Tuesday, February 23, 2016


We're still fund-raising to beat blood cancer with Bloodwise

“If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.” This unlikely quote from the sublime eighties sci-fi cult film Blade Runner pops into my head every time I don my new bike helmet before pedalling off into the heart of London. For some reason my futuristic Torch headgear reminds me of the reimagined version of LA which is the setting for Ridley Scott’s superb film. I can easily see myself as one of the extras populating this city whose dominant characteristic is the abundance of neon lights; on buildings, on vehicles and on people’s clothing.

The Torch bike helmet has been a revelation. Several people have commented on it as I’ve pedalled from west London into the city centre on my way to and from work. A taxi driver even pulled up alongside me at some traffic lights – at  five in the morning no less – wound down his window and said he really liked my ‘lid’. I’d been expecting an anti-cyclist tirade.

So what’s all the fuss about? The Torch is a simple yet effective idea, primarily with the cyclist’s safety in mind. The clue to its USP is in its name.

The front and back of the outer shell boast two substantial panels of light – white for the front, red at the back. They are operated individually by small buttons, so you can have the back one lit while the front is switched off or vice versa. As is the norm with more conventional bike lights, they offer a range of modes from steady bright beam to less intense mode and flashing options.

Some reviewers have said the strength of the Torch is insufficient to make the rider stand out in the dark. The number of people who’ve clocked me and  commented on it appears to refute that argument.

I think as part of an overall lighting strategy – I still have my old-style lights attached to my bike frame – the Torch really does help you get noticed whilst riding at night. That can’t be a bad thing. If you want to use them to illuminate the road ahead, you’d be struggling, but that’s not their primary function.

I was worried about the angle my head is at when I’m pedalling – especially on my fixie with its cow horn bars which mean I’m leaning over and forward. Would this leave the front helmet light pointing down at the road, rendering its usefulness redundant?

I needn’t have worried. Although my body is crouched over the handlebars, I need to look straight ahead in order not to crash into pedestrians or plunge into potholes, so the light is actually pointing forwards just where you’d want it. This also means the red light at the back of the helmet is positioned correctly too.

The biggest danger from wearing the Torch on those first occasions I used it, was down to my own vanity. Curious to see how it looked on my head, I developed the habit of catching my reflection in shop windows as I sped past. This obviously involved turning my head sideways on the bike. How ironic it would have been to have come a cropper, trying to check out my new piece of safety kit.

It’s elegantly simple. I wouldn’t say there are any down sides – let’s just call them areas where there’s room for improvement. The chin strap is one. It feels insubstantial and mine constantly loosens as I ride. It’s the first helmet I’ve had where readjusting the strap is necessary before every ride.

If I really wanted to get pernickety, I’d also mention the charging cable. It is relatively short which can be awkward. The helmet is charged (back and front) via a USB cable which has two plugs – one for the front and one for the back. A few more centimetres on the cable would mean I didn’t have to balance the helmet precariously on top of my computer’s base station at work for instance. But this is being very picky.

Another aspect of the helmet’s power regime which could be better relates to the charge. I’m not aware of ay mechanism which warns you that the batteries are about to give up the ghost and consequently the helmet lights just stop working all of a sudden. A small warning light or other system might help. Having said that if you use the helmet regularly for commuting as I do, you soon work out how long the charge is going to last and I pre-emptively recharge to ensure I’m never caught out.

These are minor gripes. The Torch is a great addition to any urban rider’s kit collection. It serves a vital purpose and gives me – a seasoned city bike commuter for well over two decades - extra peace of mind. And as I’ve found out, it’s a great facilitator of unsolicited conversations with random motorists and pedestrians alike. So if you fancy a chat waiting for the lights to turn green, I’m the one who’s just pedalled up to the junction with my head swivelled sideways as I admire my reflection in shop windows, no doubt pretending I’m a character in Blade Runner.

Friday, July 24, 2015


You can help beat blood cancer here

Why would anyone want to pedal hundreds of miles without travelling a single millimetre in distance? Raising money for a cause like Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research is the perfect reason. It's the motivation which spurred us on at any rate, when pedalling furiously on static bike trainers in Kingston's busy Bentall Centre. 

