a non-race

a non-race

I wasn’t racing.  If I was – single speed V mountain bike – would be a good match.  The MTB had slicks and gears, lots of them.  I had 1 gear but narrow tyres with trick Mavic hubs and 35mm deep rims – those wheels fly (I think I’ve bored on about them already).

As we left the office together, the guy from my office on the red mountain bike and I didn’t discuss the ‘race-that-wasn’t happening’.  We didn’t have to.  It was on. I was confident.

Naked, in the office showers last week he’d proudly announced he’d kept up with me all the way from Priory Lane. I hadn’t realised I was being followed.  I recognised him in his cycle helmet now.

Down potholed, rutted and pedestrian strewn Cornhill, I’m happy to let him lead, until the lights at the infamous Bank crossroads, draw alongside, wobbly track-standing as the lights counted down, avoiding eye contact.  On the ‘G’ of the green light I’m gone.  Covering the ground super quick to the next set of red lights 50 yards ahead, then the next and then the next.  Stopping at each.  My track stand is improving.  Red MTB is next to me again.

Queen Victoria Street, left onto White Lion Hill, a perfect right hand bend with a rampart leading down to the Embankment, you can pick up some speed but at the foot of the rampart there’s a tricky junction with a choice: stop (brakes on hard), look, listen.  Or hit the inside of the two lanes at speed.  Hopefully faster than the oncoming traffic, keeping out in front.

The Embankment Super Cycle Highway isn’t very super today.  I join a queue of slow moving bikes.  Overtaking is a squeeze, risk pulling past a Boris Bike it could be too late to see the oncoming Hipster with no lights.  I practice patience.  Red MTB will be held up too.

It’s dangerously dark.  Visibility is limited, headlights glare on my glasses, cyclists pass in and out of shadows but as I wait at Parliament Square I clearly see Red MTB jump the kerb and get ahead of the 30-strong stationary cyclists.  He can cheat if he wants.  It’s about to get fast. He’s not.

The trick is to get through just one of the many set of red lights ahead of Red MTB.  Easier said than done.  At each red light, I draw up to and wait, look back nonchalantly.  Each time as the lights turn, Red MTB sails through, whilst I power up back up to speed.  We leap frog from Westminster to Chelsea.

No matter how hard I push, legs milling around, wheels jumped on I couldn’t get away.  It’s a familiar feeling.  Factors outside of my control constraining and halting my progress.  At least it was only pre-programmed traffic light sequencing rather than someone deciding to knock my house down to build a runway.  Or move my job to mainland Europe post BREXIT.  That might still happen. 

No sign of Red MTB through Parsons Green.  He might have gone through Chelsea Village.  Or I’ve got ahead. At last.  Over Putney Bridge I get caught by the lights at the last moment.  Re MTB arrives just as they turn back green, predictably.  It starts again, from scratch.  All that’s left is the Lower Richmond Road.  I gun it, give it everything.

Inevitably the lights onto Upper Richmond Road West are red. Inevitably Red MTB draws up just as the lights turn green, he squeezes to the left of the traffic I go right and get boxed in.  I race alongside, round, in between crawling traffic to regain ground.  Back at Priory Lane Red MTB is nearly wiped out as a car turns across him, he scrapes through a narrow gap.  I must wait until my path is clear of cars jumping the lights.

The ride was not an analogy.  It was just life.  The more I thought about life’s ironies, of control by unseen forces, of lack of results versus effort, the further ahead Red MTB got.  The red lights had levelled the playing field.  Any advantage I had was negated, any effort expended unrewarded.  Corbyn would approve.

400m to home. Buses pulling in / out. Cars gridlocked.  Traffic lights poised to turn red again.  As I turn off for home I think I’m ahead. But can’t be sure.

(NB. No red lights were jumped in the making by of this non-race (by me at least)).

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when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

For no good reason, I decided to deviate from my usual route home.  Have you ever taken a wrong turn and instead of turning back you won’t/don’t make a U-Turn – you plough on regardless? Stubbornly making things worse when a quick pride swallowing U-Turn now could limit the damage.

Instead of riding home along the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, I went sightseeing, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to see St Paul’s Cathedral at dusk.  I don’t know the roads well.  It started going wrong as I dodged pedestrians and traffic down Ludgate Hill, waited for slow traffic lights to cross Farringdon Street and on to Fleet Street.

Ignoring the danger signs, I struggled through closely squeezed, crawling traffic, red tail lights glaring, narrow gaps between cars.  The value of Sterling down 20% since the Referendum.  I could’ve cut left down onto the Embankment but I’d gone this far, with the Pound at is lowest value against the US Dollar since the mid-1980s, an easy change of direction seemed like whimsically leaving the casino early.

