Sunday, 27 December 2015

EPOh Shit!

I had spinal surgery in July (again). Sadly this one did not go so well and the after effects and nerve damage in my legs is lingering. I can still ride a bit, for a while, but it's difficult. Healing is slow, I will improve, repeat mantra... I hope this explains my lack of travel and bike related prose. It is not an excuse as I have been 'in' more and lots of the writing is based on past experience, my new daughter had waylaid me somewhat but I promise to keep working from the menu soon and adding new stuff as and when I can steal a moment.

This week is a departure from the travel, still dips into the bike genre though. I'm branching out now, I'll be musing about any old shit that comes to mind. Expanding my repertoire if you like? Life is too short to focus on such singular topics.

I've been reading a lot about a lot just recently, five weeks off work does that. Due to a recent cancer scare (to go with the spinal surgery) I have learned an awful lot about blood, how it works, what it does other than stain my collar and how it can be manipulated. I know about crit levels, blood transfusions, platelets blah blah. I already knew about HGH and testosterone, the endocrine system and it's love of endurance sports (or not), cortisone (I know a lot more about it since a surgeon filed my spine with it a few weeks ago) and cortisol, I'm definitely more versed with that one recently.

I've avidly followed the sport for years and read Walsh's books, painfully translated from French on slow dial up sites in the early 00's. I think Lance Armstrong is a bully, an asshole to coin the Texan Term. But so was Pantani, just in a different way. Pantani was the product of an Italian system pioneering blood doping long before the Postmen ever added and 'E' to the 'P.O' of the post office. Basso is a nice guy, but he cheated just like Armstrong, did he ever apologise? Perhaps he will now he has retired? Merckx, the great one was, well, great. No doubt the guy was gifted like no other and I do have my doubts about the 69 Giro. But 1973, Lombardia. 1977, Pemoline, again... Eddy starts races for ASO, Lance starts fights on Sunday club runs. Fignon, pissed petrol in 89. Kelly in 91 - even though he gave the testers his mechanics sample - sadly the spanner had been having a dab of speed to keep up with the fact that Kelly's Vitus was shit and needed more TLC than a Fiat Uno. Kelly in 1993, EPOh no! Denied all round then written off under statute limits for prosecutions. Zabel and Aldag killed the sport in Germany for years, Ulrich was just taking the piss (or not). Riis is a bit of a dick but has not been Lanced, Virenque is a commentator for Le Tour and actually challenged Sky's performance. I bit like the FBI using hackers to test security.Vandenbroucke really went for the full on James Belushi effect by adding morphine to his predilections. Di Luca, Hamilton, Millar x 2 (R&D), Heras, the excellently and most aptly named Cunto, Barrie, Visconti, Frank Schleck etc etc... What have these guys got in common? Even when doping they were only a bit better, slightly less average. What has gained them notoriety, well it's not being a bit shit compared to Lance (acceptance of Heras as the odd one out), it's getting popped. Are any of them being hunted by their Governments? Well no. Millar (D) comentates for ITV4, Schleck wins the odd stage, may of them work in the sport. I know the arguments about the tactics used by Lance, the wealth obtained by 'fraud'. It's a shame the CPS did not review his case, the let David Mellor off with fraud as it was 'not in the public interest' to prosecute. Is it really such a big thing that L.A was the 'best' of the dopers? That he had a genetic blood cell volume that benefited massively from EPO whereas others more gifted than he in the gene pool had less of a boost is simply 'life'. I would add I think he deserves a lifetime ban, but so does Contador, Merckx, Shcleck, McQuaid (from all sports associated activity).
When my daughter is old enough to understand and we visit my family in Italy she may as why 'VIVA PANTANI PANTANI PANTANI' is written on the roads in the mountains above my Dad's place? I'll tell her he cheated a lot, won off the back of cheating, regretted what he did and died a sad death. She may ask why 'LANCE IS A WANKER' is written on a road I have ridden in North Yorkshire. I'll tell her he cheated a lot, won of the back of it but his personality meant he did not regret it and is now paying the price for that, but not a toll as heavy as Pantani. She may ask why they are different? I'll tel her Lance is strong in the head and the legs, Marco just the legs, but they are both cheats and idiots.


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Commuting - General Chit Chat

I ride (did until I had spinal surgery, but will again) to and from work. I've had 60 mile commutes, 3 miles, 12 miles (about right!!) and currently have about 30 miles, which is O.K. Why do I ride to and from work?

1. Time: Even the 35 miles each way to and from Birmingham was faster or about the same in terms of time on my bike riding in at 6.30 am. However, getting home was a different matter, I could be home in 1.10 on my bike, in fact, wind assistance or misery accounted for I could be very accurate with my arrival home on the bike. Riding at a fairly brisk pace.
My record sat in my car on the M42/M6 was three hours and fifty minutes to cover 35 miles. I never took this long on my bike but on the other hand could not listen to Radio 4. He giveth and he taketh away.

