Saturday, 31 March 2018

Canyon's grand ideas for women-specific bikes

Canyon recently hosted an experience weekend at Mercedes Benz World, in which they showcased their 2018 range of bikes.

Experience day at Mercedes-Benz World
I wasn't able to make it to the event, but I hear it was well attended, and it was great to know that they had a good selection of women-specific WMN bikes as well as women racers from their professional teams.

On the mountain bike side was the 2016 European marathon mountain bike champion, Sally Bigham, whom I recently interviewed for Total Women's Cycling about keeping fit while pregnant, while Tiffany Cromwell was there representing the road riding side of things.

The bikes the women ride were on show, and Tiffany took us through the Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX bike that she races with in her Canyon Sram racing team  - which leads me on to the women-specific road bikes that they produce.

Sally Bigham and Tiffany Cromwell
People still ask the question - is a women-specific bike necessary? Steven Shand, who I spoke to from Shand bikes, an independent manufacturer based in Scotland, said that it's not so much women-specific bikes that are needed but more person specific bikes. After all, everyone comes in all shapes and sizes! And Canyon have recognised that too.

Unfortunately, mass producers of bikes can't individualise bike geometry to each and every customer. Shand, and other independent manufacturers can, if you are able to pay through the nose for it. So Canyon have done what seems to be the next best thing - by producing a wide range of sizes for women-specific bikes.

In designing geometry they took into account measurements obtained from 60,000 data entries from women's bike fittings when understanding women's body shapes, and therefore the best estimate of the average woman's body geometry. From that they have designed bikes that hopefully can fit comfortably for women of different sizes.

Many people will already know some of this, but the studies by Canyon confirmed what has been talked about already regarding women's geometry compared with men's:

Women are typically shorter and lighter than men. Women have shorter arms in relation to their torso than men do (on average 2cm shorter); we have narrower shoulders in relation to our torso, and there is more flexibility in the pelvis. Interestingly Canyon found from their studies that that women's leg length compared with the the rest of the body is not much longer than men's legs in relation to their bodies. It had generally been said that women had longer legs and shorter bodies compared with men.

In any case, for the same level of comfort between the genders, this is achieved by the same angle between the arm and the torso. Women therefore need a frame geometry that includes a  a shorter reach than the equivalent men's bike to achieve this same level of comfort, because of our shorter arms.

Women's (L) reach is shorter to get the same level as comfort as men's (R)
Bikes tend to me built using the average size as the reference and then working up the other sizes from there. However, a size M unisex would be too big for a woman, and in fact the average sized bike for a woman is XS. So that is the reference size and then other sizes are built from there. For shorter women there are also the 2XS and 3XS sizes, as well as S and M for taller women.

So the good news for women choosing a Canyon bike though, is that there is a wide range to choose from, depending on your size, the type of bike riding you're doing, your level, and your budget.

The Ultimate is for top end road racing. The likes of Tiffany Cromwell and Hannah Barnes will have bikes in this range. With a lower stack on the headset you get a Sport Pro geometry to put you in an optimum road racing position.

Ultimate WMN range
For those into cyclosportives and long rides there is the Endurace selection which has a Sport Geometry. The stack is slightly higher than in the Ultimate range to allow you to be slightly more upright, and give comfort for long distance rides.

Endurace WMN range

For off-road rides there is an adventure bike which also has a Sport Geometry, the Grail. Don't ask me if it's holy, I haven't tried it yet!

If you get the 2XS and 3XS sizes they can be fitted with smaller sized wheels - 650 wheels, instead of the standard 700 - to give the bike better bike handling, and to avoid that awkward overlap of your foot onto the front wheel when turning.

With smaller wheels also comes the need for bigger gears than what you get with a compact, to avoid you need to spinning so much more than with bigger wheels.

So the bikes with 650 wheels will have a semi-compact rather than compact chain set.

So in fact, there's quite a range to choose from among the Canyon range. Gone are the days when there'd be just one women-specific bike. We actually have a few to choose from within a range, which can only be a good thing at a time when more women are getting into cycling.

I haven't ridden a Canyon bike yet. Hopefully I will get to try one in due course. The people I know who have ridden them have been happy with their ride - whether it was on the road or in cyclo cross, so I guess that's a good sign already.

Full details of the women-specific bikes in the range are on the Canyon website.

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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Paris Vélib - the love affair is over!

Last weekend I went on a whistlestop trip to Paris. For once it didn't involve me cycling from London to Paris, but when I got there I had planned, as usual, to use a Vélib bike sharing bike as my mode of transport.

The reason for my visit had been to do reconnaissance of the route for the Paris marathon, which I will be doing in about 10 days' time. Given that at this stage of my preparation it would not have been possible to run the whole 26.2 miles, I decided to cycle most of the route using a Vélib, and then run roughly the last 6 miles.

Being based in the south-east of the city, near the Bois de Vincennes, I had hoped to pick up a bike from near my hotel, ride the route from there to somewhere after the Eiffel Tower and then run the rest of the route through the Bois de Boulogne, up to the finish on Avenue Foch in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe.

I could then pick up another Vélib somewhere off Champs Elysées and then ride down the famous avenue, carrying on along the route all the way back to the Bois de Vincennes.

I had been looking forward to this alternative duathlon tour of Paris by bike. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. It appears that I had missed the memo about Vélib bikes!

I set off from my hotel and ran to the docking station at Avenue Gravelle on the edge of the woods, where there were lots of bikes. However, the console for getting membership and renting a bike was down. There was just a blank screen and nothing else. I then ran on to other places near Charenton - the same result. Then I found another docking station at Porte Dorée where it said that you could pick up and drop off bikes if you already had membership, but other functions at the docking station would be available "in due course". Not having membership I then ran on to Michel Bizot, Picpus, Daumesnil, Reuilly, a number of places within a 2-mile radius. No functioning docking stations for love nor money.

Finally, after 3 miles of running I rang the helpline to ask what was going on. The operator was polite, but she was not helpful. Apparently the system had changed since my previous trip to Paris last summer, and she strongly recommended that I download the app which would tell me which docking stations were working.

