I wrote this article after coming across several cycling projects that were using crowdfunding.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
This article was published on the hugely popular patisserie cyclisme website -
The existence of the Patisserie Cyclisme website just goes to prove the special relationship that exists between cyclists and their cake. A quick glance at the plates of my riding mates at any cafe stop and it’s clear that the sweet stuff dominates. Caramel shortbread, Victoria sponge and chocolate fudge rule the world. It is at this point that I stand up and make my confession. Whilst I enjoy a piece of coffee and walnut as much as the next man, I think I actually prefer something savoury.
I’ve ridden several sportives. Clocking up the miles, fuelled by the sickly sugariness of energy gels, I often find myself craving something that won’t rot my teeth. Arriving at feed stations is almost universally disappointing – cherry bakewells, flapjacks, more energy gels. I once did an event called “Pork Pies and Potholes”, hoping this would be the one that broke the mould. I rode up to the first stop, mouth watering, stomach rumbling... cherry bakewells, flapjacks, more energy gels. At least they had a barbecue at the end. I live in Leicester, with Melton Mowbray, the home of pork pies just up the road, surely things could be different here.
Pork pies were initially developed at the end of the 18th century as a handy and transportable lunch for agricultural workers. “Handy and transportable” – sounds an ideal combination for a cycling food. Melton Mowbray makes the Rolls Royces of the pork pie world, protected by an EU Geographical Indication – a bit like the appellation d'origine controlee applied to French wines. Eat a Melton Mowbray pork pie with its bowed sides, sliced (rather than minced) pork and its rich, delicious pastry and you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. Part of the local food heritage, their absence on the Leicestershire cycling scene seemed criminal.
Fortunately help was at hand thanks to the Leicester Forest CC inaugural Pork Pie run. Inspired by the long standing and very popular Mince Pie Run that sees members of several local clubs descend on Belton village for err... mince pies, this was a bike ride with a savoury heart. The not very grand premise was that Mat – a fellow LFCC member – had ordered a pork pie from a farm shop near Melton and we were to ride out to collect it. So it was on a cold dull day we gathered at a village just off the A46 to ride out. Being “inaugural” and midweek, the gathering comprised of just me and Mat (these traditions have to start somewhere). Making swift progress through the mostly flat countryside we arrived at the farm shop with its attendant and somewhat bizarrely, ski-chalet themed cafe, where we enjoyed a cuppa and a piece of ironic cake. In the shop, the 2lb pork pies looked impressively large and marvellous. Filled with cake, lacking panniers, and unconvinced by the pies’ handy and transportable credentials when applied to a jersey pocket, I had to make do with just looking at them. On the ride home, try as I might, I could not persuade Mat to break into his Christmas supplies to help us back. Another long bike ride, not fuelled by pork pie.
All is not lost though. A new sportive company has arrived on the block with a new approach to food. The Polocini website talks of beef goulash with pasta, Tuscan meatballs, bratwurst with spiced potatoes and the marvellous sounding “pig in a bun”. I’ve already signed up to ride the apparently appropriately named The B*stard. As I battle up Holmes Moss, it won’t be sweet thoughts that keep me going.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Back in the late 70s when I was a kid, riding all over North Derbyshire on my Viking Warlord, the only way to find out how far I’d travelled was to get out the map and a piece of string. Some of my better equipped mates had a little plastic odometer that fixed to their front fork and literally ticked off the miles with startling inaccuracy. Whilst distances were interesting, the Holy Grail for a 12 year old budding Bernard Hinault was speed. Efforts to persuade my dad to drive alongside me and clock my mph as I frantically pedalled downhill proved frustratingly unsuccessful. One day, another mate rolled up sporting a speedometer on his handlebars. Green with envy we listening open-mouthed to his tales of daring 50mph bursts down the local hills (before registering that the numbers only went up to 40). Things are a bit different now of course. The advent of GPS means that every possible cycling statistic can be recorded, logged and shared on the internet. The days of pieces of string and wild exaggeration are all in the past.
The Garmin Edge 500 was developed with input from pro-cyclists. Compared to other GPS computers on the market, it is very compact – not much bigger than a standard bike computer. It definitely doesn’t clutter up your handlebars. The pay off for this small package is the lack of anything more than the most rudimentary mapping. I suppose the pro’s don’t really worry about getting lost in the middle of the Tour de France. To make up for that, the Edge 500 can measure and display a huge range of statistics from your ride. There are 3 screens of data available, each with the potential to display up to 8 different readings. There are 45 different measurements to choose from, varying from speed and heart rate, through to altitude, temperature and calories consumed. Scrolling through the data on a ride can be done with a simple press of a button, or automatically.
