Monday, 12 July 2010

From Our Own Correspondent

News just in from our intrepid boys just back from the Doorstep Tour of Essex. 250 miles of sweltering heat, punctures and glorious sunsets.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Guess What...

Summer's arrived.

At last the arm warmers can be consigned to the back of the wardrobe, knee warmers hurled into the washing machine, never to be seen as matching pair again. Those bright, short sleeved tops which have sat patiently on the shelf while week after week of torrid weather has left them unused and yet yearned for. It's taken til June has nearly bowed out but here it is for however brief a time it may be.

There is nothing quite like hammering along on the good bike, the sun on your back, sweat streaming down your neck, midges and other small insects providing extra protein. Sticky tyres on sticky roads and all around, nothing but blue sky. The fields are finally in full flourish. Gone are the days when wisps of grass poked out from the ground like bristles on Van Gogh's beard. The chocoalte fudge cake furrows are now covered with waist high crops and the sudden flush of oil seed rape smeared like butter across the horizon will always engender an intake of breath, as if it is always seen for the first time, always a moment of wonder.

Summer rides are like gifts, as if all year has been about preparing for these few moments when everything makes sense, when all the grinding into the teeth of a gale allows for the ease of movement; the swift click into the year's unvisited gears comes out of those frozen months of toil. It's on these days when you wish to be like the Coppis of this world who never troubled themselves with helmets, who just planted a cotton casquette upon their head, a pair of raybans upon their face and headed off to duel with the Bartalis of this world. But ride with helmets we must, or face the wrath of motorists who already feel we are both suicidal and threatening for being on their roads.

The muscles run smooth on days like these, unencumbered they feel supple and full of potential, that somehow power has been stored there, overwintered and ready to be unleashed. So much of even our cycling is pyschological: feeling better, we ride better. Feeling in form leads to an increase in performance. We bury ourselves only to rise again like bad movie zombies only to bury ourselves harder, faster, deeper. And then rinsed and worn, dead bugs stuck to our sweat slick faces we return home, grinning like buffoons, we declare that life has never been better. Summer's arrived, the world is on our side.

Saturday, 15 May 2010


Saturday, 24 April 2010

New Toolkit

A thing of beauty all the way from Australia - as the label says, sexybicyles.

They look like they make some lovely bikes:

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Normal for Norfolk

Let's cut to the chase - the weather... awful, loathesome, ridiculous bastard dreadful. Call it what you will you won't meet a cyclist this spring who has a good word to say about the Met Office, supposed global warming and the fucking weather. All of us whining about being off the pace, not having enough miles in our legs, having to spend Saturday mornings with the wife and kids because it's been a) wet, b) cold, c) treacherous or, d) all of the above. Every Friday I look at the forecast with a sinking heart as once again I see that the meteorologists are laughing up their sleeves at me, personally.

So, when PC said that we should all slope away to his place in Norfolk at the end of March, we all said yes expecting that the elements would have the final say. All week furious text messages circled Essex as we attempted to keep our spirits up with forecasts of torrential rain and whipping winds from Siberia. Eventually we all agreed, we're going, come what may.

Of course, that immediately led to the next crisis - just what to pack. Non-cycling clothes took all of 60 seconds to sort but, what shoe covers? Gloves with rain proofing or not? Lightweight stowaway macs or full blown rain jackets? In the end I had 3 bags full and then I remembered my shoes! And then I remembered my helmet. In fact all Thursady evening I remembered yet one more thing after another - water bottles, sunglasses, inner tubes. Quite how I ever get out of the house on a Sturday in just forty minutes, I'll never know.

We drove up on the Friday, unpacked and ate a healthy pasta dinner. These boys really are atheltes, I thought as I sneaked a third beer while no-one was looking. Then the Calvados was opened and one by one we fell asleep in front of the dvd. The next thing I knew was it was 7.30 and bleary eyed cyclists stumbled out of bed, grabbing Nurofen and guzzling water into their dehydrated bodies. A solemn breakfast of porridge, toast and coffee only merely delayed the inevitable - an all day ride in the wind and rain where PC had already warned us of the myth of 'flat' Norfolk.

A cyclist can futz about with his bike for hours given half a chance - inflating tyres, lubing chains, fiddling with mudguards, listening for imperceptible sounds from headset and bottom bracket but in then end you have just got to get on to the blasted thing and ride.

