Wednesday 10 September 2014

Fluent in Cross and the Crossjunkie blog

My new project Fluent in Cross is now live at

As such, FiC will become the vehicle for most of my cyclocross related musings and output, leaving this blog as a more personal reflection on my ongiong relationship with cycling and 'cross in particular.

As FiC occupies more of my time and energy, activity on this page is likely to remain light, but do check back in now and again for some 'cross related chinwagging.

Thanks for being around over the past 6 years or so.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Fluent in Cross cyclocross coaching days - Summer 14

Pic: Jo Allen

 New to cyclocross? Want to improve on your skills for the 2014/15 season? Learn from Fluent in Cross with BC qualified coach Mark Turner and myself...
  • Friendly and fun coaching in the basics as well as more advanced cyclocross skills
  • Hands-on instruction including live video analysis to become ‘Fluent in Cross’…
  • Max ratio of 1 coach per 10 riders
Saturday August 22nd 9:30 am – 4:30 pm OR
Saturday 13 September 2014 9:30am - 4:30pm

Towneley Park, Burnley and surrounding woods

All abilities, women riders and beginners particularly welcome (over 14s)

How much:
£65 per person for the full day

Instruction will include…
  • The dismount and remount sequence: how to be smooth and save time
  • Carrying and shouldering the bike comfortably and efficiently
  • Bike handling – ride better and faster no matter what the conditions
  • Cornering techniques
  • Off-cambers and other tricky terrain
  • Barriers & run-ups
  • Race starts
  • Equipment selection and set up
  • The FiC Mud Arts of tyre choice and tyre pressure
  • Race day preparation – recce laps and warm up
Full details and online booking here

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Regular visitors to this page will have noticed a paucity of posts over the last few months. This has in part been due to an accident-induced lack of riding and therefore lack of inspiration on my part, but also as my energies and thoughts have been elsewhere on a separate 'cross related project.

Fluent in Cross has been bubbling away in the background of my mind for some time now, and is beginning to take shape behind the scenes ready for an Autumn launch. Part cyclocross technique primer, part blog and part boutique store, FiC will hopefully become a go-to site for the aspiring weekend racer looking to hone their technique, acquire niche cyclocross products that are hard to source, or tap into the collective experience of our team for more personalised coaching support to achieve their 'cross goals.

Either way, visit our blog at to check in on our progress and get a feel for some of the content to come.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Despatches from the Cone of Shame

It’s part comforter, part tormenter and definitely a fashion statement for the ‘broken’. We’ve been together nearly 4 weeks now, but have plenty more time planned for each other in the near future following my self-induced up-ending and subsequent fracturing of two vertebrae (C7 and T4 for the curious) in a crash at the end of March.

They gave me a fetching two-part Cone of Shame neck brace at the hospital with instructions to take it easy and not take it off for 12 weeks. At all. With no frame of reference for this type of situation, nor any experience of ever having broken any bone, let alone my neck and back, it’s fair to say it has been an interesting and steep learning curve. As a moderately, well ok, extensively obsessive rider, I thought the hardest part would be dealing with not being able to ride. Of course I asked the consultant in the hospital lots of questions about my condition.... Nothing useful about the actual condition itself you understand, more about when I could ride (not for a long time), if running was possible (NO!) and when I could get on the turbo (when you feel able). That bit stuck in my memory - excellent, I can turbo as soon as I am ready. This will be easy then, I’ll get screaming fit on the turbo over the next few weeks and this whole thing will be a minor inconvenience.

Except my level of denial (strangely called ‘stupidity’ by my wife) was somewhat higher than my level of functioning. Three weeks of shuffling around the house, fairly constant pain, codeine induced fuzziness and an incredible lethargy the like of which I have never known, rapidly disabused me of the notion that this was a minor blip in proceedings and that normal service would be resumed soon.

