Friday, 7 December 2012

Hackney GT

There's something interesting going on down in that there London. Part 'cross, part music and part style statement, Hackney GT is pioneering a unique and fresh approach to the 'cross scene by blending music and fashion with grass roots 'cross racing.



It's the brain child of DJ and racer Russ Jones who has recently premiered a debut collection of cycle clothing and bespoke cycle-cross racing framesets.

  Fat tyres or thin, day or night, mud or dust we ride bikes, we love bikes they move us forward with a rush we are addicted to. We dodge cars we swerve trees we see graffiti we see leaves we are Hackney GT we are all city we are outdoors.

  Unashamedly bold, vibrant,and alternative with strong designs not too be ignored. Casual to lycra, on-trend and reflecting the burgeoning cycle scene from the fixed gear culture to the racing hard core fraternity Hackney GT isn’t frightened about being spotted in the crowd.

I first met Russ when he popped up with a London friend to stay at mine on a racing trip to a northern National Trophy 'cross round, and subsequently have ridden with and competed against him a number of times. Gently spoken and with a distinctive London accent, Russ' cycling and sporting activities have led to him being sponsored by Brixton Cycles, ranked 2nd in the London Cross league 2011/2011, ranked 3rd in the London mountain bike series Beastway for 2009 and multiple finisher of the legendary and gruelling 3 Peaks cyclo cross race.

Hackney GT has been birthed out of Russ' passion for cycling, an eagle eye for fashion and trends and with a quirky edge which he lends to anything he is involved with. Russ originally wanted to make a jersey for his music production company Hackney Globe Trotter and what was originally only one design has now turned into many this has now spawned the new label and collection with big plans for the future.



Hackney GT offers new styles combined with a reflection of Russ' beloved Hackney and East London, currently the cultural and creative centre of the world according to Russ - "fact: there are more artist in Hackney Wick per sq. mile than any other space on the planet". On the music front Russ has DJed all around the world and has had guest mixe spots on BBC Radio 1and 6Music. He currently has a weekly podcast on www.SOASRadio.org and he still hosts a monthly tropical warehouse party Arriba La Cumbia in the East end of London. A busy man in other words. 



Russ and Hackney GT in conjunction with Push Cycles has also launched an official racing team that comprises of current winner of the London & SE cyclo cross league Matt Webber amongst many others.. I love this blending of 'cross, music and fashion - for me it's a breath of fresh air from the narrow focus that cycling and 'cross can sometimes have, but make no mistake - Russ and his team are serious racers. They just know how to party and dress on and off a 'cross bike too.

Check out their on-line store at www.hackneygt.com

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Mentorship

Pic: Dave Haygarth

I realised the other day that I'm lucky enough to have two 'cross mentors. They'd been there a while but I hadn't quite noticed the impact they were having for the good, on my 'cross endeavours.

Now I'm no elite athlete - I had some success with 'cross in the early 90s when a full time student, I mean athlete, winning quite a few local League races and getting a top 25 position at the Nationals - but although the results have significantly tailed off of late, 'cross is still my passion and I want to improve simply for improvements sake. A big gap in 'cross particpation from 1993 till a few years ago has meant a steep re-learning curve, as well as a bafflement as to why my body does not respond the way it used to. The first point is easy to document, the second is a little harder toe explain but that's for another day.

Anyways, I've been fortunate to hook up in recent years with the effervescent Dave Haygarth, who whilst nearly wrecking me many times with his superior fitness, technique and ability in countless training sessions together, has been kind enough to pass on much of his hard earned race-craft and technical skill to my benefit. Don't underestimate the value of riding and training with someone who is better than you, particularly if they share what they know. My ego crumbles at times but I bounce back, determined to get a little closer to him next time. And it's coming....

My other 'cross mentor is Greg May - a (not-for-long?) Dublin based exercise physiologist and coach with a no nonsense, slightly old skool approach backed up with heaps of science. Greg and his partner Pauline (a talented IronWoman) have been regular guests at mine on Greg's racing forays outside Ireland and during these trips, and between he has regularly passed on nuggets of training advice around intensity, structure, technique and a lot more.

Greg's approach can be summed up in this superb article on 'cross training. I won't repeat it in full - go read it for yourself - but a couple of bits jump out for me:

CX is not a pretty sport. If you don’t train in the suck you won’t be able to race in the suck. 

'I can’t corner in mud' – Well no one can…you just get less bad at it. Practice...

