Friday 23 November 2018

Christmas cycling gift ideas - 2

Following on from my previous post, here are more gift ideas for those who are into cycling, or would like to get into cycling.

Like a gloworm
Proviz continue to produce their distinct range of totally reflective jackets. There's the standard 360 reflective jacket, which I have, or the more colourful ones in the range which also make you stand out during the day.

The 360 as ever is really eyecatching in the dark - not just on the road, just anywhere dark. In fact, you might even be a hit, glowing like that on the dance floor if you felt like trying it out there!

Proviz Reflective 360 cycling jacket

Keep the heat in
It is said that you lose around 10% of your body heat through your head. So with these cool temperatures warm headgear is important. A Gore Windstopper skull cap could do the trick.

It keeps the heat in, without you getting overheated, and it covers your ears as well. I always find that having my ears covered makes a lot of difference to how well I enjoy my ride.

Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Soft Shell Helmet Cap

How to Build a Bike: A Simple Guide to Making Your Own Ride -  Jenni Gwiazdowski
London Bike Kitchen director, Jenni has written this book that gives instructions on how to build a bicycle - not necessarily all types of bikes, but just a standard single speed bike.

It gives step-by-step information on the key parts of bicycle and how you fit them all together. Even if you aren't going to build a whole new bike, there is enough information there for you to learn how to fix small parts of the bikes like fitting brake pads.

How to Build a Bike: A Simple Guide to Making Your Own Ride -  Jenni Gwiazdowski (paperback) - £14.99
Available from Waterstones

Putting the warmth in your toes
I wanted some Sealskinz 100% waterproof socks because I have heard they are waterproof as well as windproof. Knowing that I could be spending a few hours out on the bike during the upcoming wintry weather especially when riding the Festive 500 has made me even more conscious of the need to stay warm and have everything protected.

The weather tends to be okay around the London area over Christmas, but it can be a bit wet and wild in places like Bristol, or up in Yorkshire. So I want to have all my bases covered - literally. This is a savvy gift for anyone wanting to cycle over winter.

Sealskinz waterproof socks available on Amazon

Another Primal jacket
I mentioned in my previous post how I like the colours on the Primal clothing. Well here's another nicely coloured item the Horizon Blue women's jacket.

The jacket makes for a nice addition while you're out. It's not a heavy jacket, so more something to wear for if you are doing a training ride at a fastish pace on a winter's day. I was sent this one by Primal, (along with the Tripper Day jersey), and I must say it feels great and is not at all restrictive.

Primal Horizon Blue Women's Jacket

Queens of Pain: Legends & Rebels of Cycling - Isabel Best
In the year where we have been celebrating the emancipation of women - in particular with reference to gaining the right to vote, we can also look at what was happening in the world of cycling, and learn more about the women who pushed back boundaries in cycling.

Different women give first-hand experiences of being involved in these different events between the 1890s and the 1990s, such as the Tour de France and six-day track cycling events.

I must admit I haven't read this book yet, but it is a book I would like to read, so anyone is welcome to buy it for me as Christmas gift!

Queens of Pain: Legends & Rebels of Cycling - Isabel Best - £25
Available from Rapha Racing 

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Christmas cycling gift ideas

Friday 16 November 2018

Christmas cycling gift ideas - 1

It's that time of the year again, when on-line shopping goes bananas as people go on the hunt for Christmas gifts for their friends, their families or even just for themselves.

Here are some ideas:

The joy of socks!

Primal socks - as seen at the Cycle Show

Socks, socks and more socks. You can never get tired of them. If you're anything like me, I constantly lose them and always end up with odd pairs. Well if you're going to wear odd pairs why not do it in style and flair with a pair from Primal. I love them.

Not sure if it was a good idea, but I wore a pair of them at a cyclocross race recently, thinking they would be fine.

My favourites: Wild ride; HT.A link; Floral Explosion
But by the end of the race they were completely unrecognisable - covered from ankle to toe in mud. Shame really as they were the zany purple and green ones (Wild ride).

Still, at least they looked good on the start-line of the race!

Socks: £8-£15

Don't be afraid of the dark

Light with helmet mount
To enjoy a bike ride at night it pays not just to be seen, but also to be able to see the path ahead.
This Lezyne Macro Duo 700 dual front and rear helmet light could do the trick. The front light has various settings that go up to a maximum 700 lumens, so that's enough to light up a path or road with no streetlights, or a country lane. The rear light is 30 lumens. 

