Monday, 29 September 2014

One Day One Photo - 17

Friday 26th September

I managed to get hold of the latest issue of Cycling Active magazine. Even though I have been contributing articles to this and to Cycling Weekly for a few years I still get quite excited about seeing the finished product on the shelf of WH Smith or the newsagent section in Tescos or Sainsburys. There is something very satisfying about seeing the planning, logistics and creativity of a seedling that you had in a brain come into fruition in the shape of a product that appears on the shelf of high street shops.

That is the case this month, with my article on cycle commuting which is in the current edition of Cycling Active. We looked at two options for commuting around a town on two wheels - riding your own commuter bike or hiring a bike. So we compared the riding experience and practicality of using a Raleigh Cameo versus a Boris Bike. The specifications, costs, the riding etc are examined in more detail in the article. In a nutshell, the conclusion was that the Raleigh is the more comfortable and more attractive-looking of the two bikes and is a bike that you can take wherever, and ride for as along as you like. The Boris Bike is a robust, reliable two-wheeler which does the job, but does not feel as comfortable as the Raleigh when being ridden for more than an hour. However, it is maintenance-free, hassle-free, and once you've paid your nominal membership fee (for a year or for a day) the first 30 minutes of riding it cost nothing.

I am glad that we finally got this story into a magazine as the shoot for it was tricky - mainly on account of the location. We wanted to be in a central London location, so we went to Belgrave Square. There was a bit of pressure to get the right shot, in the right light, and without any cars in the background. As this area has lots of embassies, there is a high (though discreet) armed police presence so we wanted to get everything done quickly and hopefully without any incident kicking off while we were there!

I had always considered this square to be quiet at weekends, but in fact quite a lot happens. With a private park and tennis courts in the middle of the square a lot of the well-healed Belgravia and Chelsea set go there for a quick game, or take their offspring there for lessons. It is a cut-through route for getting to Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge. In addition, there's a parking lot that becomes very popular thanks to Westminster Council's relaxed parking restrictions at weekends.

Sometimes doing photo shoots involve unexpected interventions from members of the public. In central London, especially in this area, there are usually a few tourists who interupt the shoot to ask for directions to Buckingham Palace or the nearest tube station. Others may ask the photographer if he could take a photo of them for their holiday snaps! While we were doing our shoot a small film crew turned up, looking for a spot. I think they had wanted to take the site where we were, but I guess it comes down to the old saying about the early bird. Also, because we were using Boris Bikes which we would leave on its stand in between shots, we had to be mindful of other people around who had also left their Boris Bikes to stand nearby. It was very easy to pick up the wrong Boris Bike and end up with someone else's bill! At least we didn't have the experience that I had a few years ago when doing a shoot in a run-down part of East London, before the Olympic stadium was built. I and the photographer were out, and a guy who looked a bit high on something took a real interest in what we were doing and wanted to be in the shoot!

I had been anxious that my 18 year-old nephew might get tired of being asked to ride up and down the same short stretch of road umpteen times while being photographed. In fact he was as good as gold and seemed happy to be involved. I was the one who started to huff and puff, wanting to finish up soon and get on with other things. (Posing for photo shoots is not my strong point!) Afterwards we moved on to the Royal Albert Hall where Higg took the rest of the bike shots, ably assisted by my nephew, and I sunbathed in the park. We then went home happy with our clutch of pictures.
The full review of the bikes is in the current issue of Cycling Active.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

One day a few photos - 16

Thursday 25th September

The Cycle Show is back in England, and once again it is at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. I went along and checked it out for the day. As usual the larger cycle manufacturers like Trek, Colnago and Raleigh had fancy stands with their 2015 range on show. There were a lot of smaller stands with innovative items on offer. A couple that caught my eye were the new range of helmets from Brooks which have a fabric and tweed covering. It's great to have helmets to wear which match with your ordinary clothing, rather than almost exclusively helmets that better match sportswear.

