Saturday 27 February 2016

The World's Most Accessible Cycle Sport - Street Velodrome!

Pop-up Street Velodrome
I had a go at this sport called Street Velodrome and all I know is surfer-biker chick Anna Glowinski does it and raves about how great it is. Well, given that she likes her sport adrenaline-fuelled I immediately wanted to give this activity a wide berth. As a veteran rider I find I value my bones more and more!

However, while I was at the London Bike Show, where they had set up their rig, I bumped into Anna. When I said I would be going over to watch the Street Velodrome competition she was very encouraging. "Go on, give it a go. It's free and it's so much fun," she said.
"I don't know," I replied unsure. "I'll make a fool of myself in front of everybody."
"Don't be silly. Anyone can have a go." I think that's what sold me. Anyone can have a go.

So I toddled along hoping that it would be fun, just as Anna had said. Looking at the bankings at the extremities of the short circuit made me feel a little apprehensive.

Kelly, the lady who was helping out and coaching people of all ages was very helpful. "It's not bad once you get going. You'll be fine. We'll get you to race against this boy."

I wasn't sure I wanted to race against anyone, but racing against a seven-year old kid who was barely higher than my waist worried me. He could either upstage me royally, which would be embarrassing - or even worse, I could go wrong on the banking, fall over and squash him - which would be mortifying!

Once I put on my trainers and the guys kitted me out with a bike and a helmet I first did a few circuits of the track on the flat ground, just to practice going around tight corners. The trick is to learn to look around the corner at where you need to be. .

It is true that I am already practised in going around corners, having ridden in a velodrome and raced a little on road and cyclo cross circuits.
In reality, looking around the corner is the only real skill anyone needs, so after a few laps around on the flat you pick up the concept and you're ready to go on the actual circuit with banking included.

For my first go I set off along the straight at medium speed. I should have been a bit quicker so that I would have the momentum to get up onto the banking. But even with this slight mistake where I crawled up the track at a snails pace things weren't so bad because it meant I tackled the tight corner at a controlled pace and once I was looked around the corner the bicycle followed and took me down the ramp, picking up a high speed as I hit the straight, and this speed was enough to take me up the ramp at the other end of the track, where once again I was looking around the corner. So before I knew it I was rounding the bend again to take another fast descent to my startpoint and then up to the banking again. And thus continued the cycle.

There are lines marked on the track showing when you need to start looking around the corner, and Kelly would shout across to me to do so in case I forgot! So I felt in safe hands.

Getting the cornering right
It was a real adrenaline rush for me and I was enjoying the "speed". I felt like Guy Martin, but in fact I was probably more like Eddie the Eagle! Nevertheless, the riding is easy to get into both in terms of skill and equipment. You just need to be in trainers and trousers or shorts. Lycra and specific cycle kit is not necessary. 

By the time I had finished my practice the little boy I was going to race against had already competed against someone else and won, and as I was the last person signed up for the session there was no one else left to race against.

No worries. There will be other opportunities to race, as Street Velodrome travels around the country and people can sign up on-line to have a go either in the amateur series, or in the pro series if you want to race at a higher level.

Carl Thompson the originator of this pop-up concept wanted to create a cycle event that was engaging, entertaining, free of charge, and can have a broad appeal. The series starts in May at the Eden Project and tours different venues around the country. Amateurs race for free and their series runs parallel to the pro competition, with the best amateurs being invited to the super finals outside Buckingham Palace as part of Prudential Ride London at the end of July.

"We try to get a good balance between male and female competitors as we want to showcase women's cycling rather than have it as a support event to the men's race," Carl explained to me. "We are affiliated with the This Girl Can sports campaign and we hope to reach out to 16-24 year-old women.
And the secret to doing well at Street Velodrome? According to Carl: "It's about the start - pushing off as quick as you can in a big gear when the traffic light turns green. Then when riding the berm [the tight turn] you look at the exit of the turn to get you around the corner."

Getting the cornering wrong!

So there you have it guys and girls. Street Velodrome is all very accessible. Just sign up and remember to push hard and look round the corner - something that this guy unfortunately forgot to do, though no harm was done. I'm sure that won't happen to you!

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Monday 22 February 2016

Two teams, two launches, lots of motivation

I managed to get down to the London Bike Show a couple of weekends ago and had the privilege of seeing two women's team launches on the Friday and Saturday.

Friday saw the launch of Drops CC, a new UCI registered team headed by Bob Varney, with mentoring from the hugely successful national racer, Karla Boddy. I am impressed to see her move into a mentoring/Director Sportive role, particularly as I recall her racing some of the races in the old London Women's Cycle Racing League less than 5 years ago.