We are very grateful to have raised just under £250 from passing shoppers - many of whom had their own tales to tell of how blood cancer had touched their lives in some way. A Chinese lady stopped with her family to tell us that back in her home village she would have been told by the doctors merely to go home after being diagnosed with leukaemia. Instead, she lives in the UK and had received a bone marrow transplant which appears to have been successful.

Another group were keen to talk. Yaser explained how his daughter Margot had died at a very young age from blood cancer despite getting a bone marrow transplant. Yaser became so concerned at how hard it is for people like his daughter, who are of mixed ethnicity, to find suitable donors that he has set up a charity to raise awareness and campaign on that specific issue. Good luck to Team Margot.

We had a prime spot in the shopping centre's promotional area. It's the same space occupied every winter by the Bentall's mechanical teddies who sing a festive medley several times each day for the entertainment of crowds of wide-eyed toddlers. The two youngest Gurning Grimpeurs, Molly and Patrick, can even remember all the teddies' names. Eh, Amber, Daisy - and I personally, forget the rest.

We very nearly didn't make it at all. The management had very generously allocated us a parking space in one of their underground loading bays. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the service lift to work and ended up trekking through a labyrinth of non-descript concrete passageways in the bowels of the complex. Eventually a voice squawked at us from an intercom unit on the wall. We'd been spotted on CCTV lugging our unwieldy bags through the shopping centre's interminable corridors. Once the helpful voice had directed us to the nearest lifts we got ourselves onto the right floor - and after another Theseus-like foray into a maze of walkways, we emerged into the bright light of the shopping centre's public arena.

That's when the hard work started. I had done a solo turbo challenge in broiling heat outside Peleton & Co in Spitalfields Market two days previously. I'd clocked up 120 miles on the Garmin and worked up a thirst which was quenched with a bottle of cider from Peleton. 

Today all five Gurning Grimpeurs were on duty. Molly (aged 9) and Patrick (aged 7) made sure potential donors saw the collection bucket and were on hand to offer LLR stickers once people had dropped their loose change into it. Jacqueline and I did most of the pedalling, while Maureen performed a supervisory role (doing a bit of everything).

We set our target for the day at 200 miles - that was between two of us. It was hard work and at times surreal to be grinding the cranks relentlessly but moving, not an inch. 

The highlight of the day was stopping briefly for a Snog. Oh yes. I refer to the frozen yoghurt stall beside which we had set ourselves up. 

Possibly the strangest moment came when I managed, somehow, to sustain a puncture - on a turbo trainer! It's still unclear how that happened. The day before I'd broken a spoke after doing a Box Hill loop. I knew I was riding on the turbo with the snapped spoke, I'm still not clear whether or not that had anything to do with the rear flat tyre. We just pedalled on regardless. 

Could it really have been the case that my short fat hairy legs were spinning round at such a high cadence that they'd caused, what we'll call, for want of a better phrase, a 'friction flat'. Have I invented a new type of puncture?

100 miles times 2 riders = 200 miles
When the Garmin's mile counter got close to the 100 mile mark, we hoisted Molly and Patrick onto our over-large bikes so that they could take us over the 'finish line'. Having the distance target was completely arbitrary. However, my experience at Peleton & Co had made it clear that people liked to ask how far I intended to go etc... That's why I made up a random target. Many passers by would murmur encouragingly, "Keep going" or, "Nearly there" and, "Don't stop".

It also gave all of us something to focus on. I lost count of the amount of times a small voice would pipe up with, "How many miles now?"

As the shoppers started to thin out we had nearly reached our target. Molly and Patrick strained to reach the pedals. They had to stand on them as their legs were too short to allow them to sit on the bikes' saddles. Before you could say 'turbo challenge' the pair of them had nudged the Garmin one mile above 99. We'd done it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


If you enjoy this post - please consider helping us raise funds to beat blood cancer with Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research - just go to bit.ly/19qHQR3

If you thought riding from London to Paris was an energy-sapping slog, try getting permission to set up a turbo trainer in a shop, public street or local gym for the purposes of fund-raising…

Of course, lots of you have. And ‘chapeau’ if you’ve had more luck than me - so far at least.

