Tag Archives: cycling

Bookends

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.

 

 

 

Put the kettle on – mine’s a pint.

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.

Dear Summer, I’m sorry.

Dear Summer,

I’m sorry.

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.

x

Daughter, ‘Winter’: YouTube

 

Catherine Wheel

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.

Ride Like A Girl

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.

The bag

Shiny!

Burgundy version coming soon...

Burgundy version coming soon…

Bestie & The Bike: Things I’ve learnt whilst cycling

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.

From nowhere to nowhere, and everything in between.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You and the bike, in your little glowing cocoon, going from nowhere to nowhere.

Bestie & The Bike

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. 

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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.

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Steel security blanket..

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.

On a ride with Lois (who apparently likes eating iPhone cases)

On a ride with Lois (who apparently likes eating iPhone cases)

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.

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.

 

Bike fuel flapjacks

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.

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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.

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Here in my car, I am safest of all.

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.

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(Apologies if you now have Gary Numan stuck in your head)

Claud et moi

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.

Claud enjoying the accommodation

 

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.

Remember to ride on the right…

 

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.)

A rest in Apremont, to check the route back

 

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.

That’s a cycle path, not a road.

 

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.

Sign on a post box

 

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.

Failure is cool

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.

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The easy way home

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.

 

Racing by the seaside. And a bit of a moan.

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.

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3rds race

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Team ASL360 tent

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Chris McNamara wins the E12

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.

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Team ASL360′s Pete Morris wins the 3rd cat race

There’s a first time for everything.

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.

 

Spring has sprung (I think)

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.

Day 21 of 30DOB

Twenty minutes with Jo Tindley

On Friday I went up to London for the team launch of Matrix Race Academy. I had the pleasure of talking to Jo Tindley for a while about her place on the team.

WITH PERMISSION OF ANDY WHITEHOUSE

WITH PERMISSION OF ANDY WHITEHOUSE

Jo Tindley joins Matrix Race Academy for her second season back after 5 years away from racing. In 2012 Jo finished fifth in her first race and then went on to win her next two at Thruxton before taking 10th place in her first National Series Road Race. Last Spring Jo rode the Johnson Health Tech Tour, the Women’s division of the Halford Tour Series, and finished the series seventh overall, finishing second in the sprinter’s competition – just one point off the lead.

Jo is looking to have a big season as part of the Matrix Race Academy. I chat to her about the world of women’s racing and what it’s like to balance her cycling career with four jobs.

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What is your day-to-day lifestyle like? Do you have much time for anything but cycling?

We [the team] spend a lot of time together. I’ve got four jobs – all shift work. I’m constantly working! I don’t really have time to go off and do other things unless it’s a race.

How do you cope with balancing your jobs and cycling? Is it difficult?

I was working all through the Winter, it was horrible. I was on the bike at 5 or half 4 in the morning through the middle of the Winter with all these lights on and stuff – it’s changing now, and I’m down to three jobs…I’m slowly petering them off so I’ve got enough to earn money through the season but still have commitment to the team. At the minute I’m coping fine. Beforehand when I was a junior and an under 23 I struggled, even just with school stuff. But now I manage everything really well. I want to be a bike rider, I want to race – so I’ve made sacrifices. I’ve got rid of my car and I ride to all my jobs. So instead of going to work all day, coming home and thinking “oh god, I’ve got to train now”, I’m like – well, I’ve done two hours training because I’ve ridden there and back. I fit everything in – everything is about cycling.

If you were a male cyclist in the same position, do you think you’d still have to work those jobs or could you make it work full time as a cyclist?

I don’t know. Personally, I think it’s a lot harder for men. You’ve got to be performing and you’ve got to be doing really well.

Is that just because there’s more competition in the male sport?

Yeah, that’s it. It’s a different league, you can’t really compare it to the same. I think there are more opportunities for men. But, because of the Olympics, women’s cycling is going in the right direction. I’m on the road commission for British Cycling, and I’ve seen the great developments that are coming through. From where I’ve come from as a Junior, there was nothing. There were no races – you’d have 30 women turn up, now you’ve got 80. It’s not going to be long before women are thought of as the same. It might not be until the next Olympics, but it’s on it’s way. We’re getting more credit, things are changing, and Stef [Wyman, team manager] is doing a fantastic job. This team…it’s going to be good this year.

Obviously you love cycling, but are you a fan of the sport? Do you follow any specific riders or teams? Does it interest you to watch races?

