Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Bespoked 2019-Review by Alaric Lester

Bespoked 2019
Review by Alaric Lester
I have been creating a dream crit bike for at least six months. It is a long way from taking physical form. Very few off-the-peg crit frames are on the market, justifying – necessitating – a custom build. It will have tight angles and aggressive geometry. Not needing to climb steep hills, stiffness will take priority over weight. Disc brakes and a 1x drivetrain will make the build. Most importantly, it will have the ride comfort and crash resistance that can only come from a well-made steel or titanium frame.
A little research was in order, so I headed to Bespoked 2019 in Bristol over the bank holiday weekend for some inspiration. British frame builders predominate. Italian, German, Swiss, US, Spanish and even Australian offerings were also present. As well as the bikes, components and clothing on offer, there were three days of talks, from the mental exertions of cycling to India, through the technical quirks of 12-speed Campagnolo, to the things that compel framebuilders to practise their art.
Even more valuable than seeing frames up close was the chance to talk in depth to a range of framebuilders. A builder’s philosophy and ability to understand different riders’ needs are just as important as craftsmanship and design expertise. Kudos to all for their inspiration and knowledge. Extra kudos to the ones who managed to stay interested at my sometimes obtuse questioning.
Wacky Offerings
Even Odysseus had distractions from his quest. There were Sirens aplenty to divert me from my research. Here are a few:
Beamz uses coppiced hardwood to create unique wooden offerings. Much as I wanted to explore further, there is no place in my racing stable for one of these!

The Flying Gate design has been around for more than eighty years. They are now made exlcusively by Liz Colebrook of Beaumont Bicycle. The vertical seat tube allows much shorter rear stays which, proponents claim, makes for a lively and fast frame. Aside from the highly unusual tubing arrangement, they are notable for their ornate lugs. I like the history behind the concept and really get the benefit of short stays, but the ugly injections are a step too far for me in an age of aero and carbon.

I pressed on the right-hand pedal of this wooden offering from Flat Frame Systems. The frame flexed – a lot. Great for comfort, great for individuality, not great for bunch sprints.

The MacKenzie Cyclone is designed to command attention and give a comfortable ride. I can vouch for the former. It will be winning me no crits, though.

I have little need for an MTB with drop bars, but I had to feature this Sturdy Cycles machine. If you can drag your eyes from the copper-finish water bottles, there are plenty of other fine touches to admire.

Componentry and Accessories
Component and accessory manufacturers were also well represented. At the Chris King stand, I spent some time studying the cassette clutch system of a cutaway rear hub. A man on the stand talked to me about various components of its design – from the choice of materials to the low-tension springs and easy hex-wrench maintenance. Who was the tour guide? Mr Chris King. A privilege to understand some of the design philosophy from the eponymous designer himself.
Moskito Watches had an analogue cycle watch collection. The classic Swiss watch design can easily be switched between the wrist and a handlebar mount. The watch pairs with a smartphone, using the latter’s GPS to display speed and distance travelled. Having the GPS separate from the watch means a long battery life of six months or more. The watch even announces when you have text messages. As required by the modern cyclist, rides can of course be uploaded to Strava. Aside from the style advantages, there is a simple elegance in an analogue display for speed: think Smiths Instruments meets the tech age.

I have used the Silca Hiro track pump adapter for over a season now. For pressures up to 15 bar (220 psi), it is the most reliable connector on the market. I visited the Silca stand to play with their new tools. The HX1 contains eight hex wrenches and ten tool heads, beautifully finished and nicely balanced. A textured red polymer coating gives sensuous satisfaction. The package is completed with a machined wooden box. They have made even the lowly hex wrench a thing of desire.
Reynolds tubing have branched out into 3D-printed metal dropouts and frame lugs. Modern technology allows these to be made to highly precise tolerances. There was also a prototype 3D-printed bottom bracket shell, although this is unlikely to move to commercial production in the near future. 

Frame Highlights
Winston Vaz has been building and repairing steel frames for more than 35 years. He spent nine years with Holdsworth, then 27 years with Roberts Cycles, before setting up Varonha Frameworks. His brother Mario, who resprayed a frame for me back in 1987, does all his paintwork. In pride of place on his stand was a Reynolds 953 road bike with a Campagnolo EPS groupset. Winston spent hours polishing the stainless tubes to a chrome-like finish, finishing with 2,000 grit sandpaper (most people stop at 1,000). Painted fancy lugs and wraparound seat stays complete the classic look. 

Cicli Barco was a new name to me. For many years, they built for other brands. Barco now specialise in custom steel builds with meticulous lugs and fine detail. I liked the round steel forks on their track/ fixed-wheel machine, reminiscent of the old Columbus track forks. Note also the embossed Italian flag on the top tube.