It felt lonely on the Strand, 1 bicycle struggling to survive amongst the bigger, stronger cars, vans, trucks.  Most cyclists are likely on the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, which is not without its risks or difficulties but is significantly more sensible than trying to go it alone between the Australia House and Somerset Houses. I was on my own.

Waterloo Bridge offered me an escape route. Straight on regardless, heading for a Hard BREXIT.  Instead I chose getting caught out by unfamiliar traffic flows and being blocked by kamikaze pedestrians launching off pavements as I track-stood and scooted through Theatre Land.

I hit Trafalgar Square and the weight of my wilful selection of the hard way home hit me, disorientated, worn down, frustrated.  Inflation rising to 1%, nowhere near a historical high but the highest month on month rise since June 2014 and forecast to hit 3% next year.  When Inflation hits 2% that’s when incomes are felt to be falling in real terms, with an upwards squeeze on the cost of living – mostly food, clothing and other household goods.  It hits the lowest income families first and hardest.  EU Referendum analysis suggests they wilfully volunteered.

From Buckingham Palace, I found myself at Victoria, then roughly headed South West, I wasn’t lost per se but making it up as I went along.  Battling to dissect lines of traffic, repeatedly putting myself at risk.  Cutting across the flow, rather than going smoothly with it.  I had no plan.

Admittedly, there was some fun, adventure, drama, challenge to be had in my divergence.  But it wasn’t rewarding fun, adventure, drama, challenge.  There were a lot better things I could be doing with my time and energies rather than taking the long way home on a pointless, tortuous, self-inflicted journey.

Best not mention Marmite.

golden past

golden past

It feels like the end of the world. Painful early. Dark. Rain lashing. Last weekend it was early, not dark, cold but sharpening under the pristine clear skies.  This morning’s ride doesn’t have much going for it.  At least the clocks haven’t gone back yet, that’s when winter bites down hard.  

Dom ‘Daisy’ Jones is waiting impatiently outside, I made him wait last weekend too as I wrestled cycling shoes into lightweight overshoes, just to keep the chill out.  This week I’m late again – the kids wanted Strictly Come Dancing on iPlayer just as I was leaving – I can’t fix that and wrestle cycling shoes into heavy duty overshoes (waterproof and fleece lined).  Dom’s unimpressed.

The overshoes aren’t waterproof.  Neither is my waterproof jacket.  Last weekend I didn’t wear a jacket, a thin gilet over my jersey, it was a bit on the cold side but nothing a hard pull on the front to warm up couldn’t fix.  My waterproof gloves are holding up.  Even so I’m not looking forward to the next 3 hours.  My phone is vibrating with cancellations, that or the torrential rains have already got to it and it’s shorting out in my jersey pocket.

We’re on a familiar route except riding it in a different direction too usual, just to mix the Sunday morning ride up a bit.  The novelty is lost on us as the rain gets heavier, visibility through my misted, raindrop blinded glasses is minimal.  It’s that or receive a shower of gritty spray in my eyes.  Last week I was wearing sunglasses to keep the bright early morning sunshine out of my eyes. 

We’re grinding out of Epsom, no one’s saying much, at Headley we head down Lodgebottom Road, a narrow country lane.  Last week it was magical, our path cossetted by pristine frosted fields, so enchanting that I forgot about how cold it was.  This week the road is so wet that the streams on its surface are overtaking us as we tentatively negotiate through the slimy autumnal leaf litter, horse chestnut husks and small brown balls fallen from the trees everywhere, marble like under tyres keep us on edge. Last week…

I stopped.  Stopped thinking about the past.  Stopped living in the past.  Focused on now.  Concentrated on today’s gritty, sodden ride not a rose tinted view of the past rides. 

We do that in Great Britain: think of the past as a golden utopia.  Once we had an Empire where the sun never set, where noble Brits were feared, revered and most importantly foreigners did what they were told.  That’s gone.  The World has moved on whilst us British have struggled to do the same.

It’s dangerous to live in the past, let erroneous memories guide current decision making.  I need to slow down on this descent, take the corner cautiously.  It’s not last week when I’m pretty sure I took it a whole lot faster.

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only human

only human

Never meet your Heroes.  You can’t avoid it when the ex-Heavy Weight Champion of the World is in a lift in your office building.  Big Frank Bruno was going up whilst our biggest cycling hero Bradley Wiggins is going down.  Frank Bruno provided some of the most vivid sporting memories of my childhood, to say I was shocked to be shaking his hand is an understatement.  Shocked about Wiggo’s TUEs?  No.

Wiggo’s story is changing almost as often as he changed gears on the way to his 2012 Tour de France victory.  The UK media love building up homegrown sporting heroes, almost as much as they like knocking them down. They did it to Frank Bruno.  Whilst he’s not broken any rules (that we know of…yet) they’ve got Sir Bradley firmly in their sights.