It's a good complement to lights that you have on your bike, whether they are commuting ones for urban streets, or high-power lights for a night mountain-bike ride.

Dual front and back light

I bought these for when riding around country lanes at night. The good thing about a helmet light is it is particularly helpful when going around bends and corners as you get an advanced view of what's ahead, rather than relying on just the light on the bike. These will also come in useful for me when I do the Rapha 500 and ride along gravel tracks. I won't have to stress too much about getting home before nightfall. Mind you, I don't intend being out all night either - I still want to have a bit of a Christmas!

Lezyne Macro Drive Duo 700 Light Set: £70
Available at Sigma Sport -

Irongran: How keeping fit taught me that growing older needn't mean slowing down 
by Edwina Brocklesby

I must declare my interest: I have known Eddie for around 15 years - since when I joined the Serpentine Running Club. She has always been so full of enthusiasm and energy for doing sport, in particular, triathlon. She's done many marathons, including the London marathon on a number of occasions. As if that's not enough Eddie has taken part in Ironman triathlons, including Kona Hawaii, and regularly represents Team GB at the age-group world triathlon and duathlon championships. And she's 75 years young!

This book tells of how Eddie got into running and multi-sport races, and how she was spurred to do even more sports following the sudden death of her husband from cancer. Eddie has always had a positive outlook on life, and in the book she talks about how she juggled her job in social work with all her training. Even with all that going on, she still had the time to set up a charity, Silverfit, which is specifically aimed at people approaching the third age.

Having read the book I would definitely recommend it for anyone into sport - not just older athletes or would-be athletes.

Available at

Bike monthly

Cyclists around Yorkshire
We might live in an age of digital diaries and planners, but there's still a market for arty calendars. So how about this bike-themed 2019 calendar from Lucy Pittaway, the official artist of the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race from 2016 to 2018. 

Her paintings have been a feature over the last three editions of the four-stage race, notably the one of the riders going over Park Rash (Welcome to Yorkshire!), and the ones of them going up the cobbled main street in Haworth (Pedals, passion and glory). 

Lucy has produced a calendar with depictions from different stages of this year's tour. I look forward to hanging it up on my wall next year.

Homeward bound

2019 Cycling Calendar: £14.95

Bikes and Bloomers by Kat Jungnickel

While all the focus in women's cycle racing is on achievements in this contemporary era, some may want to know more about where it all began, and how women got into cycling in the first place. As you can imagine, like many issues around gender, it wasn't an easy task. In fact, back in the 19th century it was even a clandestine activity for the fairer sex.

So with that, women had to dress in such a way that they could hide their bloomers underneath their full flowing skirts and hitch up their costumes quickly when they wanted to go on a bike ride. Bike riding was quite frowned upon back in those days. Some even thought that that, as well as other sporting activities would have a detrimental effect on women's health. So many women felt they had to hide their secret interest in cycling from others. It took a groundswell of radical women to bring about the emancipation of women on bikes (in parallel to gaining the right to vote).  

Kat's book details this story of how this liberation came about, while looking through the prism of the various fashions made available by different female pioneers. It's quite a fascinating read.

Available at

A splash of colour

Tripper Day jersey and Neon Crush warmers
 I have been a fan of the clothing range from Primal for a few years. I have always had a penchant for bright colourful clothing when out on a bike - not just because it helps you be seen by other road users, but just because that's my taste.

The whole wearing black them has never really appealed to me. So it's been the fashion for a few years now, and various brands go for black, but in my humble opinion colour is what it's all about, and lots of it!

So, it you're after kit with lots of zany designs and colour you can't go wrong with Primal. There are jerseys armwarmers and socks (as seen above) in a whole spectrum of colours.

Neon Crush Thermal arm warmers: £20
Tripper Day women's jersey: £50

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Tuesday 6 November 2018

Tips from the pro cyclists: Staying fit and warm in winter

It's that time of year when the days are colder, darker and wetter.....hardly the conditions that make you want to go out.

A few top riders I met at the recent Rouleur Classic have given their tips on staying fit and warm over the winter:

Lizzie Deignan, Trek Segafredo

"Layering is really important. It's always better to wear a few thinner layers that you can peel off than one thick heavy jacket, which you wouldn't be able to remove when you get hot.

