Monday, February 17, 2014
Monday, September 24, 2012
I made a stop at the Simpson memorial - and felt genuinely moved. It's so tantalisingly close to the summit.
The words on the plaques there from his widow and daughters, and the simple tokens left by fellow cyclists - including water bottles, caps, even inner tubes - speak eloquently. It's a bleak, tragic and truly evocative spot.
The final turn up to the weather station at 1910 metres kicks up cruelly but briefly and once you've put a spurt on to get round it, you're at the top.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
|Off my beaten track - the view from Bow Interchange|
|A studio with a view|
|The mother of all punctures|
Luckily my single speed bike was on hand, replete with new back wheel and tyres, so I did my epic 40 mile commutes on a bicycle without gears.
The ride through London from west to east, is reminiscent of the New York City Marathon, which takes runners on a mesmerising tour of the Big Apple's five boroughs. The run from the leafy avenues of Kingston upon Thames, to the gritty bustle of the Mile End Road offers snapshots of several distinct versions of the capital.
Sprinkled amongst all this local traffic were the visitors. Official Olympic cars stuck in gridlock (full-on traffic jams at two in the morning), Olympic buses no doubt taking sleepy security workers off for some much-needed rest, Olympic tourists strolling past the worshippers and the revellers. And everywhere you looked on street corners, at night bus stops, coming out of 24 hour groceries, were 'gamesmakers'; the much-lauded 2012 volunteers in their purple livery who had done so much to embody the spirit of the Olympics, out on the streets, as well as inside the official venues.
Friday, November 04, 2011
In Italy it was La Gazzetta dello Sport that instigated the Giro d'Italia in 1908. John Foot, in Pedalare, Pedalare! A History of Italian Cycling relies heavily on the contemporaneous writings of Gazzetta journalists and others - dubbed 'the second peleton' - to add context and colour. Tracing the sport's transition from a heroic pursuit practised by riders from largely rural backgrounds at the start of the twentieth century to what he denigrates as the current 'moribund farce' in which riders pump 'their bodies full of... dangerous substances in order to win', Foot argues that Italian cycling's past - when the sport resonated on multiple levels with large sections of the population - is where its true heart and soul still reside.
Italy was once a major producer of bicycles and the handiwork of some of its best manufacturers is included in Michael Embacher's luxurious Cyclepedia: A Tour of Iconic Bicycle Designs.
It's a coffee-table book aimed squarely at bike nuts. If you don't see the attraction of drooling over pictures of a bicycle with right-angled cranks, a tandem with side-by-side saddles or a 'convenience' cycle that takes an hour to fold up, then Cyclepedia is not for you. But if you're not ashamed of high-end bike erotica, the book will not disappoint.
The author says he's ridden all the bicycles in the book - no mean feat when you consider the Austrian-built CAPO Elite 'Eis', which boasts an ice skate instead of a front wheel and a rear tyre studded with metal spikes. Many of the machines featured are now curios rather than realistic riding options. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to go for a spin on the elegant KIRK Precision, with its fatal design flaw - a frame cast in highly-flammable magnesium. The manufacturer's factory actually burnt down after magnesium dust in the air spontaneously combusted.
It's not surprising that Bella Bathurst, the author of an acclaimed book on the engineers behind Scotland's lighthouses, should turn her attention to one of the world's most significant feats of engineering: the bicycle. The first section of Bathurst's The Bicycle Book is devoted to her initiation into the 'magic plumbing' and 'alchemy' of traditional frame-maker David Yates's craft.
But this is no dry manual on spot welding. Bathurst also wants to celebrate 'the straightforward childlike joy in riding a bike, the urge to yell, "Whheeee!" on the way downhill'.
She ranges widely, covering the rickshaw jams of Delhi, the cycle-friendly roads of Holland, the life and times of Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree, and the world of bike messengers. Bathursts's research is solid. But she is also very strong when observing events at first hand. At the Earls Court Cycle Show she imagines that most of the men eyeing the exhibits 'have a private life on their laptop full of tubular things they'd like to stroke'. It's impossible to dislike The Bicycle Book when it quotes from the mighty Flann O'Brien's Third Policeman. It's doubly difficult to criticise a bike book that manages to include in its bibliography a history of the Victorian corset.