But what difference would it make now, given that I had already visited practically every docking station near me and none of them were working. If the app was going to let me know that the nearest functioning docking station is on the other side of town, would there be any point in downloading it at all?? I explained to her that rather than it being a question of me having or not having the app it seemed that there was a more general problem of so many of the Velib docking stations not working. This was also underlined by the fact that I hadn't seen many people actually riding a Vélib!

I think the lady was a little bit frustrated with my complaining and in the end just said that I should download the app after our phone call, and by way of supposedly appeasing me and getting me off the phone she told me to go to a docking station at the nearby rue Dugommier where, according to her, that one was working.

So I ran to Dugommier which was a short distance from where I was, but just like the other docking stations this one was dead in the water too!
Finally, after three miles of running I gave up and took the Métro to Bir Hakeim, near the Eiffel Tower, from where I began my 8-mile run to the finish of the Paris marathon.

During my run I enquired at a few bike shops to see if they would rent me a bicycle, but they weren't doing rentals. At one shop when I mentioned how Vélib didn't seem to be working, the shop assistant replied knowingly, "Yes we know!"

It was only when I returned to my hotel and was browsing the net that I saw the news reports that Vélib had not renewed their contract with their erstwhile supplier JC Decaux, and had instead gone with a new company, Smovengo who had completely messed things up.

These reports dated from January of this year, and stated that things would be resolved by the end of March. But on the day I was there, which was pretty much the end of March there was nothing showing that things would be working any time soon! Out of interest, I did look into downloading the Vélib app, but the feedback was terrible, with people saying that this was the worst app they had ever downloaded and that it was full of bugs! Oh dear!

So Vélib has gotten seriously into trouble. I have enjoyed riding these bikes since they were first introduced in 2007, and that was one of my favourite things during my trips to Paris - just being able to ride freely around one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Vélib had even been seen as the benchmark for many other city bike-sharing systems around the world.

And now, this error of decision-making has led to a costly problem for their image, and who knows if they will recover from it! It has definitely been a case of it wasn't broken, but they tried to fix it!

A few dockless bike-sharing systems have come along (though I am not sure about using those yet) and I note that many people have gone and bought their own bikes. I am not sure if I want to use Vélib even once it's up and running again, as I would want to feel confident that their systems are robust. It is such a shame that this has happened. The best thing this can do is to serve as a case study to others on how to do collateral damage to your brand!

Back to my run - it was very pleasant in the Saturday afternoon sunshine in Paris, and the city was as lovely as ever.

Sans bike at Bir Hakeim bridge

No introduction needed!

Quirky (or Gehry) architecture in the middle of the woods!

Advance publicity in the Bois de Boulogne

Underneath the arches - aka Viaduct des Arts, near Gare de Lyon

The only thing is that I ended up being quite tired in the end as I ran 11 miles!

A lack of a bicycle meant that I couldn't recce the route in the way that I had planned, so on the Sunday I walked 5 miles of the route from Gare de Lyon to Eiffel Tower.

Notre Dame peeping through on Ile de la Cité

Place de la Concorde as I walked along the river

Alexander III Bridge, at Invalides

That meant that over the weekend I only officially previewed the last 13 miles of the marathon route.
In fact, the running around looking for a Vélib I did on Saturday had inadvertently included various parts of the eastern section of the marathon route!

So all that was missing was the initial part from Champs Elysées to Bastille, which is an area I like to think I know, after having ridden and walked there countless times both on visits and during the time that I lived in Paris. So I guess the reconnaissance didn't work out too badly in the end.

It was a good weekend, but sadly it was also the moment when me and Vélibs went our separate ways!
I guess I'll bring one of these for my next trip to Paris!

Related posts
Another year, another trip to Paris! - Part 3: Chantilly

Another challenge for 2018 - Paris marathon

Paris en vélo: Arrivée réelle

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Sunday, 11 March 2018

Wise words for International Women's Day

Last week was International Women's Day, so it was a good occasion to get a few cool women cyclists to air their views on what this day means to them.

There were a lot of women who have a spectrum of opinions on this day, which was first commemmorated unofficially some 100 years ago. Some wonder if we need such a day. After all,, every day should be international women's day. Others, and I am sure there are men who think this, that there should be an international men's day.

For my part, I think that it is a bit gimmicky, but I guess it doesn't do any harm, and it is not a bad idea to celebrate the achievments of inspirational women. But really, if we could live in an era where you don't have to always be saying "this is the first woman to do ......" or "isn't great that women are now being paid the same as men or being given equal prize money for such and such a cycle race" then a day like Internationa Women's Day would be less relevant. So until that day comes, I see no reason to stop celebrating 8th March!

Some views from some of my fellow sisters in cycling:

Sarah Strong, writer for Bikes and Brains blog

"International Women's Day is important and necessary for various reasons. For me it is commemorating past struggles for equality, celebrating women who may not have had proper recognition in their lifetimes, but also to highlight that we are still trying to combat prejudice, to highlight those undertaking this work, and to acknowledge them.

"In the centenary year of the Representation of the People Act there is particular historical weight, and a chance to see both how far we have come, and how far we still have to go."

Peggy Crome, Super Vet triathlete

"International Women's Day is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, especially in the previously thought, impossible fields. Personally, I am proud to have been competing in, and completing triathlons since 1984/85, and being among the first females in Great Britain to attempt a triathlon.

"In my first event there were 57 men and just two women.....we not only took part but we finished ahead of many of the men.
International Women's Day is also about continuing the fight for equality in all fields."

Hannah Bussey, cycling journalist

"International Women’s Day is a celebration and memory of all the inspirational women out there that have impacted positively on all our lives, male and female. There are the obvious women such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Rosa Parks whose strength to make the world better inspires me daily, and I can only hope to have an inch of their power of determination to make things right for us all, but today I focus on the enormity of what they achieved.

"There are also the women whose names I don’t know. The ones striving daily who are discriminated against for their gender. The ones writing blogs on women. The women pushing glass ceilings, the ones who juggle work and family and still ensure their child has the right snack at the right time, and the right socks dry because that’s important to their child. The women who stay home and raise their kids - the hardest job of all.

