pleasure + pain = life

pleasure + pain = life

Down the drive, turn right up the narrow lane, grass growing up the middle, pass under the shadow of Pen Y Fan, follow the lane down a narrow tree covered descent, hard to read in the early morning mottled sunlight.  Left at the junction, behold the Brecon Beacons National Park in all its technicolour beauty. Not bad for a local ride, just on your doorstep. It’s not the South Circular.

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4 early morning escapees follow a canal, through small Welsh villages (their super fast broadband provided by the EU – Wales voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU).  Who cares about the EU Referendum anymore? A week on, everyone’s moved on. We don’t. We’re racing to No. 94* from the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: A Road Cyclist’s Guide to Britain’s Hills. A sort of cycling Bible.

 * LLangynidr, Powys, 397m, 7%, 5.6 km.

How’s this one going to work out? It’s only rated a 7/10. So not monstrous. Even at the foot of a climb you don’t really know.  Some you write off despondently within the first few metres at the base, then ascend smoothly, fluidly, as if by magic (this is rare).

Other times ( more likely), pumped full of expectation, water bottles emptied to reduce weight. Nothing. Your legs won’t come out to play, they seize up and let you down badly. The climb becomes a Hell. All you can do is dig in and drive through the sense of missed opportunity all the way to summit, cross the line that marks the end of the pain and start of the next chapter of the ride.  Tell a non-cyclist that climbing can provide peacefulness and relaxation they won’t understand the pleasure in the pain.

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Expectation for the climb is greater when it’s in the Top 100. Even greater when Stevie tells us it’s a 25 minute climb if you want to be able to talk about it afterwards.  His grin widens further when he tells us  he’s tapering for the Etape du Tour but that shouldn’t stop us from climbing like our rear tyres are on fire. He’ll see us at the top.

Climbing, mostly alone for 24 minutes, surrounded by spectacular views, in that moment it’s possible to escape.  A weekend of enjoyable remoteness from London. I  Guess this is what the rest of the country feels all of the time. Yes alone. I started out with Dom, holding his wheel, letting him do the work – he won’t admit it:  he’s a heinous wheel sucker, (and I won’t admit – to him at least – that he’s the better cyclist).  Sucking until he’s confident of springing ahead and cruising to a clear victory. Not that we’re racing.

This time I go slow enough that he’s forced to take the initiative and put  his nose in front. Cat & mouse. I knew he was gunning for those 24 minutes. Then my first mistake, I glanced down at the climb profile – the dot that was me was at the bottom and the top was at the top a long way away. I flinched. Dom pounced. The elastic broke.

As the fields and hedgerows spread out below into a picture of rural perfection I thought about a life in somewhere like this. There’s something about riding your bike that makes you consider your life situation. Life on a clear bright summer morning, on a bike:  idyllic. Then the dark clouds role in: what about work prospects, my kids’ schooling and their future opportunities? As they run through the woods, jump over streams, climb trees they’d say none of that was important but they’re only 7 and 4 respectively.  

It’s my risk adverseness, pragmatism, shaped by my own (office based) life experiences directing their destinies, making decisions on their behalf.  They might dream of being organic Welsh hill eco-farmers. Why not? I hope I’m not limiting their futures already.  It’s dangerous to project a future for their futures based on my past experiences.  They’re not going to be relevant even in 5 year’s time.

Higher up the scenery is becoming ever more spectacular. The morning light providing crystal clear views, soaring (all be it slowly) above Tolkien country. The Shire below us. An inspiring panorama for Middle Earth and an inspiring back cloth for my objective of catching Dom. He’s a hairpin bend away, passing above me in the opposite direction, I’m sure he’s smirked down at me.  Legs spinning quicker, feet light on the pedals but quicker, angry pedal stomping wasn’t going to do it. I closed the gap, I was surprised as Dom was.

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Then the second mistake. I settled for just holding his wheel. I should’ve span past, gone on. Instead I relaxed, easily satisfied, controlled my racing breathing, fiddled with my sun glasses. He was gone again. Gone for good**. Remember: we’re not racing.

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2 middle aged men racing up a mountain. Stupid hey? Maybe but when we reached the top, the race won (by Dom) there’s fist pumps, mutual pats on the back and hugged selfies. Like boxers embracing after there’d finished battering each other. Good stupid.

 ** I whipped him on the descent. Tipping above 70kmh.

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the other cycling year so far

the other cycling year so far

cycling can take you to some cool places. Not just on the road or trail. Whilst trundling into the office I reflected on my cycling year to date. Not the 3000 km I’ve already chalked up, a different type of cycling journey – our newly incorporated cycle-touring venture: thebicyclemoaningcollective.com