With riders such as Caribbean Road Race Champion Tamiko Butler, and National Masters Road Race Champion, Laura Massey the team hopes to make its mark in the National Series Races and the National Championships, as well as in some of the races in Europe. The team hopes to get a wildcard entry for the Aviva Women's Tour (now part of the inaugural Women's World Tour series it accepts entries primarily from top tier UCI women's teams).

All the ladies are currently finalising their training in Mallorca, but when they leave the island I look forward to seeing the women making their mark at the early season classic continental races - Le Samyn des Dames, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Grand Prix de Dottignies, as well as races over here like the Women's Tour of Yorkshire, the Cheshire Classic.

On Saturday afternoon we were treated to the eye-catching kit of the newly formed Cannondale Girls racing team (aka We Ride Green). Again, this team has a lot of familiar racers that I have seen riding on local circuits in London and at the Notts/Derby Cyclo cross and the Northwest Cyclo cross leagues. In fact a number of the girls are from the former Mule Bar Girls racing team.

Cannondale Girls seem to have retained the same spirit of fun while racing hard. In fact the big reveal included generous amounts of Prosecco as well as delicious cookies and cakes baked by the girls themselves. Moving swiftly on from their kitchen talents Natalie, Adele, Diane, and Maxine talked to me about their plans for the coming season. Plans are quite varied within the team due to the diversity of disciplines Cannondale Girls pursue. Unlike Drops CC who are focusing on the road, Cannondale Girls will be mixing in quite a lot of off-road activities - Enduro, Downhill and Cross country mountain biking, as well as cyclo cross - and also mountain bike orienteering. A rather alternative way of cycle racing, and Natalie was very excitedly looking forward to a season of doing this with team-mate Emily Benham, the 2015 World Mountain Bike Orienteering series winner in this exciting discipline.

It'll be very exciting to see how this group of "Wonderwomen" get on in 2016. In fact you can catch up with some of the team members at Cannock Chase trail centre on 20th March during their Bike Demo weekend.

Although both of these teams, have a slightly different slant in terms of their racing, they share equal amounts of motivation and energy. Furthermore, what I admire about them is that most of the racers are not full time athletes. They have professional jobs or studies, and family commitments - some with children, while one (Phoebe Sneddon) is currently pregnant!
But yet they are so disciplined and hungry to succeed that they manage to juggle all other aspects of their lives with their racing and still manage to take home silverware. And that gets my full admiration.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Town and Country cycling

I have finally received the all-clear to start cycling. So, in true 2wheelchick spirit I got straight back on my two-wheeled horse.

Admittedly they have been shaky beginnings, but in any case I am just glad to have been able to get my bike out of the garage and give it a spin. It was a lovely feeling to be sitting on the saddle and rolling along, albeit slowly!

My first ride was last Sunday week. Ironically the sun had been shining all morning, and the weather was set fair for the afternoon, according to BBC Weather. However, the moment I stepped out of the house and began to pedal the sky suddenly turned dark grey and spots of rain began to fall. Within 10 minutes we had gone from bright sunshine to grim hailstones! A bad omen? "This wasn't part of the plan!" I said to myself. "Bloody typical!" In all my annoyance I adopted a defiant attitude, and was determined to continue with my plan to get to Richmond Park. It may not be the most pleasant comeback ride, but the importance was getting out and doing it.

So off I trundled. In fact, in the battle of wills it was one nil to me, for the rain soon subsided and within a quarter of an hour we had sunshine again. A bonus!

My ride through South-west London turned out to enjoyable in the end. One thing I like about my cycle rides in London is the fact that you can ride through suburban built-up areas and it is still perfectly agreeable. We are privileged to have a lot of green spaces. From South Norwood lakes, Streatham Common, Tooting Bec Common, Wandsworth Common, Putney Heath, I feel blessed to live in a big city that still has plenty of green spaces. I know people bemoan the fact that London has less greenery than it had 20 or 30 years ago,  but really I think we do well compared with other European cities.

Riding around central Milan when I worked there was flat and compact, but it was not picturesque at all. The ride out to pleasant cycling areas like Brianza or Como involved a 20-mile dismal trudge past a collage of industrial estates and disused factories!

By contrast my urban ride to Richmond Park was quite a joy. Needless to say once in this royal park I found it a delight to be there among the various other park users enjoying outdoor life - including the deer. 

For a first ride I had coped ok. However, it had been a shock to the system even just to ride up a very gentle incline that went over the railway line near me. I felt rather self-conscious going at a snail's pace over  the slightest slope and holding up all the traffic behind me! It reminded me of my trip to Peru when I landed in Cusco only to struggle with the altitude. While I had to rest in between every step I took, 70-year-old Peruvians with packs on their backs were skipping past me effortlessly. Today I felt the same embarrassment as I felt back then. This was just a less exotic setting! 