Sometimes the best advice is the most simple - you can dig out an entire seasons success from that small article but better still, go find yourself a mentor, a training partner, a 'cross soulmate and learn together the only way there is - by getting muddy.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Prototype Planet X Pro Carbon XLS Cyclo Cross

I've been lucky enough to have been riding around on a sample Pro Carbon XLS for a good while now, and now it's on sale can finally spill the beans.....

UPDATE: new production version of the XLS


Constructed from 12k carbon it's a full carbon disc cross frame that is aimed fair and square at the race-savvy cross rider. It's the sharpest feeling cross bike I've ridden with snappy handling and a very stiff response to hard out of the saddle efforts. A large (PF30) bottom bracket area contributes to this stiffness, as do the boxy rear chainstays and the tapered headtube (1.25 - 1.5") that keeps things solid upfront too.

Cable routing is all internal across the top tube with no under bottom bracket cabling to keep things clean and tidy, as well as helping to cut down on maintenance after drownings with the jet wash. The top tube itself is one of the most comfortable I've ever carried with, being unencumbered with cables and perfectly flattened to lay neatly across your shoulder. The rear disc tabs are at the rear (rather than in the rear triangle), allowing easy access too for pad fettling.

Clearance is great up front and rear, despite the 'racy' tolerances between rear tyre and bottom bracket area, and during mudfests has presented no significant problems despite some build up in that area. The absence of cantilevers and bosses more than makes up for any build up of mud there and my bike has kept working fine even when conditions are really bad.






The beefy headset, stiff bottom bracket and boxy stays mean this frame just flies under pressure - compared to alloy cross bikes I've had the difference in stiffness is startling. It's not a harsh ride on rougher surfaces, just purposeful, giving you lots of feedback about what surface conditions are like. It builds up light too - with higher end components and carbon wheels it's happily threatening sub 18lb territory and so carrying feels superb on that comfy top tube.

It's just too tempting not to make comparisons  between the XLS and it's sister company's One One Dirty Disco that I've also been riding. Both are superb race bikes with surefooted handling, good behaviour in the mud and light, practical (ie robust) carbon frames. Whilst the Disco also makes for a good all-round off-road riding bike, eminently suitable for 3 Peaks duties and long off road rides alike, the  XLS perhaps veers a little more toward an out and out racer, feeling sharp and edgy and just itching to be ragged round a lap.

Pic: Jo 'Hanglebads'


It is worth pointing out the difference in sizing - my 56cm Disco has a longer top tube and taller head tube than my 57cm XLS which partly contributes to that planted, stable feeling compared the smaller, more chuckable XLS. It's horses for courses - I've raced both on cross laps, ridden both on long rambling off road rides, and 3 Peaks trained on both. I don't have a favourite - they both do the job, whenever and  wherever. You takes your pick....

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A lap of the Koppenbergcross - rider's view...

The Koppenbergcross at Oudenaarde is one of the oldest, most prestigious and toughest races on the Belgian, nay European, cross calendar.

It has brutally old-school course that features huge climbs, slick never-ending descents and a huge rabid crowd - a combination which, set around the iconic cobbles of the Koppenberg, never fails to disappoint.

Here then is a preview lap of the course for the race on Thursday 1 Nov 2012 - presumably a public holiday in that part of Flanders given the 10,000+ strong crowd....


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Mud Index - sponsored by crossjunkie



Mud Index for Cyclocross Riders

The original idea for this index came from an article in about 2000 by Dave Carr, a stalwart of the Californian Norcal cross scene. I’ve adapted it for European and more specifically, North West England conditions and changed the classification a little.
For the purposes of this Index, mud is ranked on a scale of 0 to 10 according to moisture content, zero being hard and dry and 10 being liquid water. Other properties include material content, color, stickiness, and so on.




Grade 0 – dry dusty trail. Rare and iconic, this grade almost doesn’t make the classification due to its hugely infrequent appearances, seen only at the occasional summer cross. When it does appear, the smugness of those who have held onto file treads in the forlorn hope they might get some use, is something to behold. Not really fit for purpose in a cross race...

Grade 1 - Damp Earth. Nice and soft, tacky. Makes a pleasant sound as tires roll over it. Fun and effortless to ride on. Ultimate traction. Never separates from the ground, or if it does it doesn't stick to the bike. Your bike won’t need cleaning which is nice, but because of that you forget that your tyres will drop mud all over the house when you move them after it has dried.

