political cycles

political cycles

Cycling politics. Political cycles. Forever intertwined.

Government and Cycling share a common problem: when the politics becomes the story, the main event, the only talking point.

They’ve both lost their Raison D’être.

Exhibit A. Peter Sagan. Stage 4. The intervention of the Administrators robbed the Tour of Cycling’s World Champion and most charismatic rider. Or to put it bluntly: the biggest name in cycling. The irony was the initial penalty was universally accepted. A significant point loss, hurting Sagan’s inevitable charge into the Green Jersey (that could’ve spiced things up!). Video evidenced debunked the claim of a malicious elbow, instead closer inspection showed Sagan’s elbow hooked on Cavendish’s shifter being pulled outwards. The UCI Race Jury could’ve let it be. Instead we lost 2 Galacticos overnight. The Tour, the cycling (i.e. the important bit) is lesser for it.

Exhibit B. Boris Johnson.  This guy saw the EU Referendum as an opportunity to make a smash grab for Prime Minister. Having become the Poster Boy of Brexit, he didn’t get down to making good on the £350m for the NHS. Instead he and his soon to be ex-Best Friend started squabbling about who should be the next Prime Minister (after Cameron had done a runner). When they’d done with stabbing themselves in the back neither was Prime Minister, neither had a plan for Brexit.

Exhibit C. Nacer Bouhanni. Stage 10. After booting out Sagan from this year’s Tour de France the UCI’s race jury found forgiveness in their capricious hearts. The fiery (and unintentionally comical and irrelevant at the same time) Bouhanni might’ve punched Jack Bauer. A 200 CHF fine and a minute time penalty won’t stop him trying to do it again. Inconsistent administration is distracting. We shouldn’t need to be talking about it.

Exhibit D. Theresa May. The Maybot is the story, her precarious grip on power the drama, her inevitable downfall at the hands of her own treacherous party the obvious conclusion to a sorry tale of arrogance and ineptitude. After the ‘step back in time’ grammar school policy what else has the May Premiership offered? Brexit means Brexit means Brexit. That’s a sound bite not a policy. Strong and stable, strong and stable. Whilst none of her would be executioners have her balls to execute a coup (or simply don’t fancy the poison chalice of being Prime Minister right now), her drawn out political execution is standing in the way of government by her self-centred Government.

Exhibit E. Uran, Bennett but not Romain Bardet. Stage 9. This dastardly trio dared to take on food / water from a third party as they battled through the final gruelling Kilometres of the stage – in Bardet’s case a water bottle from some bloke on the road side. How dare he? It seems a poor rule, contrary to rider welfare but rules are rules. Unless of course you are the French favourite in a French cycle race. Despite all three being caught on camera only Uran and Bennett were penalised. Then as even the UCI Race Jury realised how this might look, rather than bang Barnet with a penalty they repealed all penalties. Bardet’s finish on that mountain runaway was spectacular, instead we’re obsessing about confused and, inconsistent race officiating.

Exhibit F. Jeremy Corbyn. You don’t have to agree with his politics to admire Jezza and his cussedness. He stuck to his guns when even his own MPs were calling for him to go. In spite of the Front Bench / Back Bench rebellions he’s created a truly socialist political party differentiated from New Labour’s copy of the central / moderate reaches of the Tory Party. The infighting has been the story, the ongoing drama of Labour’s soap opera concealed the fact that Corbyn’s policies are unaffordable (and really only attractive to anyone who doesn’t pay tax). The cult of personality surrounding Corbyn sees the important interrogation of his policies a low priority versus ‘will he won’t he survive another coup?

Exhibit G. Unwritten Rules. This Tour. The unwritten rules of the Tour seem to be more comprehensive and less flexible than the actual real rules of the Tour. In F1 if the race leader gets a puncture the whole race doesn’t stop and stand on ceremony. If the race leader has a mechanical. Tough. Everyone else just gets on with the racing and the Team go back to base and figure out how to prevent that mechanical happening again. Time to rip up the unwritten rules and let rip with the racing.

Exhibit H. Trump. His election and the smoke that shrouds Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 refuses to disperse. The insinuation of collusion, real or otherwise taints his Presidency and whilst it continues to do so his opponents can look on smugly. Job done. As Trump and his inner circle firefight the flames licking at their personal reputations, they surely can’t get on with building walls and Making America Great Again. Policies, good or bad are stuck in the political sludge.

