Sunday, 23 October 2016

One day one photo - 10: Parkrun rules!

Cycling is a big activity in my life, but I have also been a runner since the age of 10 (whereas I started serious cycling when I was 28). Running is something that I don't just do competitively, but something I do to clear my mind and also to keep my weight down. One thing I enjoy doing is the Parkrun, which I have been doing since 2011. I find Parkruns one of the best ways to keep fit and get involved socially, if you are looking to meet new people.

I am always in awe and feel lucky that we have this facility in towns around the UK and beyond where you can do a timed 5-km (3-mile) run or walk in a park for free every Saturday morning with lots of other people, and have marshals giving you much needed encouragement.

If you go to the same park every week you can end up getting to know people through marshalling or running. It can also be a springboard for getting into other social or sporting activities too.

My local Parkrun is in Crystal Palace Park, but I am a bit of a tourist so end up going to runs in different parks given that there is a Parkrun in the various nearby parks around London.

Yesterday I went to Brockwell Park in Herne Hill. I have also run in Dulwich Park, Lloyd Park in Croydon, Roundshaw Downs near Wallington. When I was in Macclesfield I ran at the ones in Congleton and Lyme Park.

The great thing about Parkrun is that they are all quite different, so you can test yourself in different ways. Crystal Palace Park and Brockwell Park are great for running up hills; Hull (which I do when visiting family), Congleton, and Dulwich are flat; Lloyd Park and Roundshaw Downs, plus one I did in Marple, Cheshire, are completely off-road and become cross-country running courses during the winter months given how muddy the get! 

The toughest course I've done is in Lyme Park, in the North-west, which I would describe as a somewhat challenging course, though some have called it a fell run! The venue is also really beautiful so attracts lots of folks for that reason alone. But you definitely need your climbing legs because from the gun you have a steep climb up through the woods, causing half the field to walk this 500m-section. Once it levels off  you can appreciate beautiful views as you run past livestock in the fields and then up to a landmark known as The Cage. You do need to pay attention on the descent as it is steep and the ground is completely uneven, so you don't get that much respite. Finally the run to the finish line is a 1-km steady climb that seems to go on forever. You definitely earn your Eccles cakes!

But regardless of how tough the races are I always come away feeling refreshed, glad to have mixed with other people, and ready to enjoy the rest of my weekend. I have done 46 races now, so look forward to getting my "50 races" milestone free T-shirt in the next few weeks.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

London's Cycle Superhighways - Commuting friend or foe?

London is fast becoming a cycling city. Gone are the days when cycling through the city was the preserve of daredevil commuters and aggressive couriers! Now, we have “normal” people commuting by bicycle. By that I mean the everyday man or woman in the street dressed in civvies, not the slightest snip of Lycra in sight, on a hybrid bike or one of the Transport for London (TfL) bike share cycles.

It is great to now have proper traffic-free cycle lanes where you are separated from the traffic. I love being able to ride from the City to Victoria, via Embankment and Westminster on a traffic-free path, also known as the East-West Cycle Superhighway.

And so do tens of thousands of other people! Shortly after this Superhighway (and the first section of the North - South Cycle Superhighway) were officially opened at the end of April this year TfL counted an average number of 1200 cyclists per hour using the East - West cycle route between Tower Hill and Westminster Bridge. As more people have heard about the Cycle Superhighway, and particularly as the weather has been very pleasant it seems like every cyclist in London is taking to the streets! So that 1200 figure is probably significantly higher!

When riding to work I feel like I am part of an unofficial Ride London event, or a Critical Mass ride. In fact sometimes there are so many riders that at places like Blackfriars Bridge or Westminster Bridge you have to queue to get through a couple of phases of traffic lights. You are basically in a cyclists' traffic jam!

So yes, cyclists on London's roads are now a feature, almost as ubiquitous as black cabs. Unfortunately cyclists may not always have the same world-renown reputation. People's opinions on cyclists are somewhat chequered - rather like the Uber cars!

