Alf Engers – ‘I Like Alf’ – book review

i-like-alfYou can’t do time trialling in the UK without becoming dimly aware of a mythical figure called Alf Engers. Emerging out of that ‘golden age’ of the 60s and 70s when timetrials ruled the road, you pick up the odd snatched comments about the first sub-50 minute 25 mile TT on a road bike (no TT bars). Riding in the middle of the road. Brushes with authority. The London baker doing a night-shift to 3 am and then breaking records at 6 am. Even now, as the author mentions, you can still hear the phrase “But, what would Alf Engers have done?”

It all amounts to whispers from the past and, in the absence of direct testimony, you place your subjective impressions above any reality. Muffled opinions in between the course codes and obscure regulations. The funny thing is whenever I met the late John Woodburn, he would always tell me how he had to start a time trial with a working bell, and when he got around the corner from the start-keeper, he would throw it off in disgust. It’s a shame I never asked about his times racing with Alf Engers. It never occurred to me, but that’s one of the many things I learnt from the book.

The thing about legends of the past is that you never quite know fact from fiction, exaggeration from reality. Timetrialling doesn’t tend to throw up too many characters; it’s a sport for the nerds and obsessive attention to detail. A rock star in a sheepskin coat who snubbed his nose up at the stuffy RTTC by riding too fast has all the makings of a great story.

i-like-alf-plane

“I Like Alf” on the way to New York

When I heard Paul Jones would be writing a book on Alf Engers, I thought somehow that this was a match made in Heaven. If ever a writer could do justice to a biopic of ‘The King’, it was P. Jones – who can make even sparsely populated hill climbs sound exotic and exciting. Except with Alf – ‘Heaven‘ is perhaps not quite the right epitaph; more like a “match made in Heaven – with a touch of the devil’s mischief thrown in for good measure.”

If there is a drawback to the book, it is short. I read in two days. But, it reminds me of the pastor who gave an interminably long sermon of two hours – and when asked why his sermon was so long, he responded that he didn’t have time to make it short. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that. The benefit is that the book moves along at a great pace, evoking the spirit of the times from post-war Britain to the slow evolution of parochial time-trialling. At last, I have a direct understanding of Engers. – What made him tick, what he did for the sport, the great battles of the past – all within the context of today. It was like finding out that Robin Hood is a real historical figure, and he was a pretty decent bloke to boot.

alf-engers

Alf Engers

As a story, you couldn’t make it up. It is hard to understand why a full-time baker could be banned from the sport for five years (age 22-27), because he had one failed season as an independent. It seems the spirit of amateur endeavour were lost in the rules, regulations and prejudices of the time. It is Alf’s comeback which is really the riveting part of the book. National records, complaints, counter-complaints, detractors and supporters in equal measure – it is all told with great pace, humour and sympathy to the rider who was breaking both records and pulling the RTTC out of its carefully controlled past. Continue Reading →

0

Pea Royd Lane

Pea Royd Lane has been the venue for the national hill climb championships in 2009, 2014 and it will be the last minute venue for the 2018 National Championships.

It is a classic hill climb length- relatively short and steep with a few sharp corners to make it really testing.  The gradient is variable from fairly shallow at the bottom to a gradient of up to 20% near the top.

Blog from 2014 national hill climb championship

pear-royd-lane

Practice run August 2014

I was driving up north this weekend, so I took the short detour off the M1 to revisit Stocksbridge and have a go at Pea Royd Lane, which I haven’t done since 2009. The weather was warm with a cross wind. It felt like a headwind at the start, but tailwind in the middle. The last section I couldn’t work out. That’s the nature of the course, the wind can be all over the place.

Pea-Royd-Lane-view-from-top

Great view from the top

The over-riding impression of the climb was it’s steep and also a painful reminder of how hard hill climbs are. I’ve been looking for a similar hill in Oxfordshire, but there is nothing which gets the same height gain, in such as short space of time – though Whiteleaf hill and Chinnor Hill come close.

After a warm up, I gave it a good effort –  to try and get a rough idea of what time I can do after a summer of 50 and 100 mile time trials.  I’ve gone deeper in the hill climb season proper. But, it was plenty hard enough. I’m sure there was a lurking thought somewhere in my mind ‘Why do I do hill climbs again?’

It’s a hard hill climb because the gradient is always changing. The road surface is also quite rough. There was plenty of loose gravel, chippings and patched up road surface. I hear it is going to be resurfaced soon!

pear-royd-lane-8

Half way up, there’s a slight easing of gradient over the road bridge before the rest of the climb looms into view.

