Doing Things Right

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I’ve posted previously on how sports governing bodies can be stuck in a rut, with the need for funding becoming their guiding principle, rather than the actual needs of the sport they are attempting to support. It’s an annoying aspect of the drip-down funding structure, which feeds off the perceptions of some public servant somewhere in the financial hierarchy, with his idea of what a sport needs (it’s always a ‘him’). We can safely assume the closest this fella will have got to sport recently are some free Wimbledon tickets or a nice day out at the cricket. If we ignore that side of things & the resulting fallout to our governing bodies, it’s the clubs that are actually the trailblazers in cycle sport. I’m going to point out a couple of very different ones, but both appear to have chosen their own distinct path & followed through with great gusto & success, the clubs I’ll be mentioning are Stirling Bike Club & the Rigmar Racers (other clubs exist with similar ideals, but to me, these two are currently the most prominent in Scotland right now).

Stirling Bike Club

It would be easy for any club with a high membership to promote run-of-the-mill cycle events on the road, this is exactly what Stirling Bike Club don’t settle for. In the last year they’ve managed to run three closed-road events, a virtually unseen display in Scottish racing circles, a feat which takes an incredible amount of effort to put in place, alongside the well promoted but more ‘traditional’ events like the ‘Corrieri Classic 10’ & the ‘Battle of the Braes’.

Those who’ve been around a while are used to events being hidden away, keeping our sport in the backwater, but Stirling BC have woken up to the fact that cycling is now something that the general public would actually like to watch & local government will engage with. These events include ‘Up the Kirk’ hill-climb, ‘Crit on the Campus‘ & ‘Crit Under the Castle‘. All these events have their own mini web sites (linked), regularly updated twitter feeds & excellent promotion, singling out these events to me as being some of the best Scotland has ever had in promotion terms. The execution is also impressive, if it looks smooth-running from the outside, you can bet it’s highly stressful & very well-managed on the inside, what ‘the punters’ don’t see is what makes these events what they turn out to be.

The backbone of this club is in its membership, they have multiple club training rides for all abilities, chaingangs & club rides. But the jewel in the crown is their kids club, the Wallace Warriors, there’s a big waiting list to get into this club. This club really is a shining example of a multi-tiered cycling club catering for all.

Rigmar Racers

Predominantly a track team, which also has some very successful forays into road racing, Rigmar Racers is quickly making its mark as the go-to club for the aspirational Scottish track racer. The top-tier (or cloud, as they may refer to it as) of riders in this team are impressive, even having helped none other than Katie Archibald on her way, there’s already an obvious pedigree of national champions involved with the club. This domain had been held for decades by one very successful club, but they seem to have gone into a steep decline, possibly due to the reducing relevance of the venue that served track cycling so well since the 70’s, Meadowbank, without either of which we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Rigmar Racers have embraced the indoor velodrome opportunity fully, along with coaching, expert knowledge, equipment & expertise. They’ve grown in what looks like a very manageable fashion & have a host of young talented up-and-coming riders in their roster, plus 2014 Commonwealth games riders Alistair Rutherford & Callum Skinner. The front line coaching team consists of Allister Watson (reputedly the most dangerous rider ever to ride the Meadowbank boards, who’ll have a trick or two up his arm warmers), with Callum Watson & Commonwealth medallist Kate Cullen.

This team looks to be setting the benchmark at the performance end of Scottish cycle sport, which hopefully will spur on other individuals & teams to raise their game. From what we’ve seen so far, Rigmar Racers are adept at identifying & developing young promising riders from other sports & the youth ranks,then furnishing them with the skills & knowledge to allow them to progress the ladder. With some eventually using what they have learned to help them make it to international level competition. We’ll even see them entering a team at the forthcoming season of Revolution track meetings across the country, a very progressive approach. They also have a very good blog.

Rider Development

My opinion is that clubs large successful clubs find it difficult to also run an elite ‘team’ racing at a high level, this can challenge resources & often cause some unwanted disruption & arguments. So if a club like Stirling BC develops riders to a level where they are performing at national events, they should see that as another success, the club should quite rightly be very proud of that. Clubs can easily keep their ties to the top riders, while trying not to get upset if they move on to a team who specialise in supporting them at bigger events. We need that diversification to allow riders to progress, otherwise it’s easy to hold them back. A club can benefit massively from keeping that association, imagine if that rider does ‘make it’, would you rather be mentioned in interviews as a part of that development, or scrubbed from memory as the club that got upset when the rider wanted to race big events as part of a team. It’s not a kick in the teeth when a rider progresses, it shows how good a job you’ve done.