Things are picking up though – my energy and mobility are slowly returning, my bikes are polished to perfection ready for the day when they can be ridden and I’ve sat on a turbo, albeit for 5 mins. That earned me a Grade A b&llocking off my wife. Given that I unwisely posted the moment on social media (while she was away) and was summarily told off using said media, team mate Dave Haygarth commented it was like watching a schoolboy showing off to his mates only for his Mum to come out and tear him off a strip in front of them. Her concern was understandable but actually, sitting on the turbo felt considerably more comfortable than walking because of the way my neck was supported by the brace and the fact that all the movement takes place from the hip down. I look forward to some gentle sessions on the turbo starting soon. And all safe in the knowledge that the winter ‘cross season is still a good few months away yet and provides a realistic carrot to aim for without pressure to get back too quick. See you in the mud!

Friday 4 April 2014


Chute, valpartij, incidente, choque......

If you ride a bike, at some point you will crash. Pro cyclists know this as an inescapable part of the job, the 'metier' of being a professional bike rider. Many mentally allow for a certain number of crashes per year, hoping that none will be too serious and put them out of action for long. It is a part of their existence that they neither welcome, nor deny, but just work through. Cycling lore is choc full of stories of suffering, of incredible feats against injury, of overcoming physical damage that would put most of us out of the running for any activity for a while, let alone the brutal world of professional racing. Hinault's broken nose, Hamilton's collarbone, Hoogerlands barbed wire injuries....all legend.

But what of the amateur or recreational cyclist, one for whom riding (and therefore it's flip side, crashing) is merely a hobby, an obsessive one perhaps, but not a means of making a living from day to day. How does the act of falling from one's bike, self-inflicted or otherwise pan out in a life only part-lived on and for the bike?

I had the chance to reflect on this the other day, when managing to have my most serious crash in some while, solo and with only my own stupidity to contribute to its execution. The act of crashing is a strange one, and influenced to some degree by who is around you. In a group ride or race, there's the unusual noise of tyres rubbing, a skid or bits of metal clashing that jumps out from the normal noises of group  riding, and precursors what can be a frightening and all consuming barrage of noise and movement, depending on how caught up you are in it. Crashing solo (or at least without anyone or anything specific to precipitate it) is different. A lapse of concentration, the sudden realisation that things are not as they should be in terms of line, balance or speed - the silence of it all as it goes wrong in front of you. With you. As part instigator, part passenger.

My own recent crash was a surreal mix of calm, noise and total confusion. A moment of calm when I realised I had got both my speed and my line totally wrong for a left-right combination, bordered on its right hand edge by a dry stone wall right next to the tarmac. It was all calm in the sense of there being nothing I could realistically do to get round the bend, so it was a question of waiting, with a bizarre curiosity to see how things would unfold at this point. After hitting the wall with my right hand and handlebar, it all went quiet for a little while. It was a bit confusing really, knowing that something was happening, but not being sure exactly what. The contact between my head and the tarmac moments later broke the spell, with the whole of my right side grounding an instant later to emphasise the point that things had probably not gone too well.

The aftermath of crashing is a funny-old affair - childhood habits kick in, those years of social conditioning of not wanting to betray the fact that you are hurt, stiff upper lip stuff (don't cry it's not manly, at least not at the age of 45), jumping up and walking around when by rights you should be sat down assessing things, and of course the biggest question and daftest thing of all - is my bike/clothing/sunglassess etc all right? Cycling at the higher levels, at least, is known as a sport of suffering. So, to call yourself a cyclist, it follows that you have to get back on, to shrug it off and to at least ride on a little while before succumbing gracefully and in a dignified manner to the fact that your injuries are severe enough for it not to be sensible to continue. Curling up in a ball, having a little cry and generally throwing in the towel are not really where it's at, however appealing at the time.

To be fair, there are also usually some practicalities involved around getting home somehow, unless you are unfortunate enough to need transportation by ambulance. This wasn't the case for me, so coasting down the hill, as others in the same event passed me, the consternation of friends enquiries in my ears, penetrating through the fog of pain and adrenaline, I settled in for a short ride back to where I had parked the car. With a hug from a friend at event HQ, that nearly precipitated a 'dangerous' display of tears and emotion, I got myself home before I felt any worse. And entered the world of the recently-crashed recuperating rider. And into a world of road rash, bruising, recrimination, financial calculations as to the cost of damaged stuff and the complex mash-up of concern and reproach from loved ones. In an age of social media selfies, I had to resist the temptation to bare more than was appropriate and demonstrate to the world, who must have been waiting with bated breath, just how I had hurt myself. I resisted on the grounds that such self-obsession is a little misplaced when others have hurt themselves far worse, and besides Tony Martin cornered the market and had the last word in road rash pics last year.