No, not really, I’m very single minded and I want to ride my bike. I’m not really that bothered by what everyone else is doing, it’s none of my business and I can’t be bothered unless I’m in the race with them. If I get time I will watch races, like the Tour de France and the Tour of Britain. I wouldn’t say I’m a massive cycling geek…I don’t buy Cycling Weekly, I don’t look at the BC site. The only person I really follow is Mark Cavendish: ‘cause I just think he’s cool.

You started racing at the age of 12. When you were a junior were you very aware of the fact you were a girl, did it hinder you at all or did you just get on with it?

Back then being a female you were a second-class citizen – this was 2002, 2003 sort of time. There wasn’t much opportunity for women to race and there was never a tour series or anything like that. You get stuck with that stigma of being a girl: you’re not strong enough, you can’t ride a bike very well. As a junior, I always rode with the men so in my eyes I rode like a man and I got treated like a bloke. You’ve just got to get on with it, it is a male-orientated sport, and that’s probably never really going to change. Yes, there’s a divide, obviously, but it’s getting there. I think that everything that’s happened in the last 5 years is so positive, it’s just brilliant.

It does seem to be the case that women’s cycling is on the up. I’ve just got my 4th cat license and have a diary full of women’s races, but I know that just a few years ago that wouldn’t have been possible. It seems the sport is getting more popular and receiving more credit that it ever has before. Why do you think that is? Is it just down to the Olympics, or are people’s attitudes just changing over time?

I think the whole build up of having the home Olympics is the main thing…the women’s road race was just spot on – you couldn’t have written that any better. That’s how it started…but it’s the whole build up, and everyone putting all this funding into sport, I think that’s what’s done it. I think probably the Olympics was the main catalyst…how well Lizzie did and how well the girls did on the track…people have realised that actually you can still be girly.

So do you think it makes a big difference having feminine role models in the sport?

It makes a massive difference. Back when I started no one ever had their nails done, whereas now they’re all getting that stuff. That’s not me, but it’s all part of it. I think that’s what really appeals to the girls, that they’re good bike riders but can still be glamorous. The whole stigma has changed, and it’s just going to get better.

Do you know much about the #fanbackedwomenscycling initiative that Stef and the team are involved with? What are your thoughts on it?

I think it’s an absolutely fantastic idea. All the reports I’ve had from these race training sessions…have been brilliant. It’s another way of finding new talent to come through. I’ll be a bit blunt…I understand [beginners] have got to start somewhere, but I don’t want them starting in my race. Giving the 4th cats their own races is a brilliant idea and has made such a difference to our racing.

Matrix RA are supporting the Bedford 3 Day in May. Do you think there are enough women’s races in the UK? I do. I mean, I race a lot with the men so it doesn’t really bother me, I’ll just go out with the men. But I think there are plenty. Bedford’s going to be great this year.

What races are in the diary, and which are you most excited about? This season I’m very excited about the Johnsons Health Tech tour again, I would like to wear the sprinters jersey again and also have a stage win. Another race I’m looking forward to is the National Crit Championships and the Road Champs. I also hope that we get a chance to ride as a team in Europe in some stage races.

What are your goals for the season? What are you most looking forward to and what do you want to achieve?

What I’m most looking forward to is working as a team. I had a great come back year racing with VC St Raphael, they were an amazing help, but I am looking forward to riding for a more structured team. [Matrix RA] have got some of the top girls in the UK – whatever my role will be, it will be done properly.

My goals: just to keep progressing forward in my sport and getting better and better all the time. Ultimately I would like to turn pro one day so this to me is a stepping stone. The opportunities are there, I’ve just got to grab them.

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You can follow Jo on Twitter at @jltindley and follow the team’s progress at @onthedrops

 

Team - Matrix Launch - With Permission of Guy Collier

WITH PERMISSION OF GUY COLLIER

Matrix Race Academy launch

Say the words ‘cycling team launch’ and what comes to mind? Cyclists in their team kit, stood in a line, all matching hairstyles and fake smiles. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional team launch, but…yawn. We’ve seen it all a thousand times. So I was pretty excited to be involved in what promised to be a day like no other with the Matrix Race Academy on Friday.

Stef Wyman, Team Manager of Matrix RA and a champion for women’s cycling, was keen to create a day that would be interesting and fun for all involved, as well as creating a social media buzz. I think it’s safe to say that the aim was achieved.

