapshots into the current racing scene is currently proving to be internet proof, is this the format printed cycling publications will all have to adopt?

The Bike Mag

Those of a certain age will remember rushing to the local newsagent on a Thursday, to find out what happened in last weeks races, at home & abroad. ‘The Comic’, or its official title, ‘Cycling Weekly’ contained all this information five days after it happened. For most of us, this was the earliest chance to realise the latest results, the UK press didn’t carry any results & there was no internet to look up local race results, it’s all we had & we had to wait (what seems now) an incredibly long time for it. This is in sharp contrast to being able to watch Eurosport, legitimate streams, or pirate streams of virtually every UCI race live in your living room, or on your pc. We also have live Twitter updates on these races, plus now also on many UK races, not just major events, but you can follow results on some feeds from local bike races by clued up organisers or just a spectator. Things have changed considerably recently, 4 or 5 day old results are not a good use of content for bike mags, when that same content was available instantaneously.

The monthly pro results type of magazines are fighting a losing battle too, they can be reporting on events that happened over 6 weeks ago, a race you perhaps saw live, but if you’re buying a magazine, you probably know the result, or by some small chance, you are not connected to the internet, I’d assume the latter is an ever shrinking & very small market in 2013. These magazines are struggling to find viable content that doesn’t exist elsewhere else, but if you’re purpose is to report on current events, you’re now reporting on history & the fans are concentrating on different events showing live now.

The results based bike magazine is on its way out, but there is a very different approach which allows publishers to sell a different type of magazine to the punters.

Post Internet Bike Magazines

As I mentioned above, I read Rouleur, it really is nothing like the traditional cycling mag. The only other magazine I now read is ‘Cyclist’, which also doesn’t portray itself as a results service.

‘Rouleur’ must have initially been quite a gamble, with a mix of behind the scenes articles on what we’d consider obscure races, combined with some historic & nostalgic pieces & a smattering of comments on current racing, its strayed from the traditional cycling format & the content isn’t available on the internet. Rouleur’s other strength is it’s packaging, it’s blended into a keepsake, something you can dig out in 10 years time & the stories will still be valid, as they mostly deal with human issues, struggles, iconic images, etc. They also include some incredibly thought-provoking articles, such as the one about tracking down former Russian star Evgeni Berzin who won the Giro in 1994, nowhere in the articles does it mention his name, but we see how far his star has fallen as he tries to sell beat up cars in an obscure location in Italy, a masterpiece in depicting human tragedy & the effect that the circumstances of the time had on his body & soul. Rouleur manages to include not just articles like that one, but also some incredibly uplifting ones, this is why I read it, I can get my results elsewhere, but I can’t get an inside view on how riders struggle to make it, racing in the women’s pro scene or in Africa, hoping to make it to Europe & the big time. There’s a whole world of events out there, not just the ones that are marketed to us in the UK.

‘Cyclist’ is another gem, although it’s not really timeless. There’s always features on the science of cycling, incredible places to ride your bike, equipment, training, but little or no actual racing. You’ll find reports on riding iconic climbs away from the races that made them famous, without the advertising, where you see the real place, important as it’s likely this is what you’ll see when you go there to ride it yourself.

Sustainability

Cycling magazines won’t disappear overnight, there will always be a shrinking market, people often like to read something physical, but the new generation are not used to that, cycling magazines have to offer something else, something that’s not available on the net. Results are easily accessible on cycling websites, instant blow-by-blow action is available on twitter, post race analysis is available on websites & blogs, it’s no longer for bike mags to report days or weeks later.

I’ll continue to open my Rouleur late, I’ll continue to read old issues, not bothering to read the date on them, most articles are valid now & in the future. I assume all my other cycling content will come from the internet soon, but left out of that world is one publication, the timeless slick one, that maybe appeals best to a gentleman of my vintage, who remembers the Thursday newsagent visit for ‘The Comic’.

Rouleur Magazine http://www.rouleur.cc/

Cyclist Magazine http://cyclistmag.co.uk/

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Comparing the Incomparable

Standard distance courses measured in miles, (a unit rarely used by cyclists worldwide), on flat roads (a road type rarely found in Scotland), using expensive special time trial bikes (a steed rarely found in the stable of anything other than a ‘tester’ or a tri-antelope). Time trials, how did we get here & how do we deal with it?