Please, Administrators / Public Servants when Tomorrow’s newspaper headlines are going to be all about you – think – get a grip of yourself and focus on what we should all really be talking about: a fantastic Tour de France

a cycling manifesto

a cycling manifesto

Cycling requires honesty.  That climb hurt? You haven’t trained hard enough.  That descent was slow?  You’re not brave enough.  A vote for Brexit, a fear of immigrants the rise of extremism?  Democracy has failed.  Our elected representatives have taken the easy options.

Cycling from London to Luxembourg (330 miles in 3 days / 4 countries in 3 days) had everything.  Gruelling climbs and exhilarating descents, beauty and decay, physical devastation and mental strength. Everything together on one ride.  A country is a bit like that: rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old.  All having to rub along in the same space and time.

10 hour cycling days afford a lot of time for reflection.  By the end of the trip I knew exactly what needed to be done.

My 53/39 Chainset needs to be swapped for 52/36, the corroded Di2 battery needs replacing and 11 speed would be nice.  Whilst I’m at it I need to take a long hard look at myself, dropping some weight (obviously), strengthening legs and training intelligently wouldn’t leave me falling out the back of the peloton every time the road goes upwards.

A simple systematic and honest approach.

I’m hoping whoever holds the keys to 10 Downing Street tomorrow morning does the same.  A map of poverty in the UK would be a good place to start.  It would correlate strongly with maps of sub-standard housing, low life expectancy, high unemployment, entrenched benefits dependency and hot spots for extremism.

Put simply, if people live in a decaying, degrading, demoralising environment they will become disillusioned, despairing and dangerous.

Take the challenge head on, no short cuts.

The most deprived areas of the country need to be prioritised for fundamental improvement.  Improvements in housing, healthcare and education infrastructure.  All would bring better standards of living, employment and have a positive impact on communities (and lesson the anger).

Charleroi, sits approximately half way between Calais and Luxembourg.  It’s Belgium’s 4th largest city and the largest in the region of Wallonia.  As we cycled the last few KM of a 200KM+ ride, make that dragged ourselves homeward, we passed through the imposing remnants of Charleroi’s heavy industrial past.

The rusting hulks of factories and plants were as breath-taking as they were imposing as they were sad.  Those derelict machines are not coming back to life, the jobs they demanded likewise.  Monuments to the past are their best role now.

The UK has tracts of Industrial Legacy too.  A map of these would correlate to that map of poverty too.

Yesterday lunchtime, for the first time, the UK sourced the majority of its energy from renewables (50.001%) and in doing so provided a glimpse of the future and a solution for now.

The UK’s rich industrial heritage needs a reboot.  Rather than mourn the loss of jobs in 19th/20th Century Industries, reminisce for the glories of the Industrial Revolution, there should be investment in the industry, manufacturing and technologies of the future, centred on the map of ‘communities targeted for rebirth’.

Taking the lead in 21st Century technologies – renewable, environmental, lifesaving – would give the UK something to be proud of and believe in.  Other Nations would take note and follow.

If you put the hard miles in, work intelligently there is no need to feel fear or anger for the future.

Of course this isn’t a Manifesto for Cycling.  Where are the demands for investment in segregated cycle-ways with super smooth tarmac and priority traffic lights?  Sometimes the needs of others need to be prioritised first and the 10 Downing Street key-holder needs to put the needs of their supporters aside to break up current divisions and make a real and positive change.

(My bike is in for a full groupset re-haul with the best of the old groupset being donated to the mechanic doing the work so that he can build up a bike and join us on our rides, just maybe not the 330 miles in 3 day ones).

IMG_9648

flick the switch

flick the switch

I’ve always wanted a pair of knee warmers.  I’ve always loved my arm warmers.  knee warmers are a logical acquisition.  I’ve always wanted to drive a BMW.  Last weekend I was lucky enough to be handed the keys to a brand spanking new BMW. 

At first I was a little disappointed, one look at the BMW’s tiny boot and I panicked.  How was I going to fit my bike and the rest of my family’s weekend bags in the boot/trunk?  As the boot lid clunked softly into place, rather than marvel at its automatic-ness, I despondently wished that my lumpy Volvo SUV wasn’t languishing in a Volvo dealership deep in rural France (that’s a whole different story) – until the simple silver ‘335d’ letters glimmered in the late pre—Bank Holiday sunlight. 