Setting up the Edge 500 is a doddle, the user friendly interface allowing you to customise your display to show as much or as little as you wish. It is possible to change the data fields displayed mid way through a ride, without losing any of the information collected to that point. Entering rider information (weight, age etc.) and bike information can be done by clicking through various screens, or more easily by using the provided software and adding the details from your PC using the USB cable.
Uploading your data after a ride is easy, using Garmin’s own Connect website or the Training Centre software that comes in the package. You can also use other websites such as Strava or Training Peaks if you prefer. Extracting the details of your ride can be a great help if you’re training for an event, especially if you use the optional Heart Rate Monitor. Combine it with the Cadence and Wheel magnet sensor and you can also use the Edge 500 on your turbo trainer. If you really take your training seriously, the unit is also compatible with power meters, including the eagerly awaited Garmin Vector pedal based system. Even if you’re not that keen, there’s something very satisfying about looking at your ride on a map, particularly if you use the Google Earth option.
The Edge 500 can also help to motivate you and make solo rides a bit more interesting if you use the “training partner” option. By creating a course from a previous ride, you can race against yourself, as a virtual partner (actually a little stick man on the screen). It’s surprising how this can fire you up into a sprint as you approach the finish just behind your mini-me!
The Garmin Edge 500 is a brilliant package, well designed, easy to use, tough and robust. With a multitude of features, it is the perfect training aid for those riders wanting to take their cycling up to the next level. I just need to find another use for all that string.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
“What colour would you like?” asked Corinne from Chrome as we discussed a test pair of their Kursk shoes. “Whatever you have available” was my cheery reply – the black or grey ones I’d seen on the website both looked great. I have to confess to a slight intake of breath as I ripped open the smart packaging that came remarkably quickly from San Francisco. I can safely say that I have never previously owned a pair of red shoes. Even in my five-a-side football days, I never strayed away from traditional black trainers. In my experience, the players who wore red boots were either exceptionally good or (more commonly) exceptionally deluded about their abilities. I was neither. As a 43 year old father of three I reasoned that red shoes had more place in the Wizard of Oz than on my feet (although the thought of clicking my heels together to magically return home had some appeal for a few of my more difficult commutes).
Colour aside, these are brilliant shoes, with loads of features to make them great for cycling. The uppers are made from tough Cordura fabric – we’ve come across this before in the bagaboo messenger bag and swrve jeans. It is exceptionally hardwearing, ideal for a bike shoe. The laces are elasticated – strong enough to keep the shoes firmly on your feet, but with a bit of stretch to avoid “hot spots” when pedalling. The aglets (those bits on the end of the laces) are made of metal, so there’s no chance of them fraying. There’s also a “lace garage” – essentially a loop in the tongue – to stop your laces getting caught in the chain. The insoles are thick, comfortable and supportive. These shoes are from the Kursk “Pedal” series, so don’t have SPD compatibility. The soles are very stiff though and reinforced with fibre glass for ¾ of their length. A reflective patch on the back of the heel completes the cycling specific features.
In use the shoes are excellent. On the bike the stiff sole really comes to the fore – transferring pedalling efforts almost as well as pure road shoes. The grippy sole is so good, I really didn’t miss my cleats. After a few commutes the shoes were showing no sign of wear – a good sign of their potential longevity. This is backed up by Chrome’s one year warranty. I’ve destroyed many a similar looking but not bike specific shoe in a matter of months when using them for riding. Off the bike, the stiffness of the soles makes walking long distances a little uncomfortable, but for nipping from the bike rack to the pub, they were fine. The red colour frequently drew second looks from passersby, but after a while, I started to enjoy their reactions. I was wearing shoes that made me (and some strangers) smile – something I’d never experienced before!
Bike to Bar
The Kursks are a well thought out and excellently made pair of “bike to bar” shoes and I would definitely recommend them. Always Riding have them in black at £64.99. As for me, I’m off to find a yellow brick road to ride on.