Road rash. That's a tortuous bedfellow if ever there was one. Add in some choice bruising and you have a combination that conspires in a perfect storm to prevent sleep and rest just at a time when you need it most. Your only hope for sleep is that you can find even one position where lying in vague comfort is possible, though this is usually rendered irrelevant when in your half-awake state you forgetfully move and find one of the other million and one positions in which it hurts and wake yourself up all over again.

After a few days of this but with some fairly severe neck pain to boot, I began to wonder if I had done something more than a bruising and rash job on my body. The fact that I had split my helmet in the crash had surprisingly not informed my thinking up to this point, at least in terms of getting checked out. Too much 'man-up' and not enough common sense I would venture. A trip to Urgent Care prompted X-Rays and then......... the sort of quiet, calm response from an ever increasing number of medical professionals arriving from nowhere and saying 'do not move'  and 'do exactly as I say' that directly impinged on even my blunted sense of self preservation to suggest that actually something might be up with my neck.

Five hours of lying immobilised in foam blocks, a c spine board and a rapid trip for a cat scan at another hospital as well as contact with a number of serious-minded and senior doctors, confirmed 2 fractures to my vertebrae (C7 and T5) and landed me in an immobilsing neck brace for 12 weeks. And induced a very intense feeling of having been extremely lucky that I walked out of the hospital unaided.

There was already for me, prior to that visit to hospital, a sense of balancing the 'what might have been' with a future full of the desire to ride still and the risk of doing something again - I had after all, split my helmet in the crash. But the realisation that I had been not just lucky, but extremely lucky will take some further processing and balancing in my head in the months to come. Any lesson to take from this? Go and get yourself checked out if you have a big crash. Notions of epic suffering, being tough, Pro and the like mean nothing when faced with a potentially serious complication that might otherwise remain undiagnosed. And Ride Safe out there.......

Monday 31 March 2014

Stone Riders

 Dave Haygarth writes:

Like all people who do not realise that we are all cyclists at heart, David Bramwell went and inadvertently wrote a song about cycling. He just needed this video to let him know that. PLEASE SHARE THIS, because...
As you may know, the new Oddfellow's LP is finally coming out in May via a Kickstarter-style French record label, Microcultures.
There are a lot of goodies on offer, from unreleased material to album artwork and even the chance to have Oddfellow's record a cover of your favourite song (provided you don't ask for Side One of Tubular Bells).
All support is gratefully received and you'll get a lovely CD featuring the plaintive sounds of a band at the peak of their powers!
A link is below has all the information you need to know.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Ronde van Oost Lancashire update

Andy Waterman's shots for the Cycling Plus feature on the Ronde, 2011

I won't be running the Ronde van Oost Lancashire this year. Or any other year.

After last year's cancellation due to adverse weather, I sat down and thought long and hard about the wisdom of running an unsanctioned, unlicensed and uninsured event that was beginning to attract well over 100 riders. What started through my own personal obsession with cobbles and was shared with a few mates, had grown into something altogether different, and though I and others loved the informal vibe that RvOL had developed, at the end of the day we live in a litigious society....

I considered running RvOL as an event, for paid up punters and with proper insurance but felt on balance that that was not what I had in mind personally when I set it up, nor to be frank did I have the inclination to spend the time doing it. Besides, there are some great events out there, similar in style and certainly showcasing some of the same great countryside.

So, thanks to everyone who turned up over 3 years - riding with you was a privilege. And huge thanks to David and Laura from SportSunday who provided for the 2nd and 3rd runnings, a free cake stop the like of which we are unlikely to see repeated.

