Saturday 31 January 2009

Rocking and Rolling - A Night with ..............

As I walk down the steps to the basement of the Bloomsbury Bowling Arena, I am greeted with the sound of "The Champ" by The Mohawks, blaring out of the speakers, an MC giving it large, loud cheers and roars. The room is in semi darkness and it's difficult to make people out through the throng. There are two corners in particular where the crowd is at it's thickest. At these points there is a raised platform, stage lighting and a timing clock. What's all the fuss over that? Through the masses of people and bottles of beer you can make out the sight of bobbing heads and torsos.

These are the roller racers. They pedal away madly as though their lives depended on it for the best part of 30 seconds. Their faces contorted with agony as they try and break the landspeed record with the circular motions of their legs. The fans go crazy, shouting and screaming at their roller racing hero to pedal harder, faster. The music changes from 60s funk to breakbeat drum & bass. The "soigneurs", shout out tips and timechecks at their "athlete", while holding the forks of the vibrating bike. The roar of the victorious rider's fans, the sight of the riders throwing their heads back to take in more air, and the decelerating beat of the music signifies the end of these mad 30 seconds. The DJ then dishes out some Schadenfreude by putting on "Loser" by Beck, as a way of commiserating with those who don't reach the following rounds.

There then follows a short pause in proceedings before the next rounds, while riders and spectators alike hurry to get in their next round of alcoholic energy drink from the bar or have a fag break.
And that was the scene that I was met with on my first visit to the Rollapaluza "KingSpin" night.

Roller racing has been around for years. I first heard about this activity in my second claim cycling club (Addiscombe CC), which until quite recently took part in the South London roller league. These weekly events were certainly social and fun, but they were a much more gentlemanly affair. It was more tea and scones and was held in such and such a community centre in a South London suburb. The folks were competitive, but there was no real gladatorial status for the winners. The fans cheered politely, and the average age of fans and competitors was about 45. Most importantly, everyone who competed was a club cyclist. Racers were lycra-ed up in their club kit, and would have trained for the event too.

So the latterday roller nights are a complete departure from what I knew roller racing to be. In fact, the Rollapalluza nights are more of a throwback to the "Golden Age" of roller racing in the 1940s and 1950s, when a whole outfit, including a big band and dancing girls would travel around the country to dancehalls and put on a roller race.

Members of the audience were invited to challenge a roller racer - in many cases, the then pro roller racer Eddie Wingrave - on the stage. Alot of Eddie's challengers were local telegraph boys, who carried out their work by bicycle.

The initial interest in the recent revival of the events was mainly from cycle couriers, and Rollapaluza travels around the country promoting the roller races. Although advance entry is encouraged for their higher profile events, it is still possible for anyone to get up on stage and race at the pub league events in London.

So, apart from the dancing girls and big band, which are now replaced by a DJ and an MC, the format is largely the same. These evenings are ever popular and have proven to be a great evening out. The big events take place to sell-out crowds. It's all part of the growing trend towards "urban cycling" and the "urban chic" trend. All comers take part - couriers (of course), leisure cyclists, WAGS, even club cyclists! The Rollapaluza events have attracted a share of celebrities too - Olympians like Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean and James Cracknell; rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio; and the BBC's Mike Bushell and DJ Nemone.

This is a largely lycra-free environment. The majority of people do it in their civvies - jeans and T-shirt usually, but there's a whole manner of attire and footwear.

Back to the evening's proceedings......There was an individual competition and a Madison pairs competion. It was done on a knock-out basis with qualifying rounds, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the climactic final, where riders compete for a share of the £2,000 prize fund. All the races were run over 500metres (denoted by the timing clock). The madison was run over 1000metres with each person in the pair doing 500m before handing over to their partner to do the remaining 500m. There was a separate men's and women's competition.

So having all these races to get through made for a full evening's worth of racing. Racing was in progress from 7pm right up to 1am !

All shapes and sizes of racer stepped up on the stage, and displayed their pedalling prowess to varying degrees. Some of them, like Rachel P and Hill Billy are clearly regulars who take part in Rollapaluza's winter pub league. Watching their legs pumping at a rate of knots was a real masterclass in how to ride these competition rollers.
What I found intriguing was how well some of the riders performed, even though to see them you wouldn't have thought it. You might get a plump bloke dressed in jeans and a bomber jacket, propping up the bar one moment, the next moment he's outside smoking. Then put him on the rollers and it's as if you had shot a massive elecric current through his legs. His spin is lightning fast, reaching speeds of 60mph. It almost hurts your eyes to watch!