“Just putting you on hold, sir.” Cue banal lift music – apparently forever.
“Just putting you through to the relevant council department, sir.” Cue recorded options’ message, “Welcome to Kingston upon Thames, Children’s Services…”

“Please can you first send us an email, sir.” Cue fruitless wait for a reply – lasting weeks and weeks! “You sent us an email when? I don’t have a record of that – could you send us another one please, sir?” Cue losing the will to go on – almost.

“You sent an email to the address on our website?” Cue thought bubble, ‘Yep, and that was TWO WHOLE MONTHS ago’. “But sir, you’ll need to send an email to our general manager – he’s at this address.” Cue near catastrophic abuse of the phone receiver by way of the tabletop. Must get the French polishers round to fix those dents.

“Of course you can set up your turbo trainer outside our shop, sir.” Finally. Cue, internal cartwheels of joy. “All you have to do first, is get permission from the company which manages this site.” Cue the strangled groan of a beaten man. Needless to say, I’m still waiting for a response from the management company.

Then along came the boys in blue.

“We have no problem with your setting up your turbo trainer in the Market Square for your fund-raising. Here’s your reference number for the council. Please just let us know which date you’ll be doing this on.” You can’t get much more legit than police permission AND a reference number.

It goes to show that perseverance does pay off. Just like the L2P cycle really. Keep pushing those pedals. You’ll get there in the end.

Remember you can donate here: bit.ly/19qHQR3

Wednesday, August 13, 2014



The frantic preparations were over. No more ‘to do lists’, last-minute bike-shop purchases, excruciating spinning classes, weekend training rides, caffeine-gel binges or endless, experimental, chewing on so-called ‘energy bars’.

We were finally on the start line at Greenwich Park, suspiciously weighing up the prospect of 500km on two wheels. The Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, London to Paris 2014, charity cycle ride, was about to begin. And we were doing it!

The mass peleton moved through central London traffic as one. We had motorcycle outriders who shepherded us along but were not permitted to close the UK roads. 

Just like the pros

It was more akin to a bike commute than a mass participation sportive. By the time we reached the south coast, our forearms and faces were caked in urban grime. Our distressed appearances thus vindicating the moto rider who’d prophetically told a pedestrian who was eyeing up the shiny, fresh-faced and immaculately kitted cyclists waiting for a green light at Greenwich, “They won’t look like that when they get to Folkestone.”

That first day’s ride had been a mad, two-wheeled dash. We had a deadline to reach the coaches which would transport us onto the Eurotunnel and take us under the Channel to Calais.

Lymnpe Hill just before Folkestone was the day’s designated timed climb. It makes Ditchling Beacon or Box Hill seem like false flats. Many riders were forced to ‘uncleat’ and push their bikes up the steeper ramps.

Then, when we reached the top, we were urged to keep pedalling, as time to catch the Eurotunnel train was running out. It was a relief to slump into the coach seat and be ‘driven’ under the sea to our Ibis hotel in the centre of Calais. We’d made it onto French soil!

First day in France - start line in Calais
Day two felt quite different. The starting venue on the outskirts of Calais was some sort of disused factory, or abattoir, or warehouse. It had been transformed by the presence of masseurs, bike mechanics, LLR-branded support vans, Torq drinks station, leathered-up moto outriders, a Cyclevox TV production crew and of course, more than two hundred apprehensive cyclists.

Masseurs at work
Music blared out as we readied ourselves for our first pedal turn on French territory. Farrell Williams’s Happy would become the theme tune of our ride and feature in a Cyclevox video released at the end. The ride immediately felt more relaxed. Motorists seemed accustomed to sharing the road with bike riders.

Calais to Abbeville was our first French stage. A neat road book gave us an idea of what to expect in terms of hills, flat sections, distance, daily time trials and hill climbs.

We were soon pedalling through gently rolling fields. Roadside poppies were ubiquitous as you’d expect. 

The peleton was now divided into its three groups – slow, medium and fast - each with a lead car, be-whiskered moto outriders, a support van, mechanics and ride captains. Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research had the event extremely well organised.

The ride captains on our slow group worked tirelessly to encourage less-experienced riders. 

The crew clapped every single rider in
They spent many hours riding alongside cyclists and pushing them up the steeper hills. Tom, Jody and Nick had probably cycled the equivalent of London to Paris and back, by the time we’d reached the Eiffel Tower.

