Thursday 30 August 2012

A fun ride with Pendleton

I had the chance to try out one of the bikes in the Pendleton range. Yes, you heard correctly - Pendleton. The newly-retired World and Olympic track cycling champion launched a range of bicycles earlier this year.

They are nothing like the superfast speed machines that she would have ridden in the velodrome during her illustrious career. They are not even racing bikes. You certainly don't need to be a serious cyclist to ride one. All you need is to be a woman or a girl who would like to ride a bicycle.

The cycles are designed for women who would like to get into two-wheeled action. It could be for going to the shops, or something for a leisure bike ride.
I always find it refreshing to ride these types of bikes - just something to enjoy cycling on at a relaxing pace while looking and feeling good.
I admire the fact that Victoria Pendleton has put her name to this type of range, given that a cyclist of her calibre could easily have gone down the racing route.

I tried out the Pendleton Brooke. As an entry level hybrid it rides very smoothly with gears and brakes being of a decent quality.

As I get older, the need for comfort becomes more important to me. So I particularly liked the ergonomic handlebars and the comfort saddle. Also, they say if you can't ride fast you should at least look good. This bike certainly helps out on that front too! The deep plum colour gives the bike a distinct stlye.

The Brooke is the middle sister of the three bikes in the range. The Dalby, with 700c performance wheels and a narrower range of gears is designed for those who want to do longer, faster rides. The Somerby has a Pashley look about it and there is space for a basket on the front.

Just like Goldilocks found the middle sized chair just right, I found the Brooke to be just right for me. It's not too girly for me, as I might find the Somerby to be, but it is still lady-like enough. With 24-speed gears and wider tyres on 26" wheels this allows me to go off-road or uphill, without needing to get the more sporty Dalby. The Brooke gets my vote.

I rode the bike around the parks and residential streets of south London, and took the bike up to Yorkshire where I rode it on trails near York. It was good fun, and the bike performed well - including when the route took me unexpectedly across a random BMX park in the middle of the woods.

The three bikes are different enought to appeal to different women, and I have met some who prefer the Somerby and others who favour the Dalby. Ultimately, any woman starting a new adventure on two wheels can't go wrong with any of the bikes in the Pendleton range. Girls just wanna have fun - and they will be able to do that on all these bikes!    
Photos by Higg

Monday 20 August 2012

My memorable moments of London 2012 Olympics

1. Sir Chris Hoy taking gold at the Keirin track cycling race and bowing out of the Olympics. It wasn't guaranteed that he would do it, especially when the German guy got ahead of Hoy on the last lap. I was really glad the real McHoy did it!

2. Felix Sanchez completely overcome with tears and emotion on the podium after winning 400m hurdles. We really got an idea of the strife that athletes go through in their quest for gold. Sanchez had missed out at the Beijing Olympics. His grandmother, who raised him had died during those games. So winning at the age of 35, eight years after his last olympic victory, and in memory of his deceased grandmother was something very special.

3. Watching Mo Farah take victory in the 10,000m. I had not been convinced that he could do it - especially after losing out to the East Africans at the World Championships last year. It was a really tense moment sitting among the crowds of folks outside the Tower of London watching on a big screen on Saturday night, willing him on.

4. The reception that Mo Farah got in the Olympic stadium when he stepped onto the track for the 5,000m heats a few days after becoming 10,000m olympic champion. At the end of his heat Mo Farah took the time to shake hands and congratulate the last finisher of his heat. The guy finished almost a lap behind Mo and the other lead runners, but Mo Farah still had time for him. It shows what a great champion he is, and how well he embraced the Olympic spirit.

5. Dressage and the reactions of the horsewomen after their events. It's easy to underestimate what is involved in preparing horses and riders for competition, and I admire the hard work that these guys put into it. Gold medallist Charlotte duJardin is not a posh bird, as people might think. From an ordinary family in north-west London, the family had to scrimp and save for her to practice her sport, since they did not have any financial backing.
The bronze medallist rider, Laura Bechtolsheimer was very emotional and proud of her horse.
"At the end of the day, it's not a bike, it's not a tennis racquet, it's a living animal that you've worked tremendously hard to have a partnership with. He's not a fan of moving to music, but today Alf was beautiful to ride, and he was doing it for me."

6. Usain Bolt coming up with the goods in the 100m final. I had had my money on Yohan Blake, but deep down I wanted Bolt to win. I'm glad he did. He was like lightning.

7. Getting to grips with fencing. We watched this live at the Excel Centre. Initially the sabre moved so fast that I couldn't tell what was going on. I just saw  men waving swords and then they both spontaneously cheered and punched a fist in the air. I didn't think I'd be able to sit through 5 hours of that. After a while I understood what it was all about and I could even see what they were doing with their weapons and how they were getting points striking each other. Apparently the simultaneous cheering was because both fencers thought they have scored a point against the other so they end up both cheering, when in fact neither of them had won since they both struck each other simultaneously. The fencers show agility, strength, guile, and gave the spectators suspense and entertainment. Italians are quite good at fencing, and they had quite a fan club following them. The cheers and shouts were almost like being at a football match.

