Thursday, 31 December 2009


For many people today, tonight and tomorrow will be a period of reflection and will involve the process of looking back, forward to assess the year gone and the year ahead. No doubt if we had a list of 5, one is bound to be unrealistic and the rest within the realms of possibility.

But as a cyclist there any many points within the year that enable the self assessment. Winter in itself is a great time to draw a picture of where you are and where you want to be. The process of training, recording and looking at data is a viable way of moving forward with some tangible results, whether positive or negative. After the cold dark months of Winter and when Spring is still a little around the corner the first Race/Ride against your peers is the next point of reflection. After the hours of training you finally have a real world measure to gauge yourself against.

Depending on when your season starts, and ends, the mid season is the third point where goals are checked, re-evaluated and adjusted. For many people it also echoes a break in intensity in their riding. If you have a family this maybe already chosen for you in the guise of a Summer holiday, don't resent it but embrace it. You'll come back rested and gagging to get back on the bike. For the PRO rider splitting the season into chunks is the only way to hit 'form' and achieve goals throughout the year.

The fourth point is the end of the season. Balance I feel is the best approach here. No point in being too negative, while also at the same time it is highly important to be honest with ones self. Many start thinking about next year then. To a degree I do, but I always wait until January to think about which rides I'd like to do. Then before you know it we are back at the end/beginning of the New Year.

So what am I planning, or what am I looking to resolve. So being a firm believer in the need for goals and having something to aim for here is my list. Like many time and money and the balance of work and family life all need to be considered.

  1. Spend more time riding in Belgium. Not sure exactly how this is going to pan out. Whether it'll be one big trip or a series of some long weekends. What I do know is I like the people and the roads are my idea of heaven.
  2. Lose that 6 kg that is killing me on the climbs. I'm never going to be a Twiggo, but a little lighter will be better.
  3. Spend more time riding with my family. This at times will be frustrating, as it won't be this or that; but what it will be is quality time put into the investment bank of friendship and love. I would loved to have gone riding with my parents as a kid, I can't rob my children of that memory.
  4. Sort a Summer commuting bike out. Don't really want to ride the S2 to work, but I'd like to have a lighter machine compared to my Winter Surly.
  5. Blog more. I haven't written enough this year, but will try to write more regularly.
  6. Get in touch with friends I have lost contact with. This is a whole Pandora's box of possible good and bad experiences.

Here's to a great 2010, on a whole 2009 has been a great year, Best Wishes to you.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Traditions and Rules

Folks welcome to the 21st century. I sit somewhere between enjoying and observing the 'rules of the road' and at times struggling with the constraints that they bring. I am all for road etiquette, pointing out road furniture, pot holes and not blowing snot on your fellow riders. But in regards to clothing the old rules have passed away and a new free form expression needs to be embraced, by one and all, regardless is you decide to follow it.

Once upon a time all road shoes were black and socks were white. Sometime in the mid eighties this all started to change, no doubt spurred along by the new clipless technology. Companies like Castelli and Assos changed the way PRO's and cyclists the world over wore jerseys and shorts. Sub-lamenation and lycra had a massive effect on the apparel industry encouraging manufacturers to look beyond their normal supply chains for new and exciting fabrics. The Ski industry must receive a doffed cap as important changes like the Look pedal and the Assos short come from that sport.

Shoe makers looked for new materials to create lighter and better drying shoes fr their Elite athletes. Although leather is a fantastic option traditional leathers where heavy and highly absorbent (Kangaroo skin is favoured these days if using leather). Lorica was new, an artificial leather but with all the correct attributes that the shoe companies were looking for; lightweight, faster drying, less prone to sun fade and less stretch. Whether the two are intertwined or fashion helped dictate it also but it seemed as Lorica became popular so did the emergence of coloured shoes.


In the nineties socks no longer 'had to be White'. Teams tied the colour of the socks in with the rest of the uniforms allowing a flowing look from head to foot. Lance Armstrong is highly credited to the wearing of black socks. While this isn't entirely true as other PRO cyclists donned this look before him, he was (and I think still is) the only reining Tour de France champion to do so. Since his recent come back I can't think of an occasion when I haven't seen him wearing the black sock/shoe combo.