Grade 2 – Crosser's Clay. A bad kind of damp earth, with not much more moisture content but a high clay content, found in several regions of the North West. Soft and sticky, it sticks well enough to shoes, but doesn't separate from the ground too easily. meaning it slows down the bike and drains a rider's energy subtlety and mercilessly. Irritatingly too, it fills the pedal cleats on shoes, rendering them heavy and impossible to clip in. Following rain, this type quickly transforms into Grade 3, which is even worse.




Grade 3 - Play-Doh. Water content is up to about 20-30%, leading to major sticking action. Literally jumps from the earth to your bike. Clogs up all treads (clincher or tubular) period, except perhaps an FMB SuperMud tub. Or possibly and old original Green Michelin Mud, clincher or tub conversion. Fills up the spaces between the tyre and frame, and quickly renders your gears to jumping single speed status. Causes the bike to gain 5 kilos in a matter of minutes. Requires pressure sprayer and brush to remove. And a spare bike and pit monkey or 3.

Grade 3F: Frozen Play-Doh. Occasionally frozen conditions in January can give to rise to this living hell for crossers. Don’t even bother racing without a spare bike and pit crew...

Grade 4 – Peanut Butter. Less sticky than Play-doh; more likely to stay on the ground. Moisture content is up to 40% or so. This stuff is sticky enough that one can't really plow through it, yet it's slippery and makes it hard to control the bike. Ruts form which may yield to a tyre, or send the bike careening off in an unanticipated direction. Requires ferocious pedaling to keep momentum – think parts of Leverhulme Park, Bolton. Occasionally a piece sticks to the tire and is thrown into the air, subsequently landing on another rider's face. Good for photographers. 




Grade 5 - Goo. About as thick and sticky as the energy gel you eat during a race, only brown and slightly less tasty, and more likely to be lumpy. Like Peanut Butter, Goo stays on the ground, but is less resistant to the advancing tire. At the now defunct Scorton Cross, large sections of this often included some content of cow dung or rotting flesh. In more pleasant venues Goo may be found on the verge of a wet grassy area where a few tires have passed.



 
Grade 6 - Slime. This is the level of mud where a rider really begins to have fun. Slime is wet enough that it sticks to everything but doesn't really build up on the bike. Sticks together well enough that it will fly through the air in large masses. Slime often is found in corners where it can wreak havoc with traction, leading to a slide on your butt on the wet ground. Think Avenham Park Sept 2012....

Grade 7 - Glop. This is the wettest consistency of mud that can still hold a shape. When tires pass through Glop, a furrow is left that heals up slowly over time to a smooth surface. Liquid water may come to the top. It's better to have thin 'cross tires to slice through this stuff – yep, old school 28s and 30s. Imparts a shiny appearance to bicycle and body parts but at least cleaning is not so bad if you don’t let it dry.

Grade 8 - Slop. The bottom of a very wet mud puddle that is not refreshed by a stream. Still retains some lumpy qualities, unlike Grade 9  - Soup. Splatters very nicely and stains clothing better than any other type. Those in white kit will moan and their washing machine will shudder. Renders your glasses completely opaque. Remember not to smile at your friends after a dunk in this stuff unless you want them to laugh hysterically at the mud between your teeth. 



Grade 8a – Bog. Specific to 3 Peaks Cyclocross, this is mostly water but with enough organic matter to coat everything and stop forward progress in an instant – see ‘Go on Ian’ faceplant http://youtu.be/Q5Hluv6Nzwg

Grade 9 - Soup. 80-90% water, heavily laden with sand, particulate and goo, but without the lumps characteristic of Slop. Scientists might classify this grade as a "Non-Newtonian Fluid." Typical of a stream crossing where the stream flow isn't fast enough to refresh the mud. Will soak your jersey completely, while leaving the particulate matter all over the front. Doesn't stick to the bike, instead just runs off onto the ground. Aim for this if your bike is clogging with mud elsewhere on the course.

Grade 10 - River Water. Might feature some residual brown colour (peat) but doesn't stick to anything. Just wet and cold without any redeeming qualities other than it may loosen up thicker grades of mud from your tires and shoes. Mainly confined to the 3 Peaks Cyclocross.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Ringing the changes - Mills Hills CX Sportive




Never underestimate the nature of the Calderdale terrain - that was my lesson learned at the innaugural Mills Hills CX Sportive. Run in conjunction with a standard road sportive event, Emma Ossenton's and Ali Mills welcome addition of a cx route sought out most of the classic tracks and cobbled climbs of the Mytholmroyd and Hebden area with a good bit of other less obvious stuff thrown in for good measure. I'd recceed much of it with Emma and Ali already but missed riding the last part of the route....