Activity was not just confined to the roller racing public. With an MC doing his tricks on the microphone, throwing out random quiz questions that the audience could answer in return for more beer, there was reason enough for everyone to be here! In parallel there was also a mini ten-pin bowling area too.

While all this is very much the Rock'n'roll, non-traditional, non-conformist, "urban" end of the scale as far as cyclesport is concerned, it is nevertheless a pretty organised affair. The evening ran like clockwork and was well organised, right down to there being a secure parking area for the hundred or so who arrived by bicycle.

There is a Rollapaluza league that takes place in London pubs, complete with rankings. This format has even been exported across the pond, with Rapha sponsoring an event held in Portland, Oregon last year.

I had a great evening out and enjoyed watching the various competitors - especially a few club cyclists I know who made surprise appearances in the competition! I wasn't ready to have a go myself - having only just gotten over a bout of tendinitis, and saving myself for a cyclo cross race meant that I wasn't really ready to compete. But I definitely want to have a go at a future event.

And how does Cycling Plus magazine sum it up? "...30 seconds of the craziest legal and drug-free high. And best of all it’s on a bike…"
So who knows? - Rollapaluza could be coming soon to a pub near you (or me)!

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Monday 26 January 2009

Going Dutch

It's been a few years since I was last in Holland. So, with Fred living out there for a couple of months I decided to pay a visit there.

We were in the nearest place that Holland has to a beach, just outside The Hague. It was nice to be on the coast, but boy does that wind from the North Sea bite !

Anyway, we managed to hire bikes while we were out there. Riding a High Nelly is so much fun. There's something quite refreshing about being on a bike in all your civvies, including town shoes - sitting bolt upright, pootling long with a little backward pedalling to slow you down when necessary. Maybe I took the ride abit too leisurely as I recall being passed by lots of people along the dune road - including a woman who can't have been any younger than 60 years of age - she zoomed along and made me feel like I was standing still.

We then went on a short trip to Amsterdam, where we saw more interesting bikey sights Dutch style.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Mallorca vs Flanders

I am thinking about where to go for cycling in early April. I've narrowed it down to two possibilities - Mallorca and the Tour of Flanders. Now many might think this should be a no brainer decision. Why choose to go to some windswept rainy plain despite the lure of sea, sun, and lots of interesting climbs! Well, in fact, the decision is not so clear cut:


This is a training camp, essentially with cycling buddies/club mates but the island is awash with club cyclists in the Spring and some roads will have the atmosphere of an unofficial cyclosportive

Good quality riding on lovely smooth roads, with picturesque climbs and amazing switchbacks

Riding ~ 100km every day and up to 1500m climbing will definitely make you fitter

Great atmosphere in a cycling mad country

The chance to the see the pro racers training - catch one if you can!

No need for the longs - you can ride around in short sleeves and shorts

Lovely beaches and a chance to lounge by the pool

Tapas, Sangria, Cerveza

With £sterling on its knees a holiday in the Euro zone could be rather expensive

High chance of topping up the sun tan - low chance of rain

You might bump into Raphael Nadal!

A language that people can vaguely make sense of

You get to mix with cyclists from all over Europe - largely British, Irish and Germans!

Tour of Flanders

This is a high profile cyclo sportive which comes with all the fanfare - an event village, timing chip, feed stations, beer tent, goody bag and finishers certificate

Good quality riding on cobbled bergs (hills) and flat windy plains - definitely makes you stronger

Cobbles are tough! Riding even just 140km at pace over them will make you fitter.

Great atmosphere in a cycling mad country

No hassle of lugging a bike onto the plane or having to dismantle and rebuild it

Quaint town squares and a chance to lounge in stylish cafes in Brugge

Waffles, mussels, and a plethora of Trappist beers

The chance to see the pro racers racing - catch one if you can!

With £sterling on its knees this could be expensive, but it's only a short trip

In 2007 temperatures were over 20 degrees and the sun shone - at least the temperature change on your return to the UK won't be a shock to the system!

You might bump into Lance Armstrong!

Flemish is not completely Greek to us - which British club cyclist actually speaks in Spanish while in Mallorca?

You get to mix with cyclists from all over Europe - well, largely Belgians, French and Dutch!

As you can see, there's not a massive difference in terms of what the final outcome is - in both cases you end up fitter and stronger, and with more memories to add to the photo album. So what it really comes down to is which is more important to you - being able to go out in short sleeves or not having to go through the palava of preparing your bike for air travel - oh, and how important it is to have the piece of paper documenting that you were there.

I've still got time to decide, but right now I think the Kappelmuur is winking at me!