I took lots of photos of the climb (see bottom of post). It’s quite a mix of scenic Yorkshire views, with some ageing steel plants and electricity pylons thrown in. Still it’s a good view from the top.

Continue Reading →

13

What do do when you can’t cycle

When I got injured back in July 2016, I thought perhaps a few weeks off the bike would be a blessing in disguise after a big few seasons. Little did I expect the weeks would turn into months, and the months into years. This is third hill climb season I will miss. I did get one or two invites to hill climbs which was nice, but even if my back and hip were better, I still have a lingering cough from summer virus when I make significant exertion.

In a way, these years off the bike remind me of my early twenties. Where a combination of illness and injuries kept me off the bike from around 1998 to 2004. The difference is that in those days I did not do very much to get better. More than anything, I had the mentality of a student and I was too tight to pay £45 to see a physiotherapist. When I did go to a good physio, it helped considerably and on a few occasions of injury, I was able to get better.

This time, I have tried everything you can think of. But, nothing seems to shift the relatively minor but very stubborn injury. It is becoming a mystery. I have tried several physios, osteopaths, rolfing massage (painful, relaxing and expensive) Egoscue, Pilates, stretching, riding through pain, complete rest. MRI scan, expensive back doctor specialist e.t.c. And at times, a combination of the lot. There is probably something missing but I’ve become weary for trying new things.  Whenever I go to someone, they are always optimistic it will soon be better and I believe this optimism. I don’t think my problem is a negative thought pattern or subconsciously holding onto suffering. I remain hopeful I will be able to ride properly soon, but then I’ve been hopeful for the past 27 months.

What to do when not cycling?

Often you notice how much you value something when you can’t do it anymore. Cycling was a great balance to my work of sitting hunched over a computer. I thought without cycling I’d be able to do a lot more with all the new free time I have. But, it doesn’t always feel like that. Not able to exercise makes you less dynamic and you can end up struggling to maintain that same sense of purpose. Certainly having virus over summer was not much fun. I have written two economics books, but that feels scant consolation. Continue Reading →

6

Stolen wheels and don’t forget the rim tape

Last weekend, I was talking to a friend how my commuting bike was 18 years old. I bought the Trek second-hand in 2000. 18 years is pretty good when you consider bike theft rates in the UK. Because I’ve had it so long and because it’s not worth too much, I can use without excess fear of getting stolen. The lock I use in town is not flimsy, but it’s not indestructible.

bike-commuting

For quite a few years, I researched new commuting bikes (they made nice review pages on cyclinguphill.com). But, when it came to it I never got round to buying a new bike. Fear of being stolen was a strong factor in sticking with an old second-hand bike. It is not just the fear of being stolen but also peace of mind. If you have an old banger, you don’t worry so much about leaving it around town.

Anyway, I got back home, from a brief trip to Yorkshire to find the bike locked up outside my house had had its wheels stolen. The bike was still there – secured by a strong lock. But, it was surprisingly expensive to buy a new set of wheels. I could almost have bought a new complete bike. When wheels get stolen, you have to buy. Continue Reading →

1

British Time Trial Championship 2010

This is a repost of an old blog from my previous website. I’ll repost it here as I have lost access to editing site.

The main point of interest is the top three riders. Who would have predicted the top three would go on to win the Tour de France. 4th Michael Hutchinson was commentating on tv today.

1 Bradley Wiggins Sky Pro Cycling 1:04:55
2 Christopher Froome Sky Pro Cycling 1:06:17
3 Geraint Thomas Sky Pro Cycling 1:06:30

It wasn’t my best race, the only thing I remember was Geraint Thomas talking to me after the race. Seemed a nice chap.

Very happy for Geraint Thomas to win the 2018 Tour de France. A very well deserved victory. Hope he gets lots of cheers on the Champs Elysees!

cycling

Michael Hutchinson and Bradley Wiggins chat, just after the finish.

Yesterday was the 2010 British Time Trial Championships in Llandeilo, Wales. Apart from closing roads to traffic, it was as close as you can get to a real pro race. The course was testing, for the senior men 52km. For the Masters, Women and juniors – 32km. The women’s race was won by Emma Pooley, just ahead of Julia Shaw and Wendy  Houvenaghel.