Naturally, once in Richmond Park the idea of riding all the way up to Richmond Gate and Pembroke Lodge was completely out of the question, so I stuck to riding the small loop that took me past the Royal Ballet School and Pen Ponds Car Park.

There was just enough time for me to get a quick snack at Pen Ponds and then head back to Clapham Junction to get the train home before dusk. Normally I would have ridden home, but given that my computer was showing 20 miles of riding for the day I thought it better to stop before I do myself some damage through "overtraining". I slept well when I got home!

My second ride was a couple of days ago, and this time it was out to the more rural setting of the Kent Weald. Being in Crystal Palace means having a few options - the chance of getting into Central London within a comfortable distance, but also the facility to get into the countryside and quiet lanes.

Sunday's ride took me past the increasingly used Biggin Hill Airport, with its attractive display of civilian and Royal Air Force aircraft, then I dropped down through Westerham and along the Pilgrims Way, passing a number of quaint English villages to reach Sevenoaks, and my ultimate destination - Knole Park. 

Where the previous Sunday's ride had included one significant hill around Wimbledon Park, this second ride was peppered with hills and long uphill drags. I was significantly challenged on the long climb up through Keston, and then later on when riding through Sevenoaks. In fact through absentmindedness I overshot the turning into Knole Park and ended up doing an extra mile of uphill, nearly ending up in Tonbridge! Although this ride was slightly longer and much hillier than the previous week I had coped better and already felt stronger.

This ride, although only 25 miles still left me pretty pooped at the end of the day - particularly as my body had also been working hard to stay warm in these winter temperatures we've been having. 

Knole Park is worth a visit. Like Richmond, it is set in wild, vast, unspoiled parkland with its share of deer as well as a stately home with ornate courtyard (and of course a tea room) to visit. 

So, after two varied rides I am beginning to feel like a cyclist again. In a week's time I should be able to take on the daily cycle commute to work - once I have conquered the mighty hills of Crystal Palace!

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Friday 5 February 2016

A bit of cycling poetry

I missed Burns Night, which was over a week ago but I guess it does no harm to have a bit of poetry at other times of the year.

I don't see many cycling poems around, but I as prompted to look up a bit of verse when I saw Murray Lachlan Young on the television during The Wright Stuff - a daytime show which has become my vice (along with Celebrity Big Brother) during my extended absence from work.

This guy's a bit of a rock'n'roll poet so I didn't think he'd be that interested in cycling. In fact he wrote something on the occasion of the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire in 2014.

It's not exactly Wordsworth, but I am just impressed that he wrote a poem on this subject at all!

Tour de France

Murray Lachlan Young 03/07/014

Through Aysgarth, Masham, Middleham
Through Otley, Ilkley, Skipton, Reeth
Through Mont Noir, Paris and Carcasson
Via butter tubs o'er lofty peak

The whirr of ten times forty wheels
A carb-fuelled, quad pumped, flying wedge
A jockeying of shifting deals
All balanced on a razors edge

A haw-hee-haw, ah ha, ha, ha!
Le Yorkshire tea au lait, pour moi?
Regarde vous , je ne cest qoui
Le Yorkshire 'Pud' No! Ooh la, la!

From Black sheep ale to Bergerac
St Etienne they journey far
Chris Froome this time? Or Contador!
Le Rosbif Roi? Or, no cigar?

But one thing that we know for sure
Half man machine half whippet thin
As down the champs Elise rides
The ‘Maillot Jaune’ anointed king

This festival of mother France
This grand fromage procession home
Will wear a certain cussed pride:
(born of (among other things) financially prudent pragmatism, also calling a spade a spade and not being afraid to speak its mind)
For this year it be Yorkshire grown.

'Le Yorkshire tour mama it come!
Allez, allez, regarde la!
Le ‘Eee oop’ et le ‘Eee ba goom’
Ou est Le ‘Bobby dazzelar?’

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Monday 1 February 2016

Where I want to ride in 2016

I have seen lots of folks talking about their goals and objectives for 2016. I guess that's the thing you do at the start of each year. OK, so we are into February now - better late than never!

My recovery from an operation I had in November last year has meant that doing sport has been off limits and therefore completely out of mind.

A couple of days ago was the first day I did any physical activity of any shape or form, when I jogged almost 1km and had a go on a few machines at the nearby outdoor gym for a 10 minutes. It's very much a case of baby steps right now, but hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to attempt a 5km run or do my 10-mile cycle commute once I am back at work.

