Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Mudplugging (sort of) again! Cyclo cross is back

SE champs at Cyclopark. Photo by Paul Willis
Just when I was wondering if I would ever ride cyclo cross again, I managed to find the time to dig out my bike and restart doing cyclo cross.

There's not much to say about it except that I found it lots of fun, and it's been so long since I last raced that in the words of the cook on Poldark, "I've mislaid me skillage!"

But I survived, and I didn't come last. The sun even shown on both of the races I did. Anyway, just to prove that I'm not making it up, here are a couple of pics care of some very nice souls who thought it was worth a shot photographing me! I am lucky to have not gotten too muddy as conditions so far have been dry, which gives an opportunity to ease into the sport.

My first race was at Leeds Castle, near Maidstone - incredibly bumpy, quite challenging and with a hill that completely killed people's legs! There was also moat (also known as a swamp) that people were meant to jump over. As I had travelled by train and had no change of socks or shoes I preferred to go round and wade through the long grass! It added a bit of time to my ride, but at least my feet weren't sopping wet.
Slogging up the hill at Leeds Castle. Photo by Mike Last

The lady in the London Dynamo kit is Claire Richardson. She was actually walking up that hill at the same speed that I rode it! We then battled it out for the finish line and I managed to get ahead of her by some fluke!

My second race was the South East and Eastern Region Championships held at the Cyclopark. Just when I thought that races couldn't get harder than Leeds the course builders came up with another leg-breaker course! Very technical with a number of dismounts - to get over steps, high hurdles, a horribly steep hill, a deep sandpit, and I had to get off for a few adverse cambers that I just couldn't ride.
Dropping down a technical descent. Photo by Paul Willis

The lady in the pink jersey is Liz Orr of Kent Velo Girls. She was very good technically and was ahead of me for most of the race, but I say thank goodness for tarmac! I was able to put in a bit of power up to the finish straight on the road and that's the only reason I was able to get past her.

Next time we will be in an "old school" course nearer to home in the suburbs of Croydon where there will be pure mud. So I am not sure I will not be so lucky to stay ahead of Claire or Liz. But just doing cyclo cross will brighten up my day.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Proviz bags the glowing market!

REFLECT360 rucksack

Proviz has established itself as a well known brand of super visibility jackets. Now they are producing various other items that will make you stand out at night.

The latest item that I have been testing is the REFLECT360 rucksack. We all get that slightly uncomfortable feeling when you're all set to go out, you've put on a high vis jacket in the hope of being seen at night, only for everything to get obscured by a big black rucksack! So how well will motorists approaching from behind see you now?

You can cover it with a high vis cover, but it's not guaranteed the cover will fit. Sometimes I wear an oversized high vis gilet on top of the rucksack - not very pretty! And it may not do the job anyway.

So when I was sent the REFLECT360 rucksack to try out I was quite impressed with it. It would only have been a matter of time before this latest accessory was produced. And it is the logical solution when you think how many people cycle commute now, particularly through London.

Judging by the numbers of people on the Cycle Superhighway there's no sign of the dark streets and the sub-zero temperatures deterring people from circulating through London by bike. So a super-reflective rucksack was a logical addition to the array of Proviz items, considering how useful and popular the jackets had become.

So what do I make of the rucksack? Well, it does everything it says on the tin! It's a rucksack, and a rather spacious one too. Capacity is 30 litres, meaning there was room in it for my change of clothes, my lunch, and a book, which I usually carry in case I get on public transport, plus a bit more space in reserve.

There is a front pocket in which to put smaller items like your wallet and phone etc. Then there are deep side pockets in which I put things like tools, puncture repair kit and maybe an extra drink.

Then I like the little touches such as a loop to hang a light from, a mesh ventilation system to help reduce dampness on your back, and additional loops to attach a strap if you want to carry the rucksack as a shoulder bag.

The thing I like most about the REFLECT360 rucksack though, is that addresses the things that concern me most as a commuter - will I be seen, and will my stuff get all soaked if I get caught in the rain?

Well those reflective beads are ever present in the fabric and there are no worries about you not being seen at night, and you stand out like a spaceman! Also during these autumn days motorists have on their headlights during the day so the reflective properties take effect even in daylight, so you can still be spotted on the road.

The fabric is waterproof, and furthermore all the zips on the rucksack are Aquaguard(R), meaning that they completely seal up when closed.

So there you have it, a rucksack that I can feel comfortable (literally and metaphorically) when out on my bike.