The perennial criticism of cyclists jumping the red lights and not respecting the Highway Code remains. From what I see the majority of cyclists do respect the traffic lights, and the proportion of bike riders who break the rules is no greater than the number of motorists who do so.

However, the thing that is of concern is bike riding discipline among groups of riders. Last week a couple of cyclists were involved in a head-on collision along the East-West Cycle Superhighway near Blackfriars Bridge. The video has been shared widely, and it is clear when you watch it who is to blame. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt - not even the guy who ended up rolling off the segregated cycle lane and onto the main road, which thankfully had no traffic passing at that time.

I must admit that this has been an accident waiting to happen. When riding the North-South Cycle Superhighway up through Blackfriars and Farringdon the two-way cycle lane means that sometimes you get some idiot trying to overtake slower riders and then veers into the path of oncoming riders. Sometimes people don't hold their riding line and suddenly swerve left or right and almost knock into riders next to them. I have also seen riders crash into the kerb when going round a corner! Thankfully I have not crashed or been involved in a collision with other cyclists, though I have had to take evasive action when I had a couple of near misses!

It is great having these lanes, but is it time for riders to learn a bit about bike handling and riding in groups? Or maybe it is just part of the process when folks get excited about having their own cycle lane, and in time things will settle down. Let's wait and see, and hope there are no serious incidents that will prove the naysayers right.

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Sunday, 9 October 2016

5 Favourites - Seen at the Cycle Show

I popped up to the Cycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago. It's always good to see what the latest novelties are as well as catching up with cycling trade and media bods. As ever, this event comes up at a time that is sandwiched between other important things I need to get done, so my trip ends up being a real whistle-stop tour that leaves me out of breath and with a head so crammed full of things that I can't really piece together what I actually did and who I saw!

Anyway, here are a few things that managed to stick in my mind - in no particular order:

1. I really like the Primal jerseys with their eye-catching designs and zany colours. They always manage to get the balance right between pushing the boundaries in colour and design while still keeping everything tasteful.

I also feel confident that the flashy styles of the Primal tops make me less likely to become victim of a SMIDSY (Sorry mate I didn't see you) incident with a motorist while out on the road!

At the Cycle Show Primal had on display a number of their upcoming designs for next year. I particularly liked this one. I must admit I can't remember the name of the design, but hopefully Beth the marketing manager will remind me!

I look forward to it brightening up my wardrobe or at least a spinning studio when it comes out in January. (I guess at that time of the year it'll be a bit cold to show it off outdoors, short-sleeves and all!)

2. The Condor Cycles Fratello steel all-round touring/winter training is the signature bike from the this institution on Grays Inn Road, though I have not got round to riding one yet. I like the vintage design on these Italian-manufactured bikes.

But shock horror, vintage has been splashed with the modern phenomenon of disc brakes and some designs also have internally routed cables - damn (or Porca Miseria might they say in Italy)!

Okay, I take it back - I like harking back to nostalgia provided the components aren't too historic. I've seen those pictures of folks riding the Eroica cyclosportive in Italy, having to drag their 30-year old bikes over those unmade "strade bianche" roads, and the misery of dealing with brakes that wear away in no time when challenged.

So hey, a bit of disc doesn't do any harm particularly if it makes your bike ride comfortable. In any case, the brakes are not the most prominent aspect of the bike. A jolly good job has been made on the paintwork and the colour scheme hits the exact part of my brain that gives me a feelgood factor. So yes, I can live with a bit of modernity on a vintage design bike!

3. I have ridden the Tweed Run a couple of times and whenever I do so, I always come away thinking "I should wear this tweed gear more often when I commute around London." It's so elegant and reminds me of being in the era of "Call the midwife" or "EM Forster". I guess when riding I would turn a blind eye to the traffic jams, cycle couriers and tourists!