It was probably the 'other stuff' that did for me. A rather too casual approach to eating and drinking saw a fairly major decline in performance over the last half hour of the 4 hour/34 mile ride, as the relentless short, sharp climbs and heavy conditions bit me. The 5,000ft odd of climbing testified to it not being an easy ride at all. Look out for this event next year - friendly and very Northern in flavour it will no doubt soon become a classic. They are also running another unique event, Clifcross next year in April - think of a blend of cyclocross and cross-country running, though not necessarily both together. Sounds intriguing....



Yesterday though, perfect autumn weather, and an eclectic and friendly bunch of crossers more than made up for my relative misery toward the end and resulted in a simply ace day out. Dave chatted as fast as he rode and rightfully claimed the golden cobble on the timed cobbled climb/run.

He also took these great pictures, above and below:





Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Geoff Waugh's Peaks film

Geoff Waugh is an internationally renowned cyclesport photographer, who's always taken some cracking shots at the Peaks. I was therefore pretty excited to see his video short of the 50th Anniversary race.

It absolutely nails the mood and atmosphere on the day.



World's Hardest Cyclocross Race from Geoff Waugh on Vimeo.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Peaks video selection


Here is a mini selection of visual reminders of last Sunday's epic, from the sublime to the ridiculous:



Rob Jebb Summiting Pen y Gent 30.9.2012 going on to win he was 8 minutes ahead at this point ... from CARL RICHARD SEYMOUR on Vimeo.

I swear the wind got up considerably in the hour or so after Rob summitted,when I and many others arrived up there......

Now the somewhat exhausting Peaks in 3 minutes - check out the wind over the stile on Ingleborough...





And finally, the now 'viral' sensation that is Ian Ashworth's attempt at traversing the bog at the bottom of the Ingleborough descent. I know Ian and will enjoy reminding him of this at regular intervals....

Go on Ian!


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

La tempête

I had a little cry to myself as I headed toward the finish at Helwith Bridge. I usually feel a wave of emotion once down off the Penyghent track and heading for home on the last road section, but at the end of this year's Peaks my 'wobble' was particularly intense....

Part relief at being able to finish after all the preparation, part relaxation after several hours of deep concentration, and part a recognition of the almost primal feeling of having survived something quite threatening and at times deeply unpleasant.


Neil Welsh captured a pensive yours truly at the start

I know the Peaks well enough to know what I have to do to put together a successful ride. Even after some experience it still takes a bit of effort and luck to get through unscathed and enjoy the eclectic commentary as you ride up the finish funnel. This year was different though. The wind, the rain, the course conditions were as many observed, the worst they could remember and those with longer memories agreed that they were the worst in 30 or so years.

A quiet, grim mood seemed to grip all as the field hit the saturated bogs of the lower slopes of Simon Fell. There was almost no joking and chatting like in previous years - mostly an eerie silence among the riders. This soon gave way to greater anxiety as little tasters of the wind arrived from the left before morphing into a feeling of full survival mode by the top as the 50mph plus winds threatened to tear everyone's bike from their grasp, and throw any stumbling bodies after them for good measure. It was the same for all, though I claim a little special place in the insanity for riding with deep section wheels that turned my bike into even more of a sail. Muppet.

And so it continued. Wild, sometimes slow-motion but still careering descending in the howling gale down to Cold Cotes, a bike swap to get ride of the carbon sails, I mean wheels and then the relative aural calm of a howling tailwind to Bruntscar. A vicious two wheel slide over the cattle grid on the farm track to wake me up and then a repeat of the process as the wind wound up to maximum speed over the top of Whernside, again from the left but this time with a precipitous drop to right to punish a wobble on the narrow track.

I tried and failed to make the Whernside descent flow, it again proving to be my nemesis during the race. Got some of it right, lots of it not right. Must try harder next year.

Onto to Penyghent Lane in the now cold and heavy rain after a morale boosting cheer from the Cycle Sport Pendle gazebo crowd at Ribblehead, fretting about chilling down and becoming too cold to ride later in the race.

Luckily it eased for a bit, and the Lane passed in it's usual blur of pain with the brief excitement of 'The Puddle' which was indeed rideable down it's centre despite being almost up to my knees. Of course the weather worsened the higher I got as the wind returned for its final mad turn. Back down, praying I didn't make a mistake and puncture or worse, crash and then that slightly surreal feeling of tarmac again. And tears...