The Gist Of It

Plenty of clubs & teams are doing very good things, like those above, but plenty are unfortunately not. Some still refuse to accept that cycle sport is changing rapidly, refusing to utilise social media & relentlessly telling young talented riders that all they need to do is ‘get the miles in’, these clubs will eventually die. The relatively new clubs are the ones which are able to adopt a modern approach, all too often we see tradition stifle the old clubs, so it’s elsewhere we should be looking for innovation & development in Scottish cycle sport. The clubs I’ve identified do very different things, they both do these things very well. We require more of these, a diverse network of clubs & teams where riders can progress, or just enjoy riding their bikes. Who knows where it could lead, the future looks very bright if Stirling Bike Club & Rigmar Racers are where we’ll see Scottish cycling head in the future. Maybe Scottish Cycling can learn a thing or two from what’s going on in the progressive club scene.

Weight a minute.

Across all UCI events, there is a minimum bike weight limit of 6.8kg (that’s around 15lb to any SuperVets reading). Where the UCI got this number from is unknown, but is it really a valid rule in this day & age, where the governing body seemingly assuming there has been zero bike development in the last 10 years since they introduced this rule. What makes bikes immune from engineering advances?

The Rule (UCI Article 1.3.019)

Most manufacturers can build a bike much lighter than 6.8kg, probably many of us own one lighter than that race in ‘race trim’, so why is there a rule to stop us racing a commercially available bike that we can ride on the road any day of the week. The original rule was reported to have been introduced to allow developing cycling nations to compete on a level playing field with rich cycling nations. We now know that it wasn’t the bikes where the performance advantages were generally coming from, but that issue was too tricky for the UCI to deal with, so they focussed attention on bike weights & positions to show they were doing something to even things up.

Here’s the actual rule below: LINK HERE

The minimum weight of the bicycle (in working order) is 6.800 kg, considered without on-board accessories in place, that is to say those items that may be removed during the event. The bottles, on-board computers and GPS systems must be removed during the weight check. However, the bottle cages, fixture systems and clipped-on extensions are part of the bicycle and stay in place during the weighing. This is the mainly UCI regulation that is solely concerned with safety. This minimum weight may be reduced or withdrawn in the future, but only when it is possible to prove that each of the constituent elements of the bicycle conforms to specific safety standards that apply to competition.
The UCI has received several complaints concerning the quality of carbon frames, forks and handlebars that fracture immediately in a crash. It would be irresponsible to remove this regulation without putting a reliable system in place to promote the riders’ safety. Work is currently under way with the cycle industry to move towards a solution that is more in line with the current situation. Above all, the UCI wants to avoid competition between manufacturers to reduce bike weights to the detriment of safety.

Who does it benefit most?

Lets take two examples at the extremes of pro cycling to get an overall view, a 55kg climber & an 80kg sprinter. We’ll assume those are the clothed weights for this example & we’ll stick them both on a 6.8kg bike. We now have the climber with a total weight of 61.8kg & the sprinter with a total weight of 86.8kg. By adding the minimum weight bike, our climber increased his overall weight by 12.4%, the sprinter only increased his overall weight by 8.5%. So we can deduce that a minimum weight limit handicaps lighter riders more than heavier riders, what makes it more absurd is that frame breaking ability is much more likely to happen at sprinting wattages than at climbing wattages. By this UCI rule, the rider most likely to break a frame has a frame less able to withstand his maximum power output than the climber. If we take a guess at the climbers peak power of 1000 watts & the sprinters peak power of 1800 watts, both riders have an equally strong bike, but the climber has no ability to take it anywhere near the level required to cause damage. Surely the lighter riders should be able to race on lighter bikes?