Until that moment, I feared that I had been saddled with an overrated, underpowered, pseudo-aspirational vehicle that would not meet my multiple long Easter Bank Holiday weekend requirements (I.e. Comfortably transporting children to grandparents in Devon for Easter, including a visit to the beach, an Easter Egg Hunt and of course an epic ‘Trans-Dartmoor’ bike ride – not many cars can meet that ask).  335d had changed all that.  Sure, compromises needed to be made but when being in possession of a 300ps, 4.6 second to 60mph all-wheel drive rocket, nothing seemed impossible.

I had high hopes for the knee warmers too.  The Devon weather had just enough of an edge to it to chill, the strong Westerly didn’t help matters – although the extra effort required to battle through the Atlantic’s worst surely generated more body heat.  Not wanting to resort to full length bib-shorts (to be honest I’d not have fit them in the BMW’s boot) I wrapped my knees up snug in the handy clothing extenders.   

The disappointment.  Pearl Izumi can usually be relied upon to produce kit that surpasses expectations. Not this time.  Mostly the knee warmers slipped down to rest annoyingly above my thigh and flap loosely at my ankle. It could be that I’m just too short and I’m doing a fantastic bit if kit a disservice.

The BMW was also proving to be less than the sum of its expensive parts.  It’s simple, austere interior wasn’t a place of drama although the driving position did fit like a bespoke suit.  The iDrive system was a complex distraction, less easy to navigate than the Devon lanes.  That wasn’t the only distraction, the narrow backseat placed my daughters in uncomfortable proximity allowing open warfare to break-out.

Devon wasn’t a disappointment.  In that rare moment of sunshine, it’s truly a special place.  At other times it’s a brooding, menacing land.  Cycling in Devon?  I’ve complained bitterly about Devon before.  Is there a more sadistic County for cyclists?  Its ups are big, sharp, steep it’s downs short, sharp, steep, with brakes jammed on to survive the gravelly surface, the mud or the inevitable farm tractor or worse caravaner.  There’s no payback for the arduous uphill toil.

Just as Devon’s mood switches from sparkling to dark so could the BMW’s.  I chanced across a button that switched its persona from mild mannered middle manager to a spitting, snarling possessed maniac.  One touch of the dull, innocent switch and the beast within  growled and threw itself forward like a guided surface-to-air missile.  Press the button again and Hyde became Dr Jekyll again even wanting to help with fuel conservation.

BMW engineered mood-change. 

At a flick of a switch from calm to dynamic, angry to sublime.  If only it was so easy to control our moods.  From erratic to rationale, from ignorant to wise.  Or maybe not.  With control, spontaneity goes out the window.

What of the knee warmers?  I donated them to my Father who thinks the soft fleece liners will be great for polishing furniture.

 

the year of the blog

the year of the blog

A year has gone full circle.  I’m driving through France looking at the rough agricultural tracks or gravel roads dissecting the vast agricultural lands, running far into the distance again. Kids are in the back of the car watching Disney movies again.  My wife is sitting next to me in the front, probably pretending to be asleep again so I don’t talk to her about cycling through France by Gravel Road.  Again. 

With most of my eyes on the road ahead, out of their corner I watch the gravel roads, farm tracks, dusty pathways dissect the vast agricultural lands of France, (France is not a country that will go hungry), they often disappear over the crest of a curvaceous hill or the sanctuary of an inviting wood.  Each promises an adventure. Each promises their own unique story.

The same old day dreams.  Not much has changed over the last 12 months then.

Except I’ve changed and I think writing this blog has played a part. 

Seeing your thoughts in print has taught me being opinionated is not a nice trait.  It can quickly sound like just having a rant.  Digging in and holding firm on your position can just be pig headed.  For every one of your own opinions there are at least a hundred others? Who’s right?  Who cares?  Unless you’re the President of the United States of America (or a judge in Hawaii) it doesn’t really matter.

Every time I’ve knocked together a post I’ve asked myself: am I being a pig headed ranter?  Hopefully not.  That’s my one rule for my attempts at writing.  I’ve tried to carry this over into my other relations at home, at work and at play.

Having got over the lack of traffic to https://subconsciouscyclist.com/ what do they say?  There are lies, damned lies and statistics.  I resolved that I was getting more than simply hits from hits.  Which was just as well.  From Blog writing I’ve tried to develop different styles of writing and get used to seeing my words alive, out there, sort of in print.  It’s still cringe making to think someone I know may read my thoughts and know what I’m thinking.  I guess that’s a rite of passage for any writer.  Either way it’s more nerve-wracking than descending Col du Glandon at 90kmh.