Proviz Sports


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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 2

If you're looking for new wheels for next year here are a few ideas based on bikes I have tried and bikes I just like:
Raleigh Mustang Sport
I have tested out the Raleigh Mustang Sport gravel  bike quite a lot this year and it's been good to me.  Some people have been a little sceptical about the point of this style of bike. But I just consider it to be a great all-round bike that can be used on and off-road. Think of it as something that can work well on slightly more rugged terrain than a forest trail, but without the chunkiness of a mountain bike.

It is also great for carrying bits and pieces if you are carrying your provisions for multi-terrain cycle touring, or just commuting. And of course if you are just going to be riding on tarmac you can always put on thick slick tyres. There are other bikes available in the Mustang range if you are looking for something harder core or lighter.

The Trott range of bikes from Laura Trott Kenny have been gradually making their presence known on the streets and lanes around the country. I have been testing out the RD2, and have found this good value for money. It's a decent entry level bike if you are making the step up to cycling as a sport. I found it nice and light on the hills and you can pick up a decent speed on the flat.

My old favourite is the Boardman Team Carbon women's bike. I have ridden different incarnations of this bike since when they were first publicly on sale around 2010, and they have never failed to disappoint.  The latest version still has the same basic geometry, though with small tweaks to give comfort when riding long distances such as in a cyclosportive event or a long training ride. These are perfectly good bikes to race with as well.

Visually I like how this bike doesn't have any pink or flowers or anything girly about it, but everything in the form is female specific. Boardman have also managed to keep the cost well within the £1,000 mark (In fact it is currently retailing at £799, down from £999) so it can be purchased on the Cycle to Work scheme, meaning you only end up paying £400 for the bike. Now that's good value.

Liv Fluorish FS
Finally, I wanted to add in the Liv Flourish FS hybrid. I am always on the look-out for a nice sit-up-and-beg hybrid for when running errands or going on picnics. These bikes really make cycle riding a pleasure and I feel I can take life easy, and enjoy the environment around me.

What I particularly like about the Flourish FS is that although it looks like an old fashioned "Call the Midwife" bike, it has got a bit of performance, as city bikes go.

The frame is made from lightweight aluminium, there's a triple chain ring giving a choice of gears from the 21 speeds available, and the fork even has suspension, with 40mm of travel. Get you! Liv as a brand is not so well known in the UK, but just think Giant and that should give you a better idea of them. Liv is the women-specific arm of this well established name in bike gear, so you can't go wrong on quality. I look forward to seeing more of their gear in 2017.

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Thursday, 24 November 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 1

Happy Thanksgiving! Ok, so now I have paid deference to that great American tradition and the bun fight also known as Black Friday let's talk about things that mean more to me closer to home. Christmas - crikey it's just one month away.

The John Lewis advert is out, the lights are sparkling brightly on Oxford Street, so I can't get away from it, and neither can you dear reader. In case you're stuck, here are some ideas for your cycling (and even non-cycling) friends and family.

This is part 1 of a series so if you don't see anything you like today, there may be something tomorrow.

Protect your extremities

I love this Vulpine Merino collar. I had previously been making do with an old acrylic scarf. It does the job of keeping the breeze away from my neck and chest, so I can't complain too much. But the downside can be that if I put on a spurt when riding to work it can get a bit damp from my sweat.

Being 100% merino wool means that this neck cowl not only keeps me warm but keeps moisture away from my skin and feels soft on my chin.

I particularly like the subtle red one (which they call tangerine). It also comes in light grey (heather grey), dark grey (charcoal) and olive green.

One size

This goes nicely with the Vulpine Merino beanie, keeping your head and ears nice and toasty.

Once you've sorted out your upper extremities let's look at the lower part the body: your pinkies. These Block socks from Vulpine, also made from 100% Merino have stopped my pinkies from going numb last week, when we had temperatures around 5 degrees C.

The other thing is their striped collegiate design means they are also suitable to wear in the office environment. I like the navy, mandarine and charcoal colour scheme as it matches the neck cowl and the hat. But that's me being conservative. It's okay to go a little off piste with the other fine designs!

Sizes: S, M, L, XL

* Vulpine sent me the merino socks and the merino collar for review.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

10 Soundbites from....Shane Sutton at the Rouleur Classic

Last Thursday saw the start of the Rouleur Classic three-day extravaganza where the who's who of cycling turned out in London to meet and greet, press the flesh, talk about their year in cycling, reminiscing, regretting or refuting what they had done. As well as that, we were treated to lots of exhibitors showcasing their latest wares.