When riding I never go out without a gilet, and I really love wearing my Santini tights as they are so comfortable as well as keeping me warm.

Keeping fit over the winter is just about setting yourself realistic goals of when you can get out on the bike. 

Meeting up with people helps because then you feel you have to get out because you don't want to let them down. That’s the best way to get out I think.

I would never ride when it’s icy or when it’s really really cold. Also, I don't ride if I have a sore throat, which you can often get in the winter.

I listen to my body more in winter than I do in summer because if you ride with a sore throat you get a cough and then you’ll have it for three weeks and there’s no point, so you just have to accept that sometimes it’s not possible." 

Coryn Rivera, Team Sunweb

"Being in California it never really gets that cold. At most I will wear arm warmers and a vest, probably!
However, when I come to my base in Holland and am preparing for the Spring Classics I train in some of the worst kinds of weather, having to adapt to the cold, the wind, and pouring rain, and deal with all that.

I got sick last Spring, from being in the cold weather, and learned that it's all about keeping your body warm and as dry as possible if it’s raining.

I’ve learned to change my jackets once I start sweating too much and it’s getting wet and cold. But definitely, I think the crucial things are hands and feet. If you can keep your hands and feet really warm that helps. 

Sometimes I ride with two sets of gloves in training, and I will start off with a heavier pair to warm up my hands but as soon as it begins to get a bit sweaty I’ll switch to a lighter glove to let it find that balance of my hands being warm and just kind of cooling rather than pooling sweat and once it gets too wet it becomes kind of difficult to warm up again.

So I switch between two sets of gloves when it comes to my hands and then for my feet I just wear a kind of windproof booty that is fleece lined. It makes it nice for your toes and sometimes when it’s really cold I’ll put some toe warmers on top of my shoe and underneath my booty to keep my feet warm and still be able to feel my feet.

The longest ride I do will be about for around four hours. That’s a pretty long time in cold weather. If it’s really bad weather I’ll do like two smaller loops and break it up and in between, switch to a dry undershirt and then head back out for the last two hours. Put I think that’s important to stay dry and not spend too long in wet clothes when you are doing a longer ride.

My favourite item of clothing is definitely my neck buff and the little scarf that I can put over my face, and my ears.

My head gets warm when I’m riding so I usually don’t like a skull cap or a head band, but when my ears do get cold I pull up the buff over my ears and my face and it keeps everything warm."

Alice Barnes, Canyon-SRAM Racing

I live in Manchester so Summer and Winter I’m just in Manchester. For the kind of races I do – I prefer the Spring Classic races – I don’t need long mountain climbs. I kind of need the Peak District where the weather can be bad.

When we get really bad weather I go on the (turbo) trainer or I go to training camps between December and February. 

I wouldn’t risk going out in really bad weather, as in ice and snow, because especially with things like Zwift now, there’s no need to. If you’re doing a 2-hour ride on a turbo trainer it’s probably better for you than doing three hours on the road in terms of pedaling and because it’s still really tough. 

If you are going out and it’s really cold I’d just say to layer up. There’s so many different clothes out there to buy. I quite enjoy having more thin layers rather than thick clothes. Put on mudguards too. I’d advise riding with a light all the time because you can never be over-cautious with safety.

My favourite piece of kit is actually bib-less longs. It's just because I always need to stop for a wee on a ride and at the end of the day if it’s raining or cold, with the bib-less longs you can just whip your bibs down rather than needing to take off your coat and your jersey. And because I want to wear my bib-less tights everyday, I end up washing them every day and then they wear out and get a bit thin. 

mountain biking is very good to do in bad weather because it’s safe whether it’s snowy or icy because it's off-road and you’ve got more grip. Also because you’re climbing so hard, but you've got less speed there’s not so much wind chill. When I went out mountain biking the other day it was actually pretty cold but we were all boiling just because it was so much more demanding. So if you need to go out, you can go mountain biking I guess. 

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Thursday 1 November 2018

Trail running in Cheshire, Yorkshire and in Bellagio Skyrace too!

Getting in lots of trail runs in preparation for Beachy Head Marathon, and doing my first trail running race in Italy

Over the summer and into Autumn I really got into trail running. It was spurred on by my failed attempt to make it to the Paris marathon.