(I wrote a piece on how we can go about modernising TT’s & moving them into a lower age bracket ‘A Demographic Time Trial‘, this blog is some explanation as to how I came to that conclusion.)

Era-Change

Time trialling should be an ideal entry platform to the sport, theoretically it’s a simple concept, ride a certain course as fast as you can, anybody can do that on any old bike, yes? This perhaps was what happened in the past, I’d venture to put a specific date on when things changed, pre-1989. We saw Greg LeMond win the Tour by 8 seconds in 1989, his eight second advantage over Laurent Fignon was mainly due to some aerodynamic technological advances. From that point on, your club rider realised that by simply purchasing a pair of funny handlebars, they could gain a good advantage over their former self. Previously we’d seen some glimpses of the future, with riders like Francesco Moser used aerodynamic technology (among other things) to gain ‘free speed’, but those technologies were mostly out of reach to anybody else, tri-bars were so much cheaper than a ridiculously large disc wheel & gave a much bigger speed advantage. In previous times the fashion had been to drill holes in everything, resulting is presumably much more turbulence & churning of the air over components with non smooth surfaces, but as of the 1989 Tour, we had now entered the ‘Aero-Era’, smooth surfaces & more emphasis on making the human body create less drag rather than look at individual components.

Time trialling in the UK was still mostly on spoked wheels & drop bars pre-90, the more advanced had ‘lo-pro’ bikes, with a normal sized back wheel & a 26″ or even 24″ front wheel & cowhorn handlebars. Some riders were mounting the front brake on the back of the forks, running bladed spokes on as light a wheel as possible. Had they had wind tunnels back then, you’d have seen riders not going so low, but being more stretched out. Lo-pro’s disappeared after the rules changed, where both wheels had to be the same size, so most frames stayed as 700c (27″) front & rear, with only some triathlon specific bikes adopting 650c (26″) front & rear, but those are rarely seen in time trialling.
Such has the sport changed since 1990, that it has become an aero arms race, with riders deeming it necessary to spend much more £ on a time trial bike than a road racer would on their race bike. Aero frames, deep section carbon front wheels, carbon disc rear wheels, carbon aero seat pins, bars with teardrop profiles, aero helmets etc, the list is endless.
The mould breaker, who influenced things even further was Graeme Obree, I don’t think we fully appreciate the impact he really had on the ‘Aero-Era’, he went against common perception & developed the two fastest positions in history, like many musicians are influenced by certain artists, Obree was the artist who influenced pro riders & helped develop an industry. He demonstrated some of the advantages that somebody with modest means could obtain to make themselves faster, so much so that most things he did were banned & it’s likely that he sparked the UCI’s current obsession with conformity & stickers, reducing innovation & increasing the likelihood that most race bikes look more or less the same. Robert Millar’s latest article which appears in Rouleur issue 41 takes a shot at the standard conformist black carbon bike.

A Changing Sport

The ‘Aero Era’ changed time trialling, it became an arms race, an expensive side of the sport if you wanted to be competing at the sharp end of the results. Previously (pre ’90) you could have competed perfectly well on your road bike, now you needed a specific TT bike. This is where things started getting distorted & time trialling became something that roadmen didn’t venture into as much as they used to, the usefulness of TT’s became less as you were in a different position to the drop bar style you would adopt for a breakaway. The two disciplines began moving further away from each other. The past had seen some of our best roadmen regularly taking part in time trials, this rarely happens now, our Elite, 1st or 2nd category riders are a breed rarely seen at a domestic TT. This needn’t be the case, but having more courses & ‘rules’ suitable to a crossover market would make a difference, i.e. non aero-bar TT’s, on road bikes, also encouraging the sportive type rider too.

The PB

Personal bests are really a very odd thing for me to comprehend, the variables are so great, getting a PB has a huge element of luck about it, rather than necessarily your best performance.