Starting the day at Vulpine HQ

The day started bright and early for me – a 7.30am train (an unearthly hour for a Brighton freelancer) whisked me to Vulpine HQ in London. A big green ‘V’ told me I was in the right place and I was greeted by the lovely Jools (aka Lady Velo, and Vulpine’s sales manager), who was clearly just as giddy as me about the day ahead. A gradual stream of writers and photographers arrived, and of course the team themselves, along with manager Stef Wyman and European CX Champ Helen Wyman, who is a mentor to the younger riders on the team.

Much slurping of coffee, munching of croissants and introducing of friends later, the team took some time to drool over the Vulpine clothes and choose what they wanted to wear for their photos. I may have also tried on a women’s merino jersey for size. Important business research, you understand.

Whilst the photographers worked their magic I took some time to admire the new team kit. I was more than a little excited about the #fanbackedwomenscycling logo which I designed featuring on the kit. If you don’t already know about #fbwc, go do your reading, it’s a brilliant initiative that the team are backing, and the force behind some excellent training sessions for female novice racers like myself.

New season Matrix RA jersey, featuring the #fanbackedwomenscycling logo

The On The Drops girls liked their new Vulpine caps

I had the pleasure of stealing the fantastic Jo Tindley, a new Matrix RA member for 2013, away from the camera for 20 minutes to chat about cycling and her involvement in the team. Each rider chatted to a different writer, another way to insure a bunch of different perspectives and angles on the day and the team.

You can read my interview with Jo here.

Team issue trainers? Yes please.

After lunch we all set off in different directions accross London. We trooped off in three’s – one rider, one writer, one photographer. Where we went was completely up to us (Sarah Connolly took Harriet Owen to the zoo..) in the hope that at the end of the day we would have a variety of unique photos which would reflect the individual personalities of the women that make up the team. Awesome plan, I thought. Myself, Jo Tindley and photography Andy Woodhouse headed off into the quirky lanes near Old Street for our photos. Check out Andy’s set of snaps here.

Jessie’s photoshoot with Guy Collier

No bikes?! Jo isn’t too pleased about that.

Everyone met back up Look Mum No Hands for the evening launch. It wasn’t long before the cafe was full to the brim with people – the staff had to remove the furniture to make space for us all. Belgian beer, bikes, lots of familiar faces..and a whole bunch of new ones.

As well as Matrix RA, we also heard from Stef about #fanbackedwomenscycling, the launch of London Women’s Cycle Racing league and the Bonita women’s team. I could just about hear the team presentation over the buzz of the cafe!

What a day. Thanks everyone: I had a ball, and I feel more inspired than ever to support the awesome sport that is women’s cycling.

Team Presentation at Look Mum No Hands

Massive good luck vibes to the whole team for the season ahead – not that they need it, these girls have got serious talent.

Follow the team on Twitter: @onthedrops

30 Days of Biking – take two!

If you’re a long suffering reader of Claud & I then you may remember why I started it – to document my adventures during September’s round of 30 Days of Biking. In the process I completely fell in love with cycling, and found a community of cyclists – both locally and online – who have encouraged me to keep riding my bike, and keep the blog going. It’s almost April which means time for another round of 30 Days of Biking. Lots has changed in the last 8 months or so, but there is also plenty that hasn’t: I still love riding my bike, and I still love talking about it (try and stop me!)

Riding a bike is a simple pleasure; the bicycle a simple, yet wonderful, machine. And 30 Days of Biking is a simple idea: ride your bike every day for 30 days – and share your experiences online in whichever ways you like. There’s no form to fill in, no Strava badge to collect, no certificate at the end. I like anything that cuts the crap and gets people riding a bike, and 30 days of Biking does just that.

So, what does it actually involve? Joining 30 Days of Biking means making a two-part pledge:

  1. To ride your bike every single day in April, and
  2. To share your adventures online.

Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, your own blog…wherever it may be. It’s a wonderfully simple idea: ride your bike lots, and share it with a community of cyclists online. I also love the idea that if we have enough fun, people who don’t normally ride a bike will want to get involved – that’s how I ended up here!

During April I’ll be organising a couple of social rides (have a look on the Rides page), and I’m sure others will be too. One of my most favourite memories from September’s round was a group ride in Brighton: there were road bikes, mountain bikes and hired Amsterdam style bikes – a bunch of misfits brought together.

Our 30DOB cafe ride in Brighton last September

30 Days of Biking isn’t a political statement. It’s not a bunch of eco-warriors, or road safety campaigners (not that I object to either of those groups!) or any other stereotype which may spring to mind. It’s an inclusive community who don’t care what your bike looks like, or what you look like, or how far you can ride in a day. It’s for the love of cycling: simple.