In the Men’s race, Bradley Wiggins was the clear winner averaging a phenomenal 30mph for the 52 km. He led in a Sky One, Two, Three, with top domestic rider Michael Hutchinson just edged out of the podium place. In the Senior Men category, I was 24th place in a time of 1:14:24 (26.2mph). At one point Chris Froome (Sky) came flying past me. I was doing 33mph, so he must have been really going fast.

cycling
Chris Froome and Andrew Tennant (I think)

There was a short climb through the village of Llandeilo, which was a great buzz as a large crowd were there to cheer on the riders. After finishing, I took my camera and nipped back to the finish to take a couple of photos of the top riders who went off last. I ended up riding back to HQ with Geraint Thomas, who finished 3rd. He seemed a very nice, modest guy, quite at ease talking about cycling. I forgot for a few minutes, this was the guy who at one stage was second in this years Tour. I’m sure he has a great career ahead of him, I’d like to see him do well. Funny, next week he has the Tour of Britain, I have the start of the school term. Later in the year, he has the Commonwealth Games, I will have a few hill climbs. But, it’s a great sport when you can race in the same event as the best athletes in the sport.

cycling

After getting back from New York, I felt somewhat demotivated from racing. On Saturday, I did my slowest 10 of the year (21:44). I toyed with not starting the BTTC championships, but, glad I made the long trek down to south Wales, a very well organised event and it was good to take part.

Related

Continue Reading →

0

Public bike pumps which don’t work

This summer has been the best cycling weather since 1976 (the year of my birth). But, for the past five weeks, I have had a virus/bad cough so no cycling, apart from a slow meander into town. The idea of racing a bike seems hard to conceptualise at the moment. But, there is just enough competitive spirit to get a bit fed up with getting overtaken by 50% of commuters on the way into town.

Since I have not pumped up my tyres for several weeks, I decided this must be the source of my slowness. So I thought I would make use of a public-spirited free bike pump on Magdalen Bridge.

bike-pump

It’s an excellent idea to provide free air. As you can often need a bike pump in town. Anyway, I attached the tyre, but all it succeeded in doing was letting all the air out. Unfortunately, it didn’t work at pumping air back in – so I was left with a flat tyre. Public goods, free at the point of use is a great concept – even if leaves you stranded in town. You half expect to see a bike pump with requires a credit card payment for 50 seconds use.

So I had to walk all the way to the other end of town to the ever generous Bike Zone who kindly lent a pump, which enabled me to get home.

If you’ve wondered why I have only written five cycling blogs this year, this episode of a non-working public bike pump is about as interesting as my cycling experiences have been.

It seems my cycling friends are managing epic rides. Team-mate Vilas Silverton cycled 5,000km+ across the continent of Australia. Michael Broadwith did a short ride too.

I did toy with writing about procycling, but the bandwidth expended for Chris Froome’s adverse analytic finding which was dropped – has always been much more than enough already. I think the episode could be summed up by C.Prudhomme’s “All that for this?”

I am still doing a bit of exercises (egoscue) to try and cure the long-standing hip problem. I have also found some yoga exercises called the “Fountain of Youth“. It is supposed to keep your body young so if I ever get round to racing as a veteran I will have the body of a 30 year old, marvellous!

 

1

New LEJOG cycling record – Michael Broadwith

24 Hour Champion Michael Broadwith (Arctic Tacx RT) broke the Land’s End to John ‘O Groat’s cycling record in a time of 43 hours 25 minutes and 13 seconds on 16 June – 17 June 2018

le-m.broadwith

According to reports, Michael was well up on schedule – setting a new RRA 24 hour record of 507-511 miles in the process, but towards the end, heavy cold rain made the effort extremely testing – with unscheduled stops to change clothes and try to keep warm. (End to End 2018)

For the last few hours Michael’s neck gave way and he was using a neck brace – kindly lent by people in the vicinity who heard about ride. In an interview with Cycling Weekly, (pre-ride) he mentioned

“but if I don’t get this record, I doubt it will be my legs that let me down.” but fortunately, the cold, rain and non-working neck didn’t halt the record. Though, with the near Biblical weather, it sounds a good job, he built up a good buffer in the early part of the ride.
Towards the end of the ride, Michael was in great pain from his neck. But he managed to find a way to support neck and keep going.

“I managed to figure out some cock-eyed method where I was propping my head up with my arm on the aerobar rest like Rodin’s The Thinker. At least it meant I could descend under control and fairly fast.

“I had a stern talk to myself; ‘for God’s sake, chances like this come across once in a lifetime. If you don’t carry on you’ll think through this moment forever and wonder why you didn’t ride for another 20 minutes.’  Article at Cycling Time Trials – Frazer Snowden/Paul Jones

On the final long climb to Berridale, he was hopeful of breaking record

“Then I was actually doing it in the early hours of this morning and thinking ‘bloody hell, this is me, in this moment, and I’m climbing up Berridale and I’m going to nail this record, my friend Des running alongside. I have to remember it because it is a perfect moment in life where I’m actually living the moment that I wanted to live in incredible intensity.