There were various stands with different ways of improving cyclist's safety, notably through lighting systems. One I particularly liked was the one from Veglo which consists of commuter straps worn around your body or around your rucksack with a light and fibre optics that light up. They not only allow the cyclist to be seen by other motorists but they give a sense of depth and distance away as the motorist approaches the cyclist from behind.

Finally, a company called Tannus were displaying their puncture-free tyres in a range of bright and cheerful colours. The tyres are made from solid material so there is no inner tube and if a sharp object penetrates the tyre there is nothing to deflate, hence the tyre still keeps its shape and doesn't go flat.

These shows are always a good way to catch up with folks in cycling. Among the people I bumped into were people from other cycling magazines, Geoff Saxon who organisers the Wiggle-Kilo-to-Go cyclosportives, bike shop owners Maurice Burton and Guy Pearson. I also managed to get an interview in with 2-time Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso. He was all very amenable and spoke English pretty well - which was handy for me as my Italian was a bit rusty at times! Anyway, a good day out.

Friday, 26 September 2014

One day one photo - 15

Wednesday 24th September

Photo by John Mullineaux on London X League
The cyclo cross season has started, yay! It's one of the best ways to brighten up dull winter days and keep you fit during the off season. Actually, with hill climb competitions in full flow, a number of cyclosportives still to be done, plus various series of track cycling races is there really an off season? As dull winter days - well winter is not quite here, but this autumn has been one of the driest for decades and the cyclo cross races I've done were in warm sunshine! But who's complaining! I, and my bike, don't mind a delay to the arrival of mud!

The rankings for the London League are out and I am currently lying in 5th place (strictly speaking 4th=) in the women's competition. Great news! The thing is, that is after only 2 rounds out of 15. Given that I am not going to be in London every weekend I will not be able to contest for the top spot so I am happy to step back and give the other women a chance of claiming glory in my absence! (ha, ha - if only those words represented the reality!) It looks good to say I am in a top 5 position out of 23, but even if I were able to do the required amount of races I wouldn't be troubling any of the women in line for a podium place. The level at the London League has improved significantly since the days when I started doing cyclo cross almost 10 years ago. A number of the women from London will contest the National Trophy races. A few will even race in Europe and mix it with the heavyweights of cyclo cross in Belgium and the Netherlands. That's a good thing for women's racing. 

So, while I am unlikely to be figuring on any podium at the end of season presentations I still look forward to getting out and enjoying a good old race like I did recently at Penshurst Off Road Cycling centre. I won't necessarily be doing all the London League events but I will get out and ride in other leagues in the North-West, the East Midlands, and Yorkshire, which are all within easy reach of Macclesfield.

One day one photo - 14

Tuesday 23rd September

I managed to complete my Sportsister review of this new cycling jacket that Proviz have provided for me to test. It's an innovative type of high viz clothing that could substitute the day-glo yellows and oranges that people usually wear. I quite liked the feel of it, though I think I could have ordered a size smaller in order to get a more tailored fit like what is shown on the product website. But hey, I guess it means I don't have to worry about it being too tight if I have a few layers on underneath or if I "expand a little" over time!

This jacket, the Reflect360, is apparently the world's first jacket that uses a 100% reflective outer shell. I didn't know that, but what I do know is that the jacket certainly has a funny glow about it in the dark. When I walked into the living room with the lights out, I noticed something glowing in the corner and it almost gave me a fright! The jacket was glowing in the dark like something you see in a sci-fi show! A sliver of light had come through the gap in the curtains and this light was instantly being reflected off the jacket to make it highly visible. The thing is that all I noticed first was the chair glowing! It was only as I got closer that that I realised it was the jacket that was hanging from it. That's what must have also been happening when wearing it at night while riding in the street. I'm sure there were a few motorists who were thinking "what in the name of God is that?" at first sight! At least it caused them to stay back and give me a wider berth when approaching, which is what the intended aim is. So that can't be a bad thing, even if it gives a Dr Who or a Red Dwarf moment!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

One day one photo - 13

Monday 22nd September

On our trip to Dublin we also bumped into the local who's who. The guy in the chain is Christy Burke, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin. Apparently, this guy was previously a member of the Sinn Fean party but decided to go independent in 2009 in a hope that his views could be better represented. The guy has also served a couple of years in prison for being a member of the IRA. Burke admits to having been an "active Republican" during the 1970s, but these days tends to focus on local issues like anti-drugs campaigning in his local area.