30DOB North American pals

Throughout April I’ll be cycling every day, and sharing my experiences online. Why not join me? Let’s hope for some sunshine…

Make the pledge: http://30daysofbiking.com/pledge

Puncheur

On Saturday night I set my alarm for 6.30am – something that doesn’t happen very often. The reason? My first sportive of the year – The Puncheur. You might remember I rode part of the route with Morgan, James and Mark back in November. I wasn’t well and managed 30 miles before I had to give up and go to my parents house for tea. You’ll be pleased to know I managed to finish the whole 65 mile route this time around!

The Puncheur is a challenging ride, but not one designed to inflict as much pain as possible – as seems to be the fashion with sportive events at the moment. (If I want to suffer, I will race.) The route is neither hugely long nor hugely hilly. While it includes some testing short climbs, there are no serious hills until the grand finale that is Ditchling Beacon. It also crosses some beautiful parts of this county – providing stunning views across the Ashdown Forest and from the top of the Beacon.

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The route (click for larger image)

Having had a few really mild, sunny days last week, it was tempting to think that the Puncheur might be my first chance to ditch the leg warmers and enjoy a Spring-like ride. As the week went on, and pictures of snowflakes began to appear in the weather forecast, it became obvious that this would not be the case. Sunday arrived and it was seriously cold. And so the usual rigamarole of layers and thick socks and overshoes and hats went on, before chucking myself and Claud into Gill’s car.

Gill and I arrived, with bikes, and made our way to sign up at HQ. We met some familiar faces and chatted to some friends – one of the nice things about taking part in such a local event.

About to set off

We had our timing chips scanned and set off. It took quite some time for my legs to get warmed up in the cold. My brain seemed to take some time to warm up too (I don’t think it works before 9am) so I was grateful for the clear signposting at every junction.

I chatted to some friendly folks en route, and was passed by some speedy guys from local clubs, including the blurs of Mark, Marc and Dan who slowed down for 2 minutes to talk to a slow coach.

Despite the freezing cold, I really enjoyed the ride. I wasn’t even *too* nervous about the ever closer Ditchling Beacon. On that subject, somehow I have gone 6 months of writing this blog and cycling around Sussex every week without having yet cycled up that infamous hill. Some may argue I have deliberately avoided it. Either way, there was no getting out of it this time. Being stubborn is both a blessing and a curse: when ascending a massive hill it appears to be the former. I distinctly remember saying out loud to myself half way up the climb: ‘you’re not f****ing giving up now’… and indeed, I did not. I was very slow, but I got up in one go and I’m pretty happy about it.

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At the top of the beacon.

Having finished the ride I took a few minutes to rest my somewhat achy legs and enjoy the gorgeous view from the top. I’m usually terrified of fast descents but I was so pleased to have finished that I rode back down the beacon to the event HQ with a big grin on my face. There was hot pasta, yummy cake and some delicious hot chocomalt recovery drinks from Apres (an awesome Brighton company).

All in all, not a bad way to spend a chilly Sunday morning. I’ll be back next year.

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www.puncheur.co.uk

Pedal to freedom.

The bicycle…has been responsible for more movement in manners and morals than anything since Charles the Second. Under its influence, wholly or in part, have wilted chaperones, long and narrow skirts, tight corsets, hair that would come down, black stockings, thick ankles, large hats, prudery and fear of the dark; under its influence, wholly or in part, have blossomed weekends, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language, knickers, knowledge of make and shape, knowledge of woods and pastures, equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation—in four words, the emancipation of women.

John Gallsworthy

I am going to ride my bike today. Not far – but I will ride in the rain on the seafront, in my jeans and trainers. I will ride to say thank you to my sisters who fought for my equality, and to celebrate that I can wear trousers. Little things, we might be tempted to think, but things which are a reminder of how far we have come.

Let’s keep pedalling until every woman and girl has the equal rights she deserves.

Today is International Women’s Day.

 

Ready? No? Never mind…off you go.

A few days before race day I had the conversation with myself about not being ready. It ended like this: “you’ll never feel ready – so you might as well just go for it”.

I knew I hadn’t done nearly enough training, that I wasn’t confident enough on corners, that my leg speed wasn’t up to standard and that in every way possible I wasn’t prepared. Even without all that, I was really, really nervous. I had just one objective: finish the race!