Thanks for sticking along for the ride the last 12 months.

the importance of backing up

the importance of backing up

Monday is the worst day for me to get on my bike.  Firstly, it’s Monday.  First day back at work.  If I’m lucky I’ve had a long ride on Sunday.  Not forgetting the destination is work.  Did I mention work already?  Did I mention I don’t want to go to work on Monday?  (I’ve not landed my dream job of being paid to write about cycling. Yet!)

If I rode MTB then I’m doubly reluctant or simply unable to drag myself out of bed, kit up and ride to work.  More likely I’m feeling like I’ve been run over by the bus I need to catch to the train station.

Monday morning trains run chaotic. Worse than usual.  Of course, it’s the Train Drivers first day back too.  I’m guessing many of them don’t want to go to work either, their boyhood dreams of being a train driver have long evaporated under the onslaught of the early morning alarm.

The sardined passengers are in a worse mood than usual too on a Monday, many sense of humours have been lost in the act of getting out of the wrong side of the bed.

Riding then makes best sense.  It also makes sense in the case of ‘backing up’ – riding for a few days in a row – between scheduled and well needed rest days.

Often the http://thebicyclemoaningcollective.com big summer rides are big multi day affairs – 300 miles in 3 days –  long days in the saddle, or consecutive assaults on big mountains.  Backing up in training is essential.

It’s quite clear the Democrats didn’t back up.  True they put 2 hard terms together thanks to their star player: Obama.  However, they didn’t look far enough ahead, they rested on their laurels, they failed to back-up for when the big test came along.

Here’s some very unscientific research to substantiate my weak hypothesis.

Rewind Saturday Night Live to pre-Barack, 2008, watch Tina Fey lampoon then Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, sit back and enjoy the comedy gold.  Fast forward to the 2016 US election, sub Fey with Alec Baldwin and the jokes are the same.

What’s going on?  Different but the same message.  Lazy SNL script writing or did Barack’s two lauded terms fail to help Good Ol’ Joe Six-Pack and make America Great Again?!

Back in 2008 the SNL team had a lot of material with the ‘Washington Outsider’ stuff, ‘Joe Six-pack’ as the Republicans targeted the traditional blue collar vote.  Sound familiar? Maybe I shouldn’t take my political insight from SNL but essentially SNL lampooned the same electoral message in 2008 as they did in 2016!

There it is.  Indisputable.  The Democrats had plenty of warning, at least 8 years.  They can’t then be surprised that the same disenchanted, alienated voters targeted by the Republicans in 2008 were the same disenchanted/alienated voters in 2016.  They’re still there, just more so, the so called Deplorables.

(Note to Hilary: don’t insult the voters that you need to vote for you to win).

The Democrats got lazy, got complacent. They didn’t clock up the hard miles in training so that they could put a run of strong back to back performances together.  They resorted to the classic under-trained cyclist’s desperate solution: throw money at the problem.

How often does that work?

on a wind and a prayer

on a wind and a prayer

Mother’s Day is the enemy of all cyclists (that aren’t mothers).

Obviously, all cycling is banned on Mothering Sunday.  Even Christmas Day has more relaxed rules.  I’ve scoured the Velominati for advice on this matter to no avail.  Fathers/sons are on their own when it comes to the protocols of Cycling on Mothers’ Day.

It doesn’t matter how many bunches of flowers purchased, breakfasts in bed made and Sunday lunches cooked all cycling passes remain revoked.  I was facing the bleak prospect of a cycling-less weekend.  Thankfully there’s no such thing as Mothering Saturday and on this technicality, I was successfully able to secure a 2-hour window of ride opportunity.  I had to act fast.

Fortunately, thebicyclemoaningcollective.com’s network of loosely cycling related Whatsapp groups range far and wide and within no time I had a partner in-ride on non-Mothering Saturday Afternoon.

With the sun on our backs and the near gale force winds in our faces we hit out past Hampton Court Palace, up and over Col du Sandown and on towards the Stockbroker Belt.  The wind was fluctuating wildly between head / side / on yer back.  When on the rare occasion, it was the latter we easily lit up 40kmh and some. 

Easily making up for when it was the former and were grinding out 15kmh.  When push (from the wind behind) came to shove (in the face) the average was still good.  This was hard riding, with the Spring sunshine an unexpected friend along for the ride.  Even the time on the clock was looking sweet.