For example, one twitter user who has been riding some 10’s recently is @MaKluskie, he tweeted: “Best ever average power output for a 10 today @338W but didn’t translate to PB. A minute slower than last week #windy windy.”

This shows that huge differences, such as a full minute time loss, even though your body performed better, result in a slower time, the PB is a moving target, it’s value is very limited if it exists at all. We really are comparing the incomparable when we look at times on different courses, or even the same courses in slightly different conditions, with the widespread use of power meters, we can prove that you did more work but you come away with a slower time. So next time somebody who you consider your equal tells you that their best time is a minute quicker than yours, they may just have had a favourable ‘float day’ on a certain course. PB’s are not an absolute, they are a mix of luck with the weather, sometimes even dubious ‘luck’ with high traffic volumes on a dragstrip course. As an example, I reduced my PB by nearly 1min 30s over 10 miles by riding a course down south, which was probably my last flat TT, as the experience put me off them for life, it was a virtual motorway, not somewhere I’d ever like to ride my bike again, especially when I saw some older plump gentlemen putting out times that would have won races north of the border, the reality of the post ’90 TT scene was clearly evident, an aero arms race & ever more traffic heavy courses.

Placings by Omnium

If PB’s are something that we know are based on favourable weather & how much traffic flow is on a course, how do we, or should we, compare performances? One of the main draws of TT’s to some riders is the PB chasing, which although false, gives some kind of carrot, but may incentivize something which doesn’t result in a progressive & inclusive area of the sport. Surely there is another way?

One method I could throw out there is to take an idea from track racing, the omnium, and use it to give an indication of TT performances. In the omnium the winner gets one point, the second placed rider gets 2 points, third 3 points etc. So in TT’s, we could allocate season long points, then divide that number by the amount of events that are ridden. It’s not particularly complicated compared to vets standard times, BAR averages of averages & such things that are currently used, so we’d be simplifying time trials, along with adopting the UCI masters designations, so we’d effectively have 5 year age groups too for everybody above 30 (or is it 35 now?).

With the TT omnium system, we’d directly compare performances against other riders, rather than hoping that you’ve chosen to enter the correct course on the correct night. So lets take the scenario of 2 fast riders, who are battling against each other every week. So if we take the omnium points & divide them by the events ridden, we get an effective average placing, so the lower the number, the higher the ranking. If a rider only enters one event per season & wins that, obviously their average omnium score is 1, so we’d probably start scoring at, say 4 events, to make sure there’s some consistancy.We could develop a system where we get an average placing, rather than chasing a PB. This would equate to all courses, so you wouldn’t have to stick to one type of event, you could improve your average omnium placing across several different events, or different types of event. This may result in a national ranking system based on TT performances across all types of course, perhaps removing the need for dragstrip courses on roads you’d not normally want to ride your bike on? At the end of the year, we’d have a national TT omnium champion, who has consistently performed against their rivals, rather than the current BAR system, which is completely out of date with the reality of what TT’s people are actually riding.

Opening Up The Sport

An omnium scored ranking would allow different types of event to take place, such an non-aero retro time trials, without tri-bars & disc wheels. This would allow riders who hadn’t invested large amounts of money in ‘fast’ kit to score low points on their road bike, road riders could enter these time trials & also get a relative TT ranking. Could this possibly make TT’s more popular? I’m not against TT’s, but I’m not comfortable with them in their current format, we could really open up their appeal & a relative ranking system such as this removes the need for incredibly fast average speed courses, we’re measuring performances against performances. The older rider can use the UCI masters system to rank their performances against their peers too, so we could have each age category battling against each other in omnium ranking, rather than outright time. Team performances could also be measured with this system, so a team of three in a championship would be ranked by the lowest combined score of their placings in an event, rather than combined time, again comparing performances rather than one outstanding time. After all, if you’re beaten by one place in a time trial, does it really matter if that was by one second, or sixty.

Maybe it’s time to rethink things & allow this area of the sport to develop & evolve as it decides, rather than searching out courses that are getting driven more & more towards high volume traffic semi-motorways. It could be time to find a better comparative measure of performance, this is just one way of doing it, but it could be one solution for time trialling in a modern world & make it more attractive to all riders, not just those with TT rigs & funny hats. Keeping TT’s in Scotland under the British Cycling insurance blanket could result in a very different & varied TT scene to that which exists south of the border outside UCI rules, but with their own even stranger ones, I know which I’d prefer.