Changing rooms pre-race… trying not to throw up.

Never mind finishing the race, getting there and starting it was a task in itself for me. As is my style, every time something went not quite to plan, I briefly considered running (cycling) off and going home.

So you can imagine my panic when, despite checking the contents of my bag about eight times, I realised that I hadn’t packed a pair of matching arm warmers. Instead I had packed one arm warmer and one knee warmer. On a normal day I could probably laugh at this, but I WAS ABOUT TO A RACE IN AN ACTUAL CYCLE RACE. So I ran around in circles for 5 minutes in a flap, and then decided to get over it and brave bare arms.

I almost felt like a pro when I was warming up: sat on the turbo, slurping energy drink, in my team kit. My friend Matt – who is a team mate and, rather helpfully, a bike mechanic – was on hand to make Claud race-ready (the beginnings of an entourage, I feel.) This feeling of confidence quickly subsided at the point that I got off the turbo and almost passed out. I rapidly returned to my nervous novice status, and had to stand with my head between my legs for a bit so I didn’t throw up..

Eventually it was time to get my arse to the start line. I was all warmed up, so, once again, you can imagine my joy at having a 25 minute delay to start the race. Having no arm warmers was slowly becoming a big mistake, as I shivered away with the other 3/4 women and men. A couple of Kent-Velo-Girls commented that I was very brave to go sleeveless – I pointed out that it was stupidity, not bravery.

Off we go…

At long last; time to go. I was so keen to warm up that my need for movement overcame my nerves and I was raring to go…sort of. Being massively catious, I made the mistake of starting right at the back, despite having been told by everyone I know that this was precisely what NOT to do.

AND…… GO!

The least said about the race itself the better. I went round and round the track, not fast enough, for about an hour. I didn’t fall off, or crash, or knock anyone sideways. I finished in one piece, a whole lap behind almost everyone else. The winner could have stopped for a latte and a slice of victoria sponge, got back on her bike, and still beat me. But do you know what? I didn’t care. Once I’d got my self together after the race, I was on a massive high the whole way home. So yeah.. I was a massive loser. But I’d beaten every part of me that was telling me I couldn’t do it, that I should run away, that I should give up.

The race on Saturday was also exactly 365 days since I first picked up Claud. I can’t quite believe how things have changed since then. A year ago, if you’d have told me I would not only enter, but also finish a cycling race, I would have laughed in your face.

Bring on the next one!

 

Big hill, little hill, cardboard Box.

On Thursday my good friend Gill and I drove up to Horsham, our bikes snuggled up together in the boot of the car, to meet some more cyclist friends and head off for a ride in the Surrey hills. I’d taken a day off work to go riding, as the weather at the start of the week had been so beautiful. Of course by Thursday it was bitterly cold again – who knew you could get brain freeze from anything other than a Slush Puppy?

The lovely Jason had planned some “nice hills” for our ride. I’ve learnt by now that when someone tells you a ride is ‘undulating’ what they actually mean is ‘really f***ing hilly’. Plus, Surrey isn’t famed for being flat, so I was prepared for the worst.

Click for full size

As usual I’d got myself worked up over nothing. Yes – there were hills, but that’s what I’ve got a bike for, right? Spin the pedals, turn the wheels…up you go.

Despite not being able to feel our fingers and toes after a few minutes of riding, we managed 3 and a half hours in the saddle: including the hideously steep Whitedown hill and iconic Box Hill.

Olympic Road Race messages

I’d only ever seen Box hill on the TV, during the Olympics. It’s a lovely climb – at least it is when you’re doing it once, not 9 times (or however many laps it was they had to do)…and then back down again. I’ll certainly be back there when the weather has warmed up – although I expect every other lycra-clad human in Surrey will have the same idea. I should probably purchase some Rapha…

Looking over Box Hill

I should take days off to ride my bike more often.

When man invented the bicycle…

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.

- Elizabeth West

For the love of vélo.

I love cycling. Ever since Claud first entered my life, I’ve been besotted by all things bike.

I will have owned Claud for a year next month. Before that, I’d never cycled more than about 10 miles, and only ever ridden the sort of bike that you put a basket on the front of. So phobic was I of anything ‘sport’ related that I wouldn’t even join in a game of rounders at a family BBQ. I don’t think I even owned a pair of trainers, let alone any cycling shoes.

I can vividly remember my first ‘proper’ bike ride, in preparation for the London to Brighton. I cycled from Brighton to Uckfield with friends, had coffee and cake, and then rode back again. That’s almost 40 miles, which isn’t to be sniffed at, but it left me aching for a week – and I pushed up at least three of the hills. That journey felt like seriously hard work and I was, quite rightly, proud to have done it.

A few months later I rode the London to Brighton Night Ride. It took me AGES, and I pushed up lots of the hills including the whole of Devil’s Dyke. Despite all that, I was really happy to have completed it – because I’d never done anything like it before.  For me, it was a massive achievement. I was wearing some specially-purchased trainers, my gym kit, and the helmet I’d had since I was 14.

Celebrating completing the London to Brighton Night Ride – 27th May 2012

Claud has changed shape a lot since then: he has more gears,  posher brakes and tyres that don’t puncture every twenty miles. I’ve also changed shape: I have noticed the appearance of these amazing things in my legs called ‘muscles’ which I wasn’t aware existed.  No more gym kit or trainers either: I have a drawer full of lovely cycling kit and some fancy shoes that clip into Claud’s pedals.

It’s been less than a year since I made that first bike ride from Brighton to Uckfield and back. I make that same journey by bike regularly now – to pop in on my parents. It’s a nice gentle ride, and I wouldn’t even think of pushing up the hills. It was about nine months ago that I very slowly made my way from London to Brighton in my dodgy outfit, on a bike which I didn’t know how to change gear on (that’s a story for another day). I’ve cycled bigger distances since, and ridden up Devil’s Dyke plenty of times now: something which I watched other people do during the London to Brighton with amazement and jealousy. Recently I’ve had to remind myself that I should feel proud of those things, just like I felt proud of my first cycling achievements. This Greg LeMond quote is overused, but it’s overused for a reason: “It Doesn’t Get Any Easier, You Just Get Faster”. It’s true: it doesn’t get any easier, but that shouldn’t be confused for not making progress.

Now here I am, excited and slightly terrified, counting down the days to my first race for a local team. Stood next to my team mates, in my matching kit, it’s easy to forget just how little experience I have compared to all of them. So if you catch me beating myself up about being slow, please show me that photo from the not-so-long-ago London to Brighton, and remind me how much I’ve learnt in the months since then.

I won’t forget why I fell in love with cycling, and I won’t forget how far I’ve come.

Come race with me…

Team ASL360 are on the look out for some more female riders. This makes me very happy for lots of reasons:

1) The more women riding bikes, the happier I am.

2) There need to be more opportunities for women to race, and this is one!

3) ASL360 is a small, well organised team with brilliant sponsors. So this is a great opportunity.

4) There’s a possibility that I’ll no longer be the only member of the team with nail polish to match her kit (although I’m sure the guys would look fetching)

Team Launch at the London Bike Show       (Photo © Klickchick Photography)

Currently the team is made up of Juniors; based in Scotland, and seniors; based in Sussex. Members vary from me, a newbie 4th Cat who hasn’t even done her first race yet, to guys who’ve been racing most of their life. Three ASL360 Juniors recently took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place on the podium for their race at the IG London Nocturne, at the London Bike Show. The diversity in the team makes it a pleasure to be a part of.

ASL360 is a company with cyclist safety at it’s core. That’s why they were at the London Bike Show with us last month.

Team ASL360 is the brain child of John Powell, the Sales Exec at ASL Vision – the company that designed and developed the ASL360 Surround View Camera system.

The team was formed because of a long standing passion for cycling and a desire to create awareness around ASL360SV. A system which minimises blind spots on any vehicle, including HGV’s, and so helps protect vulnerable road users such as cyclists.

As our team knows only too well, 53% of cyclists killed by trucks and large vehicles are crushed by them turning left – a renowned blind spot which this system addresses. If we can dramatically reduce the number of such incidences then we can increase public confidence in cycling and encourage more people to use this fun and sustainable means of transport.

Indoor Crit at the IG London Nocturne.    (Photo © Klickchick Photography)

If you answer ‘yes’ to the following statements, you ought to think about getting involved:

- You are a woman.

- You love cycling.

- You currently race, or want to start racing this year.

- You live close-ish to Lewes, in East Sussex (we have riders from Brighton, Horsham, Scaynes Hill, Hailsham…) Rides start there on Sundays, and it’s where we get together for team meetings.

If you think you might like to join Team ASL360, or want to find out a bit more about the team, feel free to contact me, or email John Powell directly at this address: teamasl360@gmail.com

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