I envisage myself riding the Fratello (notwithstanding the disc brakes) wearing corduroy trousers tucked into my socks with a tweed jacket and a Brooks helmet. This formal style helmet is something that I could wear with a variety of outfits - trousers or skirts. In fact I think the readers of The Lady magazine may well approve of this type of attire, though I guess they would just have to not pick up this helmet by mistake when going out for their afternoon horseriding hack after doing lunch!

4. I have never ridden an ebike of any shape or form before, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to try this out this Cube eMountain bike. The rep described the bikes as being for those who are of a certain age or who have dodgy knees/backs but want to keep up with their mates effortlessly while out on the trails. Well yes, I have been taking it easy since I strained my back a couple of weeks ago, and I am no spring chicken. So I ticked all the boxes!

Riding the bike felt quite weird because you didn't have to pedal much before the bike accelerated really quickly. In fact the biggest trick of the bike is to keep the thing under control when it suddenly gains speed that you weren't expecting - particularly on berms or zig zags! I had a few near misses, and really thought I was going to be that person who would stack it on the test track in front of all the visiting spectators! Luckily I held it together.

The eMountain bike is not bad. I just wonder how you cope if the battery runs out, or if you have to lift the thing over obstacles while out on the trails. Then something that was supposed to help your dodgy back could end up breaking your back!

They are a good idea in principle, and a great novelty. But I would probably be happiest riding them on hilly trails that aren't too technical such as those on the South Downs Way.

If riding with mates I would still be happier just riding something conventional that will have fewer moving parts to worry about going wrong. It's one thing to have a puncture and your mates stand politely waiting for you while you sort it out. Some may even step in and help you if you're a bit slow or if your pump is not very efficient, and after all that you would have only lost about 10 minutes of riding time. But would anyone have a spare engine or battery pack on them if you had a mechanical with your ebike in the wilds of the Lake District? And how long would it take to sort that out? Well it would surely mean an abandoned ride, possibly with an emergency call-out to a significant other to get you home. I don't think you'd be too popular!

Maybe I'm over-exaggerating, but that's the overcautious worst case scenario planner in me! It's the same reason why I don't like road bikes with electronic gears. Well, I'm sure these bikes have their place, and who knows? In the future the doubters may well be proved wrong.

5. Seems a bit strange to go all the way to a cycle show to buy biscuits! But yes, I admit it. I fell for the "three things for £3" deal being offered by Nairn's oatcakes. I always like a bit of oatcake in my daily diet. I usually have it with soup or salad at lunch time.

It seems that the good people from Edinburgh have now decided to get into the sports market by extolling the virtues of their biscuits as a source of energy during endurance sport. Certainly muesli/porridge is great as a slow release energy source throughout the day. I do also like the fact that Nairns do individually wrapped savoury snacks that are easy to eat while on the move.

I particularly liked their fruit and seed oatcakes as they taste slightly sweeter than the others. They may not be a replacement for the energy bars and drinks that we swear by during a long-distance cycle ride or a road race. But they fill the gap well when you just want some real food to eat while you are out, and they provide health benefits at the same time.

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Thursday, 29 September 2016

One day one photo - 9: Gifts for a cyclist

I recently left my job as a medical writer in a PR agency in London, and I have now moved to an advertising agency still working within the fine art of wordsmithing!
Just what I always wanted!

On my last day at the PR agency I was pleasantly surprised to receive a couple of leaving gifts. It was even more impressive that my colleagues bought me cycling-related gifts! And moreover, things that I don't already have, and I will certainly use!

My co-workers know how much I like everything about "la petite reine", and for that reason I thought it would've been hard for them to know what to get someone who may already have all the cycling-related things I would want.

But in fact, a pizza cutter (complete with a disc wheel!) and a mug are a couple of things I had never thought of getting myself. Well I am partial to a bit of Sloppy Giuseppe, plus I recently added pizzas to my repertoire of home cooking meals so there is definitely scope for use. I could certainly take the mug to my new place as a good mug is always hard to find in the office!