2. Training: I have a life outside of racing/riding. My wife is very patient but I would not envisage her being too jolly if I topped up my 45 hour work week with the 10-15 hours riding time afforded to me by commuting. The option to throw in some intervals, hill reps, tempo and threshold work is handy. Ragging the mountain bike cross country in the winter is good for skills work and good fun. Why don't we get so cold on mountain bikes? Wind I suppose.
A sweet recovery ride in the morning sun is a fairly nice way to start a day. A thrash through the traffic into rolling hills is a nice way to end it.

3: Money: In the UK petrol seems to occupy the mantle of 'luxury goods' alongside of Rolex watches and those massive headphones I see people rocking out in. Porridge is cheaper than petrol, and porridge is my fuel. I do own a car but it's crap and rarely moves.

4: Fun: Depending on your disposition, riding in cities is fun. It firms the nerves and skills, hones the senses and only slightly destroys your lungs. Thankfully not as much as car drivers due to the air intake/exhaust relationship.

5: Smugness: Not really! I actively resist the 'smug rider' clan. Cars do not emit much crap any more. Significantly less that cattle, energy production, air travel etc etc.. Bicycles are mass produced and often made of alloy. Carbon production is horrid and the side effects for the Chinese workers are nasty. Tyres are made of rubber, rubber production is not the most friendly process. I ride because I enjoy it and it is convenient. If you enjoy the rattle of the train, the comfort of a Mercedes S Class or the John Travolta like rhythm of a funky walk then more power to you.

Whatever you ride, however you ride it; enjoy it.

PS - Left ear for podcasts (usually cyling360) right ear for traffic is O.K. But a duo of ear plugs for Metallica is not clever. Lose the buds kids.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

A long forgotten piece from my buddy Rich Elliot's excellent blog - Buying and Building a Chinese Carbon Frame

I totally forgot about this!!

Rich has an excellent blog here:

+Richard Elliott

In this article, Steve Malone explains how he went from a Stig lookalike to a "skinny" road rider. He also describes his experiences with his first ever Cheap Chinese Carbon Frame bike build.

Having been a committed XC, then enduro and downhill mountain biker for 15 years I am prepared to admit that I viewed roadies with some suspicion and a hint of fear. The shaved legs and lycra confused me (my legs never got infected by hairs despite being almost constantly wounded). Numerous visits to Alpe D'huez and Le Deux Alpes, Morzine etc over a six year period to ride the Mega, Mountain of Hell, Vijaunay Enduro etc did bring me into close proximity of the 'thin people' but we tended to view each other from afar in a North and South Korean Border Guard fashion. We were definitely the South. The closest I ever got was having to ride up the 21 hairpins on an 18kg mountain bike with 2.5" tyres, I did not see the appeal. 

In 2011 I made my usual drive to Morzine after riding the Mega at Alpe D Huez. In the van, amongst the big bikes, sat a Boardman Team Pro, purchased on the Ride to Work scheme as a commuter and as way to get some miles in without driving for hours to get to some good trails. I had hidden it in a box to make sure no one saw and had covered exactly 0 miles. Morzine in 2011 became famous for it's Somme like 'vibe'. Not a hail of constant terror or gas but very wet, muddy, cold and populated by lots of spaced out looking pissed off people in similar Fox uniforms. After destroying 4 sets of brake pads and a set of bearings in 3 days, with all of my kit basically destroyed I pumped up the tyres out my Boardman. Heading out from Morzine to Avioraz in a piss pot helmet, massive downhill SPD clogs, baggy shorts and an Aldi XC top, I began to break down barriers between North and South. The thin people talked to me about 'The Tour' (it took me a while to catch on to this one), on the famous climb to Avioraz I thought my computer was broken as it said 12mph, on an 8% hill.