It was great to see at the same event folks like Sean Kelly, Christian Prudhomme and Jens Voigt alongside local biker folks that I hadn't seen for a while - Michelle from Total Women's Cycling, the guys from Eroica Britannia, and of course chief driver, Ian Cleverly.

We knew who would be on the bill for the main stage interviews, but it was quite a surprise when the interviewer for the evening, Ned Boulting, casually announced that former British Cycling Technical Director, Shane Sutton would be making an appearance.

Initially I thought it was a joke, but no it wasn't. He was there in the flesh, in the press room with lots of people around him, many of whom were very pleased to see him.

What he is alleged to have said to Jess Varnish and the other discriminatory comments he made sound shocking, but on the stage Sutton sounded like a broken man who had really been put through the mill and was trying to pick up his career. And, as we now know, he strongly denies the allegations and his legal team are appealing against the sexism ruling made by British Cycling. 
Here are the other things Shane Sutton said on-stage to Ned Boulting.

"When you look at the women I brought into the sport and the different dieticians, psychologists, etc... all that has brought success. That's why I will fight the sexism claim.

We should look at the successes of the athletes - the Froomes, Armitsteads etc..We are losing focus by going on about whether someone made a comment or not.

I'm not going to say I am perfect. Maybe in the past I did overstep the mark but over the years I have improved.

At British Cycling we had three key ingredients for our success: Great leadership in Dave Brailsford; great coaching; great talent. In 16 years on the coaching side I have never had any claims against me. I will fight to clear my name.

I did not tell Jess Varnish that she had a fat a*se or she should go away and have a baby. I wanna clear my name. I had a fantastic time at British Cycling and I will live to fight another day.

I've had a lot of dark nights, a lot of cigarettes but I have drawn strength from people supporting me - the girls and others at British Cycling. I want to thank the people at British Cycling who have supported me.

[In response to whether he has started drinking, following previous drinking problems]

It has been really tough and I really had to draw on my inner strength, and needed support around me. I've been clean for 13 years.

I'm not ready to stop working in biking yet. My ticker is red, white and blue - and I don't mean French! I've been part of the most successful team in the world, but I'm looking to do something where I can make a difference. I need to make sure my next job is right for me. Before I take on anything abroad I need to discuss things with my wife.

My stand-out memories in my career at British Cycling were: Vicky Pendleton's performance in Beijing [2008]. It was the first time I cried, knowing what she has been through. I also have really great memories about seeing Chris Hoy win in London [2012] during the Keirin ride. 

[In response to the question on what was in the medical package delivered to Team Sky during the Dauphine Libéré road race in 2011]

I don't know what was in the package. I suffer from Barrett's [oesophagus] so I was often having packages delivered to me when travelling so I don't really think about it. But I don't know anything about that package. There's only two people who know the answer to that question. I guess that will come out in the investigation."

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Monday, 31 October 2016

Bike Review: Raleigh Mustang Sport Gravel Bike

As we head into the winter months it is comforting to be out on a sturdy bike that can withstand adverse conditions such as early morning frost, extra debris on the roads, and something you can ride off piste if you decide to take short cuts through off-road sections; or even just something on which you can enjoy a leisurely winter off-road bike ride. This is where a gravel bike could be an option.

Since April I have been testing out the Raleigh Mustang Sport gravel bike. These are a relatively new breed of bike to the ever increasing range of bicycles that one can stock their garage with - and hopefully ride!

The gravel bike (also known as an adventure bike) is a cross between a cyclocross bike and a road bike. Some might it describe it in other ways, but basically it looks like a cross bike, but without the zippiness that you would want in a race, however it is very comfortable to be on for long rides.

That means that its sturdiness makes it a good bike to use when riding off-road or going cycle touring on trails. It is handy that the bike also has areas where you can mount a rack and mudguards - which is what I have taken to using on the bike lately.