RvOL is dead, Long live RvOL....... Richard from The Green Jersey shop in Clitheroe has taken on the name of the ride, and with an altered, solely Lancashire based route is putting on a cobble-themed event to coincide with the Tour of Flanders pro race on Sunday 6th April. Details here

I may see you there. Or I may just sneak off and ride my old route. Just for old times sakes....

UPDATE: No sooner had I posted this piece, than I learned that the Green Jersey Ronde has been cancelled. Sorry....

So, instead I urge you to find some time in your diaries and go for an adventure round the route on your own sometime.. Full route details on the right hand side of this page.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Kerstperiode racing

Even for a cyclocross obsessed nation like Belgium, it is excessive. Six elite races in eight days between Boxing Day and Jan 2nd. Welcome to the kerstperiode.

Opportunities to race to that degree in the UK simply aren't available, but undeterred I set about trying to complete a mini version of my own, to enter into the festive 'cross spirit, so to speak. Actually many committed riders have done something similar for years, travelling around to races and honing form for our early January National Championships with regular Xmas and New Year racing.

No Nationals for me this year, but instead an opportunity to pack in a week of racing, aided and abetted by some fortuitous race dates and a trip to London to see relatives. The scheduling of the classic old-school mudder Todmorden Cyclocross, an exciting new promotion at a Yorkshire stately home and a conveniently falling London League race gave me my 3 part kerstperiode spread over a week. Whilst I love my 'cross as much as the next obsessive, because of the cycling/family teeter-totter I tend to only race fortnightly, on average. Three races, some long distance travelling and all the festive socialising were definitely going to stretch me.

It turned out that my trio of races each highlighted an important lesson in the art of 'cross. The process of racing is demanding on equipment and rider and like many things, 'cross is simple in concept but infinitely nuanced in execution. Todmorden was first up and I tend to view Todmorden as my personal 'nationals'. It's local, the course is traditional to say the least being centred around a big cobbled climb and ensuing woodland descent and it is always stupidly muddy. In other words it suits me down to the ground.

Tod Mud (Pic: Dave Haygarth)

My pit monkey, Mark (Pic: Dave Haygarth)

I had probably my best race since returning to 'cross a few years ago. Conditions on the Sunday on the course were heavy, Todmorden heavy. This necessitated careful consideration of when to ride and when to run. This also meant that momentum was critical too. I'm strongest when there are on/off the bike sections, or at least decisions to made about whether to be on or off the bike. On that day, there were many riders stronger than me who were racing, but few had better technique and so were losing time constantly, getting bogged down or being slow on and off the bike. I started well, kept plugging away and moved up the field all race to what was for me, a hugely satisfying 8th in the Veterans and Womens race. A big part of this standout result for me was down to clean, effective technique - committing early to the running parts and executing the transitions quickly and efficiently. What I lacked in overall speed and fitness, I more than compensated for with flawless technique. It was hugely satisfying.

Two days to recover, wash kit and fettle bikes and on New Years Day I travelled to the inaugural Ripley Castle Cross, also in Yorkshire. There was also going to be more mud here, lots of it, but unlike the heavy conditions at Tod, the shocking forecast of low single digit temps, constant heavy rain and gale force winds meant a different challenge. All the more so as I'd identified this as a promising day out for the family. Faffing around worrying about my wife and children's comfort in the horrible conditions, I contrived to be late to the start and was still stripping off clothing and trying to find super-soigneur Jo Allen with the 'one minute to go' call. No panic then. The course was as superb as the weather was atrocious. I'm told people started dropping out fairly early on, succumbing to low temps and driving rain. In my panic I'd left a buff round my neck and my head fully covered under my helmet. As things got colder and wetter I was more than glad of that. 'Cross is a winter sport, and this went ahead in bad winter conditions. It was startling, like it had been at the 2012 3 Peaks Cyclocross, how some folk had failed to take this into account when they dressed for the event. I had a reasonable race, not as successful as Todmorden had promised but workmanlike nonetheless, after a ropey start. The lesson in dressing for the conditions continued as I rolled over the line - Jo shouted me immediately and I had warm clothes, hat and leg covering withing 30 secs. In the aftermath of the race, I saw many others wandering around, wet through, shivering and looking suitably miserable.