In amongst the wind, the bogs, the eye-stinging rain and the wrecked paths the only thing missing was cramp. And for that I am truly grateful. As grateful as to Mark my faithful support crew who turned up where I needed and expected him, without fail and was probably as wet and cold as me at times during the day.

I posted a time of 4:31 - over half an hour outside my recent best, and adrift of some of the riders I would normally measure myself against. Disappointing? A little, but underpinned by a deep sense of satisfaction as to having completed the race on a day that was too much for many folk. The Dirty Disco and the Planet X Ti were simply incredible on a day that tested equipment to the absolute limit. Almost no images of my ride seem to exist as evidence but the memories will be vivid for a long time to come.

T-363 till the next Peaks.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Countdown to the Peaks

I hate this period, with about a week to go, when you are just sitting around waiting for it to happen.

I'm not robust enough to undertake and recover fully from any further hard training, though I might race cross this Sunday just for the intensity, though for me I risk being a little tired still by the Wednesday before Peaks Sunday.

It's just a matter of sorting equipment, clothing, nutrition for the day, as well as looking after body and soul as best as one can. Germ avoidance is the biggy - I enter a state of horrible paranoia around now, jumping when anybody sneezes around me and praying my kids don't commune with the walking pathogens in their respective schools. That my wife is a Teaching Assistant in a third school doesn't help either.

Whilst I am almost always a positive sort of soul, the Peaks eats away at your psyche and all sorts of doubts can invade your head, most irrational, some real enough and none of them helpful. It can be an effort dealing with them all. It's not that the Peaks is impossibly tough, though it is hard, nor unfeasonably dangerous. It is just 'the Peaks' - it has an aura.

Social media doesn't help these days - someone's bound to have a cold, an injury or their own demons that they share with the world. I'm no different but I'll struggle with my own issues thanks.........

As to bikes, this year I have what I consider to be my ultimate set up, and along with team mate Dave, possibly the best bikes in the race full stop.

As ever I will go for a 2 bike strategy, changing either after Peak 1, Ingleborough or at Ribblehead after Peak 2, Whernside, depending on how I feel. Both bikes are set up for specific purposes - bike 1 for the more runnable, and less rocky terrain of Ingleborough and bike 2 specifically for Penyghent with it's long grinding but more rideable climb and slightly frightening rollercoaster and rocky descent.

Bike 1:





So bike 1 is a standard On One Dirty Disco with the new Disc and Canti Pro Carbon wheels. It has a mix of SRAM Rival and Force parts with bar top levers, 32mm FMB tubs with Racing Ralph treads and a bottom gear of 36x28. Carbon wheels?! For the Peaks? Well, yes. They are super light which will be appreciated on the mega steep Simon Fell, strong enough for what is one of the less rocky and boggier descents and just roll nicely everywhere else. I may continue on to Whernside with this bike, as again it is one of the steeper walking climbs. Coming down Whernside is ofter people's nemesis - I don't find it too bad and have other non-rocky options for route choice anyway.....

 Bike 2:





Bike 2 is a Planet X proto Titanium disc frame and beautifully comfortable. This bike sports much lower gearing, 34x34 (using a WiFli mech that will go on after racing this weekend), bar tops levers again as well as traditional alloy tub wheels with fatter 34mm Gommitalia tubs for the rougher climb and descent where punctures when tired are a real risk. SRAM Red parts complete the package for what is for me the best suited cross bike I've ever ridden round the Peaks.

There we go - equipment excuses effectively ruled out, it's down to me....


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Holcombe Moor

Dave Haygarth has been filming again  - both mtb and cross, all with friends, all on the big hill where he lives.

Holcombe has something for everyone, all year round and also doubles as the venue for the infamous Bull Hill Cyclocross Reps we use to prepare for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross.

Watch for a 'flowered up' yours truly with Dave in the second half of the film.......


Friday, 17 August 2012

Tub-ology - how to glue cross tubs

Pre-season, gluing or re-gluing, I've captured some thoughts about getting your cotton and rubber creations into place. Learn afresh or brush up your technique........


Further info on this older post:

Gluing cross tubs

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Update on the Cyclocross Disc and Canti Pro Carbons

I've had the opportunity to get out and about on the Planet X Cyclocross Disc and Canti Pro Carbon wheels properly now - I've had some nice long rides across the moors as well as sharper blasts round my local cross training grounds. There hasn't been much proper mud as such (despite the fairly miserable summer) but their performance on a range of surfaces, from grass, to moorland tracks to a purpose built mountain bike trail has been surefooted and accurate.