The Saffron Frameworks offerings had clean, modern lines. Founder Matthew Sowter was a chef before building frames, hence the company name. Sumptuous paintwork and elegant detail epitomise the brand. Particularly easy on the eye was a grey steel creation with a half-hidden seat binder and internal brake cables through the down tube, bottom bracket and chainstays. They also offer a steel frame with an integrated carbon seat tube.

The signature look on Barbastelle bikes (from the West Country, not Southern Europe as I first assumed) is the low seat stays, creating a tight rear triangle. I have yet to see these on other steel bikes. Seat stay clearances are very tight. As a sprinter, I would want a little more clearance there to allow for some wheel flex. Another steel first for me was the front end on their track bike, formed from parallel brazed head tubes, one for the fork steerer, the other joining the main triangle. This creates a savagely aero look for a steel frame. The various profiles of the Columbus Life tubeset work well for close clearances.

Finally to the understated and outstanding Prova Cycles, all the way from Australia. I wandered past this stand many times, almost missing one of the show’s highlights. Only up close did I appreciate the finish and attention to detail. Mark Hester, the founder, came from an automotive and motorsport background. The frames incorporate 3D-printed lugs and structures, often combining Columbus, Reynolds and carbon fibre in the same frame. Small wonder that they won the best-in-show award. Stunning, yet restrained, exuberance. 

Beyond the Show

Show departed, my beard was longer, my love of steel even greater, my eye more attuned to the minutiae that can make a good frame great.
Against the ride quality of a 1993 Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra, even a bespoke creation could fall short. With this in mind, perhaps the classic lines of a Varonha would win against an oh-so-contemporary Saffron. Or maybe I might take a chance with a younger framebuilder like Tom Skinner of Barbastelle. Perhaps there will be no future comparison, lest I discover the truth.
My crit bike may take form one day. It may not. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination – especially when it involves detours to the West Country. In the meantime, the quest for knowledge continues – and the ride is sweet.

This article first appeared on Strava in May 2019

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

I am a Hastings Man- A song by Lord Buss



(Has to be sung to the tune of 'Part of The Union' - by The Strawbs - those under the age of 50,
please check YouTube.)

Until The Colonel did appear
My life was half as clear
He said:  'Son, ride with the pack
and you'll never look back
Become a Hastings man' .

So I trained and trained real hard
Burnt off all the lard
Paid my dues, bought some cycling shoes
And became a Hastings man.

Well the HSLCC
has made a man of me
Now I say what I think
that The Rovers stink
Because I'm a Hastings man.

The Colonel leads from the front
pointing out holes and bumps
With Smiffy watching our rears
we've got nothing to fear
But he is known to pull the odd stunt.

Ooooh, you won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
Untill the day I die, 'till the day I die

On an improvers ride don't moan
Steve will normally get you home
He keeps an A to Z strapped to his chest
but it's best to take a phone.

Before getting out of bed
you'd be wise to call ahead
If the weather turns lousy he goes all ' blousy'
and stays snuggled up with his Ted.

Sundays are for the supertough
give it a go if think you're hard enough
But don't bother if you're wussy, JV is no pussy
and he'll know if you're just trying to bluff.

If you're looking for thrills and spills,
but without doing a ride that kills
We're not a bunch of fairies who congregate at Kerry's
we'd just rather do a few less hills.

Ooooh, you won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
Untill the day I die, 'till the day I die

It's quite a motley crew who wear
the red and blue
We've a Lord of the Manor who's handy with a spanner
And a man who's only five foot two.

When running low on fuel
This member is no fool
With a whistle and a shout
he'll whip his 'porkies' out
But you'll be lucky to get any at all.

If you ride with Rita and Nat
don't interrupt their chat
They're just the closest of chums
having lots of fun
Best to just leave it at that.

Although they've got matching gear
and they enjoy a glass of ginger beer
They're simply the best of chums
who know each others mums
I hope I've made myself clear.

Ooooh, you won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
Untill the day I die, 'till the day I die

And then there's dear old Tom
AKA - the 'Bianchi Bomb'.
He wears odd socks and his head's full of rocks
But he's as honest as the day is long.

We've got a gent with a giant tash
It's only there trying to hide a rash
It is a real beaut, and it makes him look cute
even covered in old gravy and mash.

When clean it's got a bluey grey tinge
With a nice little touch of ginge
When he takes his teeth out and
does that little pout
It looks a lot like a.... scary fringe.

We've got a group known as the elite
Some of whom I've yet to meet.
We've got hipsters with beards, some that
act weird
And a lovely man who's got no teeth.

Ooooh, you won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
Untill the day I die, 'till the day I die

There's a man they call the 'The Ledge'
who cycles close to the edge
But his kit is cheap and gaudy 'cos
he shops at Aldi
Even though he earns a sizeable wedge.