The Lord Mayor is also staunchly against the British royal family and does not see why they should be visiting Ireland. In fact he is lobbying for Queen Elizabeth to not be invited to the 1916 Easter Uprising anniversary commemorations in a couple of years' time. Having said that, for all his radicalism he still seemed a nice man, as we saw when he came over to officially open some local allotments. And like all politicians as he was walking out and saw my friend's baby he couldn't resist the opportunity to be photographed with him (whether the baby or its mother wanted it or not) showing off his "softer" side. It seems that whatever political hue or doctrines a politician holds, he always has to be photographed smiling and cooing at a little baby! Some things never change.

One day one photo - 12

Sunday 21st September

On our trip to Dublin we visited some friends of Higg's who lived in Laragh in the Wicklow mountains. It's all very pretty and quite touristic around there. The friends said that they look forward to the autumn/winter period because at least they can have their neighbourhood back to themselves after a spring and summer packed full of coachloads of people visiting nearby Glendalough, or ramblers walking the Wicklow Way. They even had Michelle Obama in the region, and on that day all the roads in the area were closed off in order to accommodate her, her two girls, her 50-strong motorcade, the Garda and the Irish Army! Traffic in County Wicklow was gridlocked!

Thankfully on this visit Higg and I were able to move freely and on our journey we drove through some spectacular scenery, notably through the Wicklow Gap. It was a shame that we didn't have bicycles with us. The last time we rode in this area was a about 4 years ago. The wind was so strong on the Sally Gap that it felt unsafe. There were even a few times when I felt more comfortable walking. On this day though, the weather was calm and everywhere was bathed in lovely sunshine. The perfect day for a bike ride. I hope to go back there again before long - and with a bicycle.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

One day one photo - 11

Saturday 20th September

Whenever I am free on a Saturday morning and not taking part in another race or event I try and do the Parkrun. As they have one all over the country it is not too difficult to find one nearby. The great news is they don't just have them in the UK. They have started doing them in Ireland now - which is handy because that's where I was over the weekend! So off I popped to do the one at Marlay Park, in Dublin. As you can see, I am really working hard at my 5km run!

The great thing about these Parkruns is they have a designated venue to hold the post-race coffee for the runners. In this case it is the café and courtyard of Marlay House, where there is also a farmers' market. I must say that Marlay Parkrun is one of the prettiest Parkruns I have done. It goes around parkland and then through the woods, with the finish in front of a stately home. As well as the farmers' market there are also artisanal stalls. I was more interested in the foodstuff though and ended up spending more time at the market, due to the various cakes on offer!

As for the running, well, I was glad to finish in the top half of the field. Looking at previous results it looked like the level would be quite high with the top 10 males all doing sub-18 minutes and the top females doing sub-19 minutes.  I had thought that with the Dublin half-marathon taking place on this day the numbers would be down on their usual 400-strong field, and slower folks' results would look better than usual. No such luck! The fastest guy won in 15 and a half minutes and the field was as big as usual. I was happy to churn out my usual 24 and a bit minutes, and still have the energy to hang out around Dublin City with friends and family for the rest of the day.

One day on photo - 10

Friday 19th September

I managed to get sucked into the all-night marathon show that covered the results of the referendum on Scottish independence. The programme wasn't all that gripping. This wasn't helped by the dour BBC coverage, but the monotony was mainly due to the stream of councils declaring the "No" vote had won.

I shouldn't really have had difficulty falling asleep through all of this, but on a few occasions when the magic moment came my slumber was interrupted by a gigantic cheer. This happened when Dundee, Glasgow and a couple of other councils came out and said yes to being a separate country. So, my all-nighter wasn't completely wasted! I wasn't on the side of the "yes" vote. I had just wanted to see the really tight contest being played out as the opinion polls had been forecasting. Although the "yes" vote got a creditable 45%, this was not really mano-a-mano stuff.