I realise that a carbon cyclocross wheel isn't necessarily designed to ride rough tracks or even the Red route at Gisburn Forest, but actually it's a great test of how a wheelset performs under stress, and in challenging conditions. I've loved the fact the the only thing holding me back on these rides has been the nagging worry of puncturing a nice FMB tub and not the worry of the wheels going out of true or breaking a spoke.

Planet X say they would be suitable for fast mountain bike use and with a fatter 45mm tub they clearly would be. Even with a 32mm cross tub they soak up bumps and rocks without deviating from the line. This stiffness will translate well to mud in the winter cross season and comes from the 24 hole 2 cross build on both front and rear. They accelerate so quickly too, even when the ground is bumpy - something some wheelsets struggle with as the bumps can sometimes feel like they suck energy out. Not so with these.

Their lightness and strength mean I have no qualms about using them for the 3 Peaks cyclocross in September. Crazy? Well not really - they feel perfectly strong enough and the Peaks is all about avoiding punctures, and not taking crazy risks on the descents. Mechanical sympathy wins every time over blinding speed that flirts with a puncture on every rock. Tubs help hugely in this respect too. The fact that they are very light for a cross wheel means they will also help considerably on the never-ending climbs in the Peaks.

Watch out for a forthcoming video on tub gluing featuring these wheels.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Planet X Cyclocross Disc and Canti Pro Carbon 50/50 tubular wheels

Bit of a rare animal these......



Going disc AND tubular last year forced me and Dave Haygarth to get our own deep section carbon wheels sorted. There just weren't any decent options out there without spending silly money. Cue ensuing ebay shenanagins and some chunky though strong 50mm rims with Novatec hubs arrived for building at the local bike shop. Nice, perfectly adequate but a bit heavy and workmanlike even with 20 hole front and 24 rear, both laced 2X.

Enter Planet X with their usual eye for value and performance and we have the Disc and Canti Pro Carbons - lighter, faster and most probably stronger too. Both front and rear have 24h rims (also 2X), the same rim as on their newest version of the legendary 50mm Pro Carbon wheelsets, 6 bolt hubs and black double butted Pillar spokes. All for £450 £499 They also have the same proprietary braking surface as the road wheels meaning you can swap between bikes if you're not completely converted to disc.

How do they feel compared to my ebay versions? Not like their  original Clydesdale name - they are much lighter and snappier, retaining all the stiffness of my DIY wheels. I don't know what the exact weight is but it must be around about 1500grams, maybe less - their road cousins come in at about 1400grams. They feel, and are, like light race wheels despite their moniker - quick to pick up, responsive when getting out of the saddle, solid.

Gluing up was a dream - the braking surface, a matt finish, extends to the rim bed and gives a perfect surface to lay the glue onto. The profile is fairly shallow too making it easier to seat the tub and glue to the all important edges where adhesion is needed to make them stick right.

They'll be getting a full test shortly so I will report back.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Bull Hill 2012




I've written about the delights of Bull Hill before here - '...a warm up on a monster climb up onto the moor – a descent down a shattered river bed (under 6 inches of water) but posing as a track – a walk/scramble up a 45 degree slope easing off into water logged peat bog caressed by a howling gale – an attempt to shuffle into a run and summit up further steep slope onto Holcombe Moor – before an exhilerating career down the other side, wiping sweat from my eyes and trying not to crash before turning left to go down the shattered river bed again and repeat.'

It still remains one of the most accessible (Friday lunch break) and effective (just over an hour for 3 reps) 3 Peaks cross sessions I've found. This year is no different, though the first session a couple of weeks ago was less of a shock to a pre-Peaks training constitution than in previous years.

Rather than writing, I thought I'd showcase some of the cracking images that Dave Haygarth has taken recently that show you much of the character and beauty of the area.....








































































































Thursday, 12 July 2012

Criterium

It's an evocative enough word - Gallic in tone, though as ever Greek in origin. But one with a relatively short history, first having been coined in the 1970's.

And within that simple word, lies a whole world of intrigue, technical demands and, this being cycle racing, pain. Short and hard, sometimes technically demanding, the crit is not a million miles away from a cross race. Except where cross races don't usually deliver in speed terms, crits produce a speed element more akin to track racing. That speed, over a short course, turns out to be great training for cross and so crits have often been the staple summer diet for cross enthusiasts and specialists. Except this one.