Around Majorca he really does fly,
red faced and with tears in his eyes,
He said: 'Yes, I know the gusset's tight, but the price is just right'
And I'll fly the German flag 'till I die' .

Now a special mention for Mark
who cycled the USA for a lark
Whilst going hither and thither
crossing mountain and river
The milkman delivered in the dark.

It's quite a diverse club
we're no strangers to the pub
We've a man to call when taken ill
a couple of 'Old Bill'
And a man who'll sell you a 'Sub'

Ooooh, you won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
Untill the day I die, 'till the day I die

We all have various roles
We've a man who takes government polls
Then there's that randy 'old stick'
who sells mortar and brick
And another one who blows up moles.

We've members who work in schools
and some who work with tools
I.T ers with giant brains, men who drive trains
and some of us who do sod all.

Ooooh, you won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
Untill the day I die, 'till the day I die

Now to all you 'players' of Zwift
who believe Santa's rides also exist
Us Luddites would rather you don't upload to Strava.
'Cos it's starting to get on our 'wick'

Of course my views you're welcome to 'diss'
It's not like I'm taking the p@ss
But if it wasn't outside then it's not a real ride
Call me 'old school' if you wish.

I know some only play it a bit
and some need to get a 'grip'
But others, near as dammit, live on another planet
and have lost touch with the Mother Ship.

I really don't mean any offence
But I can't just sit on the fence
I speak for all us 'old farts', who'd rather play darts
and want a return to pounds, shillings and pence.

Now a quiet word to a friend
who's starting a worrying trend
Try to refrain from taking 'selfies' in pain
you look like a proper 'bell end'.

Ooooh, you won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
You won't catch me I ride with the Hastings
Untill the day I die, 'till the day I die

Finally, I've something to say
That'll really make your day
We've a lady who's a fella
Who it is I cannot tell ya
'cos I've just signed an NDA

Boom, Boom..

Peter Buss

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Bec CC roller meeting, 15 March 2018-Report by Alaric Lester

 Roller racing is a slightly obscure branch of our great sport. Bikes are ridden on top of three suspended drums connected to a large odometer. Much of the competition equipment was made in the 1950s and ‘60s. With short distances and no frontal wind resistance, the fastest riders reach speeds of well over 100 km/h.
© Sue Landy 2018
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the big event was Bec CC’s Grand Prix of London, run by the legendary Ron Beckett, which drew in riders from across the south east. Interest waned after the millennium, though, and competition rollers went into storage. I was delighted, therefore, when the Bec dusted off their rollers last year. I first tasted roller racing more than 30 years ago and love the thrill, the atmosphere and the intimacy of indoor competition at close quarters. It is also a privilege to ride the Bec’s Barelli competition rollers, which are among the fastest in the country.
I took Sue Landy and Nigel Tamplin along for the Bec’s 15 March meeting at the Sutton & Epsom Rugby Club. Sue was a little nervous about trying it out, but when I explained to her at length how I had gone to the effort of setting up a Merckx track bike just for her, she felt obliged to give it a try. Emotional blackmail works a treat sometimes. She was also relieved to hear that riders have two holders each, making the racing nice and safe. Nigel had been off the bike for a while, so the evening was more of a recce for him. He helped with holding duties and keeping the bar in business.

© Ben Harris, B Harris Photography 2018
11 riders of varying ages and ability lined up in front of a small and friendly audience. The racing was over four events: 250, 500, 750 and 1000 metres. The 250 and 500 are over in a flash; the 750 and 1000 take a rider deep into anaerobic threshold territory. A couple of riders sensibly gave the latter events a swerve.

© Ben Harris, B Harris Photography 2018
The competition is serious during the few seconds of intense effort, but light-hearted the rest of the time. Riders can find themselves shouting encouragement one minute, holding a competitor the next and riding eyeballs out the next, before collapsing into a chair in preparation for the next round. Having an audience just a few metres away provides instant feedback and keeps anyone from slacking off.
© Ben Harris, B Harris Photography 2018

© Ben Harris, B Harris Photography 2018
How did we do? Sue did fantastically for a first-timer more used to long-distance sportives, riding very smoothly and setting some creditable times. As the first woman to ride since competition was reinstated, she also set current-day records at all distances. I managed to draw on my experience to win all four distances, also setting current-day records, but I suspect they will be blown away once some quick younger riders come along. All in all, a great evening’s racing for HSLCC, and a highly enjoyable one to boot.

The Bec’s next event is on 18 October. Sue has the rollers bug and will be back for more. Nigel was enthused and I suspect he is already in training for the event. It would be great to have more HSLCC members along with us then. Whether you compete or just come along for the atmosphere, you are guaranteed a very different cycling experience from the norm.