The ride was all that it had promised to be, mile after mile of empty roads, just rolling through slowly returning Spring. The odd blossom here and there, an occasional blush of bluebells in a shaded dell. Life, it felt, was finally on the rise. We carved through the Sandringham estate with the Johnny Rotten's best lines in my head 'we're the flowers in the dustbin...there is no future in England's dreaming.' Didn't stop us parking up and having a very fine cuppa and sandwich though.

The ride progressed past classic East Anglian flint churches and estates with impressive stags just staring mournfully at us as we swished past - our chains thick with the sludge and mud known by the hard men of the road as 'Belgian toothpaste' - the grime that you see on the faces of the unlucky losers at Flanders, Roubaix and De Panne. Legs loosened, the peleton settled into quiet contemplation, the nervous chatter of the ride disappeared and instead a silent determination and pleasant solitude took its place. Riding in a group can give some of the greatest peace and quiet on god's great earth as there is no requirement to talk if necessary, sometimes all you need to do is just keep turning those wheels.

Late lunch in Castle Acre and we found the platonic ideal of a rest stop - understanding proprieters who knew just what to serve up to six hungry cyclists - the loo even had a picture of a Tornado and a photo of Colditz prisoners on parade - perfect for The General and WingCo who both have more than a penchant for planes. And then the chat began, 'Did you see that lovely..' and the enjoyment came in the telling and reliving of a pleasure shared.

The final stretch home, PC assured us, no more than an hour, my legs finally acknowledging that the crap winter had left me with nothing left to give. As I set my teeth firmly into the wind, all I could think was that I didn't know where his place was, what the name of the nearest town was or which direction I should be headed. With this fear in mind I stuck doggedly to his wheel. My prayers to the cycling voodoo gods must have worked as just as the lactic acid really began to bite one of 'The Diesel's' spokes went in his rear wheel. A well needed break while the boys all consulted how to get him home without any further disaster. The only word I heard was 'slowly' and my heart sang.

I don't remember the last ten miles, I was just glad to recognise turning back to the house and wearily, yet with a huge smile, I got off my bike. For this day only we had tasted spring. And we knew we had another ride just like this one prepared for tomorrow and we'd already made a reservation at the tea shop in Castle Acre - we could have our showers safe in the knowledge of more country pleasures to come.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Snow Upon Snow

As if to prove me wrong DJ sent me a couple of Barling in the snow. As he says " Who needs a turbo when you have one of these!"
He went on to add "I also got out on my cross country skis, but that's really alternative"

Hmm...there's cyclists and then there's DJ

Saturday, 2 January 2010

We Few, We Happy Few

In the spirit of Agincourt five of us made it out on a bitterly icy but bright morning.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That rode with us upon Saint Basil's day.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year's Day

I've never liked Bono, never liked that overblown, windswept, grand vista pseudo visionary kind of pop star. It gives me great pleasure then to be able to report that he was wrong. All is certainly not quiet on New Year's Day. Well, not if you live anywhere near Southend seafront. All is mobbed on NYD more like.
This thought whirred through my brain as I picked my way past all of the poor parkers who negotiated the spaces outside the casino, the pedestrians spilling on the pavements and the kids on new Christmas bikes slipping on the cycle path that the council had seen fit not to salt, grit or clear in any way, shape or form. This didn't, of course, stop the fat Jag driver who carved me up and then made obscene gestures at me because I had deigned to ride on his road on this of all days.
But, you know, there is not much that can put me in a bad mood on a day like this - if the snow is our enemy then these clear crisp days are what winter riding is all about. It's as if all other breathing I do during the day is nothing in comparision with the deep lung clearing breaths I take when out on these rides. The sharp winter light under the endless flat horizons may not be everyone's favoured aesthetic but the feeling of stretch, expansion, escape is there on these days as I pedal the fixed round the familiar haunts of Wakering and Barling.
The old road men used to train in winter on a fixed, they claimed the constant cadence and lack of cosy choice of an easier gear set them up well for a spring season of racing. I don't know how true it will be for me but 40 miles on the fixed today has certainly left me hungrier, more tired yet more alive than I would otherwise have felt. Maybe the woozy tunes of the Boards of Canada and Belbury Poly added to that other wordly sense but as I returned dodging the cars on the front I felt, well if this is the new year ...bring it on!