Having done all that training, only to not use it I wanted something else to look forward to this year. I had considered doing a mountain marathon, but orienteering with the prospect of getting deserted on a mountain in Cornwall or the Lake District didn't fill me with excitement.

Preparing for Beachy Head Marathon

Eventually I plumped for the Beachy Head Marathon, which struck a good balance of being a challenge, while having signage. Also, with this being a trail run through the South Downs, I would never be that far away from a town or public transport that would get me to Eastbourne or Brighton.

Glad to reach the summit at Teggs Nose Country Park

So with this challenge ahead, I did a fair bit of trail running - around the North Downs, along the Pilgrim's Way, and of course the South Downs - around Devil's Dyke, Ditchling Beacon, and Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

Earlier in the summer I did a run in Cheshire around Macclesfield Forest and Teggs Nose Country Park.

I had been hoping to take part in a fell race that was organised in conjunction with the Sheep Dog Trials, but traffic got the better of me and I missed the start, so did my own improvised run instead, which included going along the Gritstone Trail. It was my first stab at doing a trail run with a very steep gradient, and I loved it.

Teggs Nose Staircase - a lift would've been nice! 
Then a couple of weeks ago while on my trip to Cycle Expo Yorkshire I did a run along the trails of the Yorkshire Dales at Kettlewell.

The initial part of the route went up the dreaded tarmacked climb that cyclists know as Park Rash. I then left the road to go up a steep bridleway up to the stars - well actually to Starbotton.

From there I returned to Kettlewell along a valley trail that was part of the Dales Way. It was a lovely run, especially as it was early on a Sunday morning, and with no one around at this point I had the place to myself.

Trail down to Starbotton after a long climb
I felt lucky too, because there had been a forecast for heavy rain, and I had gone out expecting to get drenched. But somehow the rain stayed away, and only began as I was going up the steps to enter the Youth Hostel.
The rain did get very heavy though, meaning that when I arrived in Harrogate later that morning to take part in the cyclocross race I knew it was going to be a mudbath - and it was!

Trail running Italian style

The following weekend I was in Milan for a weekend of cycling and running. It was mainly cycling that I did, but the most memorable event for me was a trail run called the Bellagio Skyrace.

I had been a little apprehensive about the competition because I had not done much of this sort of racing before - not even in the UK. It wasn't the distance that was the problem, but the altitude gain.

Looking at my Garmin records none of my runs had included more than 500m of climbing, and I was going to be doing double that amount. This could potentially kill my knees or my Achilles tendons, or both, as well as any chance of running the Beachy Head Marathon the following week. Would I be able to get around the race before the organisers packed away the signage and the finish gantry? Was this a really silly thing to do, entering this race as a non-fell runner? I was about to find out.

Around 600 of us lined up in the main piazza of this beautiful town on the shores of Lake Como, and at the gun we sprang out of the blocks running uphill into the forested peaks of this area known as Lario (latin for Como). Half of us were all set to do 14km with 1000m of climbing, while others were doing 28km with 1900m of uphill.

Getting ready for the off in Bellagio main square
Actually, everyone else set off at a fast enthusiastic pace, but I was quite conservative, conscious of the need to not go into the red, and save something for later. Also knowing that I would be running a trail marathon the following week, I really didn't want to wreck myself.

So, it must have looked a bit odd in front of all the townsfolk who had come out to watch us, seeing me all in race gear and with a number on, some 50 metres off the back of the pack. I wasn't going to let these things bother me though. The only problem was the road twisted a bit and at a crossroads, I had to ask some passers-by which way the other runners had gone.

For a time we were running along a road I was familiar with, as it was the cycle route up to the Madonna del Ghisallo sanctuary that I had ridden the previous day. Once we left the road and started running up the trail I began to catch people as a bottle-neck occurred and things were at a stand-still. Also, many people had already started walking as the trail became increasingly steeper.

I swapped places with this lady loads of times as I stopped to take photos
My plan was to run as much of the course as possible. I was able to do so for the first couple of miles, which went along a wide stony trail and then through a field.

As we got deeper into the forest, the trail became steeper as it zigzagged through the trees. It also became narrow and so we were reduced to walking as a single-file procession.

I would have run it if I could but it was too much energy to try and squeeze past people. In any case the path was so steep that I wouldn't have been able to run much faster than walking pace along this section.