"The women who decide that they don’t want kids and that’s none of our business; the women that do want children, but don’t or can’t. The women who are happy with their body - high 5 you sister - or the women who aren’t because the media portrays misleading imagery that we feel we must live up too.

"The women who show their faith, and the ones that decide it’s not for them. The women of colour who deal with race and gender discrimination. The women who perhaps weren't born as women, but who cares, you are now.

"All these women are today in my thoughts a little more. And to all these women I say you rock sister, you are stronger than you realise and your ripple effect reaches far. Thank you."

Geraldine Glowinski, stalwart of London cycling

"Every day should be equality day despite gender. This particular day is good to focus on the strong, brave people who have and do bring about change for women."

Gema Fernandez Hernando, cycling commissaire for Spanish Cycling Federation

"For me it's about getting the same rights as men in every part of the world, and in all aspects - at work, in sport, and at home. Nobody is superior to anyone else.

"One of my heroines is Marie Curie and this is one of my favourite quotes from her:"

'Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.'

Emily Chappell, director of The Adventure Syndicate and ultra cyclist

"For me, International Women's Day is a time to celebrate all we've achieved, and also to think about how much further there is to go. I'll also be feeling very grateful (as I do every day) for the amazing women I have around me, who inspire and encourage me to go further than I thought I could, and support me through the times when my self-belief flags."

Rebecca Charlton, journalist, presenter and broadcaster

"International Women's Day is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the people that inspire us, and those who have been instrumental and vocal in the positive changes we've seen over the years, impacting the lives we lead today.

"When I was growing up both my mum and dad raced mountain bikes and trained on the track, and I was told that anything was possible. I had such strong role models and was given every opportunity do the activities I liked. I want every young child to feel like every door is open to them if they work hard enough, regardless of gender or background.

"I was proud to host the launch of the OVO Energy Women's Tour on the eve of International Women's Day this year, where Chris Houghton, CEO of OVO Energy, and race director Mick Bennett announced equal prize money for the Women's Tour, to match the men's Tour of Britain. This is a huge step in gender parity and it's important to recognise the progression that has been made on a day like today.

"I shared the stage with Lizzie Deignan, Elinor Barker, Orla Chennaoui, Emma Pooley, and Ruth Cadbury MP. When I first worked in cycling I knew less than a handful of women in the industry; now we have so many female voices.

"It's an exciting place to be for the future, and these strong, female sporting role-models, journalists, presenters and MP are more visible than ever, which I hope inspires even more girls and boys to feel anything is possible at any age. It's never too late to start something new."

Ayesha McGowan, US road racer bidding to become the first black female pro racer

"International Women's Day means celebrating women for all the things that bring them together and set them apart."

Grace Garner, Professional cycle racer for Wiggle HIGH5 

"For International Women's Day, a picture of our grandma and her friends in the 50s (second one from the left). Women's cycling has come SO far, I should think they would all be proud!"

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

So how is my Paris Marathon training going?

Last autumn I signed up for a couple of challenges that I hope to take on this year. One of them was the Etape du Tour, and the other one was the Paris Marathon.

As the marathon is taking place in April I have been focusing mainly on running. And it has definitely been a focus!

Preparing for the Paris marathon has been a quite an undertaking, not least getting in the regular training and staying injury free.
It won't be my first attempt at running 26.2 miles (42.2km), but the previous times when I ran a marathon I was a sprightly young lady in her early to mid thirties as opposed to now, roughly fifteen years later, with joints that get that bit stiffer and creaky. Plus I need more time to recover after exercise, and am just an tad slower than I used to be.

Although I have done a lot of running in my time, in recent times my running training has just been limited to 3- or 4-mile outings, the odd Park run, and then once a year a longer event like a half-marathon or 10-mile race that I would plod round.

Running 26 miles just seems such a long way, and a long time to be on my feet. What am I going to do for four or even five hours while I pound the pavements? I might get bored! For the first time I may have to break a life-long habit of not wearing headphones just so I can get through the challenge. Yes, challenge is exactly what it will be! It's quite handy that the setting for the challenge is in a lovely place like Paris, which should make the task a less arduous ordeal!

I also rely on the fact that the two London marathons that I did were such a long time ago that if the running experience was not good that trauma has now been erased from my mind! I vaguely recall crying as the finish gantry on The Mall came into sight, but that might have just been relief that I had managed to get through it in one piece! I also recall the volunteer who gave me my medal avidly congratulating me as though I had won, when I had probably finished in around 13,000th place!

So here I am, just over one month away from the big day in Paris. Training has been going okay. I have not followed a set training plan from on-line or a magazine, preferring to start my training early - back in October - and running on feel. The aim was just to get up to running 13 miles by Christmas, and then to run 20 miles by early March at the latest.

I have achieved that, but it wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty - especially the 20 miles I ran along the River Thames a couple of days ago without properly carboloading! While doing my training I have been doing cross-country league races with my clubs in London - Serpentine RC and South London Harriers - so that has made it complicated to juggle.

A short fast run over mud, wearing spikes is just as taxing as a long slow run on smooth ground. So doing these back to back on the weekend just means my legs are shot during the week! As the long runs have gotten longer, the Saturday cross-country league races have had to be run slower just so that I could have a bit left in the tank for my Sunday run!

Since getting past the 12-mile mark things have become more sketchy for me in terms of risk of injury. Throughout my adult life I have suffered from either patella syndrome, ilio-tibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis or calf strains.

So as the training runs have lengthened, this has steadily become a greater and greater exercise in injury prevention and damage limitation! I am spending a lot of time (and money) at Crystal Palace Physio Group to get in regular massages and keep my muscles loose. The foam roller, a tennis ball and a golf ball have become my best friends. Yoga has also been the order of the day, though I have tended to do that at home because when attempting it in a class I felt so self-conscious at how rigid my body is compared with all those supple women of a certain age!

Then I have reintroduced the post-run sitting in freezing water routine to my regime. That moment when I hit the water is massively unpleasant, takes my breath away, makes me squeal, I worry I might get hyperthermic afterwards, but it is character building (apparently) and healing!