M.Broadwith – photo by Tim Bayley.

Continue Reading →

9

A good weekend for cycling

It was a very good weekend for cycling – Tour de Yorkshire, Giro d’Italia and near-perfect weather. It was more than enough to want to get back on the bike.

cofidis-rider

Stephane Rossetto – Cofidis

I never watch cycling live – only record and then fast forward through the boring bits. Using the modern miracle of fast-forward I watched the interesting bits of the first three Giro stages in a combined time of seven minutes.  My favourite bit of yesterday’s Giro stage was seeing the three breakaway riders as they were leaving the peloton. One rider looked back and the peloton had shut up shop – a line of defiance – absolutely no-one else was interested in joining the breakaway of futility. The rider laughed as he realised it would just be three riders for the inevitable 200km long breakaway before getting caught. I wonder if anyone listened to the whole commentary of five hours through the desert – with not even the odd vineyard and local vintage of wine to give Carlton Kirby something to work on.

de-yorkshire-027

Anyway, the Tour de Yorkshire was a completely different. Beautiful scenary, massive crowds, great racing and yesterday an epic stage – I’d never heard of Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) before, but that was quite a ride. The Giro should try start in Otley.

Photos (by Parents in Otley before the ascent of East Chevin.)

2

A good omen

I was going out for one of my feeble one-hour rides at an easy pace. I was cycling out of Oxford up Barracks Lane. It’s a short steep hill. Steep enough for many commuters to get off their bike and push. At the bottom, there was a runner who looked like he was doing hill intervals. Out of curiosity, I rode alongside him at his running pace. I smiled and offered a little encouragement. Then he smiled and said:
“right let’s do this” and he shot off up the hill. It was clear he was inviting me to a race.

Now I’ve been a bit on the crocked side for the past 18 months, but the competitive spirit still lurks. And some of the old dormant speed remains. So like the red rag to the bull. I sprinted up the hill and left the runner far behind. I turned round at the top to give a valedictory wave and the runner – now in the distance – smiled, or perhaps he grimaced.

So that was probably the most exciting 30 seconds of cycling for 2018. After that, it was back to tootling around Oxfordshire before going back to do my yoga exercises and stretches.

Still, I will take it as a good omen. I can still cycle faster than a runner, and that has to count for something.

One thing I’ve always found puzzling – In the Tour de France why can big fat blokes in a mankini run uphill as fast as the lead professional cyclists?

3

Egoscue method for cycling

egoscue_The latest thing I am trying is the Egoscue method – ‘Health through Motion.

If nothing else, I quite like the philosophy. In summary, it goes something like this.

  • The human body is beautifully engineered and designed to work in harmony.
  • The human body is designed for motion. The early hunter-gatherers didn’t spend several hours in a chair
  • Modern life has meant we spend a lot of time sitting down – hunched over a car wheel, desk, computer. This means that certain muscles become atrophied.
  • If some muscles become weak because they are not activated – then other muscles carry a greater burden. This can lead to dysfunction.
  • The body starts to lose symmetry – with problems such as everted feet, rolling hips and the back losing its natural arc.

With these dysfunctions, we start to get pain in different parts of the body. If our shoulders are weak, it can cause problems in our hips. If our hips are misaligned, it can cause problems in the knee e.t.c.

When we get knee pain, we seek to treat the pain – with painkillers, surgery and the like. But, this is only treating the symptoms and not tackling the cause which are the various dysfunctions in different parts of the body.

In philosophy, it is a continuation of physiotherapy which is seeking to strengthen certain muscles. However, Egoscue adds more exercises – which work on realigning parts of the body. One exercise is simply lying on the floor with legs on a chair at 90 degrees – the aim is to feel the hips and back sinking into the floor.

Another part of the philosophy is that the patient has to take responsibility for his health. It is doing the right exercises, looking after posture that you will get better long-term health. It is not just a matter of going to a doctor and waiting for the right pill and drug.

Does it work?

I only started a few days ago, but I get a good feeling and hope it will work. The good weather is certainly a strong motivating factor to try and get back on the bike. When it’s wet and cold in February, being off the bike didn’t seem so bad.

If nothing else, it is quite a thought-provoking read. We all spend hours sitting and can easily get into bad postures. Even as I write this in a cafe, I am getting up after 30 minutes to walk around.

Related

Non-economic Note – New Economic Book

Whilst I am making links to Amazon. I have a new economics book published.

  • What Would Keynes do? – with fascinating questions like “If you like drinking beer – what is the optimal quantity of beer to drink?”

 

0