Put aside his too convenient use of TUEs, timed to coincide with his 3 big Grand Tour attempts, that ‘no needles’ in his autobiography meant ‘not those kind of needles’, what does it say about our sporting heroes?  It says we put them on a pedestal from which the only way is down.

There isn’t much difference between Team SKY and Armstrong’s US Postal.  They both ride at a tempo that can destroy the peloton and they both employed institutionalised doping. The difference? Team SKY did it within the rules.

This puts Wiggins TUEs in a different light.  When your employer tells you to do something how often have you said – No?  If you’re offered the chance of promotion, a pay rise in return for doing something that doesn’t quite feel right – it takes a brave and courageous person to say no.  Wiggo was just doing his job.  He’s just has to ride the bike.  He’s no doctor.  It was his colleagues at SKY that were responsible for his preparation.

What does it say about our athletes? Complicit Robots? Naïve Robots?  Or just supremely hardworking, dedicated and genetically superior employees.  Elite athletes are just like us then. Human. Employees. They may achieve super human feats (by fair means or foul) but they’re just doing their jobs.

Hard work and dedication can achieve great things (in sport).  We shouldn’t expect more or put athletes on pedestals if we don’t like it when they fall back down to earth.

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don’t blame dave

don’t blame dave

If it’s too good to be true. It probably is. I had 3 rides planned on consecutive days. My crankset fell apart in mile 1 of ride 1. Following the Fancy Bears’ TUE hack the wheels have fallen off the Team SKY Deathstar.

STOP. It’s easy for us to get on the moral high ground. What would we do? Professional cycling is cut throat. It always has been. Read any history of the Tour de France. Without so much money in the form of advertising at stake, then the decision to bend the rules wouldn’t be so inevitable.

Why are we surprised?

Sir David Brailsford (then just plain Dave) after convincing his financial backers (SKY) that they would profit richly from a CLEAN British Rider winning the Tour de France for the 1st time had to deliver. Once Sir Dave got under the skin, immersed himself in the world of professional road cycling did he find it opaque, dirty, tawdry? Tough. He had to be successful. You think Rupert Murdoch would allow for anything else?

I don’t know the ins and outs of professional cycling. It’s a guess, having sold the Clean Team Dream Sir Dave had a choice – WIN with:

A) a clean team;

B) an unclean team;

C) a team that rode unclean legally.

We know he chose ‘C’ and called it Marginal Gains. He talked bespoke mattresses for riders and cooling down on rollers post-race he didn’t talk about the use of banned steroids with an accompanying TUE. He didn’t make the rules and he didn’t break the rules.

He did make the choice to take the ethically questionable option, the one that when it inevitably comes out looks dodgy, doesn’t feel right, undermines the Team SKY brand. That will hurt Sir Dave the most. He’s talked about Team SKY being a brand as recognizable as Barcelona FC. He’s not there yet as Teflon brands like Barcelona FC shake off the mud. The Team SKY brand is badly tainted. Less for the usage of PEDs more for their cyclical actions and hypocritical rhetoric.

I don’t blame Sir Dave. I don’t blame the spectators. Race Organisers create sensational parcours – 2 ascents of Alpe D’Huez twice in 1 day – to attract mega global TV audiences for the advertisers that bankroll the sport. They raise the stakes. They make professional cycling win at all costs. Whatever the price. The irony is that when the inconvenient PED truth comes out the brand premium of all involved in cycling is eroded.

How to stop drugs in sport? Stop watching. Get out and ride. (With or without a Doctors Note).

cycling the less obvious

The world faces many problems and believe it or not, cycling cannot solve them all.  UK Government policy regarding cycling is focused on keeping cyclists safe, which is a good thing of course but does seem to generate negative tension between cyclists and the rest of the human race. How to solve that?

A good start would be to make more humans cyclists?  Why would you want to do that? This maybe tenuous, scientifically unproven but a human that cycles is a happier human. Why?  Scientific research has probably proven that they’re fitter, healthier, explore more, socialize more, have more fun.

Don’t believe me?  Don’t see the benefits to the human race? With 1 case study I can’t prove it but here’s a great cycling story to warm the heart of cycling humans and maybe some that don’t.

My 65-year-old father clocks up more mileage in a week on his bicycle than I do. I have to take his word for it as he doesn’t know how to use the Garmin bike computer I gave him to record his rides. And there you have it, the old boy rides his bike for fun and the social life not PBs and post ride analysis.  It wasn’t always this way. His early retirement was spent buying stuff he didn’t need from LiDL, being nagged around the house by mother and itching to open the bottle of wine at 11am in the morning.