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You’ve Been Framed

Steel, carbon, aluminium, titanium, we’ve even had metal matrix composite, wooden & magnesium frames (Kirk Precision), but what’s best for you & is one of the cheaper carbon frames actually a better bet than an aluminium frame?

Steel

It used to be Reynolds 531, that was what you bought if you were a UK cyclist over 30 years ago, we then started getting different steel tubesets from Columbus, Reynolds 753 (a thinner walled higher tensile steel), Reynolds 653 (which wasn’t a tubeset at all really, but a mix of 531 & 753). These frames were manufactured by a process called brazing, which used lugs & solder. The tubes were mitred (shaped at the end to meet the profile of the adjoining tube, keeping it very neat), set up on a jig & heated with oxy-acetylene torches, the solder melted & assuming you knew what you were doing, filed the small gap between the inside of the lug & the outside of the tube by ‘capillary action’. This was very much an acquired skill on the better tubesets, any old chopper could braze a plumbers tubed bike, but when you started getting down to tubesets of wall thickness 0.7mm, you had to be a skilled craftsman. Britain was awash with these skills, there were steel frame builders everywhere, you could visit the workshops & see the men in action, goggles & torches, a step into yesteryear.

There is a resurgence in the steel frame, but it’s very much a niche market, you’ll barely see anybody racing on a steel frame these days, where in the past it was the only option. There are exceptions though, the Madison Genesis team in the UK ride steel frames, there’s a profile on Dean Downings HERE. Another exceptional modern steel race bike I’ve seen close up is James McCallum’s Condor Acciaio, these bikes show that is still a place for steel amongst the carbon. You’ll see that these frames are not lugged, they are built in the non traditional method for steel of TIG welding, this wasn’t something that was possible with the older tubesets, but since Reynolds developed products like Reynolds 853 a number of tubesets have been developed.

Aluminium

Aluminium frames were the start of the downfall for steel, we saw some incredible looking frames appear in Scottish races, big tubes, filed welds on bikes like Klein & Cannondale from the US. That opened up the market to flood with mass-produced welded aluminium frames (wrongly called alloy, all the steel frames are a steel alloy too), they were cheaper & lighter than made to measure steel frames. The initial frames with tubes of steel diameter were not particularly resistant to fatigue, there were a large number of failures as manufacturers tried to get their aluminium bikes on the market with little R&D, the smart manufacturers had opted for oversized tubes with very thin wall thickness, resulting in a much more durable frame. The incredibly sloppy Vitus was one that used small diameter tubes, but even with these problems and the inbuilt flex, riders like Sean Kelly still managed to win lots of races on them. Some manufacturers were scared off & held off far too long, like the UK’s ailing Raleigh, who were never to regain their market share in top end race bikes (although they are making a resurgence at the moment as more of a distribution business than a bike manufacturer).

Aluminium was the key point in mass market frames being produced, welding had allowed the frames to be manufactured without the skilled craftsmen required for brazing operations, they could now robot weld en-masse & flood the market. We did have a large number of very heavy frames appear, where they were churned out into the market, but most riders would have been better off with a steel frame rather than these oversized tubes with very thick wall thicknesses, not able to soak up the bumps from Scottish roads, but they are probably still going, it’ll take them a while to corrode through.

Carbon Fibre

Carbon frames started appearing about the same time as Aluminium frames hit the market, at this point in time they were just using standard tubes bonded into aluminium lugs. This wasn’t a method that brought out the best properties in the material, it was also prone to a few early failures & some unhappy riders. The same with carbon forks, you just have to ask coach Graeme Herd about that one, he had an unfortunate episode where he used his face as a brake when a carbon fork failed. The first ‘proper’ carbon frames I saw in races here were those similar to the ones that Kenny & Roddy Riddle were riding, the Trek, they looked incredible at the time, as most other frames in the bunch were lugged steel. These frames (correct me if I’m wrong on this) were again constructed using pre-formed carbon tubes, but joined in a very different manner, they were held in place by jigs, the joints over-wrapped in carbon fibre & resin, then baked to form fantastic looking & strong joints, resulting in a very similar looking frame to the eventual mass production monocoque carbon frames we see today.