The forest was beautiful, and it was great to be able to run through these trees that normally people only tend to see up in the distance at lake level.

Glad to reach the summit - and some wine was waiting just around the corner!
Once at the summit on Monte Nuvolone we ran through a specially erected gantry, marking the 980m above sea level apex.

From here it would be a short distance along the plateau before making our way back down to Bellagio.

I must say that although this was a race I felt that it would be wrong to come all the way over here without stopping to admire the view of Lake Como from an angle that I rarely get to see.

For this reason I stopped and took a few photos. In fact quite a few times I stopped to take photos, meaning that I lost a bit of time on the various people I'd managed to overtake, though I managed to catch them up as they continued to walk, while I chose to run.

I rarely see Lake Como from this angle - would've been rude not to snap it
Further along on the plateau of Monte Nuvolone I stocked up my energy levels at the feed station ready for the descent, which would be taxing on the legs. The marshals at the top jokingly asked me if I would like some wine.

I thought they were being serious (especially as I had previously drunk six glasses of wine at the Bacchus half marathon some weeks before). So I accepted the offer, thinking it was just a normal thing to do during races in Italy. But when they looked at me with a mixture of bemusement and incredulity, I realised this wasn't quite normal. They obliged by serving me a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, probably thinking I was an alcoholic or something. I just happily downed it in one before continuing my run.

Soon I regretted drinking wine as I was faced with a very tricky drop across some boulders. There were ropes cut into the rocks that we could hold onto, but I didn't really trust them and preferred to hold onto the ground to steady myself. Although it was only a short stretch, I found it a little unnerving. The mountain rescue team were on hand, giving tips but I felt more comfortable negotiating this stretch in my own way - even if it looked unelegant being on all fours.

Apart from that slight difficulty, the run back into Bellagio was straightforward technically provided you kept an eye out for the tree roots in the woods, and put your foot in the right places when running over the rocks, stones, and rocks on the stony trail, and you didn't bump into the trees or field furniture along the way.

By this time the number of runners had thinned out from the feed station onwards, with half the field having continued on to do the 28km-course up to Monte Primo (the hightest peak in the area), so it was easy to just settle into a natural pace and not have to worry about anyone on your tail, or trying to get past people. At this point in the race I felt fine physically, and not particularly fatigued which was a good sign. I had run very much within myself, which was what I had wanted to do.

The final run back into the finish line was on a gravel path along the side of Lake Como with lots of people - spectators and tourists - giving encouragement along this home straight. It felt quite special.

On this comparatively smooth stretch I was able to put in a bit of a sprint, so that in front of the spectators I might look a bit more athletic than I did on the outward run through the town. As I neared the finish line, the crowd cheered avidly, and that made me put in an extra spurt. Then I realised they weren't cheering for me, but for the first finisher of the 28km route! The winner was a guy from Rwanda who had basically run exactly twice as fast as I did. Hey ho!

At the finish line I congratulated one or two of the other runners I'd taken turns with overtaking through the race, and discovered that one of the runners was a woman from Fulham Running Club. She was there with a fellow club runner Daphne, who had finished a good few minutes ahead of us, and some other club mates who were doing the long route.

I was just so amazed to see other people from the UK doing this. Normally when I go to races abroad I end up being the novelty competitor from London. So it was good to meet others who'd had the same idea as myself. They invited me to dinner with them at their place near Bellagio, but I had already arranged to meet people back in Milan, so had to decline. Hopefully I'll see them at another race in the area in future.

All good at the finish line
This was definitely a fun race to do. Anyone who does regular trail runs or fell running would find this a breeze, and would probably prefer to do the 28km race. If you're not a trail runner, but run regularly the 14km is still doable, and on the really steep bits a lot of people walk it anyway.

It is one of the most beautiful locations you could choose for a running race, and it was well organised.

 Even for the post-race pasta party the marshals provided table service and you had a view of Lake Como as you wolfed down your farfalle followed by polenta, with wine.

My apprehensions about the race had been completely for nothing. It had all been pretty straightforward, and had definitely set me up nicely for the Beachy Head Marathon.

For those interested, this is the 14-km route on Strava

I can't believe I made the cut for this video. I can be found somewhere at 3mins 45, just after Daphne!
BELLAGIO SKYRACE 2018 - Official Video from URBANPRODUZIONI on Vimeo.

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