In her chapter of the Tour de France, Bathurst describes professional cycling as 'the day job of masochists'. One professional cyclist who knows all about suffering is the Scot, David Millar. A world-class time triallist and now a super-domestique in the self-avowedly 'clean' Garmin-Cervélo squad, he may not be this country's best ever rider, but he's by far Britain's most intriguing cyclist.
A cursory glance at the front of Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar signals that this is no ordinary memoir.
His face, sheened in sweat, stares out from the book's jacket suggesting a junkie in the throws of cold turkey rather than an athlete in prime condition.
In a uniquely candid account - to which only Paul Kimmage's Rough Ride comes close - Millar wastes no time in declaring, 'I am a professional cyclist, an Olympic athlete, a Tour de France star, a world champion - and a drugs cheat. And I want to start again.'
It's ironic that Millar was strongly attracted to the sport of road cycling because 'winning wasn't really everything. It appeared to be as much about panache as about winning.' In the event, the elusiveness of wins as he raced exhausted, against so many doped opponents, pushed him into the arms of thos who facilitated his own cheating.
This is an extremely rare first-hand account of what drugs and doping have done to the sport of cycling over the last two decades. Millar writes about his own redemption with total disregard for the omerta that has meant cyclists never talk about the issue. Millar has talked, eloquently, and is still - post doping ban - winning honours at the highest level, by riding his bike clean, with plenty of panache.
Cycling, as evidenced by these four books, is absolutely not just 'all about the bike' (to misquote Lance Armstrong). It's a sport, a pastime, and a passion, rich in stories that are thrown up like spray from a wet road wherever bicycle wheels are spinning.
Published in Literary Review, August 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
It might be legitimate to ask why anyone would want to ride 60 miles on busy roads - the equivalent of the London to Brighton bike ride, plus a bit extra, with no proper sleep for a week . And here's the answer:
We're doing this to raise funds (see our Justgiving page) for Felix White, a hugely brave six-year old boy who, two years ago, was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a particularly aggressive cancer that can come from out of nowhere and spreads like wildfire through the body. In the two years since he and his family found out, Felix has had numerous operations to remove tumours (most recently from his brain) and more courses of radio and chemotherapy than anyone should have to endure, let alone a child who's barely started school.
What is truly amazing about Felix is that with every single setback he's encountered, he bounces back immediately - he's become wise beyond his years in the process and is an inspiration to all who meet him.
Whatever pain and exhaustion we three might suffer on that Friday after work, it will be nothing compared to what Felix has gone through over the past couple of years. It is to celebrate his determination to beat this horrible disease that we'll be testing ourselves on the day.
We hope that you'll find it in your hearts (and wallets) to support them in whatever way you can.
With huge thanks from David and Iain and Tim.
For more information on Felix's appeal, and a diary of his family's journey so far, please have a look at http://www.appeal4felix.com/ - it's amazing what they've all achieved - thanks!
Monday, March 14, 2011
Potholes may be the scourge of the cycling and driving classes but on my regular commuting route to work, I've come to value them as familiar waypoints which mark my progress. To say I know my 20 mile (return) trip like the back of my hand is to do an injustice to the extremely intimate knowledge I have of every bump, contour, raised or sunken drain cover, hairline crack and fissured stretch of Tarmac, between my front door in Kingston and the office gates in Shepherds Bush.
Riding along the same streets every working day for the last 12 years or so, I have internalised the precise line I should take round every single bend. I'm not just talking everyday directions of the, 'turn left at the lights and straight on at the roundabout' variety; I mean I have memorised minute chicanes between micro-potholes; I adjust my speed to cope with the oncoming corner and the raised drain cover I know is lurking at its apex. I execute these rides to work with the sort of discipline and precision that regularly place David Millar and Bradley Wiggins in the top five in professional time trials.
And, I'm acutely aware of when I have to up my cadence to stay with the motorised traffic in the centre of the lane, rather than run the gauntlet of woefully shoddy road maintenance and cavernous gouge marks which line the kerbside (Shepherds Bush Road, northbound springs to mind).