8. The whacky races on the BMX track. It was a stomach in mouth moment for every race. You hoped no one would crash and hurt themselves. When they did crash it was quite a spectacle though - especially on a couple of rounds where there was a 6-man or woman pile-up and only 2 of the 8 riders actually managed to complete the race route unscathed. It was a shame that neither of the team GB riders medalled, but in a way I was just glad that they came away without any broken bones!

10. Watching women's boxing. I know it has already been going on for some time, but I have never watched that before. It was quite a historical moment watching women box. I guess at Olympic level it's not so bad, but if you get the shenanigans we see on the pro circuit that would be a shame for women's sport.

11. Luke Campbell winning gold in the boxing. That was my only experience of being outside of London during the Olympics. I was in Hull, and I could really see how the whole town got behind the young guy who appears to be known by everyone and their dog in the town (at least that's how the TV reports portrayed it with their vox pops)! There was alot of bunting in the local shops and many people gathered in pubs on the Saturday night to see him beat his Irish opponent. It also shows that even though the Olympics are held in London, it reaches way beyond the Capital. Hull has not had the best press in recent times and a win like this is great for the city and puts it on the map. They also get a golden pillarbox!

12. The Cycling Road Race. I watched both races live in Box Hill and the atmosphere was great each time. For me the special moment was just seeing London shown on the TV across the world. All the areas that they showed from Buckingham Palace through Chelsea, Fulham, Putney, Richmond Park, Kingston, Weybridge, Dorking, Box Hill and all the various other villages and neighbourhoods in between are places I know and have ridden, run, walked or driven through loads of times. It was  funny seeing the pubs and bars on Putney or the shopping Centre at Kingston-upon-Thames, or the village post office in Mickleham being beamed to people all around the world.

13. The women's 100m hurdles. To me this was a perfect race. The competition between reigning Olympic Champion, Dawn Harper and the practically unbeaten World Champion Sally Pearson as well as other contenders like Lolo Jones and Kellie Wells meant that this would be a hot race. The times posted by the fastest finishers in all the semi-finals races were quicker than the winning time in the final at Beijing. In a thrilling final all the women hurdled perfectly, and Pearson came away the victor by just 0.02 seconds - a new Olympic record. Sally Pearson has a beautifully fluid style of hurdling, and is a joy to watch. Judging by the standard of the hurdling in this race it seems that a few may have taken a leaf out of her book.

14. Victoria Pendleton bowing out of professional cycling. She was down to do 3 events and so could potentially have won 3 golds. A mixture of bad luck and over eagerness stopped her in her tracks (excuse the pun) so she came away with 1 gold, 1 silver, and unfortunately 1 disqualification. But still, for a woman who has been at the top of her game for so many years I think she has carried herself exceptionally well and she has nothing to be ashamed of or to regret. Queen Vicky has been a great ambassador for the sport, and for women's sport in particular. It was quite a moving moment when she very sportingly shook hands with her longtime rival Anna Meares after losing to her in the women's sprint, before breaking down in tears in the warm down area.

15. Seeing the women's track cycling trio of Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell win gold in the team pursuit. These three young ladies all competed in cycle races which I did in London and the South East. I remember Laura Trott when she first raced. It was at a women's circuit race in Milton Keynes with her sister about 7 years ago. They were barely teenagers then, but they were still pretty quick. Joanna was in Sutton Cycling Club, a local club that supported youth cycle racing. Joanna would have only been about 14 years old, but she was still putting us to shame on the road, velodrome, and even in the odd cyclo cross race. I met Dani later when she took part in the Women's Team Series of road race events 3 or 4 years  ago. The women's cycle racing scene is not big, and people tend to get to know each other at the various races. These were girls who put in the hard work and the hours to reach the level they are at now. Cycle racing training is tough. I have tried it! So it was great to see these local girls get their just reward and be up there at the top of the world stage. Truly inspiring.

16. The general feeling of well-being and enjoyment. I just enjoyed the whole vibe of the Olympics. Everyone was in good spirits and sports were put on with more than a hint of entertainment value, especially during the beach volleyball. There was camaraderie, emotion, and a great feeling of being witness to this historical time. Those are the memories that will stay with me for years to come.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Proud to be a Londoner!

I was really glad to have made the trip from Milan back to London for the Olympics. It was well worth it.  After all the media circus about concerns over transportation, security, and too many Macdonald's restaurants the games came and went without any significant hitch.

The events that I watched live - cycling, athletics, fencing and beach volleyball were really well organised and it looked like alot of thought and detail had gone into the logistics. There were loads of smiling helpful volunteers on hand to welcome folks and point them in the right direction. Even the military and the police, who were drafted in to help with security were very jolly and got involved in the sporting festivities.

When I didn't watch events live I went to Potters Fields, a stretch of parkland between City Hall and Tower Bridge. That was a great place to be - sandwiched between iconic landmarks along the River Thames, watching various unforgettable moments unfold on the big screen. There were a few thousand of us there with our picnics and beers, but despite the large number of folks it still felt very initimate and friendly.
That's where I was on Super Saturday (4th August) when Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford medalled on the running track. I had also been there the previous day when the goldrush began in the velodrome too.