There have been good parts in this marathon preparation though. It has made me vary my runs that bit more and go to new places. Instead of just running the usual parks in South Norwood and Crystal Palace, I have also added in Dulwich Wood, Dulwich Park, Cator Park, Beckenham Place Park and Shirley Hills.

San Silvestre 8k in Buenos Aires 
Wherever I have travelled I have kept my trainers nearby to get in a few miles. So I ran to work when I worked in Central London, I did regular runs around the Royal Parks, including Richmond Park. Of course when I recently travelled to Argentina I ran - around Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Mendoza, even doing a running race while there.

I also did a running race in Tortona, near Milan and plan to do some running in Paris when I recce the route. I even did a run en route to join my second claim club, East Hull Harriers, up in East Yorkshire! It had been tempting to just peel off the motorway to go running around some National Trust land in a place called Sharpenhoe, near Luton!

My biggest issue now is that I will run out of time to go to some of the other interesting places I had hoped to run in. I haven't yet done the South Downs or the Box Hill area yet, and I was also hoping to do a bit more stuff north of the river like Hampstead Heath or Hackney Marshes. There's nothing like a marathon to get you out discovering new places!

The other great thing has been in this era of social media (which didn't exist when I last ran a marathon) it has been great to connect with other people. There's a Facebook group for Londoners who are running the Paris marathon, a group for all women who are running the Paris marathon, as well as equivalent groups on Strava. These are great ways to stay motivated while training, get tips and advice if you have doubts, and even make new friends.

Catching up with Mariana in Buenos Aires 
When I went to Argentina I managed to meet up with one of the girls from the Facebook group, Mariana who lived in Buenos Aires. It was great to be able to catch up with one of the Paris marathon girls on the other side of the world.

I look forward to seeing her when she is in Paris, and also when she comes for holiday in London.

So how is my marathon training going? Well, it's not too bad. I haven't had any injury or illness, apart from a cold a couple of weeks ago. There have definitely been moments where I thought this is all a silly idea and I won't get through it - particularly on those days where I felt really tired just doing a 3-mile run! But in the end I just had to really hang in there and believe in my strategy.

I have put in a few miles, so I am almost good to go. I just need to not break my leg during a ski trip that I've got planned, or pull a muscle during that final 20-mile training run! The coach trip to Paris (without Brendan!) is booked, my lodgings are sorted, so I just need to show up at the Champs Elysées on 8th April. But even now I'm not taking anything for granted!

Some might ask, why do a marathon? It's so time-consuming, there's a risk of injury, it can be painful physically and mentally. It's hard to fit around everyday life, it can be expensive when you add in the cost of equipment, travel, accommodation, entry fees and medical bills to prevent or treat injury. After all, I have done a marathon before, so it's not like I have anything to prove.

I guess the answer is that I do have something to prove. These challenges can't be taken for granted. Also my pet hate is living off my achievements from many years ago. I feel much happier celebrating something I achieved last week than trying to milk off something I did more than 10 years ago!

So as long as I am getting older the bar will naturally be getting higher, and so there will always be something to prove! Perhaps it is part of the mid-life crisis phenomenon but hey, I say if it's keeping me off the sofa, I'm happy!

Related posts
Another challenge for 2018 - Paris Marathon

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Running race face

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

52 Cycling Voices - 19: Helen Wyman

I have known Helen Wyman for a good few years and have seen her develop from being a good national level racer to be an international elite, mixing it with the best cyclocross racers in the world. She and husband Stefan have been a well known personalities in the world cycle racing, often seen at events around the UK, as well as across Europe. I managed to catch up with Helen while at, The Wyman Review, an event hosted by one of her sponsors Look Mum No Hands.

That evening she talked about the importance of helping the future generation of women cyclocross riders, particularly the under-23s. With that in mind, she is spearheading a crowdfunding initiative, the Helen 100 to pay the entries for 100 under-23 women riders to enter the National Cyclocross Championships next year, and engage them in the sport in other activities.

Helen Wyman, aged 36

From: St Albans, Hertfordshire

Lives: Rennes-les-Bains, nr Carcassonne, France

Occupation: Cyclocross athlete and coach

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, but then I didn’t get the grades, so then I thought, "oh I’ll become a physiotherapist", and I studied for a degree in physiotherapy from the University of Hertfordshire. I started bike racing from the age of 14 and continued while studying at university, and I was always good at it.

My brother used to race when I was a kid, and that’s why I started racing - because I wanted to beat him! He now runs a bike shop in Sheringham, Norfolk, called Black Bikes. My family have always been into cycling. My dad used to race when he was young, but only time trials. Then he started racing again on the grass track when I was 14. These days they still ride, but they don't race. My parents even cycled from Lands End to John ‘o Groats for their 50th birthday. My mum still rides, though now she has an electric bike. Stef even wants to get one too so that he can ride with me!

It was when I won a National Trophy race in the UK in 2004 that Stef suggested that I become a full-time racer. At the same time British Cycling needed people for their Great Britain road team that summer. They needed six riders at every race so that the Olympic development riders could get in some good training. 

I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and so I rode with the team. I went from doing 60-mile road races to doing a 3-day stage race, a 10-day stage race, and some of the biggest women's cycling races in the world, racing distances I never even dreamed I could ride. So off the back of that I learned how much my body could take. 

When I came back to cyclocross after that summer I came 6th or 7th in every world cup race, and from that point I thought, "right well I know I can do this." It was that opportunity to ride with the GB road team that taught me what I could and couldn’t do. It was like a switch flicked and cycle racing was something that I knew I could achieve in.

I don't think I was more privileged than anyone else. I just think I had the opportunity. I had the talent, and I could do the training. Another rider could have done what I did and they may have died and cracked and not actually ridden anyway, so they wouldn’t have got the benefits. I don’t think there’s such a thing as talent alone or training alone that makes you a good bike rider, but a combination of many things. Even if you have just an inkling of talent you can take it an incredibly long way - it just takes opportunity, determination, dedication, desire, access, and time.

There have been points where I didn't know where money for my rent would come from, but I still carried on because I believed I would get there in the end. I had set off from the UK in a donated £100-Peugeot 205 to go and live in Belgium and start this biking adventure in cyclocross, and I was very determined! 