I used the bike when I rode a series of routes along rail trails around the country, and also on longer rides such as on a route to Brighton from Guildford along the Down's Link and the South Downs Way. I also used the Mustang Sport to ride across the Transpennine Trail. The Mustang Sport even did a foray abroad, when I used it for a cycle tour to get to Paris, where part of the route went along the disused railway line from Dieppe to Forge-Les-Eaux known as Avenue Verte.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Raleigh Mustang Sport:

Although the Mustang Sport is happier off-road it performs perfectly well on tarmac. If you want to do extensive riding on-road it may be better to use something like Land Cruisers which are tough and can deal with some less rugged off-road sections. Some of my rides were on tarmac and I rode with the Schwalbe CX Comp tyres that came with the bike.  On these tarmacked sections the Mustang Sport was fairly unchallenged and rolled along smoothly along. Carbon forks as well as the tyres provided good dampening when I went over some cobbled sections such as areas of Hull Old Town, or down the Champs Elysees in Paris. 

When on trails such as the Hudson Way between Beverley and Market Weighton, or the Tissington Trail in the Peak District the Mustang Sport was really in its element on these gravelly trails which had a few sections of single track. the bike held the paths well and steering was smooth and responsive when maneuvering through narrow sections. 

On the muddier, boggier sections such as when I rode on the trail between Scarborough and Whitby  the Mustang knew how to get through it, and having disc brakes meant that there was very good clearance between the frame and the tyres. So I didn't have to worry about the bike getting clogged up. I just had to worry about the big clean-up when I got home!

You have the option to buy the bike set up with tubeless tyres  on the Mustang Sport, though I didn't choose this option. I must admit I  am not so familiar with these and don't trust myself to fitting them properly. I think in future I would put these on as you will have one less thing to think about when it comes to tyre pressures and punctures. In any case the clincher tyres I had worked well and they held their pressures well. 

On my ride to Brighton via the Downs Link with the Mustang Sport I decided to leave this trail in search for a bit more of a challenge - so in my wisdom I took the South Downs Way. Now this is probably the thin end of the wedge in terms of what the Mustang Sport will take. There are long sections of grass on the downs, which is completely fine for the bike. However, there is a fair share of steep rugged single track. The great thing was the gears were low enough for me to get up these 18-20% hills, but the bike was definitely challenged on the descent. It was very much a bone-shaker and the disc brakes squeaked quite a lot. The Mustang Sport endured the 10 mile-section that I rode, but I think it would be you, rather than the bike that would give up the ghost first if you intended doing the full 100 miles of the South Downs Way! I am sure the bike would be fine for a short section - in the same way that people do the Three Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales on their cyclocross bikes. Just make sure to use bomb-proof tyres, and keep your body in tip-top condition!

In my opinion the Raleigh Mustang Sport is a good option for multi-terrain rides particularly if you are not a speed merchant. It is heavier than some cyclocross bikes, but that makes it a sturdy option on all surfaces.

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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Can-do girls - Delia conquers Three Peaks Cyclocross

It's that time of year when cyclists indulge in wacky racing over muddy fields, through woodland, in sandpits, jumping over hurdles, and sometimes climbing up flights of steps with their bikes slung over their shoulders. You've guessed it - cyclocross is back on again.

So this month's Can-do girl features none other than local hard nut racer, Delia Beddis of Vicious Velo, champion of the Three Peaks Cyclocross challenge. Hailing from Otley, the same town as that other women's cycling champion, Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead) Delia isn't satisfied with the traditional cyclocross races that are completed in barely forty-five minutes. What really gets her out of bed is flying up and over the big peaks of the Yorkshire Dales - Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen y Ghent, one after the other with her bike in "the hardest cyclocross race in the world."  

That means a distance of 61km (33km being on mountain trails), 1500m of climbing, and about 4 hours of racing for Delia, though probably more like 6 hours for us lesser mortals including myself, if I even try it at all! The Three Peaks cyclocross race is definitely one for the bucket list, but I must say that I find it one of the scariest races on the sporting calendar. Running a marathon or doing an Ironman triathlon are things I would tackle first as my preparation for this monument of cycling athleticism! I therefore have massive admiration for Delia who has done this race no fewer than four times, and been the winning woman on two of those occasions. Chapeau! (or maybe even Flat cap as they might say oop North!) 

So here's a bit about this challenge in Delia's own words.  

I've done the Three Peaks four times now. The first one wasn't too great and the second was the infamous year of torrential rain when unfortunately I crashed out. Things got better after that.

I won the race for the first time in 2013. It was the third time I was doing it. Most importantly, my Dad and I won the 'Parent / Child' competition that year and we got a bike rack for our efforts! 

I'm not made for top-end speed so I like a long gruelling race. Also, if you're half decent at running you can get a good result. It's such a great atmosphere and it's near my proper home in Otley so I'm fairly used to the terrain. That's why I keep coming back!