Saturday 17 January 2009

A Successful 'Cross-over

A local cycling buddy of mine, Claire, had a good debut season on the women's road racing circuit last year. Not wanting to lose all the fitness she'd acquired, she decided to try out cyclo cross. This was despite her having practically zilch experience of riding off road.

She worked her way through the various London League races, and after all her effort she managed to qualify for the National Cyclo Cross Championships that were held in Bradford last week. The race was tough but she acquitted herself well in this maiden appearance. Furthermore, it looks like Claire will have won the women's competition for the 2008/09 London League. This is a great testimony that with commitment and focus you can start from zero and work your way up to success. Here is Claire's story, as was published on the London Cyclesport website. Well done girl !

(Of course, not everyone is looking for success in cyclo cross. Many of us lesser mortals are just happy to get round and have fun - and that's fine too !)


Interview: Claire Beaumont - 9/1/09 (Maria David)

Maria David is a regular competitor on the cycling circuit and on behalf of Maria has been interviewing a number of women racers.

This time Maria talks to London Dynamo’s Claire Beaumont: Claire is a newcomer to cyclo cross and has successfully managed the transition from road to mud. She recaps on her season so far.

How long have you been racing cyclo cross?

Since the start of the 08/09 season, so about 3months

What made you decide to get into it?

Everyone I know said it’s really fun. I also wanted to keep my fitness levels up as I worked hard during the summer to get to a good level of health. Herne Hill is just down the hill from where I live so it wasn’t hard to turn up and go along.

What do you like about cyclo cross?

It’s a bit like wacky races. Every time you do another lap something else crops up and you learn something new or do it better. In the race I’m buzzing, trying to get round as fast I can.

How did you find your first ever cyclo cross race?

Scary. I went so slowly through the twisty sections at Herne Hill. I did the late summer races that were on. My second race didn’t go so well – I got a bit enthusiastic and went too fast down a descent, crashed and split my knee open – that was a quick learning exercise!

How has your season been so far?

Well really rather excellent but I’ve got nothing to base my performance on as this is my first go at it.

What bike do you ride?

I ride ‘The Roger Hammond’. Back in the early nineties Evans Cycles sponsored Roger Hammond and I now have his beaten up frame, fork and cranks. I bought all the other components for it. Maybe my bike is a lucky charm as Roger won a national champs on it.

What training do you do for cyclo cross?

I haven’t done anything specifically. Just keep riding – riding to work I will often do 10 minutes at a hard pace, back off for 5mins recovery and then 10 minutes up at a high pace again. I try to sprint off from as many traffic lights as possible on the way to work – there are 23 sets between Croydon and Gatwick!

Where have you enjoyed racing so far?

Lydden Hill and Deers Leep are challenging courses which I like.

Any tips on getting the mud out of your clothes and off your bike?

Hardened rider Ben Spurrier let me in on the secret of Daz. It gets your whites white. Proof of its power is he’s still rocking a sparkling white pair of arm warmers this far into the season.

What do you do during the spring/summer?

I race for Surrey League in the Women’s National team series and do the Crystal Palace crits I plan to ride a couple of cyclosportives like the Tour of Flanders and the Maratona des Dolomites.

So how have you found the move from nice smooth tarmac to the bumpy rough stuff?

A little bit difficult. Sometimes I don’t know where to place my balance on the bike or get out of the saddle. After about 5 rounds I learnt some kind of technique not to let my eyeballs shake so much

And for you, how does cyclo cross compare with road racing?

It’s quite different. Normally you’re racing in a bunch, but in cross you tend to be more out on your own passing people. I just ride hard, taking in as much sensory information as I can so as not to crash. On the road I think you’re planning a bit more.

What would you say to those newbies considering having a go at cyclo cross?

DO IT! What’s the worst that can happen? A mountain bike is totally fine to ride. It teaches you loads of new things about how to control the bike. Good Clean Fun!

photo by John Mullineaux of

Saturday 10 January 2009

Surrey by Bicicle !

It didn't get above freezing today. I realised this not just because I had even more layers on today while out on my bike, but also because when I tried to take a swig of water from my bottle nothing happened. Everything was frozen solid - now that doesn't happen every day !

The cold particularly bit on the Banstead Common and Epsom Downs, but it didn't scare the folks away. Lots of people were out walking, horse riding, even sledging. I didn't see any other cyclists though. Where were my kindred spirits hiding?

Anyway, my new cyclo cross horse had his first photo shoot today - and didn't the weather look pretty for the occasion !