We’ve grown into a society that wants instant success. Instant appreciation like Instagram. You judge yourself on how many "likes" you get. But Stef’s always said that there are people in the world, that if you put £5 in front of them on a table and then £10 on the other side of the table, they will take the £5 because they can't be bothered to lean across and get the £10. And sometimes in cycling you have to leave the £5 and work out how to get the £10, and that’s what makes determined people.

Now I own my house in the South of France, I have a good income, a nice life, a good job, and I win bike races. These days there is more money in the sport than when I first started, so there is way more opportunity. 

This season I’ve probably doubled my prize money from any other year just because in C1 races the prize money for women is equal to the men's, and every race in Belgium is a C1. So I have made more money than ever before, because of the prize money. 

If the climate was the same in 2004 as it was in the 2017/18 season, then for the same level I was achieving in 2004 I would have reached a comfortably financial position sooner than it has taken me.  
So I think there is more monetary opportunity for good riders, but you have to get good enough to take that, and getting good enough is the hardest part!

I’m not actually money motivated. I know it drives life and you need money to exist, but for me it didn’t matter at the time that the money wasn’t what it is now. It was the fact that I could actually go out and achieve something for myself.

I am doing some crowdfunding, the Helen 100, in order to pay the entry fees for 100 under-23 women to take part in the National Cyclocross Championships in 2019. The plan is to pay their entry fee, but now that I have raised the £2,500 needed to do this the next phase is to actually engage with those riders. But what if you can't get 100 riders? What if 100 riders don’t want to go? 

So the aim is actually to try and create a legacy by going out and doing cross clinics in England, or providing things like jet washes they can use during races - just for those under-23 women so that they might actually get inspired in some way to stay in the sport.

It is hard growing up nowadays with social media and all those things. You are getting judged all the time. So it is important for young women to be in an environment which gives them confidence, which teaches them how to appreciate what they have, how to set goals, how to achieve things independently, because ultimately it is only you that pedals that bike.

And if you gain confidence in that way you can take that into later life and you can use it in business, in work, in whatever you choose to do afterwards.

I am focusing on the under-23 women because I get the impression that there are huge differences between the riders racing in that category and high drop-out rates from the sport. The very best riders like World Under-23 Cyclocross Champion Evie Richards are supported by British Cycling, and then there’s a massive gap to the next riders, and those riders aren’t supported by anyone.

As part of the Helen 100 crowdfunding initiative for every £10 you donate you get a free entry into a prize draw. There are various prizes on offer, like a weekend stay in a bed & breakfast in Wales, a signed jersey, hats, socks, T-shirts, squeezy bottles, and signed race numbers. 

One of my best memories in my career was the World Cup race that was held in Milton Keynes in 2014. That was amazing! As a British rider it was just ridiculous. Everyone who went there really enjoyed it. The Milton Keynes World Cup kind of became this urban legend, because they never did it again. And they had more people spectating that than they did at Koksijde [sand dune] World Cup that year!

Helen racing at Milton Keynes World Cup (photo: Paul Burgoine)
Milton Keynes was huge, the racing was fantastic, the course was fantastic, and the riders loved it. As a British rider it was epic! 

My ears were still ringing three days later, and that inspired me to write an open letter to future cyclocross racers. It was a letter to say other people could feel the same, and experience the same thing as me if they wanted to. 

It's up on my website, and every two or three months someone retweets it! And I’m like "wow this was four years ago!" But even though it was a few years ago when I wrote the letter I think what I wrote still holds true today. 

The 2017/18 season was really good, and I’m really happy with how it went. I won seven races, and the National Championships, that’s cool. I got a podium place in World Cups, that’s cool. So it's been good.

Now I am going on holiday to Mexico, I'll have a rest, and then restart my training. Everything I do is for 'cross. In the summer I do a bit of road racing, some mountain biking though not racing. Plus I do running and core training. I make sure I ride my 'cross bike once a week throughout the summer.

My permanent home now is in the South of France, below Carcassonne, near the Pyrenees. It’s amazing. The roads are stunning and the riding is deathly quiet. You can go out for four hours and not see a single car. And when you see a car, you think, "Whoa where did that come from? Oh, I’m on a road!" The weather’s great, it’s just perfect.

I spent 10 years living in Belgium, but now we just spend a few weeks at a time there over the winter, go back home for a while and then return to Belgium. I would need lots of Vitamin D tablets if I had to stay in Belgium for more than a month!

Things were quite difficult for me during the 2016/17 season. Because of the nasty crash I had during the European Championships in which I broke my collarbone, from 13th October 2016 to 16th January 2017 I didn't race. 

Coming back from injury was tough physically and emotionallyWhen I went to have the dressing on my shoulder removed I really fell apart, thinking my arm would drop off. At times I questioned myself. But Stef was there for me emotionally. I was 35 at the time – an age where a lot of people are retiring. But at no point did I think of stopping, and that was the driver that kept me going. I told myself there was no way I would want to end my career on a season like that. There’s no way I could do that so I had to come back. 

After two or three weeks back on the bike I did the Hoogstraten Superprestige race and came 2nd, and I raced in the World Championships. And I think that motivated me for the rest of this year. That showed that I am still there, that I am still capable and so I went out and put in a big summer’s training and came back stronger. I still think I can get stronger and better again. So that’s really exciting and I’m not looking at retiring at any point soon.

In 2014 I came 3rd in the World Championships. I thought that this year the course would go my way again, but I actually peaked at the Nationals, which meant I had peaked too soon. Because I didn’t even get to race the Nationals last year I had really really wanted to win it this year, and that was one of my biggest goals. So maybe that took the edge off my strength for the Worlds, and I didn’t have the same level that I could have had on the day. So the Worlds will be my target for next year. They will be in Bogense, Denmark. It was where a World Cup was held this year, and I placed 2nd. 

If I can be the fittest I can possibly be at the Worlds on that day and everything works out then there is no reason why I can’t get a really good result.

As well as placing 3rd at the World Cyclocross Championships in the 2013/14 season I also won the European Championships. It was the muddiest race I have ever done. It was held in Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic. After the pre-ride I had to go back to the campervan and shower before the race, it was that muddy. I couldn’t just change my clothes, I had to shower right before the race! That was pretty funny. I had never had to do that before, and I have never done it since in any race. The race was epic, and I won it by a minute and a half. It was so muddy it was ridiculous. 

Everyone needs a Stef! If you go to the discount section of the DIY store, near the back, next to the power tools you’ll find a whole selection of Stefs, but I can't guarantee that they will still be there when you get there! 

Seriously, we met at a bike race, and he’s been an integral part of my life in many ways. He sometimes pushes me more than I push myself, and other times we work really well together. 

He is as invested in my career as I am and that is a really good thing to have because it means I can entirely trust everything he says. He wants the best for me because when I achieve he achieves, so it’s a very trusting, working relationship. 

Sometimes it's tough, like when I have a bad day at a race and he has to tell me what I did wrong and I’m not accepting of it, it gets rough. But at that point I have to say this is my coach talking and not my husband. We don’t always get it right, but I think we have found a pretty good balance as to how to make it work.

And everything outside of bike riding and racing is awesome!

I don’t know where I get my determination to race from. I just love riding a bike because it gives me freedom. Even if I didn’t race I would still ride a bike and I would still love it.

Donations can be made to The Helen 100 crowdfunding page until 4th March 2018.

Twitter: @CXHelen
Instagram: @cxhelen
Vimeo: Helen Wyman

Other Cycling Voices
Rochelle Gilmore

Rebecca Charlton

Giorgia Bronzini

Tracy Moseley

Emily Chappell

Grace and Lucy Garner

Hannah Bussey

Maria David

Friday, 16 February 2018

Should cyclists really be banned from dual carriageways?

Recently there has been a furore over plans by Highways England to ban cyclists from using the main road that leads into the city of Hull, the A63. For those who don't know the area, it is the road that the M62 leads into when the motorway comes to an end. It is a dual carriageway with an initial speed limit the same as the motorway, 70 mph, and then later reduces to 50mph.

In the last five years there have been six collisions involving cyclists, including one fatality in 2013 along this road (compared with 297 collisions involving vehicles over the same period). On that basis Highways England has deemed the road to be dangerous for cyclists and has proposed a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) prohibiting them from using this stretch of road. This proposal has received the support of Humberside Police and Hull City Council.
A63 trunk road to Hull
The 15-mile stretch of the A63 within the proposed banning area at North Cave includes the whole of a 10-mile time trial course, known as V718. It is quite a popular race venue, particularly as club cyclists say it's the fastest time trial in the country, so lots of potential for personal bests. I guess riding in the slipstream of the various trucks as you go on a slightly downhill stretch will have that effect! The V718 course has welcomed Olympic champions such as Joanna Rowsell and Bradley Wiggins, as well as Commonwealth champion Alex Dowsett, who at one point held the national 10-mile record.

Naturally, cycling organisations and club cyclists are outraged at the prospect of losing the opportunity to ride on this road. Indeed Cycling Time Trials, the governing body for time trial races have put out a statement opposing the proposal. Opposition has been echoed by Cycling UK, as well as British Cycling who put out a statement jointly with Welcome to Yorkshire.

As well as protestations from other cycling groups including Hull Thursday  Road Club, Cycling Weekly magazine commented on how a decision to ban cyclists from this type of road would be a "terrible move". Furthermore, for local residents in the Welton, Melton and Brough area, including priest and blogger Graeme Holdsworth who cycle between these villages to get to work, a cycling ban would significantly affect their travel options for getting to work.

The TRO is currently in a consultation phase and objections to it must be received by 19th February.

While there have been various protestations on social media, this does seem to be a hot-potato subject as opinion isn't all one-way traffic.

A number of cyclists have expressed concern at the notion of cycling along a road that may as well be a motorway, given that it is merely the M62 in all but name. The road contains trucks making their way to the port in Hull, as well as folks travelling in the opposite direction, to Manchester and other parts of the country, all travelling at speeds in excess of 50 mph, and probably significantly higher.

I regularly drive on this road when I travel to Hull or East Yorkshire and I must say it really isn't a road I would want to be cycling along. When I see cyclists on the road I immediately think they are on some sort of a death-wish!

On a few occasions when cycling on local trails or country lanes I have had to either cross the A63 or ride along it. Thankfully there was a segregated cycle path on the part I was on.

On one Saturday afternoon I pootled along the cycle path parallel to the trunk road at the same time as local cycle racers with numbers pinned on their backs zoomed past me during a time trial. I did not envy them, particularly as it was a windy day and they wrestled their bike into a straight line while traffic rumbled by.

Now, that is my impression of the road. As keen a cyclist as I am I avoid the A63 as much as possible. Having said that, I think that cyclists should still be free to ride on that road if they wish, and I think that it would be a sad precedent if a popular event like the V718 time trial were lost because Highways England preferred to ban cyclists rather than put in place more safety measures for cyclists.

It is worth noting that a TRO was approved on an 8-mile section of the A19 dual carriageway near Teesside in 2015.

In 2016 a local resident in Leatherhead submitted a petition to Surrey County Council proposing to ban cyclists from the A24 dual carriageway between Dorking and Leatherhead. The Council rejected the proposal on the grounds that a ban would not support their overall strategy of making cycling inclusive within the local authority. This road, which was part of the London 2012 Olympics route for the cycle race, and is part of the route of the Ride London cycling events has benefited the local economy by bringing a lot of cycle touring to the area.

On publication of the news of the proposed TRO in the Hull Daily Mail, its readers were polled, asking if they thought cyclists should be banned from the A63. One thousand people were surveyed, and 77% of respondents replied "yes" while only 23% were opposed to banning cyclists. 

Those wishing to send in their objections to the proposed Traffic Regulation Order have a wee bit of time.

Latest news: Deadline has now been extended to March 12th. Objections to the proposed ban should be made via hard copy. However, you can do this via Cycling UK and they will prepare the papers to send in your objection.

Deadline for submissions is February 19th 2018
Write to:
The Office of the Director
Operations Directorate (Yorkshire & North East)
Highways England
3rd Floor South, Lateral
8 City Walk
Leeds LS11 9AT.
Ref: The A63 Trunk Road (North Cave Interchange to Daltry Street Interchange - Prohibition of Cyclists Order)

Saturday, 10 February 2018

52 Cycling Voices - 18: Sarah Strong

Our latest cycling voice comes from Sarah Strong, a stalwart of the London women's cycling scene. She's been there, done that, got the T-shirt plus a few scars. But she's strong by nature as well as by name. I've known Sarah since she got into cycling over 14 years ago and I commend her for all the work she's done in the sport. But Sarah has my utmost admiration for winning a Pointless trophy!

Sarah Strong
Age: 42
From: Bristol
Lives: London
Project Coordinator for a mental health charity/NHS

As a child our family were never into cycling, but I did do BMX biking in the mid-1980s between the ages of about 9-12 years when I got into it via a school mate. It felt kinda cool, and there were only three or four of us girls who raced regularly. One went to the same school as me and it was good to chat to her about races.

My mate Dave, and I used to go to get taken to the BMX track by his dad so we could practice with the local club, Burgess Hill Bombers. There was also a wooded patch near my house with a natural bombhole, and rooty jumps, that we used. You could get some decent air on some of them - well, it felt like that, but it was probably only a few centimetres! There were also the usual homemade ramps set up next to local rows of garages or quiet cul-de-sacs. I really enjoyed doing something a bit different. 

Then when I hit teenage years I stopped doing it, mainly as I wasn't that sporty so didn't enjoy it that much. My mate Dave got a mountain bike  (which at that time was becoming fashionable), and my interest fizzled out.
When my real passion for cycling kicked off later, as an adult, my parents were happy to hear that I'd found something that was clearly benefiting me a great deal. Nowadays I cycle more than my sister does and I suspect she thinks I'm a bit mad! When her partner and I talk bike stuff I can hear her eyes rolling!
I have been club cycling for about 14 years now. It all started at the Beastway Summer Mountainbike Series in 2003 when I was recovering from a bout of depression. A housemate asked me to help out her club one week when it was their turn to volunteer at one of the rounds.
Initially it was the social side of the race series I warmed to, and being out in the fresh air, doing something new. I became part of the organising committee of Beastway, (the Structureless Tyranny) working on it for the next nine summers, and was usually to be found doing sign-on and lap-scoring duties.
It led me to start using an old bike I had, to commute to work, and to have a go at racing myself. Six months later I bought myself a second-hand road bike and have never looked back.
My first cycling club was London Phoenix, where a few of the regular Beastway riders were members. But proper club cycling didn't happen for me until a year or two later when I moved to South London and joined Dulwich Paragon.
Riding my first club run with them was rewarding but exhausting. After thirty hilly miles from Crystal Palace to the edge of Kent and back on a Saturday morning I spent the rest of the day on the sofa! Gary MacGowan (a Dulwich Paragon stalwart) was the friendly and encouraging face that led me and my friend to return for more.
It was while at Dulwich Paragon that another Sarah (Atkinson) convinced me to try a women's beginner road race, organised by London Dynamo, at the Longcross Test Track (Chertsey) back in 2009. I raced two of those and would have actually gained three British Cycling racing points in the second race if I'd bothered to buy a full licence! I was so chuffed!
Then Maria David convinced me to do the first (of two!) cyclocross races around the same time. I wouldn't have tried it without her encouragement. Being near Herne Hill Velodrome was a great opportunity to try track cycling, and the Women's Training Sessions started by Anna Glowinski kicked off my track riding and racing. My friend and club-mate Lesley Pinder also persuaded me to join her down at HHV on regular occasions.

Track cycling has been fun. I raced at the National Track Masters in Newport about 18 months ago, though I didn't have any goals as such. It was more about taking part because my fitness level was not brilliant at the time, and I was just happy not to have been the slowest in my age group! Aside from the Masters and Herne Hill Velodrome track league I haven't raced much at all in the last two or three years. 
Criterium racing is what I have enjoyed the most. There, I felt the most comfortable about my ability and skills on several of the London circuits. When I was race fit I loved the feeling after a crit - at least once I’d got through the first fifteen minutes of thinking my lungs were going to explode

I eventually stopped racing around 2014/15 as I felt like I wasn't achieving much. In 2009 I was knocked off my bike by a car while commuting to work and needed surgery on my knee. Then in 2011 I shattered my collarbone in a crash when my front wheel hit a massive pothole at the Dunwich Dynamo. When I came back to racing in 2012 I found myself on the start line with women half my age who had coaches and a lot more time to train than me. From the gun I would be immediately spat out of the back. I just didn't have the mental fight.
Long-distance cycling is something else I do. I did my first sportive, the 110-km Ride of the Falling Leaves (by Dulwich Paragon) in 2006. It was the longest ride I’d done at that point, and it was such fun.
Since then I’ve done more rides particularly after I stopped racing. I did a couple of trips to the Pyrenees with clubmates, and Paris-Roubaix in 2008. The cobbles are a special kind of hurt but the sense of achievement at the end was immense. I felt the same after the Etape du Tour in 2013.
I do enjoy long rides, seeing the countryside and having a range of feelings, thoughts and sensations, compared with the eyeballs-out nature of racing.
On one long ride, though, I nearly got into a bit of trouble when I did some solo riding in mid-Wales. I ran out of water in the middle of the Cambrian Mountains with over twenty miles to go, all uphill and into a headwind, and no phone reception there either! It was a tough moment and I was quite worried about how I would get back to my lodgings. There were no shops, no one around and just one or two cars passed me. 

I really had to push myself mentally and battle through it. When things got tough I just had to risk it and take a bit of water from the River Ystwyth. When I got home the first thing I did was to devour a pack of Pringles! I did gain the confidence to know I can do it, if I end up in a similar situation. 