Then Matt O turned left on to a farm track.  Apparently, this is what they do in Belgium – ride carbon Aerobikes on concrete / gravel tracks through farmyards.  No punctures. No problems.  The wind still wasn’t our friend but taking the scenic route had put my “I’ll be 2 hours, I promise” in jeopardy.  We didn’t stop pushing hard but neither did the clock.

70km in 2 hours (plus the 30-minute margin of error that should be applied to all rides), I was relying on another technicality and now relying heavily on my plans for Mothering Sunday coming good.

the good cyclist

the good cyclist

What makes a good cyclist? Strong heart? Big lungs? Legs like tree trunks? Good bike handling skills (cough…Chris Froome), ethical (COUGH…Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, go on…cough… Wiggins!)

That’s maybe unfair but we now know that Team Sky’s marginal gains programme was heavily reliant on doctors’ notes rather than ingenious previously unimagined improvements.

If it’s too good to be true it probably is.

Don’t be too hard on the riders. They’re just the “inconvenient interface” – soon to be replaced when cycling regulations permit – between the sophisticated Corporate Behemoths that fund mega teams like Team Sky & the high-tech bike manufacturers – all driven to extreme behaviour to get you and me to buy their product. Guilty.

Back in the real world, not the otherworldly world of elite sport, what makes a good cyclist?  How’s this?

Self-aware, take responsibility for their own actions and always ready to help others.  Not a physical attribute in sight.  Do you ride with someone like this?

Not only do they think of others, they think like others.  Cycling is about putting yourself in someone else shoes.  Or behind their wheel.  You must to stay alive.  Cycling is about thinking about other peoples’ point of view; can they see you?  What are they about to do? What are they thinking?  Are they thinking?

Sound a bit religious?  Cycling is a religion to some.  Or it’s just a good old fashioned code of conduct.  If you live your life on a bike like this what about extending it to your real life?  Projection doesn’t have to be just for cycling.

Why do others think and behave how they do?  Not everyone can be right or wrong and it’s rarely black/white.

  • Trump Supporters: what makes a near majority of voting American’s vote for an egotistical, volatile chauvinist?  Desperation?  Frustration?  A feeling that it can’t be any worse than it already is?  What’s wrong with wanting to break a system that failed to punish the Bankers that created the Financial Crisis that saw their houses repossessed, their City’s decay and the Political Elite get ever more elite?
  • Brexit Voters:  how can the unemployed factory worker in a UK Northern City not understand the benefits of the European Union?  Why would they want to restrict the free movement of labour that provides cheap cleaners, cheap builders and cheap factory workers?  Don’t they want exotic barista’s in their artisan coffee shops, exotic street food in their gentrified districts?  Or did they just want to give the fat-cat bureaucrats a bloody nose?
  • Right Wing Fascists / Islamic Terrorists: what makes these young (predominantly) male so prone to fanaticism?  So Angry?  So easily turned to violence?  Surely unlimited data bundles and lack of responsibilities make them happy and content?  Maybe the violence has always been there, just now there’s no outlet (no state sponsored war) or their zero prospect of owning a house, moving out of their parents’ home, having what their parents had is so depressing it makes them angry and seek a cause of their own.

If you don’t consider life from another perspective and bowl on blindly, thinking everyone has got you in their sights, watching your back, are looking out for you, are the same as you, think like you – you’re not going to last long.

Subconsciouscycling is about using the freedom of cycling to free the mind and travel in a direction you might not otherwise.  Is it time for a Newpolitics to think differently too?

#cyclingcansavetheworld

what the f##k is fake news

what the f##k is fake news

Why are proper News Agencies even talking about it? Lying, blagging, brainwashing, fiction, fantasy & propaganda are millennia old.  Where’s the news in that?  Just as every time the BBC interviews Farage and gives him air(time) the coverage of fake news by the mainstream, credible News Agencies gives fake news credence too.

Then fake gets weirder, that arch creator of myth, legend (mostly about himself) and fake news is bemoaning that the reputable News Agencies (that just so happen to hold Trump to account) are peddling fake news about him.

Is this fake news about fake news about fake news? (The latter otherwise known as Alternative Facts).

And that’s before anyone mentions #lookwhatshappeninglastnightinSweden

What can you do about fake news? You could just ignore it.  Fake news isn’t new, it’s just new propaganda, new brain washing.  Faking it is as old as the hills. The ones you should be out climbing – creating your own real news.