However, in reality as they are pretty nice gifts I will try to preserve them and use them only from time to time while I fondly reminisce over the fun times I had at the old place! Thanks guys!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

15 Soundbites from..Jo Rowsell-Shand at the Cycle Show

Last week Joanna Rowsell-Shand was one of the celebrity guests at the Cycle Show held in Birmingham NEC. She appeared at the Total Women's Cycling Stage alongside Downhill mountain biker Manon Carpenter and was interviewed by Annie Emmerson.
I also caught up with Joanna after the Total Women's Cycling Awards. Here are a few words from her.

Jo Rowsell and Manon Carpenter talk to Annie Emmerson at the Cycle Show
I don't go to London much now. My family have moved up to Shropshire and I am based in the North-West. My parents have just bought a house in South-West France and I am looking forward to going there.

My favourite climb is up the Brickworks [near Macclesfield]. It's steep enough to test yourself but you can still power up it and get a good speed going.

My brother [Erick] raced in the Tour of Britain. Ironically I didn't get to see him when they did the stage to Tatton Park as I was down in London!

Rio was a great experience but the way Mark Cavendish described it on the Sunday Brunch show was true! The food was not great. Also we couldn't drink the water or eat any fresh fruit and veg. I ended up living practically on energy bars and protein bars over the 2 weeks!

We also took out loads of wet wipes as we weren't allowed to get water on our faces when showering, in order to avoid the risk of contracting any waterborne diseases. It made showering quite an awkward process!

It was a shock to the system to move from the comfortable surroundings of the Celtic Manor, Newport, to the accommodation in the Olympic village.

The bikes we used for the team pursuit in Rio were only given to us for that race. We used them for the first time when we arrived in Rio. The other bikes we had been using, UKSI bikes with Mavic wheels, were already very light and fast, but the Cervelos with new Campag disc wheels we were given for the Olympics were even better. It was exciting to get new sets of equipment.

We had to pull out all the stops to win as the Rio track had longer straights than other tracks and the air was cooler, which made it a slow track, and a harder task than London 2012. We ended up going faster than we had ever done, and it was great to break the world record.

Some people did question our sudden improvement on our results at the World Championships, but the new equipment we had was a marginal gain. It was not a game changer though. Our achievement was more down to our hard work. 

Anna Meares [Australian track sprinter] made a few comments to the press about our sudden improvement but speaking to her I think that what she said was taken out of context by the media.

I would really like to go to the Tokyo Olympics. I'll be 31 by the time Tokyo comes round, and there are lots of youngsters coming through who are very quick. But I will do my best to get a place.

This is an exciting time for women's cycling with the Women's Tour, the Tour Series, and the Revolution Series. I would encourage women to get out and do track cycling. Find your local track. There are lots of outdoor tracks and they aren't steep so are great for beginners. You can do it over the winter.

I am enjoying my break. It's great to not be feeling tired all the time, which happens on the days when I am in full-on training. I can eat what I want, ride at a leisurely pace and I don't have to be eating 30g of protein every three hours!

Yes, I seem to have started a trend with weddings! Since my wedding [in Summer 2015] there's been Lizzie [Armitstead], Laura [Trott] and Jason [Kenny]. Then there's Dani's [King] and also Andy Tennant will be getting married soon. I love talking about "my husband" rather than just "my boyfriend". 

Finally, my husband and I can now have our honeymoon. We are doing a road-trip around the US and I am really looking forward to it. We'll be there during Thanksgiving so hopefully we can make the most of some Black Friday deals. 

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Saturday, 24 September 2016

One day one photo - 8: Cyclist turns to allotment life!

I like riding my bike, watching cycling and writing about cycling. But the news is I'm not all about cycling!