Maybe it was being an enthusiastic (if rarely in the right place) support driver for the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s forays into Europe or simply fed up with being trapped in the house and made to do mundane chores, whatever the reason he joined his local Cycling Touring Club.  Now he’s out on his bike 2 days a week and at the weekend with his new bike friends, or ‘old farts’ as they affectionately refer to themselves.

As far as I can tell the routes for their rides are largely dictated by the locations of coffee shops and pubs and with no time commitments, why shouldn’t they be? They navigate by vague memory and something called a ‘map’. They don’t dream of carbon race bikes or shaving off weight with a carbon seat post. No, they want steel Audax style bikes with a triple although according to Dad, his NBFF*‘Old Charley-boy’, who’s 80 has built his own frame and says you only ever need a single speed and he’s officially the fastest up ‘what’s-its name hill’ in the whole County!

That’s all well and good.  Yes, my father is looking healthier and fitter than he has done for years, in less than 12 months the transformation in the old boy is astonishing, he’s lost weight, drinks less (well starts later in the day). The best bit is that I don’t have to listen to the him telling me about the deal of the week at LiDL, instead he is brimming with enthusiastic stories about his cycling adventures with Old Charley-boy and the other old farts.

Solutions are not always linear.  An answer can be like a good bike ride with twists, turns and maybe a few dead ends, often heading in a direction that doesn’t make sense until you arrive.  The NHS is at breaking point in part due to caring for an ageing population leading unhealthy lifestyles.  Were the government to stop automatically giving pensioners free bus passes and instead provide vouchers to purchase new bikes not only would they reduce their long term bus pass outlay they would stimulate cycling related retail, encourage pensioners to take-up cycling which would encourage good health, reduce the number of vehicles on the road, save the planet, make roads a safer place to cycle whilst reducing the burden on the NHS.  More humans cycling – whatever their age – can help solve more than just our obvious cycling problems.

(*NBFF: New Bike Friend Forever)

political sludge keeps us riding

political sludge keeps us riding

September 2016 was a personal milestone. I turned 40.  What long seemed impossible, was always inevitable.  The mountain I’d built in my path turned out to be a gentle ripple.  The world didn’t stop and my legs are still spinning my pedals.  My monument isn’t the only Impossible that has become the Inevitable.  It was impossible that the UK would vote for BREXIT.  It was impossible that the Labour party vote the unelectable Corbyn as their leader twice.  It’s impossible that the US will vote for Trump. Isn’t it…?

Cycling past the Houses of Parliament I wonder what’s happening in Western Democracies? The accepted wisdom is that these are protest votes by the electorate to give the political establishment a bloody nose.  If this is true then it is a high risk strategy.  This means does not necessarily justify the end.  The results to date are that the UK has voted to exit the EU without a clearly defined exit strategy i.e. a vote for the unknown.  Labour has voted for a leader (and entourage) that is stuck in a 1970s time-warp to regain their party’s socialist heritage i.e. 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.  The USA is quite possibly going to vote for Braggadocious Lunatic instead of an experienced politician because she represents corrupt Washington and he represents the anti-establishment and offers no nonsense change (according to Trump himself).

If this a strange and worrying state of affairs why has no one done anything to stop it? In a globalised ever-changing world politicians are the very slow to change.  In the UK we’ve long been stuck in a political sludge, with just two established political parties of two extremes. The Left and the Right.  The vast majority of us are not similarly polarised.  Love him or loathe him, Tony Blair understood this and created New Labour that in the early days was as close to everything for everyone as you can be.

Why is no one filling the gaping void now?  Our politicians are stuck in a binary inertia. When Apple, Facebook, Google have gone from small tech-start ups to Global Super Powers in a relatively short time, why can’t a new political party(ies) make themselves legitimate in a similarly short responsive time frame?

Why hasn’t Hilary sought to distance herself from being a full-paid up member of the Washington elite?  Maybe she can’t or would be even less trusted if she did but it must be easier to convince US voters that she does represent change and a fresh direction than for Trump to convince US voters he could be the President of the USA.  Whilst Trump has spun, morphed and trampled over his own words over and over again to catch any passing tide of momentum Hilary has stayed Hilary.

As I stop, waiting for the lights to allow me to proceed I worry in another direction, if these protests votes build an unstoppable momentum and the impossible/unthinkable continue to, why aren’t those with true power doing anything about it?  Surely the mega-corporates, the political dynasties, the secret societies don’t want the global disruption that a Trump presidency would trigger?

Which makes me conclude that none of it really matters, that it doesn’t matter who is President of the United States, it doesn’t matter which colour of political party is in power, it doesn’t matter which common market a country is a member, none of this can disrupt the entrenched status quo.

What can be done?  Same as when I hit 40: Keep calm and ride your bike.