  • My fellow cyclo-dreamers and I, stopped talking about starting a cycle company, agreed to work together and incorporated a limited company…
  • …and a British Cycling affiliated cycling club.
  • That’s secured us places in the Prudential 100 and we’ve got a team entered this year…
  • …who will be riding in our new, totally bespoke, pretty-damn cool (if I may say so myself) team cycling kit
  • We’ve also designed a club logo, we think it captures our ethos: serious about cycling, not serious cyclists
  • The team jersey is from a new cycle clothing manufacturer that we’ve teamed up with, HUEZ, we’ve already sold over 50 club jerseys, when I say sold I mean ‘provided at cost’ to our growing team.
  • We’ve also worked with some other cool cycling and sports companies ridefullgas.com (went halves on 140 team water bottles), pearsoncycles.co.uk – the oldest bike shop (in the world, maybe), and Payasugym.com (who publish some of my articles and gave us some voucher codes on gym passes).
  • We’re on Social Media – Instagram, Facebook, we have a website, some great photos and film footage of our cycling adventures (plus a fledgling cycling blog)
  • Not forgetting the boring stuff like sorting out limited company incorporation, insurance, opening bank accounts.
  • The East Sheen Primary School London to Paris in 24 horrs (or ESPS L2P24 for short) was something special. We backed ourselves to deliver a great event and we did that and then some. If we did nothing else – the kids response, the money raised and the ‘life changing’ experiences the Hero Dad’s told us about were amazing.
  • But we will do more. Next time it will be easier, that was our pilot. We now have templates, actual costs, ridden routes, neat tricks (like showers in a pub) and lessons learned.
  • Plus, we’ve got feedback from real clients that give us real insight in. So we can make the challenge even better.
  • Not forgetting the annual club 300 miles in 3 days, or for some 400 miles in 4 days – we’re getting more ambitious already. We’ve been running these since 2009 and this year’s tour was seamless (except for the guy who forgot his passport!)
  • And on the next trips we have a great mechanic and physiotherapy support lined up, which will make the experience even better still.

I know July’s Chasing the Tour trip is officially in the 2nd half of the year but it’s all organised, wrapped up and ready to go. That’s not bad for just half a year’s work!

a ride like no other

a ride like no other

Richmond Park again. And again and again. It’s my back yard and I’m not complaining. I live in London and yet I have 2,500 acres of parkland on my doorstep to ride, run, walk, explore and lose myself in.  Charles I is to thank for enclosing the park in the 17th Century for his own hunting pleasure, it wasn’t   popular with the locals then but has served to preserve a very special rural retreat in the South West corner of Metropolis London.

As I crest Sawyers Hill with Richmond behind me, on a clear day I can see the dome of St Paul’s, surrounded by the skyscrapers of the City.  This line of sight is the axis upon which I live and work.

Despite my unbridled love for Richmond Park I’ve started to spice my training rides up with small detours out of the park into the local roads, explore a little, try a different hill, but always coming back into the familiar surrounds of the park to try and snatch a www.strava.com PB.

Except today I didn’t obsess about lap times, the wind direction, the traffic, or seek detours, I ignored the grazing red deer, barely noticed the arriving Spring colours and the immigrant green parrots at the roadside because I was basking in the joy of wearing my new cycle jersey.

I know how that sounds, except this jersey is different.  It’s the new club jersey for a new ‘virtual cycle club’ – http://thebicyclemoaningcollective.com – (maybe the 1st of its kind…?). It felt great to be wearing a jersey designed by myself and my co-club founders and produced exclusively for us by huez.co.uk It’s not just a jersey, it represents a hopeful future for our club and our newly incorporated cycle-touring venture.  Wearing the jersey makes it all seem real and ambitions achievable.  It’s given me a first glimpse at the pride, satisfaction and excitement that can comes from challenging yourself to the things you thought you couldn’t i.e. start-up a cycling company.

You’ve got to start somewhere.

the origin of the subconscious cyclist

the origin of the subconscious cyclist

My blog about cycling was born whilst driving (cyclists drive cars too). Returning from the French Alps my family were ignoring their driver, transfixed by their iPads.  With no conversation and no music permitted (as it distracts from the DVD the kids are also watching –  multi-tasking aged just 7 and 4) my eyes roamed freely across the largely uneventful landscape of Central France, that borders the monotonous but largely traffic free AutoRoute.

With the droning soundtrack of tyres on tarmac and the just audible film soundtrack my thoughts naturally drifted away from concentrating on piloting my family safely home to – cycling.  More specifically to gravel road cycling and gravel bikes. In my mind, until now gravel bikes were simply a niche too far, another blatant marketing fad – certainly in the UK.

UK roads are bad but rarely are they unsealed gravel. Bridleways, those ancient relic thoroughfares that criss-cross Britain, come close but a Mountain Bike will suit and excite more. Of course I want one but I’m still searching for the justification to find space amongst the other niche but totally justified bikes in my cellar (the Fatty, the Fixie, the Titanium, the Aero Road, the 650B…amongst others).

Until now. Along the length of the AutoRoute between Calais and the Alps, there are miles and miles of gravel road. Many running alongside but much, much more interestingly, many spearing off at right angles from the AutoRoute, cutting across the fields, heading towards undulating farmland, woodland or vineyards.  Here was justification enough! I pondered writing a whimsical travel book charting my adventures as I explored France’s gravel roads (on a brand new gravel bike).

Except of course I can’t. My usual excuse for not doing anything, for not follow my dreams reared its ugly and familiar head: Mortgage to pay. Wife & kids to support. My dreams were smashed again. Drive on.

Except they didn’t have to be. Why can’t I fulfil my dream and write about cycling? No reason. From subconscious thinking (whilst driving) my blog on cycling was born. ‘France by Gravel Bike’ may have to wait but there is nothing stopping me exploring my writing style and finding a voice through the subconscious cyclist.