With the absence of rules, in regards to clothing, there are no rights or wrongs. Bike snobbery, is at best unpleasant, at worst damaging as it removes freedom of expression and creativity which may be absent from the riders 'normal life'.

Bicycles should be about liberation and for a couple of hours being able to forget the 'normal life' and not have to comply to a whole set of other rules. Maybe I'm always looking for that freedom I experienced as a 9 year old boy, and on a good ride still manage to find. Oh and for the record I like white shoes but never white socks.


Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Calendar

Like any important date on the calendar the expectation that comes before Christmas can surpass the event itself sometimes. Maybe this is why before racing people get so nervous & need to pee a lot, & in some cases puke.

It's difficult not to apply the same build up while approaching a major event cycling wise as you can to Christmas; be it Flanders, the Etapé or the club 10. As important & special these events are would they benefit from a slighty more relaxed build up, and allowing the day to unfold?

Nerves & anticipation produce one positive side effect, adrenalin. The fight or flight instinct kicks in & the first part of any race/ride could be run on this alone. But like a sugar spike the loss of adrenalin in the system feels harsh & cruel once depleted. Caffeine & any energy product helps feed the system ready for the next attack and the bodies next fix of natural highs.

I'm looking forward to not only my first time on the bike in over three weeks but next year. Already I will be facing new challenges & old. New sportives, some enduro Mtb and Crit racing seemed to have crept onto the calendar for next year. I'm looking forward to the challenges and the Highs & Lows that come with it.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sugoi Walaroo 290 Winter Hat, IMO

When I saw this product in the Spring I knew that when we had them in stock I'd have to buy one. I couldn't have predicted that we'd be sold out by mid September and initially I thought I'd missed out. With more orders placed I had to wait until they arrived, with the temperatures dropping it couldn't arrive soon enough.

Rapha revived this hat which had it's last bastions in the cycling hinterlands of Belgium and Italy. There hats of this guise are common place, although internet searches don't throw up many results but go to any cross race in Winter or the Spring Classics and you will see plenty.

Much like the Rapha Winter Hat this one from Sugoi uses Merino Wool. Where it instantly scores higher is in the bulk department. It's thinner so making under the helmet use a lot easier, while at the same time retaining the required style elements for those who prefer not to ride with a Helmet. Colour options come from the Henry Ford pantone book, and I'd like to see some colour options, red, white and blue would be welcome.

So this Winter Hat does it's job nicely. It keeps the head and ears warm while not boiling the head. One size fits most with only the very small or large heads not being catered for. It is low bulk item and has survived multiple washes. This bodes well for a longevity test and because of this I throughly recommend you get one. The best bit, it can be all yours for around £20.

Vredestein, V for Victory - Part Two

Vredestein for many people is a tyre brand that doesn't come into the equation when making a choice for some new rubber. In my world of tyre snobbery I don't take manufacturers seriously unless they make tubs. That statement may seem crazy in the light that I choose not to ride tubs, well it's a bit overkill unless your racing these days. But the reason this is a good measure is that if they make good tubs, generally they will make excellent clinchers. Adding weight to this argument just look at the two big players Continental and Vittoria. Both make fantastic clinchers because of what they know about tubs, although the process is different. I have ridden two recently the first being the Fortezza TriComp Slick and most recently the Fiammante DuoComp.

This winter I decided to take a break from the trusty winter tyres of the last few years. Namely these have been the Vittoria Open Pave and the Continetal GP 4Season. Both of these are expensive crap weather options but both have proved incredibly reliable, which is what you need when going to work or riding in the cold of Winter. Lets face it none of us like changing tubes at the best of times and frankly its a pain in the arse when our hands are cold (and its normally raining), its not my idea of fun. So I decided to go cheaper this year and opt for the Fiammante.

First thing I noticed taking the tyres out of the box was that they were more supple than I was expecting. Fitting the tyres to the wheel you could feel that there was some extra rubber on the sidewalls which should improve protection against flints and small stones which is a problem in this area. Getting the last part of the bead of the tyre over the rim was a pain to say the least and some choice words were used. I put this in part down to the tyre and the wheel, which was a Fulcrum. Being from the Campagnolo family I am not surprised that they were tough as the tolerances are very tight on the rim.

So to the riding. I have been impressed with suppleness of the tyre, considering its price. It doesn't feel like completely like a Race tyre, but it does share some traits. Cornering was inspiring even in the wet, much better than the FTCS previously tested. I was curious to see how the tread would hold up as I went for the red/black option and was hoping that it would wear okay. I've had them on since November with no real issues until recently. Since the snow, ice and frost it has left many a road in a pretty bad state. This pushed the tyres to the limit and yes I have had a couple of punctures.

Would a more expensive tyre been able to withstand the shoddy roads we are left with, well in this case I have to answer a resounding YES. I have been out on my 'Best Bike' and they are currently shod with Fortezza TriComps. Even when I went through areas that I have previously punctured on I had nothing, but that is another review. I put it in part down to the two things that make a better tyre, higher tpi and better quality compound, these enable a tyre to hold out against those determined bits of flint/stone that seem determined to ruin your ride.

Are they a good Winter tyre, well Yes and No. I think in normal weather I probably could have used them all winter long and only taken them off when Spring arrived. The harsh conditions of January expose any weakness in a tyre and the Fiammantes is that it needs better protection. In truth the FTCS offered simple stunning protection as I used them right up till the end of October. Bizarrely I had only one puncture on those tyres and arguably those tyres are completely wrong for me. Okay I appreciate that those tyres cost a heap more than the Fiammantes, but I would expect that puncture protection SHOULD be at the top of the list when selecting features.

So the search goes on for a cheap bombproof Winter Tyre. Until I find one I will still be investing in the expensive options that deliver time and time again. I am sure that if Vredestein really concentrated they could make a kick arse tyre, they can do it at the high end both on clinchers and tubs. Maybe they need to drop a tyre and make one at this price point that would totally wow me, now that would be exciting.

3 Tips

Coming up to the holiday season always draws a host of lists and reflections on the year. So to go with the flow and jump on the bandwagon I'll post some of mine which are all pulled directly from the University of Life.

No1. Emergency Tyre Boots
Don't you just love a gift that keeps on giving? You can buy a couple of commercial solutions to this need, and when it happens you've normally had the crap scared out of you, but I am going to offer a couple of other solutions. When a sidewall goes it certainly makes a bang. Duct Tape, the stuff is legendary and will work. If you ride on roads with a poor surface it is highly recommended to have some stashed on the bike. Like any self respecting road geek the real question is not of use but where to put it so the bike still looks stunning. My tip is under the saddle. You can use various methods to attach and it will depend slightly on what saddle you have. The second option I had forced on me while I was on a ride in the Spring. The sidewall had gone and I was stuck by the side of the road wondering how I was going to get home (home was 20km away). Then it came to me, I reached round into my back pocket and consumed the contents of my gel packet. Once I had done this I took my keys to split the pack and Voila a makeshift Tyre Boot to get me home. Did it work, YES, but trust me on the Duck Tape, it works much better.

No2. Embrocation
When the cold hits its easy to leave the tub/tube of hot stuff alone and save it only for days when you have your legs exposed. From my experience you'll be missing out on a whole extra layer of protection in Winter. There isn't a perfect tight out there, one that can be used in all conditions so using some warming product on the legs adds another barrier to the elements. It will help in the cold and the wet and allows you to pedal for that bit longer. The other benefit, and for me the really important one, is that your muscles are colder and shorter in Winter due to the weather. Adding a layer and massaging it in increases blood flow and limits the chances of damaging the legs. Try it out, I know the difference in not following this method. BTW if you use a bib tight with a chamois, remember creme first and balm second, not the other way around.

No3. Extremity Wear
Gloves, socks, hats and overshoes all come in options for every season. I can't recommend highly enough that you amass as wide a collection for the multiple riding conditions you'll face through the year. As a rule I'd recommend that you get options in the following categories Windproof, Thermal, Waterproof and Lightweight, but the trick is to apply these rules for all of the riding seasons. Spring and Fall will be the same, Winter requires a bit more ammo and Summer has it's own problems. Have this in mind next time you buy and you won't end up with three of the same type but you'll have a wardrobe full of useful kit.