I must say I am glad that Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and we will be able to see the likes of proud Scot, Katie Archibald representing Team GB on the world stage in the cycle races. It is possible to be proud of your nationality and be part of the UK or be British. I can understand the reasons why people would vote "yes" to independence and I respect that, but I still believe that we are stronger together. I finally got some kip just before 5 am, and caught up on the rest of my sleep during my journey to Ireland later in the day.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

One day one photo - 9

Thursday 18th September

13 - the new range of bikes from Halfords - was launched and I went along to the grand unveiling in Central London. The shop is already known for distributing well known brands such as Boardman, Pinarello, Kona, Pendleton and Mongoose. But the special thing about this range is that it is intended to be complimentary to what they already stock, and it is their own Halfords brand at affordable prices.
The essence of the 13 brand (of which the logo is shown upside down, in keeping with cyclist superstition) is, in the words of chief designer, Justin Stephens is to "ignore convention and follow instinct." So that's what they've done by introducing this range of hybrid, mountain and road (including a cyclo cross) bikes. They have brought in various elements from different types of bikes in order for them to be eye-catching and distinguished, notably with the use of UCI stripes in their frame colours, and internal hub gears in the hybrid bikes. It was all very informative and interesting. I guess the proof of the presenting is in the riding, and I look forward to trying out one of their bikes.


One day one photo - 8

Wednesday 17th September

Working in Tytherington, near Macclesfield means that my lunchtime bike rides always involve going in or around Bollington. Anyone who knows this pretty village will also know that one of the main features of the area is this monument known as White Nancy. The actual monument is not very high, but the fact that it sits on top of the Kerridge hills, 250m above sea level means that it can be seen from various areas of the village and the surrounding areas. Up close I don't think it looks like much, but from afar it's quite impressive. It's also a useful beacon for finding my way back to base if I get lost in one of the many lanes!

The other useful thing about White Nancy for me, is it is a useful target for training both on the bike and on foot. While it isn't permitted to cycle right up to the summit, it is possible to cycle up the lane and the bridleway which are about fifteen metres below and a bit of a slog as the ride involves going up a 20% gradient. For the even more hardcore riders, and those training for something like the Three Peaks Cyclo cross race, it is possible to do reps where you ride up the bridleway and then dismount from your bike and run up to the summit with your bike slung over you shoulder. I prefer to just pedal or wheel my bike up the bridleway - none of this shouldering malarkey!

Another lunchtime activity which is popular locally is running to the summit. From where I work that means a 4-mile round trip run with 150m of climbing. Now I thought running along the flat was an energetic enough activity to do in the middle of the working day, but doing a fell run is quite hardcore. In fact, some of my colleagues happily do this a few times a week. I guess that works up an appetite before eating! I'd like to get into fell running, and my colleagues have invited me to run with them. Somehow, I'm not sure I want to do this in a lunch hour though - unless my boss doesn't mind me having an afternoon nap! Somehow I don't think that will happen!

Friday, 19 September 2014

One Day One Photo - 7

Tuesday 16th September

After my Specialized road bike was cheekily stolen from me in a Milan street a couple of years ago I reverted to riding my old racing hack. It was the first road bike I bought, about sixteen years ago - a red bike from De Ver Cycles in Streatham, South London. It was my pride and joy back then, and I was really grateful to Maurice Burton who built it for me at a very reasonable cost.

Riding it again after having spent 7 years using the nice lightweight Specialized (which I'd also bought from De Ver Cycles) felt like riding a tractor, thanks to the heavy grade aluminium and fork, commuting rack and mudguards. Time trialling or riding hilly cyclosportives on this has been challenging! But the good news is things have just become easier - at least for the remaining weeks of the road season.