In 2017 I did my first ever cycle tour, with friend Kat who I originally met some years back through the London Fixed-Gear and Single-Speed group. I was rather anxious about it as I’d never ridden long distances with panniers and camping gear etc. before.
We did a horseshoe-shaped loop around half of Wales over one week. It was hard, but amazing. There were highs and lows, tiredness and hunger, wonderful sights, lots of laughs, and excellent company. I also realised I didn’t object to camping as much as I’d been telling myself for years! I’d like to do more touring.

Funnily enough I have recently taken up BMX biking again. It's just for fun and I do it in the summer. There are women's sessions on Tuesday nights at Burgess Park (near Peckham) that I go to. My skills came back quite quickly, but as I am now bigger, taller, and a lot older than when I last did it I don't tend to take risks! 

I do like shoes. I used to have a lot of cycling shoes, specifically Sidis! I tried various brands in my first couple of years of cycling and Sidis fitted me the best. As a teenager I had corrective surgery on both feet and have since had issues finding shoes that are comfortable for me. So when I found some that fitted so well I started finding reasons to buy more!
At one point I had eight pairs of Sidis - one for each of my bikes! These days I’m down to five pairs, and I haven’t bought any in a while. Maybe it's time to acquire some more!
A simple bike ride can do wonders for your mental health, but it’s way more complicated than just pedalling your depression away. There is no direct causal link between cycling and wellbeing – it’s a range of interacting factors. Cycling is not a cure-all, and it’s not going to magic away depression forever. It is something I use to improve my mood though, and I start getting a bit grumpy if I don’t do any cycling for a few days.

I find that my mental health benefits from the exercise, the independence, and the social circle cycling brings with it (most of my close friends are people I’ve got to know through riding). Riding helps to stop the rumination that comes with anxiety. Occasionally, I’ll return from a ride with a head as busy as it was when I set out – but this is quite unusual.
I was incredibly anxious about co-ordinating and presenting the evening we had on cycling and mental health at Look Mum No Hands last Autumn. I’d had a very difficult time the day before too. On the night of the event I didn’t say quite all that I wanted to, but it was more important to facilitate others. The fact that the members of the panel were so willing to contribute made organising the event very easy, and took the pressure off a bit! I as very grateful for their participation and honesty, and it was a valuable evening.
We received amazing feedback, and it underlined my feelings that many cyclists experience mental health challenges, and many who experience mental health challenges cycle. It was great to hear how the people who came along, or followed on Facebook live or on Twitter, found it beneficial.
There will be an event in Rapha Manchester later this month, plans are afoot for another evening at Look Mum No Hands, and one at the Bristol Bike Project. As part of Sport Relief, which is focusing on mental health, I’ve done a piece to camera on the subject of anxiety for a documentary about a celebrity's experience of anxiety. The programme will air in March during Sport Relief week. Hopefully what I said during the interview made some sense!
On the back of that I set up a blog - - and I’m hoping to encourage people to contact me with their contributions. There have been a few responses already, which is encouraging. It would be great to gather a range of voices and experiences so that people can know they aren’t the only ones going through tough times, and also folks might share their ideas of how to manage their wellbeing when getting on the bike isn’t necessarily possible.
Perhaps I was particularly fortunate to find my way into cycling through people near to me, and I didn’t find it at all difficult as a woman getting into cycling. The London cycling scene was somewhat smaller in my early days 14 years ago and, to me, it seemed like a supportive niche of a size I felt comfortable in. Being part of Beastway meant I got to know a lot of riders with experience and expertise, and I could learn from them.
I do remember, however, being nervous about turning up to my first Dulwich Paragon club run as newbie, and feeling a bit out of my depth amongst all the matching club kit. There was no need to have worried though, as I was welcomed in the club, and became a regular very quickly. In fact on the few Saturdays I didn’t go on the club ride it seemed a bit odd. At that time, to me there were enough women involved to form a core group of moral support if required.
To anyone wanting to get into club cycling I would say have a think about what type of cycling you want to do. Some clubs may be more focused towards racing, others are maybe more social. Larger clubs are more likely to have riders that cover the whole spectrum and there will be opportunities whether you are interested in track, or audax, or cross, or whatever. Look out for clubs that have social rides – many of which you can attend and try out before you join. Check any advice about expected fitness levels and/or ability.
When I’m not on a bike I do like attending art exhibitions, and living in London means a wealth of options on the doorstop. I have a soft spot for art, architecture, and design between about 1750-1950. The last exhibition I visited was Red Star Over Russia at Tate Modern. Museums are good too – I had a decent wander around Sir John Soane’s recently. It’s mad, overwhelming and brilliant!
Also, I occasionally do a bit of glass-engraving. They are usually one-offs as presents, but I have engraved trophies for the end of series prizes for Beastway a few times, and had other small commissions. It’s all freehand work with a rotary engraving tool, so too much in one go can be hard work on the fingers and wrists.

Hatha yoga is something I try and do regularly as I feel relaxed after the sessions, and I hope to take up Mindfulness again to compliment this.
One highpoint for me was being on the quiz show Pointless, with my friend Lesley. It was a surreal experience. We just applied to go on the show for a laugh. When we got the call I was on holiday, so had to take a day out to travel to the studios in Hertfordshire, be there for the day and return to my holidays .Filming was fun, and Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman came across just as warm and going off on their flights of fancy as they appear on the TV. Answering the questions in front of the camera was a lot trickier than shouting the answers at the TV at home!
In the cycling world I really admire Kathryn Bertine, who campaigned for a women's Tour de France concurrent with the men’s race. In the non-cycling world I get inspired by older women such as Mary Beard, who challenge the status quo, are passionate, sincere in what they do, and are willing to take risks to follow what they believe in. 

But most of my inspiration comes from my friends, and often I’ll do things with them that I never would have contemplated on my own. For me, the moral support from friends is invaluable.
My ideal day is about being on the bike, with a close friend, in the countryside somewhere on a sunny summer day, with a flexible route and in no hurry to get back home. Writing this in February is filling me with much longing! 

Cycling and mental health event at Rapha Manchester: 
22nd February 6pm - 8pm

Sarah will feature in an article by Emily Chappell in the Spring issue of Casquette magazine.

Twitter: @Opiumia
Instagram: @opiumia5