I'd always eschewed crits - part fear, part dislike of a road scene that perhaps unfairly I'd felt to be cliquey and elitist. Either way, far removed from the experience of cross. But, peer pressure is a wonderful thing, and the sight of friend Mark riding his first crit at Preston on a Thursday night convinced me to dip a toe in.

Immediately addictive, it was of course nowhere near as bad as I had imagined. I've done a few now, getting better as I go. Or rather getting dropped less rapidly by the Elite/1/2 riders, getting in some good workouts and improving speed and confidence all the while.







Pic: Neville Llewellyn

Perhaps the most fun was a closed road crit round the lumps and bumps and copious cobbles of Lancaster City Centre. Add in the worst storm/rain event in many years and it was immediately a classic. All the more so as team mate Dave H got 2nd in what was a tailor made course for his skill and power.

I can feel a few more crits coming on before the summer is up - a perfect distraction before the real racing starts in September...........

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Me and my bike (my bike and I)




Video time, aided and abetted by my youngest.......

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Embro





Note: this piece was drafted before the appearance of our 1 week of summer in late May. Don't let that put you off - it will be freezing and lashing down again soon and your thoughts will turn to embro again....


We all love getting packages in the post. This arrival was no exception - a perfectly proportioned little package containing a tin in a plastic bag and a post-it note. I'd been tipped off about my surprise by the sender, John Shaw, former professional off-road rider, Veteran cross racer and fellow Belgo-phile, but more on that later.

Embrocation is to cyclocross as bikinis are to beach volleyball. It would be unthinkable without, though there is one big difference - embrocation actually has a practical use, rather than an aesthetic purpose. Well, it has that too for some, but I digress.

Cross is a winter sport - it's usually cold or wet or cold AND wet unless you live in New South Wales, Australia which incidentally is experiencing a burgeoning cross scene. Even when it's summer cross in the UK, it's usually cold and wet too. Whilst there are obvious benefits of slathering your pasty white legs in something warming when the rain is horizontal and the temperature in single figures, apparently there are other benefits too as embrocation helps increase blood flow to the extremities, which decreases the pain of intense efforts on the bike. That'll be quite handy for cross then....

Either way, legend has it that embrocation originates from Belgium. It probably did, but even if that isn't true, most of us crossers would like that to be true because Belgium is the source of all things good when it comes to cross. Imagine my excitement then when the contents of the package was eponymously labelled 'Northwest Knee Warmers, Medium Warmth Embrocation'.






The smell hit me from the off. To be fair, most embrocation products don't exactly creep up on you when you open them - that would defeat the purpose - but this was very different. Previous versions of embrocation I have used have ranged between the evocative 'school rugby changing rooms' wintergreen smell, the clinical and slightly nasty ralgex reek of sports-type products or more recently the allegedly inspiring smell of an iconic barren-topped mountain in the South of France. This smelt like none of them. It smelt of Christmas, which was mildly unnerving given that it was May. My sense of smell is crap but I definitely picked up cinnamon, clove, mixed spices, maybe pencil, slate.... Maybe not. But cinnamon and clove anyway - warming, comforting winter season smells.

The company behind this festive fare, NorthWest Kneewarmers, is an interesting one. Formed out of the union between a naturopathic physician and a soapmaker they use very different ingredients to many of the other producers out there. Here's what they have to say:

We work hard to find and use the best ingredients possible. The bulk of our ingredients [over 95% by weight] are sourced domestically as close to home as possible, and all are natural. 


We choose ingredients based not only on its area of origin, but its process of manufacture.


We choose materials that have been either expeller/cold pressed [the base oils] or steam distilled [the essential oils], avoiding substances that have been solvent extracted whenever possible. Only one ingredient in our product [the capsaicin] has been solvent extracted as we haven't found it otherwise [yet].


We make the calendula extract ourselves from dried calendula flowers, and put the whole thing together in small batches right here in Oregon.

Well it shows - this stuff is different as I found out when I applied it at a somewhat chilly summer evening cross race in early May. Pretty liquid in texture, you might want to store it in a sealable bag as it shows a clear propensity to escape. This however comes into it's own when you apply - it goes on lovely. It's not overly greasy, but spreads easily and evenly. Whilst I have to my now not-so-secret shame been a past fake tan wearer, I do worry about looking like a badly tango-ed teenage girl, even on my legs. No worries here, smooth and even all the way and a pleasingly darker colour for to help non-Euro pasty legs look a little better.  And shiny too - by American standards, this would qualify for the Euro sheen look which we all know is worth a few seconds a lap.