The advantage of such a detailed insight into the topography of the roadway cannot be overstated. It means the hazards of pockmarked highways are much reduced because none of them take me by suprise.
Imagine my dismay then when I saw the council vans out in force as gangs of men in high 'viz' smocks started repairing all the holes in the road. I may have a smooth ride for the most part into work now but it all feels alien and unfamiliar to me. I swerve instinctively to avoid mini canyons in the asphalt which no longer exist. I weave erratically on billiard-table smooth surfaces going through the motions of steering a particular path which no longer needs to be followed. My routine and rhythm have been completely disrupted. My muscle memory is taking me on a route which has changed beyond all recognition.
It may be unfashionable to say this, with another cold winter having left our roads looking like the grand canyon (Scotland's highways have suffered up to two billion pounds' worth of pothole damage according to some newspaper reports) but I just want my potholes left as they are.
Monday, August 09, 2010
The surprise literary revelation of this edition - the writer who broke away from the bunch and stayed up the road with every pen stroke - was none other than reclusive, Scottish, King of the Mountains winner, Robert Millar. I've read the execellent Richard Moore biography of Millar but maybe the old grimpeur should have penned his own autobiography and saved Moore the trouble. His piece in Rouler certainly demonstrates a facility for writing. In his essay, Climberspeak, Millar gives us a passionate and fascinating climber's eye view of riding the Tour.
Strickland takes us away from the peleton's big names, the team buses and high-powered hoopla. Instead he looks towards the roadsides, peopled by the patient punters, waiting for 30 seconds worth of Lycra to zing past them. Reading Strickland 's description of the approaching peleton, took me back to Hyde Park in 2007 and Mur de Bretagne in 2008. We stood in the rain under a tiny umbrella for three hours that day in Brittany, waiting for our first glimpse of Sylvain Chavanel and Tommy Voeckler speeding up the main street. Their arrival - as ever on Tour stages - was heralded by the buzzing helicopters in the distance which gradually got closer and closer.
Strickland captures a similar scene brilliantly, from Stage 17 of the 2009 Tour. He's standing near the top of the Col de la Colombiere observing that, "Madness was upon this mountain: the helicopters that first came into view far below as hornets swarming the skinny roads had now risen to eye level like special effects in a war movie as the race had continued ascending beneath them. Now they hovered directly overhead, roaring and swatting air down upon us. Far down the mountain, I could see the crowd clotting the road until forced to scatter by an assault of sirens, lights and horns. But even then, the fans stood thick and close, leaning into the path wedged open by the vehicles. A great bawl travelled up through the crowd as if we were nothing but a telephone line laid there to communicate the race's excitement. We began shouting in our turn as the racers came." Wow! Rereading that still gives me goose bumps.
The Glasgwegian - who once took a job as a butcher's errand boy, because of the cycling opportunities the role presented - became Scottish champion and won the 1951 Tour of Britain (sponsored at the time by the Daily Express). Then he was invited to take part in the two week long, Peace Race - a highly politicised event cobbled together by Poland and Czechoslovakia in the post war years when the Soviet bloc was still taking shape. Steel - now 81 - triumphed in the 1952 edition of the race and recounts his exploits to Sykes. He took control of the GC on a mountain stage gaining a lead of nine minutes over his nearest rival - Jan Vesely, Eastern Europe's "greatest cyclist". Steel was crowned winner in Prague's Strahov Stadium, watched by a crowd of 220,000. The Peace Race may have been a massive deal in eastern Europe, but in the UK it was completely off the radar. Sykes notes that, "With the exception of the communist Daily Worker, the British press completley ignored the event... Cycling magazine... ...wrote precisely twelve words about the greatest achievement in the history of British bike racing." Nevertheless, Sykes hails Ian Steel as the man who, "invented British cycling."
Needless to say, this magazine feels more like a coffee table book than a throwaway mag. Rapha's clothing puts a premium on quality, so too does Rouleur. It's printed on heavy art-stock paper and thoughtfully set out, filled with evocative images of cycling; portrayed as high culture, rather than gritty sport. I'd love to urge you to grab a back issue of this edition as soon as you can - sadly, as the Rouleur website confirms, their Tour Special is "sold out".