The modern ‘monocoque’ frames use no pre-formed carbon tubes, they are the best use of carbon fibre’s properties, manipulating specific shapes at certain areas of the frame which require strength in specific directions. ‘Mono’ is perhaps not the true story, as these frames are formed in at least two parts, but often the rear triangle is often made from the older bonded method. For example, what would be considered the main frame diamond (top tube, down tube, seat tube & head tube) is constructed as one part, then the rear bonded triangle is attached, wrapped & baked. The ‘monocoque construction’ sticker is always on the main triangle for this reason.

What you get for your money

As with everything, you get what you pay for. The mass market aluminium frames flooded the market after the first frames appeared, the same has happened with carbon frames. The lower price ones do look fantastic, but if you check the weight you’ll see that although they’re strong, many will be overly wrapped in carbon. The reason that many top end carbon frames cost a lot more is down to R&D, if it was just material price we’d be buying them for pennies (well, you know what I mean).

R&D plays a vital role is carbon technology, without good reasearch & development, backed up by high quality manufacturing, you’re not going to get the ideal carbon product. Computer modelling allows carbon to be placed in the correct areas, in the correct direction, in the correct quantity, this isn’t just for strength, it’s for the ride too. Carbon frames can be constructed incredibly stiff, but good frames need ‘a bit of give’, some compliance so that you’re not bouncing all over the road on anything but the smoothest surface. This is a trade-off & is very hard to get right, you want stiffness to avoid the frame twisting when you pedal & sprint, but you want compliance to soak up road bikes. Steel & titanium do this very well, aluminium had to have the correct mix of frame tubes, carbon does it well on a frame built with this in mind. The result is that some very stiff carbon frames that pro riders use in many races (not the ones they ride in the cobbled classics obviously) are potentially too stiff for our rubbish roads, the same goes for the overly engineered cheaper carbon frames, where too much carbon has been used (excessively skipping back-end under a sprint is sure sign). So unfortunately for most of us, a higher end carbon frame is really the one that’s going to do the job to the best of its abilities, but potentially not the one used in le Tour, but do your research and ask the questions, make sure you’re paying for R&D and manufacturing quality, not branding or product endorsements. Lighter riders often suffer more on carbon frames too, they are generally built for an average 75 to 80kg mass market rider, not a whippet, so if you’re light you are going to find even less ‘give’ in a carbon frame without the larger gentleman’s ‘pre-load’.

Which Frame

I’m not going to tell you what to buy, but just bear in mind the plusses & minuses stated above. Most decent aluminium frames are of good construction & technology these days, I’d say that a good aluminium frame is going to be a better bet than a cheaper carbon frame, in my opinion it’s only when you go up-market a bit with carbon that you get the benefits. Apparently Phillipe Gilbert rode an aluminium frame tarted up to look like a carbon one for one of his very successful seasons, so sometimes the pro’s won’t choose the most expensive option either. There’s always the custom steel & titanium options, the type of top end steel frames highlighted above are good enough for UK domestic pro’s, they’re likely more than sufficient enough for you & steel is on yet another revival making it a viable choice yet again. They can also be built made to measure, in the UK, if that’s your thing. Titanium is a very good overall frame material, bomb-proof & will last you a lifetime, but expensive & if you get sick of it, you’ll be stuck with it forever! Carbon won’t last forever, the good ones come in at the price point of titanium, but they look great, which I think is the point so many riders buy them for, it also holds bragging rights to your non cycling friends, a carbon fibre frame holds more clout to petrol heads than any other material.

What do I have? I’ve got all of them, so I can’t even make up my own mind, it’s really down to personal choice, style, engineering, performance, but the old saying from Keith Bontrager always comes into play, especially for bike frames, “Light, Strong, Cheap: Pick two”. You get what you pay for, but don’t get framed.

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