Ripley Castle (Pic: Jo Allen)

Wet (Pic: Jo Allen)

More frantic kit and bike washing and I was off next day to London. The promise of a visit to the London League scene, the first in many, many years saw me toe the line at Royal Bethlem Hospital, a week after Todmorden. Except I nearly didn't make it all. Racing 'cross is kit intensive. Racing 'cross in mid winter is really kit intensive. I'm normally pretty organised, trained up and routined thanks to the experienced Dave Haygarth tutoring me on our previous National Trophy forays in years gone by. But not being at home, and with the distractions of a stay at my parents I got it wrong. Wrong as in no shoes, wrong, left behind in the airing cupboard, drying. I'm not really gung ho enough to ride round on small SPD pedals in a mudbath, wearing trainers so resigned myself to an early drive back North with the kids. But, friend and Captain Cross stalwart, Konrad magicked some shoes and unfamiliar pedals up for me and it was game on. Another great course, more great mud, very friendly folk and a fun race starting at the back (no gridding) and working my way toward the front part of the race. And then a 6 hour drive home.

Moonlighting in the London League (Pic: Dave Hayward)

For several days after my kerstperiode I've been knackered. Racing in bad weather, challenging conditions, lots of travel have all contributed to tax this average punter's constitution. I have no idea what it must be like for the European pros, racing so often in such a short period of time. Sure they have teams around them to help, but still, it has merely increased my respect for those at the top of the sport. Fijne Kerst and veel success for your cyclocross in 2014.

More pics:

Tod cobbles. Pic Dave Haygarth

Pic with thanks from SportSunday

Tod running. Pic Dave Haygarth

Pic Dave Haygarth

Wasted. Pic Dave Haygarth

Pic Dave Haygarth

Flyover! Pic Jo Allen

Jough + umbrella. Pic Jo Allen

Bethlem. Pic Dave Hayward

Pic Jo Allen

Bike change. Pic Jo Allen

Wednesday 8 January 2014

AbsoluteBlack single ring set up

I used to run a single ring, with guards, in the 1990s. I liked the simplicity of concept, it reduced weight a bit but more importantly it helped a bit with clogging. But since then I haven't really bothered to set one up again, mainly as the guards always seemed to rub with the chainline being difficult to set up. Modern re-inventions tended to involve chainkeepers attached to the seat stay, rather than the simple traditional double guard I used to use, and so lost the advantage of getting rid of a front-mech like object, neatly positioned around the bottom bracket area to successfully collect mud and vegetation.

It was with interest then, that I received a test 38 tooth ring (via Dave Haygarth) from Marcin at AbsoluteBlack. This ring differed from stuff I had seen previously, borrowing from the growing mtb market for single rings, and featuring a cleverly milled ring that requires no guard, chainkeeper or any other device to make it stick on. I was initially skeptical but equally hopeful that this could be the ideal solution to dealing with super muddy conditions later on in the 'cross season.

Matched to my On One Pickenflick and it's huge mud clearance, I've been running the ring in training and racing and can now report back. Set up is key to getting this ring to work. It's not hard, it just needs to be done right. Chain tension as well as the teeth profile is what keeps the chain on through the rough and the boggy, and chain length needs to be optimised to gain maximum advantage from the ring. Successfully installed, with clear instructions from AbsoluteBlack, the initial feel through the pedals was instantly positive. Maybe you don't pay too much attention to how your chain feels as you pedal, as opposed to your legs, but I could feel a smoothness that wasn't present on my perfectly good double chainset set ups.

The ring has now done a variety of races, and training sessions and in a variety of conditions and has passed all tests with flying colours. Bumpy tracks don't faze it - it hasn't been possible to bounce it off, though me and Dave have tried hard. It's trained and raced in thin sloppy mud, sticky mud (Bradford) and Todmorden (ie biblically thick) mud and simply kept on going. In many hours of use, I had one small problem at Todmorden Cross when a large, ripped up clod of soil got under the chain and onto the ring and caused the chain to fall off. But, and here is the crucial bit, it was super easy to get back on - no jamming on a chaincatcher, no falling between ring and bottom bracket and sticking, just an easy flick to get back on. Over the period of use and in the conditions I rode it in, I would have expected to drop a chain or have problems on a double set at some point anyway. No system is perfect, but the AbsoluteBlack ring works as well, if not better than anything else I've used.