If fake isn’t new, neither is the feeling of being let down by fakes.  Buy a Chinarello off Alibaba don’t be surprised when it turns out not to be the real thing and disintegrates in a cloud of carbon fibre splinters beneath you (as if it never existed in the first place).  If you get your news from Facebook don’t be surprised if it turns out to be fake news or someone else’s propaganda.

In an age of populism where he who shouts loudest and most brashly gets the attention it’s more important that a free, reputable and independent press reports the Facts.  Not the alternative ones.  It’s paramount that the credible News Agencies – I’m looking at you BBC – can be relied on to sift through the debris of truth, debunk fake news, don’t allow it to become powerful or an escape route for denial by the powerful.   Otherwise they’re no better than Murdoch’s news.

Remember if it’s not on Strava.com it didn’t happen.

chain reaction

chain reaction

The day started so well.  Cycle gear already laid out for the painful Saturday 7am start.  What could possibly go wrong?  All, good so far, my cycle shoes are ready with overshoes half-fitted to save time during the usual overshoes wrestle.  Except my credit card is upstairs.  Shoes off. Time lost.  No time to check my tyre pressure (which I hadn’t done the night before).

That’s how a chain-reaction starts.

“David my boy, this Panama Papers business is terribly unfortunate.  I am not sure we the (unelected) Tory Grandees can be seen not to question your suitability to be Prime Minister unless…”

This conversation might’ve happened, or possibly one like it, in a quiet corner of a cigar-smoke filled Tory gentlemen’s club in Mayfair and quite possibly could’ve have been the start of it all.

“Unless you hold a referendum on EU membership”.

Project Fear misread the undercurrents of dissent amongst the voters outside of the Liberal Metropolitan Elite (i.e. London).  Besides David and George had that ever-popular Buffoon – Boris – on their side, “maddeningly for some reason the Proles love Boris!” Except Boris got on the Leave bus (the one advertising £350m a week for the NHS).  The Leave Bus might have come and gone, the £350m is yet to turn up.  In the meantime, the UK is heading out of Europe on the crest of an ugly wave of Little Englander imperiousness to a future built on lies and dereliction of duty.

In my rush out the door I’ve grabbed my light-weight gloves, not the super warm pair that I’d been warming on the radiator.  No problem, I’ll suck up cold fingers, it won’t be long before I’m warming them on a black Americano in G!ro.  As usual the guys are waiting for me at Roehampton Gate.

Emboldened by Britain’s ‘Taking Our Country Back’ America chose to ‘Make America Great Again’.  It seems slogans win majorities, except in the USA where America’s most unpopular President (before he was even inaugurated) won an election with a minority.  The Donald is quick becoming frustrated with the checks & balances hard wired into the American Constitution.

How long in the name of draining the swamp and taking down the Washington’s Political Establishment before Trump and his frightening inner circle bypass the machinery of government and begin locking up his opponents?  Sparking a 2nd Civil War in the USA?  The coastal liberal elites fighting back against ‘the Belts’ – rust, corn, bible.

The roads are awash with dirt, grit and sludge.  At least it’s not icy.  A thick spray is coming off the back wheels, everyone is trying to get to the front to avoid a shower, edging the pace upward.  Then it starts snowing, or is it sleet?  Either way it’s cold.  A puncture is inevitable.  My tyres were probably only running at 80psi.  I don’t tell the other guys that as my iced fingers fumble with a slippery tyre.  Time is moving against us.

France, the 3rd leg of global meltdown doesn’t disappoint, France elects Right Wing Marine Le Pen and the Far Right re-establishes itself in Europe.  The EU suffers another knockout blow, first BREXIT, an Italian Banking failure and now FREXIT.  Continental Europe is fraying at the edges, with no American counterweight and NATO consigned to 20th Century history, Putin starts annexing former Soviet states for fun and because he can, galvanising his starving and impoverished population around the promise of a return to Global Superpower-dom, rather than taking their domestic miseries out on Putin himself.

Then a second puncture just as the sleet is getting heavier.  Cold fingers, rushing to fix a puncture in the gaze of impatient eyes don’t always find the offending sharp.  Grumbles of “that’s the bacon sandwich of the menu then” don’t help puncture fixing efficiency even if they are in humour (sort of).  The coffee is a quick gulped, throat scolding affair.  When I get home, 30 minutes later than promised, in my absence 3rd World War has broken out at the family breakfast table.