On every occasion during the medal ceremonies everyone in the park stood up to sing the GB National Anthem. That was an impressive sight, considering that many of the folks were younger, not necessarily British, and maybe even republicans!

It's true that the spirit of the Olympics has really lifted me. It's not just the sporting prowess, and the pride in seeing GB athletes (particularly cyclists) winning medals, but just the way that London projected itself so positively across the world. I must say that if I were not from London I would certainly want to visit the city, and Surrey as well which featured heavily in the cycle races. The television pictures of all the venues, and the way that many venues had been decked out for the Olympics looked very impressive.
I was really glad to have made it to Horseguards, the Excel Centre and the Olympic Park. Box Hill looked even prettier than usual during the Olympics. Places which have ridden or run as part of my usual training routine like Hyde Park, Richmond Park and Box Hill looked even more splendid, and it made me even a little emotional seeing them become the centre-stage for the biggest sports contest on the planet!
For me, there is no better finish to a race than area of Buckingham Palace and Parliament Square/Big Ben. I can't imagine any athlete not enjoying completing their race on a more regal a street!
The one venue I do regret not going to was Greenwich Park. I remember doing a photo shoot there earlier in the year for Cycling Active magazine, and I marvelled over the views of the Maritime Museum, the City of London and the Canary Wharf complex. That must have been a great place to watch the equestrian sports and the modern pentathlon.
The games certainly inspired me, and probably many others. I want to ride my bike and run more. I'm even tempted to take up fencing!

As well as the sporting action, there were various cultural events, exhibitions and concerts that took place in open areas so London also showcased its creative side.
Nowhere was this shown more by the opening and closing ceremonies. Our opening ceremony was probably not as lavish as what we saw in Beijing four years ago, but director Danny Boyle showed how we can do things more simply and still give the same entertainment value, just by thinking outside of the box.

Even the weather played ball with us. Ok, so we didn't have heatwave weather, and we did watch the beach volleyball in full coats with umbrellas nearby, but the sun came out on the majority of days and the Games were by no means a washout!
Overall, the Olympics gave us a 2-week vacuum in which we focused on fun times, friendship and the emotion of pushing yourself and winning.

I am also so pleased that London really knocked the spots off other cities by putting on a great show, and Londoners have shown that this place is pretty cool! I wouldn't want to be from anywhere else!

Thursday 2 August 2012

'Lympics Innit!

So the London 2012 Olympics have finally arrived. After all the grumbling about disruption and gridlock, threatened strikes by UK Border staff, and protests by taxi drivers things have gotten underway - albeit with more business being done in the East End than in the West End.

An effort to jazz things up in the London rain!
I missed most of the Opening Ceremony as I was in transit from Milan back to London.

When I arrived in Croydon late last Friday night there were alot of people milling around in rather zany costumes, like glittery nurse outfits an skirts made out of silver coated plates. One woman was draped from head to toe in everything you could possibly wear in Union Jacks. Just an ordinary night out in Croydon's clubland? No - it was people who had taken part in the opening ceremony.

They'd played their part in television history and were on their way home, to watch the show on catch-up TV or i-player. Participants in the ceremony will have been rehearsing every weekend since April, but they still will have had no idea what the whole spectacle looked like because they were only exposed to their section of the event, which in itself will have had around 1400 performers. It's a bit ironic that even though they were at the centre of the action they would be the last people to see the opening ceremony! I have only seen highlights, but from what I have seen it looked quite spectacular.

Watching the peloton go by in the men's cycle road race near Box Hill
For me what has been very impressive has been the way that areas that I normally go to have been transformed beyond belief in order to accommodate the venues. For instance, the road race venue at Box Hill. The National Trust Centre on the hill had a new coat of paint, lots of new signboards giving information, facts and figures about the area, and various artworks painted on the walls. Even the ladies in the tea-shop had dressed up specially for the occasion and were even smilier than usual!

Olympic rings feature in various parts of the city, and there were some in the side of the hill above Dorking. Also, a road like Headley Common, which just gets horsey traffic and hikers and a few club cyclists was suddenly packed to the rafters with cycling fans, and team cars - just like in the Tour de France.

The Treasury Building was completely transformed for the Olympics
Horse Guards Parade, where the beach volleyball was held, looked surreal considering that this area is largely occupied by government offices hosting the corridors of power. What a contrast, having bikini-clad ladies playing in the sand next door to the suited and booted in the Prime Minister's office, or the Treasury Building!

 I am glad to see that the Olympics have still kept a London feel about it, with many events taking place in venues that we already know and love.

The police, the military, the gamesmaker marshalls and all other staff have been good spirited and shown some London humour. And we have even had some London rain, but nobody seemed to mind! So there we were worrying that things might be a bit shambolic, but in fact it's not been bad so far. May the games continue smoothly!

Enjoying women's beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade