Claud & I disappeared for a while because we needed to. We’ve had a break, moved house, there are two new bikes in the garage, and we’re back… because we missed you.
Claud & I disappeared for a while because we needed to. We’ve had a break, moved house, there are two new bikes in the garage, and we’re back… because we missed you.
Monday morning: a rude awakening by my iPhone’s alarming alarm - it’s 6am and there’s a coffee machine across town waiting for me. Shower, tea, porridge, pants (hot off the radiator), jeans, the top t-shirt in the clean t-shirt pile. Socks. Chuck things into a musette, clip keys on to belt loop, lace up trainers, throw on jacket. Scruffle the cat’s head and yell “see you later” to the sofa, grabbing Annie by the handlebars on my way out the door.
It takes me 8 and a half minutes to get to work on this bike if I turn the corner before the number 7 bus does and time it right with the lights at the bottom of the hill. I can see my imaginary line drawn down the length of the hill, it skirts around the holes, bumps and the slippery-as-hell metal man-hole covers.
Road turns in to cycle path and every little bend is known like the back of my hand, probably better – who actually studies their hands? Avoid that pothole, go left around the tree on the bit where the lane goes narrow (otherwise you hit people going the other way), assume time trial position for 5 seconds where the low hanging leaves smack the faces of cyclists less familiar with the route.
Slow down just a tiny bit so that I catch the green man without putting my foot down.
Sharp left in to work – wave at the gardener – jump off bike – find bike lock keys.
Today Annie’s company in the staff-bike-bit is a tiny bike with stabilisers. I have no idea who it belongs to. Later there will be a fixie, a BMX and a hybrid joining the party. I wonder what they’d say if they could have a conversation.
A busy day, the happy kind of tired, weary legs. My bike is just where I left her, and she spins me back home.
It isn’t Epic – it’s barely a ride, but these moments bookend my days, and I’d go mad without them.
Donkey Label design products for cyclists. They’ve noticed that keeping your mobile phone safe on a bike ride can be a pain in the ass*, so they designed the Pack Animal. You’ve probably noticed that there are a couple of products like this on the market at the moment, some of which have had some not-so-good press, and some which seem to do their job well.
(*I’m getting the donkey puns out the way in the first paragraph, ok?)
I was drawn to this particular case for it’s appearance – it’s rather nice looking, which is a lot to ask from a piece of plastic. This adds up, as Donkey Label claim to “feel a responsibility to improve the aesthetic of cycling”. A quick look at their other products makes me think they’re doing things right in that department. But looks aren’t everything (thankfully), so how does it perform?
The case I tested has enough space for an iPhone or similar sized device. It would still fit if you had a hard case on your phone, as there is a little extra room. It fitted fine in every pocket of 3 different jerseys.
The outside pocket, featuring a nifty little shield cut-out, has enough room for a couple of cards and some cash. The downside of the cut-out means that whatever you keep in the outside pocket is not protected from the elements – if it chucks it down with rain, or you get very sweaty, you’re going to end up with a soggy £5 note. Your cards will be fine of course, so maybe we just need to keep our cash somewhere else; it is a phone case, not a wallet, I suppose. The upside of the cut-out is that you can push your cards out of the wallet easily, whilst still keeping them snugly packed away, with no danger of them falling out.
Once closed, the seal on the case shuts securely and tightly. It can be a bit fiddly to open, but I found a knack after using it for a while.
I like the fact that the seal is on a shorter side – portrait rather than landscape, if you will. It feels sturdier than other cases I’ve tried (which have split) for this fact. The plastic feels stronger too – it is noticeably thicker than the case I had which broke after a few uses.
The clear side of the case allows you to use your phone through the plastic. I tested this out, and it does work – I made a call whilst the phone was sealed inside the case. It’s not quite as responsive as when you’re using your phone normally, but it does work surprisingly well. Perfect if you need to call your mum to rescue you when it rains.
Speaking of rain, there wasn’t any of any of the rides I’ve taken the case on so far. But I needed to test how waterproof it really is, so I did my own home testing. It involved paper, water soluble felt tip pens, and a sink full of water. After a lot of splashing/dunking/dipping/holding seal under a running tap I can conclude that the Pack Animal is waterproof.
£6.50 might seem like quite a bit to spend on a little bit of plastic. But not if it does it’s job. On the rides I’ve taken it on so far, it certainly has – and rather well.
What if it breaks after a few months of use though?
Turns out there’s no need to worry about that. In Donkey Label’s own words:
This is designed for spring, fall and summer use. Winter use (extreme cold ) can involve some brittleness. Good news is [the pack animal] has a 100% guarantee, so if it breaks we will send you a new one.
The Pack Animal is available in range of colours if you want to try and match it to your bike, or your jersey, or your socks. You can also get it in other sizes.
This product ships for free to anywhere in the world. Which is nice.
In conclusion: a simple but well designed little product, which serves it’s purpose very well.
What I like most about it
The fact it protects my phone effectively and that I can get a new one for free if it breaks.
What I like least about it
Nothing really. Sometimes it was a little tricky to open, but I’d rather that than it open when it isn’t meant to.
Protecting your phone from sweat and rain damage in your jersey pocket.
Price: £6.50 (with a free replacement if something happens to it)
Size: Medium (9cm x 15cm), which is suitable for an iPhone or similar sized phone
Colour: Blue and clear
I haven’t stopped eating for 3 days. Well, I’ve just stopped. The hunger has finally gone. After countless bowls of porridge, dishes of pasta, bananas, crumpets, toast, flapjacks, pints of water, pints of tea – I finally feel human again.
Every time my tummy has grumbled at me this week, I’ve thought back to Saturday’s bike ride – the reason for my hollow-stomached hunger. Each fork full of spaghetti has built back a bit of me that I left on a muddy bridleway in Surrey or a bit of gravel strewn lane in Sussex.
I want to feel hungry in my legs again.
Let’s go on a bike ride.
I made a terrible mistake. Winter will never come close to what we had.
She promised me the world, Summer. She said there would be crisp, bright mornings and beautiful tyre trails in crunchy, frozen grass. She said we would see our breath in the cold, clear air. Bright blue skies would cover us, she said. She promised carpets of snowdrops, chirping robins, snuffling hedgehogs. The sound of dry twigs cracking underfoot.
Her promises were empty, Summer. She took everything I had and gave me nothing in return. It has felt like a constant battle against the elements, and my body is weary. We had a fleeting moment in the sun – and then it was over – replaced with black clouds. It has been dark for so long, but I never forgot your sunshine, even in the darkest moments.
Her embrace offers me no comfort. I avoid her, hiding inside. Making excuses. Lies and deceit. A bitter atmosphere lingers and seems like it will never leave.
Even the taste of water is better with you, Summer.
I long for long days with you again. For sunshine spilling through windows in the morning. For coffee on my doorstep, and beer in the garden. For scorching tarmac and dry, dusty paths. For salty skin and beads of sweat. For little patches of cool under trees. For short sleeves and smooth legs. For cold showers and open windows blowing curtains.
My heart is breaking for you, Summer. Please take me back.
Daughter, ‘Winter’: YouTube
Stitch -Mi- Lane is a relatively new brand, founded by bicycle enthusiast and designer Stephanie Drake. Stephanie, in her own words, has a passion for homegrown design and manufacture – and this shows in the small but perfectly formed range of cycling apparel and home-ware that makes up the Stitch -Mi- Lane collection. All products are made in the heart of Scotland, including the Snug Spectator Merino Hat, which I have got my hands on recently.
When I took this hat out of it’s packaging I could tell it was a bit more than your average bobble hat. The double thickness merino wool which the hat is crafted from gives it more weight than you’d expect from your everyday beanie, and certainly makes it feel like a luxury product. It just feels really nice – the fabric is thick and soft…..and it smells nice.
We all probably know the benefits of merino now. You can’t have a conversation with a cyclist without somebody mentioning it. But in case you’ve been hiding in a hole, here’s an overview. Merino has excellent heat retaining qualities whilst remaining breathable, and wicking sweat. It also has a clever way of deterring bacteria and the subsequent odour it may produce, and, being a natural fibre, reduces chances of irritation and itching.
The design of the Snug Spectator Hat is Stephanie’s own take on a contemporary jacquard pattern and contains bikes and chevrons. The nod towards the traditional makes for a subtle but rather lovely design. Not to forget the large pom-pom, or bobble, or whatever you would like to call it. This is also made of UK sourced merino, like the rest of the hat.
If you prefer cream or pink to navy, the hat is also available in those colours.
The knitted fabric has a decent amount of stretch in it. I think I probably have a large-ish head for a woman (I’m going by helmet size here..) and it fits fairly snugly, but would stretch to fit on a much bigger noggin than mine.
I haven’t had any problems with the fabric being itchy, which can sometimes be the case with knitted products. That’d be thanks to the merino, as mentioned above.
The double thickness merino makes this hat very warm indeed. I have worn it out on cold, windy walks, a trip to the park, to the pub, and on some very chilly trips on the bike (no, I do not always wear a helmet) and at my desk on days when I cannot afford to top up the heating. It has kept my head and ears very toasty on all these occasions. Despite being incredibly warm, it somehow manages to still maintain breathability. Useful when wearing the hat on a chilly but fast ride to the pub, and not wanting to have a fringe which is stuck to your head with sweat by the time you arrive. Thanks again, merino wool.
Because of the thickness of the wool, I found the hat sat a little oddly at first – with the seams sticking out a bit where the fabric joins. This has become much less noticeable as I wear the hat more and it moulds to be a head shape, not a flat thing packed in an envelope.
I haven’t washed the hat yet (thanks once more, odour killing merino), but the instructions state that if you turn it inside out then it can be machine washed at 40 degrees celsius. Useful if you get splattered in mud wearing this whilst watching a race. Or if someone spills beer on it in the pub.
In conclusion: a premium product with a very pleasing design, which is seriously warm and snuggly. More than I would normally pay for a hat, but you are getting more than a hat would normally give you.
What I like most about it
The beautifully simple bike design and the double thickness merino which makes it incredibly warm and cosy.
What I like least about it
Wearing whilst watching a cyclocross race in bleak mid-Winter.
Material: 100% Merino wool
Colour: Navy (also available in cream and pink)
Water from the soaked tarmac collects with each rotation and the droplets, illuminated by my bike’s front light, spray like sparks from a dancing Catherine Wheel as they flicker upward from my tyres.
The last of the car headlights pass and a sudden, all-encompassing darkness descends. A fleeting moment of utter disorientation as eyes adjust and focus is found. There is nothing but what exists within my bubble of light. Complete concentration turns my whole body tense: I have to tell my muscles to relax: don’t make things harder for yourself.
Streetlights line the next stretch of road, and for a while another rider joins me. She is a shadow, cast upon the hedgerow, following every pedal stroke. Town lights stretch out ahead, and the faint outline of a Welcome sign is a welcome sight: food, friends and dry socks are not far away.
Here is a brief history of my experience of riding off-road:
Now that you know what an expert I am, let’s talk about all the top-spec bikes I’ve spent thousands on.
I’ve ridden 4 bikes in my adult life:
So, as you can see, I’m well equipped for a foray into the muddy world of cyclocross……
Having been to my share of CX races as a spectator or helper, I decided it was probably time I gave it a go myself. There’s something about the atmosphere around cyclocross racing that appeals to me far more than road racing. Yes, it’s a proper competitive sport, and at a high level there’s nothing particularly light-hearted about it. But with the existence of events like Muddy Hell, City Cross and races like White Chalk Hills CX, it’s obvious that there’s a really fun side to the sport. (Also, there often seems to be beer.)
Riding Cyclocross really is the best fun you can have on a bike. Road riding is all about style, finesse and panache, the history and the suffering. Cyclocross is about the fun, suffering, mud, friends and beer.
Mark Tearle, after Muddy Hell 2012
The perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of a women’s CX rider development session, at Herne Hill. The session is aimed at novices, and you can even hire a CX bike as part of the cost of the day, which is only £6. BARGAIN. I booked in with my friend Monika, taking comfort in the fact that she is also a total newbie.
The ‘cross course at Herne Hill is being developed at the moment – and it’s starting to look brilliant. Whilst they’re still digging bits of it the mud is more churned up than usual, and thanks to the rain we’ve had recently the mud is also more….muddy. Getting muddy doesn’t bother me – in fact I really like it – but keeping my bike upright in the mud does worry me. Especially when the bike you’ve borrowed doesn’t really fit you, and the brakes are mostly there for decoration.
I am always a bag of nerves when it comes to new things. If you asked the me from 2 years ago if she would like to go on a CX training session, she would have laughed loudly, told you to piss off, and poured a gin (I will probably still do the third one of those). The 2013 edition of me is a bit better at trying stuff, especially if it’s on two wheels, but still gets just as scared.
It felt completely alien and unnatural riding a bike in thick mud, over bumps, down slippery slopes and through trees. After 5 minutes I considered running away and giving up (no change there). Then I thought about how terrified I used to get going down fast hills on my road bike, and that after doing it lots of times it stopped being scary and started being the best fun ever.
The first time around the course I stopped and pushed my bike countless times. “A BUMP? I CAN’T RIDE OVER THAT!”. The second time I got off the bike slightly less. I even rode a medium sized bumpy-humpy-jumpy-thing and squealed with excitement when I didn’t fall off. By the third time, I was no less scared, but actually starting to enjoy bits. The concentration involved in staying upright is far, far more than when riding on the road. I’m glad there were no cameras, because I dread to think what kind of faces I was pulling.
There is one very steep section on the course, it’s only a couple of metres, but it’s short, sharp and slippery in equal measure. Going up it was fine…with little to no grace I’d jump off the bike and run up it. Then the instructor said we were going to go around the course in the other direction, which meant going down it. I will save any build up or suspense – I didn’t ride down it. I was too terrified. Next time I will be courageous. Maybe. Monika rode down it and ended up on the floor. She is a braver woman than me, and I salute her and her very muddy arse.
I was very aware of how painfully slowly I was travelling 90% of the time. Had I been going faster I wouldn’t have had to get off the bike so much – hitting thick sections of mud when you’ve got some momentum going is always going to be easier than dragging the bike through it at walking pace. So, I need to get braver, which means going faster, which means riding more of the course, which means having more fun. Sounds simple enough – I best get practising.
Today I ache all over. It’s the good kind of ache, though – the kind that reminds you that you didn’t spend your whole weekend on the sofa.
So, in conclusion: cyclocross is utterly stupid. It’s really hard, and really scary, and you’d have to be an idiot to do it. And I think I’m going to do it again very soon.
(There is a second women’s cx session at Herne Hill in December, as well as a men’s one. There are details here, if you want to borrow a bike then you need to book in advance.)
We ride like girls. Try to keep up, yeah?
These reflective musettes were inspired by world champions, bike messengers, punks, losers, friends and every other girl who’s ever ridden a bike.
Designed by me – hand made and printed in London by the ever-awesome Mon, Ren and Esther at House of Astbury.
Each one is a teeny bit different, they’re totally DIY – just the way we like it.
They’re in the shop now, and shipping on Monday.
I didn’t know the wind had ever been my friend, until she turned on me.
This month I thought I would share some of the revelations I have had about myself during my first 6 months of cycling. Some are rather dull, some are kind of gross but all are true.
1) I have a real potty mouth.
As I usually cycle by myself I have been known to have a little chatter to motivate myself up hills. This started out with the standard ‘you can do this’ pleasantries, but I quickly discovered that this form of self-talk does not work well for me. Swearing, however – does. So apologises to anyone who may drive past me with their windows open because on particularly steep climbs I will be dropping F-bombs with aplomb.
2) Sweat is strangely satisfying.
Despite my love of inappropriate footwear I am a little bit of a tom-boy at heart and have never been averse to getting a little dirty. A rather wise man once told me that sweat is a good thing as it means your body is working properly. I have certainly taken this to heart when I get back from a ride, so much so that I forget to take a shower for a bit. I am gross, I did pre-warn you.
3) I am just a big kid at heart.
I have been known to be a touch serious and often get called the mum of our group of friends. I actually pride myself on being the responsible one. Put me on a bike whizzing down a hill however and I seriously regress. Last time I let out a ‘weeeeeeeee’ for a full minute*. I cannot remember the last time I smiled that much.
4) The body is a pretty amazing thing.
I’ve suffered from some health problems the last few years and had resigned myself to there being certain things I can’t do, or didn’t think I could do. The power of the mind to retract as well as expand our horizons is hugely powerful. When I started cycling I believed there was plenty I would never manage and there are some things I still don’t think I can tackle, but I am learning that I am far more capable than I ever previously allowed myself to be. Every week I go just that little bit further, that little bit faster and it continues to shock me that these things are possible. A lot of people may say that the ability was in me all along, and of course this is true. Yet after I am done swearing at the top of a hill I like to thank Lizzie a little, and Lois too, as without them I am sure I would never have got this far.
* ED: not an actual wee, she means the noise.
Past the rows of parked lorries, taking their rest for the night – curtains drawn across windscreens to conceal sleeping drivers. One has its door a fraction ajar and a sharp line of light spills onto the tarmac…speed up a little.
The chip van that will provide polystyrene wrapped breakfasts when the sleeping drivers awake sits dormant, waiting to be useful again.
Spinning legs create a mesmerising hum: the only noise except for the wind, which is against me now but will be my friend on the way home. The straight road stays straight and thoughts wander to a ride last year when the ground here was coated in sea foam. Memories of Winter riding, and how all of that will soon be here again. Inhale the not-that-cold night and wonder how many days until breath is visible in icy air.
Violently jolted back to reality by a speed bump.
The straight road reaches its end, with a curve into the harbour. Clumsily negotiate barriers and gates to cross the water. The clank of pedal on metal.
One day I’ll have this down to an art.
The industrial road that offers nothing of interest. DIY stores loom tall and grey, the sinister light of Golden Arches illuminates a patch of pavement, and the stale smell of deep-fried food lingers in the air.
Oh, some life. Skaters and kids riding BMX in the dark.
Relief at reaching the river, and the bridge that always makes me smile. Pause in the middle, and watch reflections dance on the water.
There is some odd comfort in the sound of traffic.
Arrive at the other side, and head for the fields where aeroplanes are sleeping.
Past the multitude of warning signs, over some more speed bumps, past a parked car which I glance at, and then quickly away again. Lovers have found their spot for the night.
Speedily onwards then, and to a bend in the road. There are some steps over there, which ascend into nothing but a patch of darkness. It’s asking to be explored: bike over shoulder, upwards..
Sudden intake of breath. The other side of the river stretches out under a huge railway bridge, and to my left I can see where I’ve come from. Beauty when you’re not expecting is perhaps the most beautiful. For several minutes I stand on the same spot, and feel utterly content.
The deafening sound of a Brighton-bound train shakes me from my dream-like state.
I’d forgotten that other people existed – that there was anything but this.
Homeward via a path that definitely isn’t suitable for a road bike. Bite lip in concentration, zig zag paving slabs threaten to bugger tyres, but somehow avoid a puncture.
All I am to anyone else is a stuttering light.
A near intimate moment with a wall that jumps out of nowhere, and back onto a sensible bit of road.
Riding back into town like an excited child who’s in on a secret. Little people in windows watching televisions who’ll never know where you’ve been.
You and the bike, in your little glowing cocoon, going from nowhere to nowhere.
“The bitter winds are coming in, and I’m already missing the Summer.”
This is the first of what will be a series of posts about cycling in London from Sabrina - recent cycling convert, lover of high heels, and my long-suffering best friend.
I would like to start with a little confession: I am somewhat of a control freak.
I have always suffered badly from anxiety and will frequently avoid situations where the outcome is not (seemingly) within my control. Of course this means it makes perfect sense for me to choose to live in our bustling capital city, working a corporate job, rather than a peaceful existence in the Sussex countryside like most other normal folk I know. This poses a multitude of problems, but my current predicament is this: how do I get to work without feeling like I am going to have a panic attack. Public transportation is anathema to feeling calm and I will avoid it like the plague if I can. Having recently returned to the world of work after a break, I quickly discovered any tolerance I had built to the tube over the years had mysteriously evaporated; routine is key to managing my worries. The thought of getting back in the tunnels filled me with dread.
Those who know me well will tell you of my love affair with my car. I actually drive the most boring car ever manufactured, but I take it everywhere with me like a steel security blanket. Knowing the car is near makes me feel safe in the knowledge I can escape if necessary. London, however, does not love my car as much as I do, and attempts to bankrupt me every time I leave my own borough. With the Congestion Charge standing at £10 a day and the average central car park at an eye watering £30 for 8 hours I would be better off staying unemployed.
The solution was obvious of course; my rather lovely red bicycle Lizzie. Those who may have read my last post on this blog over a year ago will recall that the only bike I had ever previously owned was a 2 tonne hybrid that the salesman is probably still sniggering at the thought of me attempting to move. I never rode her, and my increased exposure to the world of cycling through Lois and some wonderful new friends made me feel a little like a groupie who could only play the tambourine. So in June, I decided it was time to rectify this problem with a visit to my friendly neighbourhood bike shop Bittacy Cycles in North West London, where I was united with a wonderful Raleigh road bike whom I soon christened Lizzie – after England’s first steely red head.
Despite having taken Lizzie for many a spin in the Hertfordshire countryside, up until recently, I had yet to use her as a means of commuting anywhere very much. Examining the map from my house to my office in Soho I decided that the 12 mile route each way was perhaps a little much to try right off the bat. My anxiety has taught me to do things in stages; don’t do nothing but always do something. So I decided to take the car half way and cycle the rest. This was roughly 6 miles each way and would use a mixture of A roads and designated cycle highways.
For those who have never cycled in London, or any major city for that matter, it is a pretty scary venture. Everyone is in that much more of a hurry and the highway code is pretty much thrown in the bin. One way systems are my particular foible and I did accidentally head the wrong way on several occasions (although a friendly taxi driver will notify you of your mistake pretty swiftly if you do the same). On a positive note, the strength of cyclist camaraderie between those on the commute is palpable. We are small fish in a very big pond but growing in numbers everyday – 2% increase on last year’s official figures for those of you who enjoy statistics. I could get into a long discussion about infrastructure in cities and provisions for commuters but I won’t bore you with that here (and Lois wouldn’t let me). Needless to say though, as cities get more crowded, getting on your bike is making more and more sense and the provisions are gradually being put in place to get us riding.
As for my own commute, I plan to ride a little further every week and hopefully will be able to do the journey in one fell swoop. In the mean time however I feel calm when I get to work and am excited to get back on my bike as soon as the day is done – which, if you ignore the actual work in-between, makes for a pretty good day indeed.
Adventure is free.
It doesn’t need a ticket, or a license, or a health and safety audit.
It doesn’t come with a goody bag, or directional signage, or a medal at the end. It sometimes goes wrong, but it’s worth it for the stories.
It’s all over the place. Probably where you weren’t planning to find it. At the bottom of the garden, or the top of the hill. Or down the lane you took by mistake, when you meant to go the other way. In that bit of forest you haven’t been to since you were a kid. The ‘short cut’ that went the (really) long way. On the other side of the ‘oh-shit-it’s-deeper-than-we-thought’ stream.
Do things. Go places. Turn off Strava. Sing loudly. Go a different way. Get delightfully lost. Lose track of time. Plan less, do more.
I don’t know where you’ll find your next adventure, but it probably isn’t sat here.
After much experimentation, and many dodgy batches, here is my perfected flapjack recipe. Screw expensive energy bars – cling film a couple of these and stick them in your jersey pockets.
They last a pretty long time if you keep them somewhere cool and in a sealed container. They’re also vegan.
100g vegan margarine
110g smooth peanut butter
80g agave syrup (or honey)
120g soft brown sugar
20g hemp seeds
50g chopped dried apricots / raisins / other dried fruit
225g porridge oats
1 large banana
- Melt the margarine and peanut butter in a large saucepan.
- Mix in the agave/honey and sugar.
- Stir in the oats, hemp seeds and dried fruit.
- Mash the banana and add that to the mix too.
- Make sure it’s all mixed up, and then tip it into a greased dish/tin to go in the oven for about 25 mins at 170 celsius – ish. Depends on your oven – so keep an eye on them.
- When they’ve cooled down a bit but are still warm, cut them up into pocket sized bits. Eat one immediately. Store the rest for your next bike ride. Or midnight feast.
Which shoes, which socks?
They don’t match.
Is it too warm for arm warmers?
Is it too cool for sunglasses?
Am I too cool for sunglasses?
My lights are out of batteries.
My legs are out of batteries.
The tyres are soft.
I probably should have some food first.
Are you wearing some clothes? Do the wheels go round?
Off you go then.
Sometimes, you just need to ride.
This review began with a false start. I received my parcel from Vulpine (complete with complementary green Vulpine musette) with excitement, and decided to wear my new tee that evening for a road ride. The claret merino fabric matched the red on my socks and bib shorts, so it would have been rude not to put it to the test right away. When it came to leaving, I grabbed my usual assortment of necessities: energy bar, pump, inner tube, tire levers, keys, phone, money. I went to put them in my jersey pockets like I always do….and realised that I only had space for my phone, and maybe a bit of money.
Having realised that the tee isn’t designed to be used as a jersey (clue is in the name!), I opted to wear it for a 4 mile ride across the city instead. I usually take a satchel when I’m riding about town, so pocket capacity isn’t a problem.
The beauty of this item (and I think the appeal of much of Vulpine’s gear) is in how it doesn’t look like ‘cycling apparel’, but has plenty of the technical features that make it great for wearing on the bike. Notably – it has a dropped hem at the back and a little reflective lining on the pocket. Then there is the fabric. Merino is brilliant – and this particular wool is very stretchy and very soft, which is a good start for comfort whilst cycling. I definitely noticed how much comfier it was than wearing a cotton t-shirt whilst on the bike.
Now for a few words on SWEAT. It’s something I do lots of, especially whilst riding a bicycle. It’s one of the reasons why I kit up in lycra, even if I’m only doing 10 miles. If I wear a “normal” t-shirt, it’ll be soaked in a few minutes. Enough on body functions – the point it, whilst the merino didn’t stop me sweating, it drew the sweat off my skin – eliminating that horrible clammy feeling. The tee also dried off quickly at the end of the ride, and once it did, the jersey felt fresh and didn’t smell. Magic.
I’ve since worn my Vulpine tee to work, to the pub, and to a BBQ. And haven’t had to worry about smelling. Thanks, merino sheep.
In Vulpine’s own words: “The Merino keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the heat. How so? Merino is hydrophilic, drawing water from the skin quickly and allowing it to evaporate, cooling your body. When it is cold merino traps warm dry air next to your skin, keeping you toasty.”
There are also no labels – so no itching required.
The women’s tee is cut in at the waist and out at the hips, and has a slightly lower V than the men’s version. So it is actually a women’s top – as opposed to a men’s top in “women’s” colours. I have a size Small, and it fits me nicely (I’m a women’s size 10).
In conclusion: brilliant for short rides/commuting – but definitely not a replacement for your cycling jersey. Very comfy. Nice design. Gorgeous colours. Excellent at wicking sweat off your skin. A bit pricey perhaps, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.
What I like most about it
The comfortable fit and stylish, women’s specific cut. The fabric, and it’s sweat-wicking, odour killing magic.
What I like least about it
The fact I can’t fit much in the pocket, which feels more like a decorative feature than a functional one.
Riding to the pub. Commuting to a city job (you won’t feel gross when you change back into it at the end of the day because of the magic merino wool)
Material: Merino wool
Colour: claret (also available in fern green and grey)
I was riding along the cycle path that runs the length of the A27 this week, like I often do. On turning a bend I saw a car had half pulled up onto the path, and had it’s hazards on. Naturally, I slowed down, and when I reached the car I asked the driver and her companion if they were ok. It conspired they had broken down, and had no phone signal, or any clue where they were! At this point they had already been on the path for some time. They thought the radiator needed water, so we emptied my water bottles into it, only to see it leak out the bottom and onto the road. Breakdown services it is then. My phone had signal so they were able to call the AA, and I was able to tell them exactly where the recovery vehicle needed to come. At this point I left them to wait for the AA, and rode off in search of water for my now empty bottles.
The fact is that even if I didn’t want to stop and help – I would have had to actively avoid eye contact and ride pass the driver, who was stood outside her car, with less than a metre between her and myself. I would have had to slow right down to squeeze past her anyway. Stopping wasn’t a decision – it was instinct, common sense, the only option.
Somewhat weirdly, it was almost the exact same spot that I came flying off my bike a couple of months ago. By just a few metres. I had been riding in the dark (with lights, of course) and a fox ran in front of me. Cue slamming on the brakes and hurtling over the handlebars. I wasn’t very hurt, but I was shaken up and freaked out. I stayed lying in the spot I hit the tarmac for about 2 minutes before getting up, and during that time I lost count of the number of cars that went past me. There’s no way they can’t have seen me – the lights on my bike were still flashing. The fact is, it’s difficult to stop suddenly when you’re driving along at 60 or 70. You’d probably cause your own accident. But if someone was concerned they could have pulled up at the lay-by just ahead and walked back. Anyway, whatever, I was fine – a friend came and rescued me – I had a cup of tea, laughed at my stupidity and was grateful that I wasn’t badly hurt.
It just makes you think, doesn’t it?
I’m not making a statement about ‘motorists’ or ‘cyclists’. But as a person in a car, you can hide. Pass on by without feeling bad. Pretend you haven’t noticed. And that’s just not the case on a bicycle.
(Apologies if you now have Gary Numan stuck in your head)
Claud has been to France before, just not with me. Unlike myself he is a seasoned pro – having ridden London to Paris with his original owner, Kim. If you don’t know the story of how Claud ended up in my life then you can read it in this post from August last year.
I was very excited to take Claud on a little trip to the Vendee with me. My dad works in that part of France, and so I took the opportunity to stick my bike in the car and get a free lift over the channel, for 3 days of uninterrupted riding. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks: getting up early, having espresso and pastries for breakfast, riding all morning, stopping for a baguette, riding all afternoon, getting back to the mobile home for dinner and red wine. Then do it all again the next day.
Of course, this being me and my luck, the day that we set off to travel for France I woke up with a horrible cold. By the time we had made it to Portsmouth to catch the overnight ferry to Saint Marlo, I could barely breath. I hardly slept at all, and used up all of Brittany Ferries’ toilet roll to blow my nose. Lovely stuff.
As we arrived at our destination, and I brought Claud inside, I was worried that this would be where he was going to stay for the whole trip. Determined for that not to be the case I dosed up on every drug available, like all the pros do (sorry – just kidding), and ate a big bowl of pasta.
The act of putting on my cycling kit made me instantly feel a little better. I contemplated getting a cyclist’s tan by sunbathing in my kit rather than going for a ride, but my desire to pedal won, and I left the campsite for the pretty castle town of Apremont – armed only with two pages torn from a road atlas and a French vocabulary of around seven words. 15 minutes into the ride I realised I had failed to pack any tissues, and not feeling ambitious enough to attempt the ‘cover one nostril and blow your snot across the road into a bush’ tactic that I have seen some riders employ, I found myself looking around for an appropriately sized and textured leaf. The things we do…
Creative nose blowing tactics aside, the ride was very enjoyable. The roads from the village I was staying in to Apremont were smooth and offered some beautiful scenery. I remembered which side of the road to ride on (something I was a bit worried about) and got used to it very quickly. It was really warm and the vast fields that take up so much of the Vendee looked even greener than normal under the bright sunshine.
I stopped in Apremont to admire the castle and check the map. I can’t remember the last time I have ridden on such a hot day, and soon found myself with not much water left in my two bottles. After a little rest, Claud and I got back on the road and looped our way back to the campsite for a cold shower (just me, Claud wouldn’t fit.)
The following day I rode a 30 mile loop, partly on the huge network of cycle paths that the Vendee has to offer. They are well signposted and mostly well paved – the paths are only used by agricultural vehicles and cyclists, and I did not see a single vehicle. It was lovely to not have to worry about cars, and enjoy the scenery on some of the quietest paths I have ever ridden down. I met more cows than people that day.
At a certain point on the cycle path it began to get a lot less smooth, and whilst the terrain would have been fine for anyone on a CX or mountain bike, or even a hybrid, Claud’s skinny tyres were not at home. Not knowing the French for “excuse me, I’ve used up both my spare inner tubes by attempting to ride a road bike on a bumpy gravel path, could you please direct me to a bicycle shop”, I decided to find my way back onto the road for the remainder of the journey.
The final day of my trip was largely spent asleep. My cold had got worse – I felt like I might cough up a lung, and it decided to rain. It was a shame, but I made the most a bad situation by eating lots of pizza and drinking lots of red wine. It’s medicinal, you know.
Over the three days I was in France I rode less than 60 miles (rather than the 180 I had planned) but every mile was beautiful, and worth it’s weight in gold. I didn’t ride on a single busy road, the views were stunning, and I didn’t have any bad experiences with motorists. The only conflict I had was being wolf-whistled at by a bunch men outside a cafe. Obviously I responded graciously, as ever, with a two fingered salute (I was going downhill – a speedy getaway..)
Good food, good coffee, good wine and good roads: France really is a place for cyclists, and I’m sure that both Claud and I will be back there before long – next time in better health.
My legs, they don’t mind these hills – they always take me home. These roads – the chalk and tarmac and grass. Always up. Always back down. Of this I’m sure, if nothing else.
The internet is a weird place. We can choose what we share and what we don’t share; we filter the information that goes public, as is our right. We share the photo of our healthy lunch, but not the massive bar of milk chocolate we ate afterwards. We don’t publish that ride to Strava where we gave up half way and got the train home. People see the nice new bike, but not the credit card bill that we can’t afford to pay. We only get half the story. The good bits, usually.
Anyway, to the point – because there is one (for once.)
This week I went on a bike ride after work. I rode a route I ride lots – out to Steyning – but this time I decided to take a little detour, involving a bostal climb. I’m not entirely sure why. That’s kind of the point of bostals I think – the futility of climbing them just to come back down again.
As soon as I turned into Bostal Road I wish I hadn’t bothered. My legs could take it, but my head was telling me to give up. Bad day – bad mind set. I keep going anyway, spurred on by hearing another cyclist behind me – and not wanting to be seen giving up. I turn the bend and the gradient increases significantly. The road is bumpy and horrible. Another minute of pounding the pedals and I look behind me – the cyclist I heard was imagined – there is nobody there. Both legs and head want me to give in at this point, and I do. Feet on the floor. Fucksake. Head on handlebars. Idiot. No Lois, you are not giving up – clip back in and get on with it.
So I do. Another minute or so of climbing. You’ve climbed worse hills than this – just keep pedalling – it’s easy. There’s a twist in the road and I can see it’s getting steeper. My head wins over my legs. Screw this. I crunch to a stop in some gravel, regain control of my lungs, turn back around and fly down the hill.
The air turns blue with muttered obscenities as I descend. I know I’m going to be in foul mood for the rest of the ride because I didn’t get to the top. I feel stupid for getting two thirds of the way and then bailing. Especially because I know I’m capable. And then I have the wisest idea I’ve ever had…
“I’m going to go back up the bostal, and this time I’m going to do the whole thing in one go! With renewed vigour! I will use my self-loathing to pull me up the hill! That will make a great blog post, won’t it? It can be all inspiring and about not giving up and stuff! ”
So, around I turn. Superwoman on a bike: ready to defeat the bostal. Just look at me go…
I get 50 metres and cramp takes control of my right leg. I stop, unclip, turn around… and go home. The easy way.
I can’t remember the last time I read a blog post about someone going on a really horrible bike ride. Or coming last in a race. Or feeling anxious about a big sportive. Maybe that’s because people want to read nice things – which would be fair enough. Or maybe it’s because nobody else ever screws up – but I doubt that.
It’s easy just to share the successes and the wins. And we should share those things – and be proud of them. But the not so good bits deserve some air-time too.
I’m not advocating doom and gloom – just suggesting we revel in our failures a bit more. They’re what make us human, and they make the good bits even better.
Sunday was Eastbourne Cycling Festival. It was brilliant – the sun (mostly) shone, and there were plenty of people who came down to the seafront to enjoy the weather, ride their bikes, and watch the racing.
There was a sportive event in the morning – I’ve had a look at the route and have one word for you: hilly. There were also a charity mountain bike ride, some running events (*raises eyebrows*), and a duathlon.
Then there was the racing. There were some junior races, the South East Regional Youth Champs, 4th category, 3rd category and E12 races. A quick glance at the sign-ups for the E12 race shows you that there were some big names racing – it was a fast paced race that took no prisoners! Cornering on this circuit looked…fun. I’m genuinely surprised there weren’t more crashes. I forget these people actually know what they’re doing.
The results of the racing will soon be posted here, if you’re interested.
As well as the crit racing there was some fun stuff going on for families – including a children’s Go Sky Ride course which looked like it was at about my level. You could make a smoothie by pedal-power, race your friends on a WattBike, watch some amazing BMX stunts – or just eat far too much ice cream. I had a brilliant day watching friends race their bikes, talking too much, and chasing balloons that were blowing away from the Team ASL360 tent.
Now that’s all very nice, but I’m afraid there is a moany bit. And it involves two words which often strike up debate: podium girl.
It was hardly the Giro D’Italia, so whilst there weren’t rows of podium girls in tight dresses, bouquets of flowers and bottles of champagne, we had our own South Coast spin on the idea: an attractive young woman in denim hotpants to present the prize money – and a kiss. I have no idea if this woman was being paid, or whether she was part of the Harley Davidson sponsorship deal. She looked pleased enough to be involved, if a little out of place and awkward. So what’s my problem with her being there? I’ll try to sum it up, briefly…
Let’s discuss how many women were involved in the racing on Sunday. There was one girl in the youth race. There was one woman in the 4th cat race. And there was one podium girl. Without going into the reasons why there weren’t more women and girls racing (I’ll do that in a minute) – just think for a second about what message that is sending out, especially to the crowds of children who attended Sunday’s event. Women’s place clearly isn’t in racing – why else would they be so under-represented? But if 33% of the women involved with the racing were there to be an ornament and to kiss the men who won a race…well, maybe that’s a more fitting role for a girl.
There was no women’s race organised on Sunday. Had there been, I believe we would have seen a decent number of women on the start line. It would have been a smaller race than the men’s – but until the races are there, they cannot be filled. It is a viscous circle that needs to start with event organisers giving female racers an opportunity.
We are seeing an amazing rise in the popularity of women’s cycling in this country. The line up for the women’s races at events such as the Johnson Health Tech GP and London Nocturne serve to prove that. I know of more and more women locally who are taking up racing, or thinking about it. There’s lots going on – but the fact remains that there is still a huge inequality in women’s cycle racing. At a professional level, the difference in pay and prize money is often appalling, and at a more local level, many women’s races are still E1234 – first timers racing against the top level athletes. Things are improving, and I’m really hopeful about the future of women’s racing – but we still have a long way to go.
I don’t have anything against people wearing hotpants. In fact, I encourage it. But for as long as women’s racing is very much second place to men’s, I will continue to be insulted by the use of podium girls at races.
I’ve had my Velobici jersey since before Christmas, and it continues to be one of my most worn bits of kit. My first thought on receiving the parcel from Velobici was how beautiful the packaging was – it did feel like Christmas. Fancy gift wrapping comes as standard with all Velobici orders – and whilst that might seem unnecessary, I love it (that’ll be the designer in me.) The good news is, this attention to detail is consistent in the clothes themselves.
The fabric of the jersey is incredibly soft, comfortable, and a little thicker than usual. This garment is knitted in Nottingham and made in Leicestershire – there is a lot to be said for keeping the whole process within the UK, which Velobici do with all their products. Admittedly this means prices are at the higher end of the spectrum – but you are getting the quality you pay for.
In terms of features, the jersey has a full zip to the front, and a drop back hem. There are five pockets, two of which can be zipped shut (and kept my phone dry on a wet ride). I rather like the different, asymmetric design of the rear pockets, though it may not be to everyone’s tastes. The sleeves and rear hem are edged with reflective piping, and the cuffs and hem have silicone grippers (helpful for keeping up my escapee arm-warmers). The jersey is made from a Meryl/Lycra mix which must be what makes it really soft and comfy. Having been through my washing machine loads of times now, the fabric is just the same as it was when new. I have an crap washing machine that only washes at 40, and it hasn’t been a problem.
The jersey is unisex, though the Velobici website doesn’t make it too clear that this is the case. I would say an XS would fit a 6-8, S a 10-12 and so on. A size small fitted me perfectly (I’m normally a size 10) with a close fit but not ‘race tight’ – after all this is more of a Sunday jersey than something for competing in.
I’ve worn this out on countless rides now, and feel very comfortable wearing it for a cafe stop – it’s certainly the most stylish bit of cycling kit in my wardrobe. So much so that it gets hung up with my dresses and shirts, instead of living in a drawer with the rest of my kit.
What I like most about it
The elegant design and soft fabric (which has been through the wash a LOT and not been affected).
What I like least about it
The price tag
Material: meryl/lycra knit
Colour: black and red
Giro say that the Monica is the most full-featured glove in their range; designed for high-performance and high-mileage riders. I’ve worn them out on a couple of 50+ mile road rides, and haven’t been disappointed by their performance. The gloves retail at £34.99, and I was a little worried I might be paying for all style and no substance – but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I wont lie, the thing that attracted me to these gloves was how damn good they look. And the fact they match my shoes. I love the mixture of black ‘lace’ and leather. Bad ass? I think so.
Before getting these gloves, I’d been riding either in my SealSkinz Winter gloves (far too hot) or some fingerless merino gloves with no padding. After a long ride in the unpadded gloves I ended up with really painful hands, and a very odd pins & needles sensation running through my palms. Clearly I was in need of some decent summer gloves – and these from Giro fit the bill. The upper part of the glove is a lace-effect mesh, which lets your hands breath, and the palms have a number of well placed micro-gel pads which take the pressure off. I have a size medium pair, and they fit perfectly. The fit is tight, which is comfortable, but means they are a bit tricky to take off.
Overall, these look and feel like a pair of high quality gloves, and they have been comfy and breathable on long rides.
What I like most about them
The way they look and the incredibly comfy padding on the palm.
What I like least about them
That I can’t be lazy and throw them in the washing machine with everything else: they’re hand-wash only.
Material: Pittards® vented leather palm, mesh upper, microfiber wiping surface
Colour: black and dark pink/purple (available in other colours)
Saturday saw the second ever ‘Spin Up in a Brewery’ event, hosted by Dark Star and supported by Kinesis Bikes and Morvelo Bicycle Apparel. They had me at ‘bikes and beer’, so when I was asked to come along and have a stall at the event, I was pretty chuffed.
Sadly I had to drive over (the options for transporting a table full of bike-art goodies by bicycle are limited) but two groups of cyclists rode over from Brighton to the brewery in Partridge Green – one by road and one off-road. The hoards of thirsty riders were greeted by free beer and a huge BBQ – there was also plenty of coffee, crepes and homemade cakes if that was more your thing.
Once people had filled their bellies there was still plenty to do. Of course the ideal activity post BBQ and beer is to spin your guts out (hopefully not literally) on a bike: that’s where South Coast Sprints came in with their roller racing. Prizes and shouting galore! I am massively gutted that I didn’t get a go – it was so popular that by the time I went to add my name to the list, it was full. Next time.
If you didn’t particularly fancy sweating your arse off on a bike, you could instead plonk it on a hay-bale and watch some live music…
For those with a bit of pocket money weighing them down, there were lots of other nice things to buy including bicycle clothing and some awesome up-cycled jewellery and accessories. I bagged myself a Morvelo t-shirt and some bike chain link earrings from Judy, aka Beer Babe.
It was great to see some familiar faces, as well as lots of new ones. It’s always fun playing the ‘match the face to the twitter profile picture’ game. Thanks everyone who came and said hello.
A big thank you to Dom, James and Oli for their work organising the event, and to my partner in crime Leesi for helping me out all day. All in all, an ideal way to spend a sunny Saturday. My only regret was not trying to steal a Kinesis Race Light bike (just kidding…).
Oh, and since quite a few people have asked, I’ll be putting some badges on the online shop very soon.
On Friday evenings the boys and girls go out to play at the park.
I’ve decided that there is a reason why nothing ever seems to go to plan for me, and that’s because otherwise I wouldn’t have anything to blog about.
You may have read my tale about missing a time trial last week due to an impromptu dog rescue. (If you haven’t, and you want to, it’s at the end of this post.) This week, I tried again. I made it to the TT with plenty of time to spare. The 12 mile ride from home was lovely and sunny – and no stray dogs in sight. I signed up, pinned on my number and rode to the start line. Chatting to some friendly riders in the queue, I admitted this was my first time trial – “But you know the course, right?” was their response. Well, if “know the course” means have looked at it on a map, seen it goes 5 miles in a pretty straight line, turns around, and comes back 5 miles on the same road, then yes – I knew the course. How hard could it be?
A kind chap from the club organising the TT held my bike and gave me a push start. Looking back at my Strava stats, I rocketed straight up to 30mph but slowed down quickly after my speedy start. It was unforgivingly windy – I kept on the drops and tucked myself in as much as possible but I still felt like a giant kite trying to go the wrong way. As the guy who set off after me overtook me within the first couple of miles, I told myself that it wouldn’t have happened if I was wearing TT kit and riding a fancy bike…
I deliberately hadn’t set myself any kind of time target, I was just keeping in mind the advice of a friend: “if you’re not sick at the end, you didn’t go hard enough.” I pushed myself pretty hard, but I could have pushed much harder (..next time).
Another couple of riders overtook me in the second 5 miles, having looped around the last big roundabout and headed back up the road we’d come down. Despite that, I was feeling pretty good – it was fun, “I could do this again”, I thought. You may be wondering where the ‘not going to plan’ bit comes into play in this particular story. Well I wasn’t sick – which for a change was actually my aim, so I suppose that is a fail. But you’ve yet to hear the best bit…
I took a wrong turn.
Yes, I went the wrong way. On a time trial. When I had already cycled the same bit of road in the other direction.
I straight away realised what I’d done, did some swearing, pulled into a small road, turned around, ignored the cramp in my leg which had kicked in the minute I stopped pedalling, and went back to the roundabout – this time taking the correct exit. I’d guess it cost me 2 minutes max, probably less. Up until that point I’d been feeling really positive. “Lois you f***ing idiot” I muttered to myself, but kept going, and finished in one piece. A result of sorts.
Next week I’ll go the right way, and faster.
Six ways to know that Spring is here:
1. The bright white legs are making an appearance
I rode without leg warmers for the first time in a long time yesterday. Apologies to anyone passing me on the road who was blinded by the glare shining off my bright white legs.
2. More insects than normal are flying into my ears, nose, mouth and eyes
We all know that feeling: 35mph down a hill and a fly decides to make for your eyeball. Mostly blind, you’re suddenly aware of how fast you’re going and a lot of panicked blinking ensues. Now that Spring is here, there are wasps and bees competing for a space in your face, too. I’m very grateful for my sunglasses.
3. The roadsides are colourful
Daffodils. Lots of daffodils.
4. The fair weather cyclists are out in force
Suddenly there seem to be lots of Team Sky members riding around. I hadn’t realised there were so many of them! I thought I saw Wiggins yesterday – he’s getting a bit of a beer belly I tell you.
5. My instagram feed is even more full of photos than normal
When it’s warm and the sky is bluer and the grass is greener it’s hard to resist the urge to capture it all in a photo. Plus nobody likes stopping when it’s cold and rainy.
6. I can’t stop grinning
This can cause problems with swallowing flies (see ’2′) but other than that is no bad thing. Cycling with the sun on my back is enough to cheer me up on the worst of days. Pure simple joy.
“Cycling in the city, and particularly in midtown, is anarchy without malice.”
Author unknown, from New Yorker, ‘Talk of the Town’
Freedom, independence, and a little bit of danger. I can live with that.
[ Photos all from my Instagram feed ]