Monday, March 5, 2012
The latest issue contains a piece I wrote about the Somerberg road in Rutland. I'm very proud to be part of a fantastic publication. The artwork that Kathy did to accompany the piece is superb. See her website http://www.katarzynaklein.co.uk/
Last year I had a couple of articles published on the Guardian Bike Blog. Here they are -
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Certain things mark you out as a serious cyclist. Buying a skin suit, setting up a turbo-trainer in your garage and shaving your legs are all signs that you might have taken your cycling up to the next level. Despite splashing out on skin-tight lycra and making access to my lawnmower almost impossible, I’ve not yet plucked up the courage to take a razor to my varicose veins. Fortunately, the last few weeks have allowed me a hairier route to the world of the elite rider. I’ve been riding a genuine superbike – the Scott Foil R1.
The Scott Foil R1 really is a serious bike for serious cyclists. With an RRP of £6300, it’s clearly not aimed at the average sportive rider, but does the performance of the bike justify the hefty price tag? I had the ideal opportunity to put that to the test.
The National Hill Climb marks the end of the British racing calendar. Held on the last weekend of October, it attracts the best climbers in the country to pit themselves against the clock and gravity in front of large and enthusiastic crowds. This year, the event was to be held on the appropriately named Long Hill, just outside Buxton in the Peak District. It was a controversial choice, quite different to the traditional short sharp blasts up nasty gradients. Long Hill goes up 4.4 miles with an average gradient of just 3.2%. There was some debate amongst the top riders as to whether a Time Trial bike would be the best choice for the race. I had ridden in the open event on the same course in September on my normal road bike with clip on aero bars. It didn’t really suit me. What I needed was a super-light road bike which would give me an aero advantage without needing to hunch over the tri-bars. Step up the Scott Foil.
The Scott Foil was designed to take the best aspects of the Addict and Plasma TT frames and combine them in a UCI legal road bike with exceptional stiffness and light weight. With the help of Formula 1 aerodynamicist Simon Smart, and extensive wind tunnel testing, Scott developed the almost triangular tube shape, removing the trailing edge normally seen on aero-frames. This has kept the weight down whilst still producing what Scott claim is one of the most aerodynamic road frames available – saving up to 20% of drag compared to the Addict.
The result is a bike that is visually stunning, from the large, sculpted head tube to the swooping chainstays. This bike turns heads, from spectators on the hill climb to the pro-rider I caught up with on a training ride. The black and white finish subtly emphasises the aero properties and looks great combined with the weight saving Naked External Tubing – no fancy carbon weaves here. Mavic Cosmic SL wheels, a full Dura Ace groupset, Ritchey WCS carbon finishing kit and a carbon-railed Fizik Arione are added to the 840g frame. With a total weight of 6.96kg it feels amazingly light. Most road bikes, when picked up by a member of the non-cycling public, produce incredulous gasps. This bike produces the same response in experienced riders.
On the road I expected an uncompromising ride, but there’s a surprising lack of road buzz and I felt no discomfort, even on long weekend runs. Handling is sharp and responsive, yet reassuringly stable and sure-footed. I soon found myself throwing the bike into corners at silly speeds, coming out with nothing worse than a massive grin! The Cosmic wheels get up to speed quickly and hold it well, but are a bit susceptible to crosswinds, the bike’s general stability compensating for that somewhat. The whole package feels faster than my normal bike, particularly on the hills, where the light weight and stiffness of the frame really comes into its own. I beat my personal best on a seven minute training climb near my home by over a minute, helped by the lightning fast gear changes of the Dura Ace (for electronic Di2 you need the Premium model and a further £3000). Fellow members of Leicester Forest CC who tried the bike on our local hill climb course were impressed by the lightness, stiffness and acceleration.
And so the big test, the National Hill Climb. Riding the Foil definitely gave me a psychological boost and made me feel that I could do well. Sure enough, I managed to beat my previous time for the course by an impressive 22 seconds. Unfortunately, against a very strong field including such legends as Rob Hayles and Michael Hutchinson, that was only enough to lift me to 118th. A top level bike that my legs and lungs couldn’t quite match.
If you want a unique piece of brilliant engineering and design and can afford the Scott Foil R1 you should seriously consider buying one. A dream bike that will almost certainly make you faster, I’m sure you will not regret your investment. As for the rest of us - Scott are releasing some lower spec models for 2012, including the 105 equipped Foil 40 for about £2200.
I’ve enjoyed my brief foray into the world of the top rider, I think it might even be time to get out my razor.
Performance 10/10 - 5 stars
Performance 10/10 - 5 stars
Quality 10/10 – 5 stars
Desirability 10/10 – 5 stars
Value 6/10 - 3 stars
Overall 9/10 – 4.5 stars
Overall 9/10 – 4.5 stars
Fantastic bike but prohibitively expensive for most riders