The terrain on the Yorkshire Dales is totally different from a normal cross race. That can be a shock to the system for most people when they race it for the first time. It varies between each peak. Ingleborough is like moorland and can be a bit boggy on the tops; Whernside is more rocky with steps - the limestone slabs on the descent make for good riding especially with disc brakes. Pen Y Ghent is more like a trail but still tough to get up especially near the summit.  

I try to dovetail my Three Peaks training with road racing in the summer. I use the road to build up some endurance but start to layer in some walking and running from May/June to remind my legs how to do it. Slow and steady build up is the best way to avoid injuries. I generally stop road racing around July to focus on Peaks endurance. I then do mountain biking and running uphill with the bike as much as possible. 

I don't get to do as much training as I would like in the Dales. This year I only managed one training weekend at home so the rest of my training is done down in Kent. There's no substitute for riding up in the Dales and getting used to the terrain and the conditions though. Even things like knowing how to shoulder the bike into a strong wind really helps. I did get some harsh weather practice in the west of Ireland this summer, which was good prep!

The course is bumpy but different to the cobbled classics. The longest parts with bumpy descents are Whernside and Pen Y Ghent. Whernside is okay once you relax into it. If you're too tense then it can hurt a lot and you're more likely to crash. I usually find that Pen Y Ghent is a great, fast descent but I was in pieces by that point this year so it felt very bumpy. I hadn't eaten enough so blew big time on the final climb. 

How to reduce shocks to the body? I've been working with my coach Jo McRae on core conditioning and weights this year, which has been a big help for taking the bumps and being able to recover afterwards. Other than that, I try not to get too tense on the bike.  

I rode a Giant TCX Advanced Pro this year and I love it! It was fitted with Land Cruiser tyres because they're like tractor tyres, so low risk of punctures. 

I don't make any significant changes to my bike for the race. Disc brakes help but I did a better time in 2013 on cantilever brakes! Some people put tubing on their bike for when shouldering [carrying the bike] but I don't think there's any need. I just don't use a bottle cage so that it can sit correctly. 

The time I did it in this year wasn't my best and was well down on what I was hoping for. It started well and I was happy after the first two peaks until I realised I was running on empty. I knew that riders like Verity Appleyard were strong, and in a panic to try to save time I didn't eat as planned at the top of each climb. I totally blew apart on Pen Y Ghent and everything from there on was a bit of a blur! I am still really happy to have got the win though, and there was a great atmosphere in the pub at the end. Mark Richmond, who has taken on the mantle of managing the Three Peaks from John Rawnsley is doing a great job. 

My tactic was to go as fast as I could uphill and keep going faster downhill, then time trial the road sections. 

Some people switch to racing on a road bike on the tarmac sections and then get back on their cross bike on the off-road trails but I think it's a bit of a faff to be honest. It takes a lot of time to plan where helpers will be and I don't like the idea of something going wrong. There are limits on the tyre width that you can use so there's minimal advantage in switching bikes. So I just try to keep it simple! 

You've probably guessed that the toughest part for me was Pen Y Ghent! I just had to dig in really hard even though I was seeing stars! I got through by drinking Coca Cola and Lucozade offered by some friendly supporters and racers, just so that I could get some much-needed sugar. 

Starting up at the front makes a really big difference as you don't get stuck in the bottlenecks. If I do get stuck, my general tactic is to get my elbows out and shout as loud as I can. I'm not a very nice person when I'm in race mode! 

I didn't crash or have any mechanicals this year. My boyfriend Mark and my Dad were my support crew and everything was seamless as ever!

My most memorable moment from any edition of the Three Peaks was in 2013 when I won, and seeing my Dad at the car park in the end. I think that achievement paled in comparison to anything else I've done in his eyes. Sorry is that a bit soppy?

I have had an extended break since doing the Three Peaks because I'm doing an assessment for work. I need to get my head back into it now and start training for the National Trophies, so will probably target the latter part of the season. I'll see how things go. 
Photo by John Mullineaux

I'd love to go further up on the podium at the National Championships. [Delia came third behind Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman at the 2016 Championships.] However, it's such a competitive field these days!

I'll race in Belgium though, with my ViCiOUS VELO team mates this winter. There's a block of races around Christmas and New Year that are great fun. I'm nowhere compared to the pros but racing at that level really brings me on. 

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