Once more, thanks to Maurice, I have received this little beauty to test ride - the De Ver Flight. So far, I have used the bike in a triathlon and also in 2-up time trial, and the bike has performed well. It is so much lighter than the first De Ver bike I rode, and with a more responsive frame. The comparison between the Campagnolo Athena groupset versus my old Shimano 105 is more than night and day! Even better, there are electronic gear shifters to play with, thus eliminating clunky gear changes. Of course, this is not the first swish new bike I have been given to test ride. It is just noteworthy how my first bike was a De Ver heavy unwieldy thing. And here I am all these years, coming out of the same shop with a light speedy thing that can rival many of the big brand road bikes that people rave about. Watch this space for the full review!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

One day one photo - 6

Monday 15th September

There's been widespread talk about this Bogota-based women's cycling team kit. It's not actually this photo that has been doing the rounds on the social network sites, but that photo. I imagine there are lots of photos that have been taken of the women in this kit, especially as they have been racing in it since January. But this is the one that has sparked the controversy. I'm not sure if this kit is to my taste. The design looks a bit busy to me! But hey, what does my opinion matter! Anyway, they're a sponsored team so I guess they can't pick and choose.
The thing is a spokesman for Team Bogota Humana said that members of the team which is made up of, Angie Rojas, Laura Lozano, Luz Adriana Tovar, Ana Cristina Sanabria, Argenis Orozco and Lina Dueñas liked the kit when it was first presented to them and they were happy to race in it.
Unfortunately, the photo taken of the women at the team presentation during the Tour of Tuscany (Giro di Toscana) did not come out as they would have wanted, and the girls have become the subject of ridicule, outrage and frantic social network gossip. Even the UCI are "on the case" with the president Brian Cookson describing the kit as "unacceptable by any standard of decency". 
Meanwhile the president of the Bogota Cycling League, Carlos Fernando Ferreira has defended the kit claiming that the colour in the groin area of the kit is ochre, and that unfortunately changes in the lighting and flash photography led to the the colour taking on a flesh-coloured tint which is nowhere like the colour when seen "in the flesh" (pardon the pun!). 
I feel sorry that the team is going through all this. I believe them when they say that the design was created without any malice or anything provocative in mind. They are not the first sports team to make a fashion design faux pas, and they're unlikely to be the last! Columbians take their cycling very seriously, and this team's performance can't be too bad given that they are contesting a big international women's cycle race far from their native Columbia, all the way in Italy. It would be great to see as much media comment about their cycle racing achievements as there has been about their kit!  

One day one photo - 5

Sunday 14th September

Penshurst Off-Road Cycling (PORC) centre was quite busy on Sunday, what with a large charity downhill race taking place as well as round 2 of the London Cyclo cross league. It was great news for Mike, the owner of the site, who will have received bumper takings on the day. It was also nice for us to race somewhere that had a lively atmosphere, thanks to the music, the extra cheering (even if it wasn't always for us!) and the rather entertaining costumes that the downhillers were sporting. From mankinis to Kenny Everett-style comedy breasts anything seemed to go! I'm not sure that we "crossers" would have provided much of a spectacle for the mountainbikers. They probably looked at us rather bemused that we, wearing our conservative shorts, jerseys or skinsuits would want to do a race that involves stuggling up hills and carrying our bikes for fifty minutes, when all they needed to do was to get an effortless gravity-induced adrenaline rush for twenty seconds! I also wondered why I was taking the tougher less travelled road, and was tempted to even join them. (If only my cross bike had a bit of suspension!) Still, I enjoyed my afternoon out. I didn't ride too badly, and it made a nice change to do this race in dry sunny conditions rather than on a chilly afternoon through a muddy mess! If it had been muddy I would have been thankful to have not been attempting downhilling.