In Practice

I understand that this may throw up additional & more complicated problems if we base it on rider weight, you’d have riders taking part on boxing style weigh-ins to hit the lowest weight possible & risk dehydration, so that’s not practical. What makes this rule even more unfair is that the UCI now have their infamous frame stickers to show which frames (and other components now) are strong enough to be allowed to be raced in UCI events. The weight limit is still in place, so bizarrely we can have a frame which has passed the UCI strength test but still cannot be built into a bike weighing less than 6.8kg.
Take another example: 2 sets of identical components, 2 different frames. Both frames have passed the UCI strength tests, record the same results & have a UCI sticker to prove it. Frame one weighs 100g more than frame 2.
Our build on frame 1 comes out at exactly 6.8kg and the bike is ok to race. The build on frame 2 comes out at 6.7kg, but this bike is banned, even though it has recorded the exact same strength measurements as frame 1. It throws the safety argument out, weight is not a measure of strength or safety, the UCI have this one very wrong.

The Answer

Hopefully we can get to a point where there is a solution, in the past pro teams have been found to place ice cubes in the seat tube for the weight-in, then the melted ice will flow out the bottom bracket holes during the very early part of the stage and the bike will be below the weight limit. Ingenious, but the UCI are onto that one now. Many track riders will also have found their steeds getting measured at national competitions around the UK, which is another absurdity, track bikes have no brakes or gears, yet have the same UCI minimum weight limit. It’s unlikely we’ll see any over zealous officials in Scottish events getting their scales out at the local Cat 4 road race, but they have every right to do so under UCI rules. The rule is plagued with badly thought out errors & does not account for any engineering material developments over the last decade, where stronger components & frames can be manufactured for less weight using state-of-the-art materials in the correct manner.
Please UCI, level the playing field, open up more technological bike development & stop placing a handicap on our skinny wee mountain climbers, they won’t break many frames, they have trouble just opening jam jars!

Bikeclubbing, we’re bikeclubbing, oh isn’t it wild?

In the ‘good old days’, i.e. any time before sportives existed, bike riders took a different route into road cycling through the cycling club structure, these days bike clubs are a secondary thought for most new riders, a place where it’s perceived that you’re not going to be fast/strong/committed enough to take part in club activities. In reality, this is very, very far from the truth, bike clubs are where you’ll benefit from experienced riders teaching you how to ride fast & safe in a group, among many other things. So read on and find out how to go about it, it’s quite simple.

The Sportive Rider

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with riding sportives, these mass participation rides have brought hundreds, if not thousands of new riders into the world of road cycling in Scotland. They provide many with a focus for their cycling year, training for an event & generally feeling part of something much bigger. They provide the same kind of feel that I imagine a marathon would, the challenge being to complete a long ride, on tortuous terrain within a target time. But what these riders don’t realise is, that by joining and riding with a club they could greatly enhance their riding experience, learn to save energy, combine into working groups and reduce that target time dramatically, with no additional effort. But sportive riders are unwilling to join clubs, or perhaps they simply don’t know they exist and are unaware of the benefits they can get from joining.

The reality is that anybody’s cycling enjoyment can be improved by acquiring ‘race skills’, these will allow you to ride faster, longer & harder than before by learning a few basics, then advancing on from that into a never-ending learning experience, the best & fastest way to go about this is to join a good club. Even if you don’t want to race, these skills will become invaluable in any sportive event, or even just on a group ride.

Bike clubs, past & present

As Iggy Pop asks about nightclubbing, “Isn’t it wild?”, bike clubbing doesn’t have to be wild at all, if you choose well and do a little research you’ll easily find one that suits you?

Clubs come in many forms, the type of club that has evolved usually depends on a very small number of individuals who take on the majority of the responsibilities in each club. You can also have some historical factors in there too, with a clubs identity based on what they did some time ago, so find out what suits you & get involved with one, it’s the best way to develop your skills.

A little history. Bike clubs used to be a secret society, you normally started riding your bike by yourself, to escape from various things on a Sunday, family, religion, football, socializing etc. So cycling had a high percentage of men, of which a high percentage couldn’t (or didn’t want to) play or support football and others escaping from Sunday school or going to church with families, some chose cycling because it allowed to not speak to anybody for long periods of time. So you get the idea, the idea that to be a cyclist ‘back in the day’ involved you being some kind of social outcast from the norms of Scottish society, which in central Scotland often involved football, religion, eating sausage rolls & smoking, you’ll find a lot of cyclists pre-sportive have this type of background. This permeated into your local bike club, a committee formed from normally geriatric cyclists, you can spot one of these, he has baggy knees from where the skin on his thigh muscles used to keep everything taught, he has a perma-tan from frequent visits to Majorca and he doesn’t like anything post index gearing. I’m not saying the social norms of our society were something to aspire to, I’m just giving you an insight to the suspicion any ‘new cyclist’ (often labelled a ‘Gringo’) would be subjected to on attempting to join a cycling club. There were of course a large number of ‘normal’ people in cycling clubs, but they generally kept their normality hidden from bike club culture & lived full meaningful lives outside cycling, unknown to their cycling peers. You accidentally stumbled across a group of club cyclists or witnessed a race held as far from population as possible and met somebody there who introduced you to a local club, that was your main route into the world of Scottish cycling if you didn’t have a neighbour or family member who was already involved.