A full set of photos from 15 March is available at
This report first appeared on Strava in March 2018.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Fred Whitton Sportive

Well, let’s begin with Mr Strava not liking me and so my record (and possible kudos) is zilch. Not even a couple of yards and certainly no hills. Perhaps does it not like Mr Garmin (new Edge 1000) and was having a hissy fit. So nothing to show for our efforts there.

 Mike (Jacques, a workmate) and I set of in high hopes for decent weather and hoping our 2018 training would be good enough to get us round. I did have an aspiration of breaking 10 hours (remembering I did 10hr 18m when previously doing this with Richard ‘the Swan’ B in 2015) but obviously in the knowledge that the event is very much back-loaded, with the serious issue of Hardknot Pass (97 miles in) followed by Wrynose Pass. Had hoped my legs would be in reasonable form (had ridden well on the HSLCC ‘Mayfield Mayhem’ hilly course just a few weeks back) but from early on Kirkstone did not feel it was going to be there today. Mike was generally ahead at this stage and knowing there was much more to come was thinking this was going to be a long day (typical Colin you say, dragging things out again).

Weather forecast was possibly going to be good, with a lot of rain coming up from the south but possibly passing more to the east. As we rode through Patterdale kept an eye out for clouds pushing in from the right but didn’t seem to be happening so could be lucky. Good chase along the A66 toward Keswick with some wheel sucking (did take my turn on the front) and had caught up a bit of time. Maybe legs are starting to come good.

 Caught up with Mike (well he caught up with me as had stopped for a comfort break on the A66) at the first feed station around 40 miles in. Both seem to be ok and the weather seems to be improving with some sunshine making an appearance. Quickish stop (Martin’s tip) and away for more climbing. Was having difficulty with my left shoe cleat. Stopped to check the problem and there was the obvious answer, I didn’t have a cleat on the shoe anymore. Bugger. Have been using the shoes (MTB type) in the gym for several months and, thinking of Hardknot, had chosen them over my road shoes. What I had failed to do was check the cleats were sufficiently tightened up. You live and learn….

So with seventy miles to go I was on one and a bit pedals. Hey, ho. SPD pedals are anything but, with little to get much purchase on, so climbing would be very difficult with shoe sliding off and not being able to get out of the saddle (without the serious prospect of wrecking my marriage tackle). Perhaps there would be a mechanic at the second feed station with a spare. Honister Pass proved to be a walk on the lower section, as could not do 20% plus in the saddle without the potential of coming to a dead stop. Will have to push a bit more between the steep bits to get some time in hand.

After some more unnecessary hills eventually got to the second feed station (Highland cattle on road between Ennerdale Bridge and Calder Bridge, first time anyone called out ‘cows up’) and waited to talk to the mechanic. This took about twenty minutes (too long, says Martin) but he had no spare cleats. Ok, so will need to push harder as no choice but to walk Hardknot. Left Mike behind (he seemed to think he was ahead of me again but only caught up as we ascended to Blea Tarn, the very last climb) to try and get as much advantage before the long walk. Passing lots of tired riders (or those being sensible knowing the vertical challenges ahead) until the cattle grid at the bottom of Hardknot and then it was into mountain climbing mode. The MTB shoes were better than road shoes (or socks as some others had resorted to) so made steady progress up the first section. Almost as fast as some riders. I think the weather was having some impression as seemed to be more walkers than riders today and definitely more than 2015.

 When the gradient came down got back on and peddled to just below the steep bit (30%) then off and walking again. A girl came past (is that allowed – sexist moment) then fell sideways as just ran out of energy. Couldn’t get her feet unclipped, so was shouting ‘drag me to the side I don’t want to stop any riders’. Bit Monty Python, so we helped whilst directing those still in the saddle go around her. Began speculating that this climb ought to be sponsored by Stannah (the stair lift people), or should fit a drag lift. Anyway, enough of the banter and back on the bike for the final bit up and then the descent. If you have never ridden down Hardknot (or Wrynose) then my suggestion is, don’t. It is as steep as going up, braking is hard on the hands, the rear wheel wants to lift off and the roads are so rippled from sun melt in years gone by that it is surprising there were not more crashes and accidents. Oh, and the hairpin bends, so all adds up to something which could be a very unforgiving experience. Then along the valley floor and then up Wrynose (25%). Well part way and then walking again. Over the top and down and then the new bit. This year instead of the gentle undulating road back to Grasmere, no, let’s go up again, to Blea Tarn (25%) and then down and along Langdale. By this stage my chances of breaking 10 hours were still in the balance. Mr Garmin said I had a chance but needed to put the hammer down. So whilst most others had settled for a gentle last dozen miles, your correspondent had to go for it. Pushed very hard and eventually got to the finish with the Garmin showing a couple of minutes inside my self-imposed time limit.