This incarnation, 'Medium Warmth' is as it says on the tin - pleasantly warming without being too hot. Perfect for Autumn cross, or warmer mid winter days at the races. Or cross in May given the non-appearance of the Spring, let alone the Summer this year. It lasted well too but cleaned off well at the end so I didn't enjoy it's envigorating properties at 1am whilst trying to sleep after the race.

So far so good but the real winner for me was the clear skin-care effects of this embro. The notion of 'skin-care' for some products designed to do the same job can be a little tenuous. With some products, freshly shaved legs can end up looking like you have a dangerous infectious skin disease, such is the rash produced. Even less 'chemical' oriented products can irritate and inflame. This stuff was great - no irritation, and just like in the adverts on tele, 'great feeling skin'  after use. The naturopathic properties are apparent and very welcome.

How do I get some, I hear you ask? Until now, I'm not aware that there has been an offical UK stockist but that is about to change imminently. John Shaw is putting together what can only be described as cross lovers dream - a cross specific emporium filled with hard to find Belgian and US  cross-themed products. It's an idea I flirted with a while back, but didn't have the bottle or the skills to do. No matter, Fangoso, his new venture will fill this gap for me with it's 'passion for grime' ethos.

Look out for more on Fangoso soon.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Roubaix: not what it appears to be




Most of the cycling magazines, or internet cycling sites for that matter, carry at least one piece a year about riding the Roubaix cobbles, usually as part of the sportive events that shadow the venerable Paris-Roubaix race in April.

They all use the same adjectives and hyperbole - battering, shaking, bucking, numb, bottle-bouncing, filling-rattling, equipment-destroying etc etc. And they are all right. I don't intend to repeat previous writers descriptions, other than to confirm that riding Carrefour de L'Arbre to take but one example, is deeply unpleasant, unnerving and brutal in its excruciating demands on bike, body and specifically fingers.

Take it as read then that the Roubaix pave is bumpy.....

But on my recent trip, I wanted to scratch below the surface a little, to experience not just the physical demands of the old and broken pave, but to soak up a little of the area's feel and atmosphere - that combination of factors that generates so much hype, attention and fervent adulation on race day in April.

And I found it lacking. Sure, my fingers were in pain, my legs struggled to keep on top of any decent gear to allow forward momentum and my bike felt abused by the brutality of it all. But that was it. The whole experience was curiously inert, at least once the rattling was separated out of my consciousness.



I had chosen to follow the race route and ride four sectors of tactically crucial pave from Cysoing, through Camphin and onto the Carrefour before finishing on the Gruson secteur. A race leader, or even just hopeful finisher will exit that Secteur 3 Gruson stretch with just the much easier Secteurs 2 and 1 remaining before a relieved entry into the Roubaix velodrome and the finish. And maybe this was the point - without the spectacle and intensity and tradition of the race, riding the Roubaix pave just felt like a rather unpleasant and random ride on daft roads, even with the super compliant Ti cx frame and lush 27mm pave tubulars I took over there.

The race route, I realised on tracing it out, is actually fairly contrived. It simply heads off the road for a section of ridiculous pave across the bleak farmland before rejoining a road section after a km or so and rolling onto the next one. Often it rejoins the same road a few hundred metres further up from the point at which it just left, rolling on in to the next village to repeat the process. Without the rhythm of the race, it's cumulative physical and tactical pressure, it just doesn't make sense. And the pave sections, instead of being at the heart of the whole affair, somehow feel like unnecessary intrusions into what might otherwise be a pleasant ride in gently rolling Northern French countryside.

It is then, a very different feel riding here to riding the cobbles and bergs in Flanders that make up one of the other one-day Classics monuments, the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Flanders as an area has an integrity and a character that the terrain covered by Paris-Roubaxi cannot match. The Flemish Ardennes is beautiful in itself, with nooks and crannies that simply invite you to explore them. The flat plains of this part of France have lovely little villages but not the same depth of character to the terrain. The broken and ancient pave here adds character in the context of the race, but on its own, on a rather grey midweek day, all secteurs just look all alike, relics of a bygone era in French agriculture when these still-used country lanes happened to all be cobbled. Sure on race day they come alive and provide an incredible backdrop to the racing and continue the traditions that the race has engendered over the years. But it's not enough, at least not to make a pleasantly memorable ride.

On their own, divest of fans, helicopters and the race cavalcade, the pave for me at least, didn't really provide any more than a vivid insight into the incredible demands of this one race, but did not consitute an experience that, perhaps surprisingly, I will be going back for.

Mark rode stoically on skinny 23mm tires.....