Pic: Dave Haygarth

As I indicated earlier, the main advantage for me of a single ring is reduced clogging and this positive effect has been clearcut. No bike is clog free, and even if the frame keeps free then the cassette can often stop working properly anyway. But, the AbsoluteBlack ring set up and the resulting simplicity around the bottom bracket area has markedly reduced mud and vegetation build and kept the bike not only trouble free, but weighing less as a result too. Paired with an 11-28 block (10 speed chain, Sram Red rear mech), my 38 tooth ring gives me all the gears I had before and I have never missed the potentially wider range of gears a more traditional double set up gives. From now on, I'll be running this setup on my Pickenflick during the winter season and for me it's a perfect solution to the increasing levels of mud our climate seems to bring u.

UPDATE Jan 14:

I rode the last NWCCA race of the season recdently, starting on my bike with the single ring on. To my surprise, I had a couple of problems with the ring, dropping the chain on both occasions. After consultation with Marcin from absoluteBlack and some careful analysis of my actions and course conditions at the time, I feel fairly confident I've pinpointed the problem.

In essence, both 'drops' were caused by my very rapid changing of gear up the block on transitions from bumpy descent to slow grinding section. According to Marcin, changing 3 or 4 cogs in one movement will result in instability for any chain (on a single ring or otherwise). Ally that to a bumpy section, with no chain guard or front mech to hold the chain on and you have the problem. The solution, a technique which he maintains pro mountain bikers have been following for years, is to shift one cog at a time, rather than the multiple cog, rapid shifts that I was doing. The concession for this is that it takes a little forward planning so as to avoid rapid dumping up the block as the speed slows down. Marcin maintains also that the mtb testers for his single ring have not dropped the chain in testing due to their attention to this technique and that he often finds cyclocross riders are a bit 'gung ho' in shifting technique and could do with refining their actions. Certainly, I have never dropped the chain in thick mud, nor even on a descent - the 3 times I have had a problem have ALL followed multiple shifting into an easier gear before a slow boggy section.

UPDATE 2 Feb 14:

 After some discussions with Marcin from absoluteBlack, it's important to point out that the spring tension on Shimano mechs needs optimising to make the ring work to the best of its capability. Here's what it says on the absoluteBlack website....

Important information for SHIMANO derrailleur users:

In order to get best results we recommend increasing cage return spring tension. New derailleurs are assembled with the spring in the mount that allows the most relaxed position of the spring. However there is another position on the cage which will increase that tension. It is a standard procedure, please navigate to point no.7 in the link. You may also ask your LBS to do it for you.

Sram users are not required to do that as oem springs are already in high tension position.

If you missed it, here's Dave's recent video too:

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Sport Cross 2nd Feb - ride and watch 'cross with The Green Jersey

I love the Ribble Valley - endless quiet lanes, great climbs and some cracking cafes. But it's somewhere I've never really taken a 'cross bike to, aside from the odd run round Gisburn Forest with the kids.

Consequently, I was interested to learn about the forthcoming SportCross event on 2nd Feb. And hooked when I learned about the after event party with beer AND live cyclocross from the World Cross Championships at Hoogerheide. No brainer.

For those not in the know, The Green Jersey is a cracking little independent bike shop, tucked away in a corner of the picturesque Ribble Valley town of Clitheroe. And it also happens to be my favourite coffee and cake stop on my rides North of home. Like many independents, they put a lot back in to cycling with some already legendary film, beer and live screening events.

So their concept of a 30 mile 'cross sportive through the lanes, bridleways and moors of the Ribble Valley area is sure to be a great day out, 'cross season finisher and general all round 'grand event'.

Make sure you get an entry for what promises to be a fab day of riding, socialising and watching the biggest 'cross event of the season.