The trails were covered in snow, with icy patches in various places. I had to be careful of the low hanging branches which had icicles hanging from them. It was painful to suddenly get that in your face while speeding along ! Riding through the white stuff was surprisingly easy. I didn't slip at all. The bike just drudged on through the crispy snow. In these conditions, I found it easier to stay on the bigger ring rather than using my usual granny ring though. I may have worked a little harder on the inclines, but things felt more controlled. I could see why people would prefer to be on a fixed or singlespeed bike on a day like this. Maybe that's another bike for me to get one day.

In a couple of places, such as Banstead golf course it was obvious that I was the first person venturing there today - no tyre tracks or footprints on the ground at all. I felt a bit naughty spoiling the white carpet. There were beautiful scenes around - all we needed were a few mountains and it could have been Verbier not Banstead !

Anyway, I'm glad I made the most of getting out today, one of the coldest days in the London area for several years. Tomorrow we'll back to a "whopping" 8 degrees celsius - get ready to strip off some layers !

Wednesday 7 January 2009

London by bICEycle - Part 3

I should have seen the shape of things to come when I did the 'cross race on Sunday at Herne Hill wearing an extra thermal baselayer, two pairs of gloves and an extra Buff on my head - and I did not work up a sweat.
Not only that, I had the pleasure of skidding my way around the grassy course, numerous times falling foul of the frozen course. Football matches get cancelled for alot less !

There'd been no plan to ride to work on Monday as I had to drop Fred off at the airport. Still, the sight of snow in Central London was a real surprise.

Tuesday's weather was sunny but very crisp. That was the day I rode in. I basically doubled what I'd worn on Sunday at the cyclo cross race and added long trousers plus over shoes. I couldn't move very easily as 7 layers tends to restrict one's movement somewhat.

It was also a pain when I wanted to take out a hankie for my runny nose, or look at my watch - it was a real challenge trying to feel my way through my various layers of clothing - hey, it was minus 5 degrees celsius. I'm not used to those temperatures in London !

Anyway, I survived the icy roads - grippy tyres definitely help, and also riding where the tyre tracks have been is a safer option. My toes only began to freeze near the end of my journey as I crossed Albert Embankment, so that was a result.

Apparently these arctic conditions are set to continue for a few more days. I have to see if I can keep that dreaded flu bug away, and build up a spare stock of clothes as these days I wear most of what I have on my morning commute !
A heatwave is expected on Sunday when we will have a whopping 7 degrees celsius - whoo hoo, bring it on !

photo by Adrian Fitch

Sunday 4 January 2009

New Year Honours

Looking through the list of people on the Queen's New Year Honours List, I was really pleased to see that the following people have been recognised:

Eleanor Simmonds - swimmer, 2 Golds at Beijing Paralympics - MBE for services to disabled sport
Aged 14, the only minor ever to receive the award

Carol Hoy - Senior nurse - MBE for services to healthcare
Having been a medical representative in a previous life I know what a great job nurses do, despite having to spin several plates at once. And as mother to a very successful track cyclist she would've been very busy giving him loads of support and encouragement during his development.

Sara Payne - Child Protection Campaigner - MBE for services to child safety

It must be the hardest thing in the world to pick things up after the tragedy of losing a child in such appalling circumstances, but this lady found the energy and motivation to campaign to make a difference to the safety of our children.

Robert Fletcher - Bus Driver in Liverpool for 45 years - MBE for services to public transport
Not sure what life is like being a bus driver up there, but Liverpool, being a big city will have similar types of social problems to what we get down here in London. So if that's anything to go by the man definitely deserves commending after all these years.

Eddie Wingrave - Cycling Official - MBE for services to cycling

I was so pleased to read about Eddie in the paper. He's a real stalwart in local cycling, reputed to have been one of the strictest commissaires around. He was also a professional roller racer in the 1950s. At the grand old age of 90 he's still active on the London cycling scene, mentoring young riders and helping out at the races -notably at my local venues of Herne Hill Velodrome and Crystal Palace crit circuit. It's great to see that people involved in grass roots cycling get recognised for their tireless work to promote cycle sport to the future generations.

Ellen Hunter - cycling pilot guide - OBE for services to disabled sport

So much trust is conferred when racing round the velodrome with a blind track racer. Much respect for contributing to the success of Aileen McGlynn (who is also honoured with an OBE).

Courtney Pine - jazz musician - CBE for services to music
I love jazz, especially Miles Davis' eclectic tunes. But in fact, the musician that first got me listening to jazz at all was Courtney Pine. When I was a student in the late 80's I spent alot of time listening to his Destiny's Song and the Image of Pursuance album. Cool stuff.

Of course, I was also thrilled to see so many of our Olympian cyclists getting honoured too.