We finished up storing our bikes in a massive Abbeville gym before coaches took us to the hotels. 

Jackie's Boardman 'in goal' for the night

Ours was on a pleasant square in a central location. By the end of the evening French drivers were circuiting the streets, blaring their horns incessantly. France had just thrashed Switzerland 5-1 in the World Cup. Getting to sleep became the next challenge.

Day three offered more quiet French lanes, rolling fields of ripening crops, a small British War Graves’ cemetery and more glorious sunshine.

Some of our riding companions were truly inspirational.

We’d spotted Martyn from Wales away back in Greenwich because he had a large picture of his late son, Shaun, pinned to the back of his jersey. He kept his sights set resolutely on Paris throughout the ride, with Shaun always at the forefront of his mind.

Sheila – who'd been diagnosed with lymphoma some years ago – was a determined member of our ‘slow’ group. She was cycling with her brother who’d had the idea of doing the ride. Their stories were to be showcased on a programme aired by Eurosport about a week after the event.

Cyclevox crew filming
The end to our third stage in Beauvais was special. As he had done the previous year, apparently, the town’s assistant mayor, organised a reception for us at the fire station where we corralled our bikes for the night. After a very warm welcoming speech, we were encouraged to help ourselves to rosé wine and nibbles. It was a great way to wind up our penultimate day in the saddle.

The toilet in our Ibis hotel would not have looked out of place in a sci-fi film. It was a self-contained, white, lozenge-shaped, plastic capsule. The hotel had a funky feel to it all round. Shame it was situated on the edge of a retail park quite a distance from the town centre. It’s the sort of accommodation Tour de France riders are probably very familiar with.

Did Sid make Paris?  We may never know
In the morning, we got on the coach to take us back to the fire station. This was Day Four – the last leg of our pedal to Paris.

Day 4 looks lumpy!

More sunshine, more rolling fields – but the closer we got to the city, the more the soft edge rubbed off the countryside.

We had an extended lunch break at a school. Leukaemia and Lymphoma crew members lined the entrance applauding as each and every single rider arrived.

Much hilarity ensued as the ride captains, the medics and the larger-than-ever group of women cyclists had their pictures taken for posterity.

Medics eye Ned Boulting's football injury
Ride captains' rear view
We left together, in one gigantic peleton so that we would all enter and ride through Paris en masse, whilst the motos and police closed off the roads for us.
Santa Claus gets on with his summer job
As this massive bunch cruised along and stretched out we passed the time of day with whoever happened to be pedalling beside us at the time. I met an oil trader from the City, another City worker from a farming background who told me what crops we could see in the fields around us.

Pick a bike, any bike...
One rider had a horrendous looking crash at the bottom of a long descent. She escaped broken bones but her ride finished in an ambulance.
And here's how...

We stopped to regroup outside the French capital. A rider caught me from behind as he surged past and our handlebars and elbows become entangled, triggering a ridiculous wobble-fest which we both rode through
 without falling over. It was a Cavendish-Greipel tussle, without the sprint.

Barrelling through the streets of Paris on closed roads was a huge thrill. After a couple of taxing climbs, we hit cobbles on the slope up to the Arc de Triomphe. I knew Jackie’s sister and her children would be waiting there to cheer us on. Sure enough, I could see the Allez and pink peak of Patrick and Molly’s Look Mum No Hands caps, as they waved furiously at us from the roundabout in the middle of the road.

Then we’d swept past them and trundled over the final cobbles down the hill to the Seine, across the bridge and into the Pullman Hotel grounds, with the Eiffel tower directly behind us.

Ride manager Paul having some beer!

Nine months after discussing doing this ride with our brother-in-law, Mike, as he lay in his hospital bed after his bone marrow transplant, Jackie and I had actually done it.

Mike had not lived long enough to see us complete the ride. But we’re doing our best to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research in Mike’s memory.

That's what I call a medal
It’s not just Jackie and I. Mike’s wife Maureen and children Molly and Patrick are all making a huge effort to support the charity. Our team name may be the Gurning Grimpeurs but we’re not complaining.

Gurning Grimpeurs in Paris
Kit washed ready for next year!