 But no, it was not to be. The official event controls had me down for a very un-satisfactory 10hr 3m. As I say again, bugger. Was I deluded, did the Garmin loose some time when on Kirkstone (the auto pause kept stopping as I was not moving fast enough to keep it going, so stopped to re-set). I obviously stopped too long at the second feedstop (Martin was right, again, that’s annoying in itself). And it was my fault anyway.

 Some stats for those interested; 113 miles, 10,810 feet of climbing. Official time 10hr 3m (Garmin said 9hr 57m) moving time 8hr 57m, average speed 12.65mph (max 36.55mph). HR max 189 bpm. HR red zone 1hr 2m, and over half the ride in zones 4 & 5 (Mike has a slow HR, so only in red for 3m, or was he not really trying)

So after all that effort is came down to three minutes. Maybe, just maybe, I will have to do it again.


NB. Great support all along the route. Lots of cow-bells and cheering and even most of the motorists who were inconvenienced by all the cyclists took it in good spirit.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Improvers Spring Special Season Gets Underway

By tradition every Spring I organise some ‘Improvers Spring Specials’. These are for riders like myself who cannot manage a fast pace but still want the ‘fun’ of climbing/descending a very hilly route outside of our normal stamping grounds.

This year I thought we would start with one of our old favourites ‘The Mayfield Mayhem’. Although this is only 58 miles long, it has the second highest hill density in my collection at 106 feet per mile, which puts it in leg breaker territory.

On advertising this ride I pointed out that the ride would be cancelled for safety reasons if the weather forecast was poor, so all week I checked the forecast every day and on Friday the forecast looked OK, with just a bit of rain early on but dry thereafter. On Sunday morning I woke up to the unmissable sound of rain drops on my bedroom window and a text from Andy asking if the ride was still on. It was too late to cancel, so the answer was yes.

The rain wasn’t too bad once we were all assembled at Robertsbridge railway station. As well as myself there were the familiar faces of Malc D, Ivan, Derek, Steve D, Andy, Colin plus one of Colin’s mates Mike.  It intrigued me to compare what Mike and Andy were riding. Mike was riding a cheap second-hand alloy Giant defy (winter bike) while Andy was riding his immaculate very nice carbon framed Emonda including carbon wheels!

There is no easy warm up on this ride and we started climbing immediately after exiting the car park. Everything was going fine until we approached Snape wood. By now the rain had increased and everything felt dark and gloomy under the thick cloud cover. The lanes round this area are very twisty and the Garmins were getting confused. This was due to combination of not enough track points plus poor satellite signal leading to errors. To make matters worse Andy was using a brand new Garmin 820 and didn’t know how to turn off route recalculation. We kept literally going in circles plus Ivan and Steve got separated from the rest of us. Who knows what new rider Mike thought of us all. In the end we had to go old school, ignore the Garmins and trust Malc’s common sense instinct to get us back on route and find our missing friends.

Miraculously this worked, my Garmin showed we were back on route and after a few miles there was Steve and Ivan waiting for us. It was great to be all back together, but with only half the group having the route on their Garmins I wasn’t so sure we could manage to stay that way.

We will all pretty soggy by now but after a winter adapting to the cold, I felt warm enough. We were now moving into Ashdown forest and the climb up to Kings Standing. Colin wanted us to take a detour to the Kidd’s Hill climb to the top but I thought it best to stick to the longer smoother and more gradual climb past Coleman’s Hatch . This is one of my favourite climbs. It’s around 4.5 miles long and a bit of a grind, plenty of time for us to become very spread out. Last ones at the top were Malc and Derek. Derek said he didn’t realise how many hills there were and Malc said he felt cooked (too many miles during the week) they said they couldn’t go on and were going to catch a train back home.

Hours of cleaning await Andy!
The rest of us pressed on towards our planned café stop at Mayfield. This was only 13 miles but it seemed endless with another steep climb around every corner. The roads were absolutely filthy and full of wet loose gravel but at least there weren’t too many potholes. My rear brake blocks were getting dangerously thin and Andy’s carbon wheels were making alarming screeching sounds under the constant downhill breaking .Despite having good endurance from my winter riding  my leg muscles were in pain from all the unaccustomed climbing, this was becoming a real suffer fest but masochistically I was secretly enjoying the sense of adventure . Ivan however was not having a good time, he was wet and cold and said if there was a way out on a local train he would take it.

After a stop, myself and Andy got separated from the others but weren’t concerned as we knew everyone was headed for Mayfield. Approaching the town we saw a café and decided to pull in to see if there were there. Unfortunately Andy misjudged the curb and took a low speed crash. Fortunately rider and beloved Emonda emerged only a little scarred. There was no sign of the others and desperate for sustenance we took the Main road into Mayfield and the correct café. What a relief! Two lattes and a big slice of chocolate cake restored me to more or less normal. The rain had stopped and the sun was managing to partially break through the thinning cloud cover, even the Garmins were now happy.

The last ten miles were great fun with wider drier roads. Our only problem was that Ivan’s single speed chain decided to snap close to the end but Ivan managed to ride it like a scooter and arrived back only a few minutes after we did.

Despite the adversities there were smiles all round, hopefully this will set us up for the other forthcoming ‘Specials’ .

Steve C

A Weekend in Hell (Pete loses his bottle)

8:30am Friday morning and Duncan arrives spot on time in his Peugeot, a name evocative of Simpson, Merckx, LeMond, Millar, Yates, Roche… unfortunately the slightly battered silver estate didn’t quite live up to the romance of the bygone eras. After a brief stop in Pett and we were loaded, three amigos, three bikes, and with the aid of the Eurotunnel and possibly Sue’s better half we were at were at the Stab Velodrome just after lunchtime.
Roubaix is blessed with both an indoor and outdoor track something that no town with less that 100,000 residents can boast in the UK. The later named after Jean Stablinski winner of the Vuelta in 1958 but more famous for introducing La Trouée d’Arenberg to the Queen of classics in 1968.

Pete registered quickly having opted for the medium route, Duncan and I had a 15 minute wait as we were going the full distance and as would seem befitting had a longer queue. Having completed registration Pete was keen to leave immediately as he wanted to try out the cobbles before the event. But eager eyed Duncan spotted he’d changed his top and was now wearing a Paris Roubaix Challenge T-Shirt. After a brief exchange along the lines of ‘I texted you both, if you wanted a T-Shirt and you didn’t respond and now we’ll have to queue up again and I want to ride my bike….’. A mention of a crop top being more fitting than a T-Shirt for those doing the medium length route didn’t help the situation. 10 minutes later we all had matching T-Shirts, calm had been restored and were ready to head off.

Dropping our bags at the hotel, a quick change and we were ready for the a reconnaissance ride 10 miles out with the return leg via the last 5 sections of Pavé.
Sector 5 – Bourgheeles à Wannehain only 1.1km but 4* - the cobbled sections are given * ratings based on their quality (or should that be lack of quality) and length, 1 being the easiest and 5 the hardest. Hands burning, legs aching, and heart rate hitting the mid 160s we’d completed our first section of Pavé, but it seems are extensive adaptations (Pete double wrapped bar tape, Duncan 30mm tubeless tires, me 38mm tubeless tires – to be referred to as Tractor tires from this point on) hadn’t necessarily completely smoothed out the cobbles. 

Next up Carefour de l’Arbre 2.1km and the full 5* and often the point where the Pros make a break for the finish. Let’s just say ait was at the end of this sector we we’re greeted by Didi the Devil, and he didn’t seem at all out of place. So anybody got any tips – Apparently the hoods are to be avoided, the tops or the drops being more comfortable – well you wouldn’t want your hands in the place where you have most control over your bike when you’re bouncing around would you? Apart from that the only other tip was to power through – apparently the idea is to glide over the top, my experience was the major advantage this brings, is to get it over quicker. Using the now shared knowledge we successfully navigated the remaining cobbled sectors and headed straight to the bar. It was clear tomorrow would be a long day.

4am and Duncan and my alarms go off in stereo - time to get up and enjoy a savoury breakfast of sausage rolls and scotch eggs curtesy od M&S. In the hotel foyer there’s an assortment of cyclist all looking half asleep and nervous of what’s to come. Being someone who likes to prepare I’ve plotted a route to the coach pick-up point, a shopping centre so set off smugly. However, this is short lived as having arrived at the shopping centre it’s clear this isn’t the right  shopping centre and there isn’t a coach insight. Fortunately, there are lots of cyclist all heading in the same direction, so we tag along and at 5am we are greeted by 24 coaches and 8 lorries. Bikes are carefully loaded in the lories on 2 levels with a layer of cardboard placed between each bike, leaving riders to make their way to their allocated coach. Time to get some sleep - well it would be if our compatriot would stop texting to say how grate the scrambled eggs and bacon are he’s having for breakfast. Arriving in Busigny at about 7:30 it’s 8:20 before we’ve both got are bikes and I’ve made a trip to the portaloo to avoid a repeat of the 312 pre-start Dumoulin. 

Note: Whilst the Pros ride 257km from Compiègne the Long Sportive Route is a mere 172km but still manages to cram in all 29 cobbled sectors and their 53km of bone shaking madness.
A pact is made, it’s not closed roads and the cobbles are dangerous, so lets’ ride sensibly and enjoy the day – we set off to ‘Hoghway to Hell’ playing on the PA, spot a group ahead and immediately give chase. The group is hammering along at 25mph then turn north, get more benefit from the tailwind and the pace increases to 30mph – Yes we’re pacing ourselves well! In no time at all we arrive at the first section of Pavé. 

Let’s get this right, Hands on the flats gripping the bars as if they are a budgerigar – tight enough that it can’t fly away, but gentle enough not to crush it. Head for the crown of the road!? and press on hard. It works – it’s not exactly comfortable but it’s bearable and I’m skipping along at a fair old lick. The route is littered with bidons and already some have stopped to mend punctures. Oh no - slower rider in front so have to leave the crown to overtake, but here is where the tractor tires pay dividends, even off line with 38mm at 40psi you have grip (in the dry) and some cushioning. Bugger the chains off – where to stop can’t pull to the side people riding in the gutters, we’re on a slight downhill gradient so roll on until it’s safe to pull off on to the grass verge. Put the chain back on whilst Duncan passes then back on the bike and we’re off again.

At the end of the cobbles Duncan and I regroup and look for a new group to shelter in for the next road section. This pattern repeats itself for about 50km, but annoyingly must chain has come off twice more already. We stop at the feed station – I’d drunk one of my bidons on the coach and the other was now nearly empty, so whilst I refill, Duncan tucks into a waffle or two. The temperature is rising so having started in shorts, ss-shirt arm warmers and gilet, I’m now gilet less and working on tan lines on both legs and arms.

Apart from losing the chain it’s all going. well I ask Duncan if he’s had any issues with his and he admits to it come off the big ring a couple of times but being Di2 he’s been able to press button and magically ping it back on. My SRAM 1x11 set-up has a clutch in the rear derailleur and wide narrow teeth on the chain ring to keep the chain in place without a front derailleur – it seems SRAM (USA based) hadn’t reckoned on French cobbles when designing this set-up. However, the problem only seems to happen when on downhill sections when freewheeling so the answer would have to be to just keep pedalling.

We’re making good time averaging well over 18mph as we tick off one section off Pavé after another. The mines on the left indicate we are approaching the most famous sector of all ‘Trouée D’Arenberg’ but the level crossing barriers are down so we must wait for a train to pass before we can enter. Oh no what’s this we’re being cordoned on to the uneven tarmac path on the right instead of being allowed to ride the legendary cobbles. 200m later we’re directed on to the cobbles – Yippee!?. Being tree lined they’re damp and very slippery and yes there’s a rider on the ground in front. At this point the medium route which starts in Roubaix joins the long route so there are plenty of cobble virgins trying to pick their way slowly along the trench. The problem is this means we have to ride slowly as overtaking in Arenberg is even more treacherous than the other sectors, so we settle in for a bumpy journey through the forest. All to soon we are out the other side and back on proper tarmac and bathing in sunshine.

We keep the pace up and despite the cobbles, which by now have taken their toll and our bodies ache all over (never before have my ribs hurt on a bike ride) and we arrive and the final feed station. It’s only 30km from the finish but we both want a rest – Well I do, and Duncan agrees to join me. After feasting on more waffles we set off again and are soon on the familiar sectors from Friday’s reconnaissance ride, pushing on is no longer an option so it’s a rough a rickety journey on the cobbles that remain. After fighting with the traffic and being held at every sets of lights finally we make the turn into the Velodrome. I decide to head for the top of the banking and certainly more aided by gravity than sprinting power roll across the line just ahead of Duncan.

Pete is there to greet us having finished considerably earlier, he’s bemoaning the loss of bidon and his seat pack both casualties of the cobbles. Over a couple of beers he explains the best bit of his ride was the roads from Roubaix  out to Arenberg, as he’d set off with a fast group and had wheel sucked all the way to the Trench, Duncan and I agreed that the well earned beers were the best part of ours.

Sunday arrived with a slightly sore head and we drive back to Arenberg settle in in front of the big screen spend the day, lapping up the atmosphere, drinking beer (apart from our DD – Duncan), watch the Pros hit the cobbles at 50kph plus and head home.

Roubaix is just outside Lille about 1½ hours drive from Calais. If you’ve never seen the Pros race go the atmosphere and spectacle is amazing. If you want to ride the same roads your idles do – do the sportive – it’s a great event and one I’ll always rember.

Footnote: Unfortunately Belgian cyclist Michael Goolaerts of Veranda's Willems-Crela
fell on the second set of Cobbles during Sunday’s race and died later of a Cardiac arrest. Our thoughts go to his Teammates, friebds and family.

Patrick Piper

Monday, 9 April 2018

PART DEUX - BBR Sat 31st Mar

PART DEUX - BBR Sat 31st Mar 

'Or should it be called the BBBBR?' 
Thurs 30th Mar, 15:21 Queens Mary's Hospital - Sidcup 

'It's probably best that you accept them as part of you, because, unfortunately,  you're stuck with them now. Although your brain will adjust and you won't notice them'

The very lovely lady doctor  eye specialist was explaining my condition. It's known as PVD - Posterial Vitreous Displacement (not to be confused with PVA - which is a bonding agent much loved by plasterers.) It came on as I was up a ladder doing some refurbishment on a bathroom of a flat in Bexleyheath. At first I thought it was just a migraine with extra special effects: blobs and cobwebs, really wierd.

'Can I still go cycling?' I asked.

'Just carry on as usual', was the welcome response.

09:34 Di Paulos

'So, anyway, the upshot is,  I've got floater problems - and my eyes are not that great either!'

I was relaying to some of the assembled group, including Neil, Stewart and Tom,  my experience at Queen Mary hospital two days earlier, and couldn't resist the' crack'.

I could see no one was that impressed so I took a slurp of my coffee and looked around  to see if there was any sign of Nick.

We've bonded lately and he gives me a welcome push whenever he sees me struggling. Two weeks ago he gave me a shunt along the Herstmonceux road and having got me up to 20 mph I was able to maintain the momentum such that Terry struggled to keep up.

'Wow, what got into you? You never go that fast when you come out with me on a Tuesday!'

Alas, there was no sign of Nick, but I was pleased to see Patrick - who gave me a big smile.

I offered the usual: 'What was the tiff over this time?' reference to Peter Baker's (the other 'Fun Chum' - same events, same bike, same clothes, same breakfast, same mannerisms, similar hairstyle, etc. etc. ) absence.

`No we haven't fallen out, he doesn't like the wet weather`, he explained.

We were starting  to gather outside when I was pleasantly surprised to see Steve D.
Now that 'Sausagegate', has become just a distant memory, we get on famously.

'Hello, stranger, haven't seen you for ages?' I said

'Nah, done me collar bone, while I was skiing - some twat crashed into me!'

I'm not sure from what he said about the ensuing fracas that he came off the worst!

I was also pleasantly surprised to see Henning again. Hopefully he will become a regular - we can't have too many celebs in our little club. I didn't really notice him until I eased past him whilst tackling the 'South Cliff Slog ' - you know the Cat 4 climb at the start, just after the bend?

'Typical bank holiday weather', I said

'Yes, I believe so'

Well, I don't have much to brag about these days, and anyway I think he was conserving energy as he dropped me with ease on the Beast of Boreham Street.

Bearing in mind the excessive rain we've had lately, it was decided that turning left at the Pear Tree Lane junction would be a drier option than straight on.

We regrouped, as usual, at the junction of Straight Lane and Hooe Road and then pushed onto Boreham Street.

Towards the top Neil and Nigel breezed past me, whilst casually chatting (Very reminiscent of the racing jockey portrayed by Harry Enfield in the Fast Show. ) 

At the top we had the usual - 'Who's going short and who's going long discussion'.

My knees are still not great so I stuck to short. Accompanied by Sue, Henning and Andy C.

Patrick, Duncan  and a few of the others also did short, but shot off at a rapid pace, probably part of their training for Paris - Roubaix (although there aren't many cobbles on the BBR, the entrance to Chilley Farm is a bit gravely - best to exercise some caution. )

I sat at a table with Patrick, Duncan and Nigel who were reliving some of their past glories.

'So what do you think is the hardest event you have ever done then?'

I posed this question to all three of them.

'Without a doubt I would say Majorca 312', said Patrick.

'What about you, Duncan`, I said.

' Well, funnily enough, I would say, on balance, without stretching the point too far, and without prejudice, I would probably say, even though it has nothing to do with cycling, that it has to be The Welsh 3000s'

(for those who are unaware, it is a pointless exercise of walking up all the mountains in Wales that are above 3000 feet, I've also done it - and regretted it. Henning wasn't sitting at our table, but if he was he probably would have said, quite rightly  : 'And vy would anybody vish to do such a thing' )

Anyway, from what Duncan was saying, it seemed that  a lot of the issues were political; he was doing it with Derek and this was pre Smashy and Nicey days.

'And what about you, then, Nige?'

'Well, my worst event nearly caused me to break my collar bone!'

'Oh, was that the 312 also?', I said, all agog.

'Oh, no, not at all. I was in the Aldi sale last year, and me and this foul old woman both grabbed at a pair of jeggings that I was hoping to use as leggings. We had such a tug-of-war that I nearly pulled my arm out of its socket. Mind you I won -  although it did stretch the gusset a bit.  Actually, I'm wearing them today. What do you think?.
I looked under the table.

'And what exactly are you wearing on your feet?'

Oh, my dad gave me his old rugger boots, and I've cut them down for cycling. (see photo. )

'Rather nice aren't they?'

Apologies for severe lack of proper cycling content, but love it as much as I do, there is only so much that I can say about the BBR.
(it was suggested by someone, who shall remain nameless, that it should be called the BBBBR - B@ll@cks Banter and Bacon Butty ride.

Peter Buss