So, I am only just getting slowly out of the starting blocks, but at least I am in a position to think about some of the things I aim to do this year.

First, a quick recap of 2015:

This was quite an eventful year which came hot on the heels of a very black 2014 (in which my mum died suddenly). My move from Macclesfield back to London, and then a further move when I sold my flat in Crystal Palace to buy a house made things fairly busy. I started a new job in London while juggling this with being an executor of my mum's estate (not a job I would recommend), dealt with a relationship break-up and finished the year with a major operation. Things were a little busy in 2015!

But I rode my bike - I managed a bit of cyclo cross racing, and I even had a go at a downhill race. The rest of the time was spent doing pleasant cycle rides around Cheshire (while I was in Macclesfield) and then off-road and on-road rides on the Kent and Surrey lanes and trails. 

Cycle road racing was out of the question as my head was already too full! No space to deal with competition!

I still managed to contribute some magazine articles to Cycling Weekly Cycling Active and, do a journalism exam and get in a couple of local running races (including a fell race and some orienteering) for fun. 

Hopefully, 2016 will be more straightforward than 2015, without it being boring.

So, here's what I want to do in 2016:

A couple of Sea to Sea rides

It turns out there are a few waymarked routes to get from the west coast to the east coast of the north of England. The classic Whitehaven to Newcastle (Tynemouth) route is on my list, but I would also like to do at least one of the others: Southport to Hornsea (Transpennine Trail); Morecambe to Bridlington (Way of the Roses); Walney to Whitby (W to W). The Transpennine trail is the easiest one, and is local to where my family is. So I would like to get that in. I will see how the time goes, so time-permitting I would then try the W to W.

Long distance off-road rides

This will be a choice between the Pennine Bridleway or the South Downs Way. I have done different sections of this, but have never done the full length as one trip. This would represent a slightly easier and less daunting challenge than the Pennine Bridleway as I am already familiar with the South Downs, and I know there will always be a train station not too far away that'll get me back to London if I bail out! However, the Pennine Bridleway sounds like an exciting ride.

Organised rides

I will do an Evans Ride-it off-road ride. These are nice and local. After that there are the Cycling Weekly Adventure Cross races. The Moors and Shores one looks interesting as it goes through Dalby Forest and the North York Moors as well as passing near the seaside towns of Scarborough and Whitby. 

A couple of cyclosportives. There are so many to choose from that I can't say which one right now!


Cyclo cross - I only did one 'cross race at the start of the 2015 season, so hope to get a bit more use out of my cyclo cross bike this year. As well as using it during the organised rides I plan to do at least one race more than last season. The good news is I don't have to wait until the summer or autumn to pin on a number. There is a cyclo cross series up in Hull (East Yorkshire) during the month of March, sponsored by cycle shop Vive le Velo. 

Track cycling - I have a track bike that I haven't seen for about four years when it was left at the Herne Hill Velodrome before I went to work in Milan. I was worried that the people who run the velodrome may have sold it off. In fact I was recently told that it's probably been making a little kid very happy as they have had the use of the bike during the training sessions. At least it wasn't taking up space in their lock-up for nothing then! Well, this year I will want it back so I can relaunch my track cycling career! The plan is to do the Saturday morning training sessions and then take part in some women's races. 

Foreign rides - I have been known to ride my bike abroad over the years so you might think I would include at least one cyclosportive in France, Italy or Spain on the list, or even just a smidgen of a tryst with my beloved Alps or Dolomites! The answer is that a ride in foreign parts is neither on nor off the agenda. I just want to see how I feel on the day. I went on one overseas trip with my bike last year and enjoyed it. (Actually, I didn't take my bike but hired one while there - much less hassle.) Part of the fun was the fact that it was a spontaneous decision to go to Lake Como. Going abroad to ride or race is not really an aim as this is would not be a new challenge for me. It'll be more a case of just go if or when the mood takes me. The UK rides in the North of England mentioned above will be more of a challenge for me as they are set in rugged terrain. Also, being up North I will probably have to deal with my fair share of considerably more rugged weather and more isolated areas than the popular, iconic climbs in a sunnier European destination!   

Needless to say I will do some running races too - something which has always given me lots of pleasure. Parkruns are a definite yes, and it would be nice to do well in my age group category at some local races. Having recently joined South London Harriers, which is quite a strong running club, their training sessions are likely to sort out my (lack of) form! 

The rest of my anticipated activities for this year are dabbling in the odd novelty event - a bit of orienteering, some mountain bike orienteering and even some fell running. That does exist even in the London area! 

I just want to have fun when doing sport in 2016. But before I can do any of the above I will have to stretch my physical capability a bit further than just being able to run 1km!

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