Monday, 15 September 2014

One day one photo - 4

Saturday 13th Septemer

As it's London Fashion Week I thought I might give a brief mention to clothing. No, I haven't started a new career as a designer, a model or even a modest pattern cutter. When it comes to cyclewear I still just wear what I can get hold of at the time at reasonable price and quality, and what fits me. I've never really been into what is à la mode! Eighteen months in Milan and four years in Paris seem to have had no effect on my wish to be fashionable, and my contemporaries who take part in cycling activity, male and female are always streets ahead of me in the couture stakes, as well as on the track! Where my activities do have a mini brush with fashion is in my secret shine for crocheting. A lot of  people don't know it, but I crochet in my free time. I might be into sport, and I might like running around playing at being a hack but I do get excited about a bit of yarn. I'll happily show anyone my collection of crochet hooks if they are interested! I started crocheting about three years ago when I wanted to do something with my hands, other than playing Angry Birds on my phone or picking my nails during my downtime. It all started with the odd mug coaster (which Higg certainly found odd!) or beanie hat. But things have moved on, and at weekends I find it quite relaxing to do my new-found hobby when I have a bit of time to spare. I have managed to crochet cuddly toys, shawls, scarves and even a top. You will find a healthy collection of crocheted hats for all seasons in my wardrobe, and gloves are on the way. None of these personal creations will make it onto any catwalk in the near future, but they are good enough to wear when out and about. That more than makes up for the feeling I'd get when wearing a humongously expensive D&G top or Rapha belt. I just get a really warm feeling wearing something that I have made myself, and can't be found anywhere else.

One day one photo - 3

Friday 12th September

Working in Macclesfield, while having a life down in London means I'm often travelling between the northwest and the southeast. It can be tiring, especially recently as I have been to London on flying visits a number of times over the last 3 or 4 weeks. Thankfully, Virgin Trains operate largely reliably on that very important London-Manchester line which transports the likes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Manchester United and Manchester City football teams, plus masses of BBC staff, and my good self! Normally I just have light luggage and nothing else. When it comes to cycling I have a road bike in Macclesfield and a mountain bike and road bike in London, so I don't need to carry a bike with me every time I make the journey. However, things are a little more complicated now that the cyclo cross season has started. I only have one cyclo cross bike and I plan to race in the leagues in London, the northwest and the Midlands. So I will need to plan my logistics carefully so that my bike is with me, and not, say, in London when I want to race in Manchester! So this will be a familiar sight for me - as was the case this weekend - loading the bike onto the train at Euston or at Macclesfield and hoping that train staff are there to open the special bike carriage for me, and that they are there more importantly, at the other end to open the carriage door when I arrive at my destination. It has been known to happen that you step off the train and then it pulls away with your bike still on it! Hopefully, it won't happen to me any time soon! 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

One day one photo - 2

Thursday 11th September

Some of you may recognise this as the Wattbike zone at the Manchester Velodrome. You are absolutely right! This is one of my regular hangouts when it comes to cycle training. Funnily enough I have yet to actually ride on the hallowed boards below - that should happen in the not distant future though. But for now this is where I will go weekly as it becomes a bit cold and dark to ride on the roads, and it's a little bit boring to do turbo training on your own at home. I was at the session on Tuesday with my club, Manchester Wheelers. It was quite fun, having a coach doling out the intervals we had to do, all to the sound of kitsch 80s music. Unfortunately, I didn't get the full benefit of the experience as I had caught a later train from Macclesfield, so got there a bit late. I then had to leave early to get back to Manchester Piccadilly to get my train home again. Still, 40 minutes was as much as I could cope with for my first outing since March. Hopefully these sessions will improve my fitness, especially for the new cyclocross season - and the music will be a bit more trendy!


Thursday, 11 September 2014

One Day One Photo - 1

I normally have one month where I put in a photo of what I'm doing over a one month period. I should have started on 1st September, so apologies for the delay. (The missing 10 days will be included as well.)

Wednesday 10th September

So the dates of the Revolution Track Cycling series have been announced and the line-up, at least for the Lee Valley VeloPark London round on 24th/25th October, looks quite appealing. With the likes of Ed Clancy and Adam Blythe, plus my personal favourites, Laura Trott and Marianne Vos competing in this UCI points event it will make for an exciting couple of days of racing. I am particularly pleased to be able to get a media pass for the event. So I plan to do some reporting for Sportsister on-line magazine and any other outlet that wants me to! Media passes don't always come that easily - especially as I am not an employee of any particular media organisation so I always like to make the most of these opportunities. So, with a little luck and creativity I, and the people I interview will have interesting things to say over that weekend!