I'd never had a bike computer on a mountain bike (if you can check your speed your going too slow) and became a bit obsessed. After deciding road cycling was easy, I smugly cruised up the climb enjoying the novelty of 'scenery' and then got overtaken by a 75 year old French Goat Man on a bike he got for his 21st birthday. I managed 104 miles in 2 different countries that day, but; I needed a lighter bike. A year later, converted almost totally to 'the road' and even wearing lycra I sold the Boardman and began my mission.
I have always built my own bikes. My first few were shelf bikes but I soon became hooked on self builds. Often cheaper (despite what they tell you) and I get a bike exactly how I want it. My new road bike would be self built and simply must be carbon because the media says so. I have ridden Chinese Ti 29er frames and some carbon XC bikes in the past, frankly, they all feel the same as the main brands to me. I know reviewers go on about the spring of steel, the snap (literally) of alloy, lightness of carbon etc but they pay the bills supporting an industry which relies on income like any other. I'm only 75kg and have never suffered with frame flex or felt a frame to be 'harsh', that's the joy of tyres forks elbows and knees.
I looked East, researched the 3 main frame manufacturers, sent a few e mails and decided on Flyxii. I made the decision based on reviews and price. The lack of shipping costs brings them in way below E Bay and the other big two factories. Having chosen the new aero frame from their site I noticed they only went up to 56cm compact (so actual 50).
The aero post meant getting a longer post would be tricky and the 56, although long enough, was not tall enough. A quick e mail to the firm regarding seat post sizing was quickly replied to with an offer of a custom 58cm frame. Apparently they were due to lay up a new batch and could adjust the jig for me. Happy days. They sent me a schematic which looked spot on. Order placed I hit the web for the rest of my bits.
Ribble, Merlin, Bike DE and Planet X were hammered (E Bay was consistently more expensive), Novatech in Taiwan agreed to send me some 1400gm a pair hoops for not much money. Ultegra drive except for the lighter SRAM OEM (same weight as Force) cranks (I don't like the fact that a bent or dead big ring means whole new crank set on Shimano builds). SRAM brakes as they are the best, some bars form my shed and fishing kit from the above shops saw the entire build come in at £907.35. It took me about 4 hours to build and an hour to set up.
The bike: It's excellent, my scales tell me 7.23kg, handles well, the factory got my semi TT 74.5 deg seat angle just right (I do the occasional triathlon). It looks industrial in matt black, the carbon lay up is very visible up close but at least I know it's wrapped up thick at the seat and head tubes. I went for a 53 / 39 with 11-25 set up and find it no worries. It wound up the Long Mynd (2.2k at 20%) without much fuss and handles well up to the 51.2mph I have achieved thus far. No speed wobble or weave and solid cornering. Twitchier than the Boardman but that's the race oriented geo and shorter head tube.

Das Auto - Cars of The World. I Appreciate it's Not About Cycling!

I have another love. Actually I have a few but one I want to tell you about is cars. Odd, a cycling podcast which shows love to 'the enemy'. Well not so! I have a love of 'classic' cars (see old), for their beauty simplicity and crapness; it's the really run down every day beaters I love. Don't get me wrong, I admire the poise and grace of a Mk Two Jaguar, the effortless curves of a Dino or the stately authority of a 500SEL but I prefer the multi coloured steel rimed honesty of a 1987 525 estate with baby seats and roof bars, abandoned outside of the corner shop whist some poor fellah grabs a pack of nappies whilst juggling a baby and two pints of milk. Basically I love engineering, but the mechanical type, I don't like Di2 and I don't like Nissan GTR's. Some things should be cogs and cables, not computers and chips (micro not potato). I'm not a Luddite, I love technology, it's fascinating and I have nothing but admiration for people who can program and invent items which make our worlds safer, slicker, better and cleaner. I just like retro shit. I love the NES, I even liked the Amiga. The Wii though? Neh..

I will to summarise the general feel of the motors I have seen around the world, I hope I don't offend and I welcome feedback from locals to put me right.


Berlin can be dissected into districts in terms of feel, environments and it's cars. It's an amazing city and will soon get a full cycling write up in much greater detail, but for now, the cars? It depends where you are. The West, think sleek Mercedes, high end VW and lot's of BMW, some Porsche and a dusting of French Intruders. The old West has some interesting spots, Classic Remise is an amazing place, an old disused tram workshop converted into a multi unit car workshop, specialising in classics and very high end super cars, really worth a visit. It's in Charlottenburg so easily reached by bike or train. It has a lovely restaurant but dress smart and bring an reserve of sharply exhaled breaths for the prices. There are a few gems in the West but it's on the old East we must focus. The variety of interesting metal is massive, plentiful and seems to be parked on each and every sleepy side street. Freidrickstain and Kreutzberg are best (excuse my spelling) for spotting some gold, and here we are:

West Berlin:


The Italians treat cars like clothes. They have everyday clobber and Sunday best. Flip flops are mopeds, the 'mottornio'. Vespa means wasp, a great summary. Ape means 'bee', also beautifully Italian. The Ape is a small three (sometimes now four) wheeled utilitarian vehicle and is the back bone of rural Italy. You may see hipsters driving them in London, I suspect Piaggio would be disgusted at this, much like I am at the skinny jeaned fixie riding clans when i notice they have flipped the hugs to the freewheel; an Ape is not for London.
The cars I see vary wildly depending on the region but on the whole I'm drawn towards the cars of the mountains. The potential top speed of the vehicle can be assessed by how large the ears of the driver are, thus how much they stick out from behind the head rest. Elderly folks in Fiat Panda 'Young' models, always in white or green are great for drafting up hill behind on the bike. I can't discuss Italian cars without covering their driving! The reputation is bollocks, they are great drivers, traffic flows like water and the perpetual cavalier attitude makes for great fun. Viva Italia!


Not much to day about France, not for any bad reason, they are just unremarkable. The motorways are great but cost, the French drive well, quickly and decisively. The respect cyclists and the cars are generally good.  I have driven in Paris and it was no worse than any other city I've steered in. The cars are beautiful, hardy and plagued with electrical demons. Some of the innovations that The french auto industry pioneered are amazing and they should be recognised.

At some point I will cover some other countries but feel another cycling update is required soon so must retire and plan for that.