There’s a reason why Billionaires are currently buying boltholes in New Zealand.

 

unleashing the beast

unleashing the beast

The Beast has been hanging menacingly in my cellar for over a year.

 Used once (and not in anger) and only then because my 8 year old daughter finds it funny (she’s not the only 1) and made my riding it a precondition of her joining me for a Sunday afternoon ride in Richmond Park (she’s mastered the art of negotiation at a young age).

Late on Saturday night as I was preparing my kit for Sunday morning’s MTB ride (MTB involves a lot more kit preparation than Road), for no discernible reason I decided the time was right to unleash the Beast.  The oversized tyres – some might say ‘Fat’ – were squeezed into the back of my car and the light as air but freakish-looking frame gently thrown in on top.

It was time to let my tank-like Tomac Hesperus Fat Bike loose on the single-track of the military lands at Tunnel Hill.

When riding a Fat Bike the first thing you need to get used to is being looked at, stared at, sometimes even pointed at.  This is the most uncomfortable aspect of riding a Fatty.  They’re a rare site in the UK and best ridden with dark glasses if you find excessive eye contact uncomfortable.  

The second thing is the grip, lots of grip – not a grippiness that slows you down – quite the opposite.  Grip that makes winter slop a non-issue, cornering more stable than ever experienced before and riding across frozen puddles a hoot.  The third thing is that the centre of gravity is low, without the risk of pedal strikes that full suspension bikes often suffer.

Sounds pretty good. It is.  Even as the novelty factor of riding a bike with HUGE tyres starts to fade it stays fun.  Fun but different.  Here’s how:

  • No pressure: Fatty has tonnes of grip, if you get the tyre pressure right (I was riding with 8 psi which was probably too much.  If I deflated anymore I was worried that I’d have a negative psi.  
  • Too much of a good thing: that grip made it hard to steer at high speeds.  Think barge.  The Fatty wants to straight-line the trail whether the trail is straight or not.  Rather than riding technically, looking for the sweetest route, I (well Fatty) just blasted through the middle.  I’m sure if I rode Fatty enough it would change my riding style and make me brave enough to ride the most direct route on my Full-Suss, rather than pussy-footing about.
  • Back to basics:  The tyres are the suspension.  No heavy suspension components, just a stiff but light carbon frame on top of tyres that could grace a truck.  The wheels and 4” tyres put the weight low but if the tyres are blown up too high – say with a mighty 10psi – then expect a bumpy, body-thumping ride.  I woke Monday morning not to the ‘run over by a bus feeling’ (of my 26” days) but more a ‘hit by a sizeable van’. That said, removing suspension from the equation the ride felt more planted, more stable, less floaty.
  • The Tree Root Whip:  Maybe I successfully road over more damn slippy tree roots than I would on a 650b but when I didn’t it felt epic.  In slow motion I could watch all 4 inches of tyre slide sideways, slowly at first before whipping me over on my back like an unfortunate beetle.  Once the slide had started there was no stopping it.  Equally if those tyres got caught between parallel tree roots – say eaxactly 4” inches apart, and that seemed to happen a lot, there was no escaping the rail road and wherever that might take me.  
  • What goes up:  Fatty climbed well on shorter, steeper climbs, with momentum easily maintained without the sapping suspension-bob of a Full-Suss when you need to haul yourself out of trouble.  Longer, medium to steep climbs and the front wheel would start to pick up a sensation bigger than vibration, more an oscillation, that bumped the wheel up/down until it was actually moving sideways and if not caught will,have you at 90 degreees to the slope at risk of falling over (which is apparently is very funny to watch).

The Fatty was at its best on the less technical trail or the long steep downwards shute where it felt planted and stable. It was surprisingly quick to pick up speed and hold it, adding to the desire to straight-line.  It might be my lack of skills but where it was difficult was the lack of last minute pop your wheel up/over/out of trouble-ability of the giant tyres.

Will I be riding my Fat Bike instead of my Full-Suss?  No, not unless it snows (which is what its designed for) or I’m cruising around with my daughters or feeling like I need lots of attention.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes – it’s 11 speed directness (I would argue that it only needs 3 gears: L/M/H), its rigid frame giving direct feedback, the fearlessness it encourages to roll over anything.  Where it lacks is manoeuvrability, flickiness and a bit more flow.

Maybe it will come into it’s own in a post-Trump Apocolypse where the only way to travel through the apocalyptic deserts is by Fat bike.