You’ll be thankful to hear that the above is now becoming much rarer, you’ll be struggling to find an old school bike club these days. With the growing popularity of cycling and its acceptance as a viable way to commute, the successful GB cycling team, Wiggo, it being a healthy & not a particularly anti-social hobby, bike club members have responded to the old school cycling club and infiltrated it’s hierarchy, spreading into committees and replacing unwilling volunteers with enthusiastic ‘youngsters’ (anything younger than 50 is considered a youngster to the saggy knee brigade). You’ll find a progressive attitude in many bike clubs these days & there are some that deal exclusively with youth riders, having several trained coaches, if you’re looking at choosing a club for your offspring too.

Your new club

Any club that is registered to Scottish Cycling will be listed on their website, so start there. Fill in your postcode on the link below and set up a distance you would be willing to travel. Bear in mind that this will give you a rough location, as it is determined by the location of the club secretary’s house, so open up your search distance a little more than you would be willing to travel, in case the club secretary lives away from the main body of the club. You should get a link to each clubs website from the club finder link and you can review their activities.CLUB FINDER

Things to look for……

  • Find a club with an internet presence, this can assure you that a committee has decided that the internet isn’t a bad thing and they’re willing to embrace it. This also allows you to peruse their activities before you take the leap and join in.
  • If you want to race, make sure your chosen club participates in the type of racing you want to take part in, but don’t close yourself off to other types of competition.
  • Choose a club that has regular rides reasonably close to where you live, i.e. within half an hours riding to the start or a short distance to drive if you intend to take the car.
  • Check out their kit, you’ll be wearing this a lot, so make sure you’ll be ok wearing it in public.
  • Make sure your new club will accommodate beginners, you’ll be astonished at the amount you can learn, so having a club willing to take the time to teach beginners group skills is going to be crucial to your choice.
  • Get an idea of the size of club, unless it has a good progressive culture and lots of willing and experienced members, a very large club may not allow you to develop your skills as quickly, it may have a majority of riders who want to learn the skills you’re after, but lack that core of willing volunteers who have the task of teaching a vast number of new riders in their own time. Sometimes a small to medium club will provide more assistance and steepen the learning curve, but then this isn’t always true either, so do your research and let them know you want to develop group skills and see if they have any rides that would help with that.

Remember that those willing to help you in that club are volunteering their own free time, so treat everybody with the utmost respect and paying a small annual membership fee does not mean you own their time. They also pay that membership fee, so that doesn’t mean that they own your time either, it’s a friendly cooperative rather than a contract, people are giving you their goodwill, in return they see you progress within the club.

The level of a club cyclist

It’s often perceived by those outside the cycling club structure that club cyclists are elite level athletes. Once you join one you’ll find just how ridiculous this idea really is, there’s all shapes & sizes in bike club. No matter what your current level of fitness, you’ll also find fellow riders at your level, you don’t have to be ‘race fit’ to join a club. Plenty of experienced riders let their fitness slip to unbelievably low levels, so if you’re unfit you can still learn a lot from riding with these guys, that podgy creeper you’re chatting to may have won a few races when he was in his prime.

Go on, join a club

It’s really a case of getting out there and getting it done, now is the perfect time to get involved, it’s early in the year and there will be plenty others like yourself who are about to take the leap and looking to improve your bike skills, whether that’s on-bike skills, mechanical skills (as basic as fixing a puncture to full-scale bike strip and rebuild), help with your bike position, you’ll learn a lot from experienced riders and skills passed down through bike culture. You’ll learn week in week out in a bike club, while a sportive will teach you little in the way of skills, not only because it’s a one-off event, but due to there being no incentive and camaraderie from experienced riders to pass on knowledge and information during an event.

There’s no time like the present to dip your toe into the overshoe of cycling clubs, take the plunge and see if there are any suitable now, it’s not as wild an idea as you first thought.