Every so often a cycling friend of mine may find themselves out of action due to injury and is unable to ride their bike for a few weeks. At that point they lament about what they're going to do, how are they going to spend their day, life will be dreary.....Sometimes after spending 3 weeks following the Tour de France folks say that they feel at a loss for what to do in the evening.

I definitely don't fall into that category! I enjoy cycling but if I didn't have to do it again there'd always be a few things queued up behind waiting to get done, or even just new hobbies that I've always wanted to try.

One of those things is horticulture. Funnily enough I never grew up being mad keen on gardening. It might have been because I used to get forced to do it by my dad.

But since I moved into a house with a garden it has got me thinking of things to do to make it look pretty. I have also learned to appreciate how the benefits of colour on wellbeing. So right now I have a burst of orange and yellow marigolds, plus sunflowers in my front garden. I look forward to having fuchsia-coloured nasturtium blooming as well.

The other thing I have done is to acquire an allotment. I thought it would be a long complicated process including a 2-year wait. But I got it pretty much on the spot. When I approached the secretary of the Beck Lane Allotment Society he did look me up and down a bit saying "Are you sure you can do this? Have you got a garden? You know you can't just turn up once every couple of months. You will need to put in a lot of work." I pitched my case convincingly, and I got it in late May.

I must admit, I am no expert at all, and I have spent a lot of time on the Royal Horticultural Society website and also on BBC Gardener's World. There have been many trips made to the plot in the early mornings or late evenings to dig, weed, plant things, and a lot of watering over this dry summer in London. At last, I am pleased to see that after a few false starts where seeds were planted but then nabbed by worms, slugs and birds, it now looks like I may have something to harvest this year. My pumpkins have grown!

My target had been to cultivate 25% of the plot by the end of the year, and with the beetroot and carrots I have also planted I will be managed that.

My allotment neighbours are friendly, and it provides a different view on life. It's a way of escaping all the pressures of daily life, and is a place to relax. (It is a mobile phone-banned space for me.) Allotment life is the perfect antidote to thrashing around on your bike or feeling the pressure to perform at races or be Queen of the Mountains on Strava!

Furthermore, there is a really satisfying feeling about eating stuff you have grown yourself. I look forward to eating some delicious pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie later this year.

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Thursday, 22 September 2016

One day one photo - 7: Laura Trott's bike on tour!

So in between Laura Trott's training for more Olympic glory in Rio she managed to launch a range of women's road bikes earlier this summer. Halfords, who are marketing the range of three road bikes and a hybrid have provided one for me to review, the RD2.

Quick photo opp on Blackfriars Bridge en route to work

In summary, the bike has been made with a women's geometry in mind and from that point of view it feels comfortable. It's not too heavy, though it's not super speedy either. I like the colour and the finish, including the fact that the cables are routed inside the tubes of the frame. As the bike is a reasonably priced entry level you can't expect superslickness and the main areas where you notice this is in the finish of the welds, which can look a bit coarse. That won't hold you back too much though if you want to put in a quick training ride though! 

My first impressions of the Trott RD2 are detailed in full on the Total Women's Cycling website.

I have ridden this bike around quite a lot - mainly on my local country lanes in Kent and Surrey and it's not been a bad ride at all. I have also used it to commute to work with, and on one of my sunny commutes I couldn't help to stop and take a few photos as I crossed Blackfriars Bridge - my favourite section of the ride. I got a few friendly passers-by to stop and snap me with the bike (I don't do selfies.) and I also snapped the steed too. 

It's not what I usually do on a commute, but I was feeling in a great mood and just wanted to savour the day. I think the passers-by must have been feeling the same too as they willingly stopped to photograph me, and some even offered to do so without being asked - who says Londoners are an unfriendly lot?! And while they were at it they asked about the bike - mainly to confirm if this was the same Trott that they see on the telly. When I replied yes, they were quite impressed. The tour continues on a bridge or a road near you!  

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