First cycle ride of 2020

Yesterday, of all days, I managed to go on my first bicycle ride of 2020. It was a wonderful spring day, crisp, clear and not too much traffic either.

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I have been happily commuting into town but it’s not the same as a ‘proper bike ride’ Perhaps the news the Spanish and Italians are currently prohibited from cycling encouraged me to don the lycra and finally make a proper ride. As quite a few have observed – we often only appreciate what we have, when it starts getting taken away from you.

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I take a selfie every five years. The last one was on the Tourmalet (2015)

These are unusual times. The kind of thing that happens elsewhere or in the past, not the kind of thing we ever expect will happen to us. On the positive side, I was well stocked up on toilet paper well before the crisis started. I have a plan to make it through the whole thing without ever buying any loo roll, that will be my contribution to the Great Britain supply chain. (plus planting more potatoes.)

As I consider how to spend the next few months primarily from home, thoughts turn to life under virtual house arrest. I have the last two episodes of Paris-Nice recorded, which I am currently watching for five minutes a day. At this rate, I will make it through to September (don’t tell me who won!) where hopefully we might be back to normal. If Eurosport had any sense, they would be digging out old one-day classics from the past. Usually their repeat schedule is nothing more imaginative than last year. Just about the only results I can remember are last years and they are the repeats I least want to watch. But, to be honest, I can’t watch tv any more. Drama and films seem to futile when you can watch Planet Earth – Season 21 for free. There are so many plot lines and twists, it’s hard to keep up. Though if I was writing the script I would let the good guys win a bit more often.

Born in 1976, I have never lived through any kind of crisis, so it is all unchartered. Personally I’m not worried for myself. But, I am concerned on behalf of many others in more perilous positions. If anything good can come from this challenge – it is to bring to the fore a collective spirit, the idea we are all in it together and rather rushing to buy more loo roll, see what our elderly neighbours might need. Looking for silver linings is pretty hard, but I’m glad to see experts are valued again. And telling the truth and human empathy once more back in vogue. It will be a difficult few months for everyone but a little kindness and thoughtfulness can go a long way to making it more bearable.

And if you run out of loo roll, get in contact and I will tell you a few secrets that only ultra-long distance cyclists know about!

 

The responsibilities of a cyclist

The thing about being a cyclist is that sometimes ‘non-cyclists’ take you as a representative of the cycling world. I remember when a close friend mentioned to me.

“I was walking on a path – and one of your lot nearly knocked me off.”

It took me a while to work out that ‘one of your lot’ meant a fellow human being on a bicycle. I couldn’t say I felt much responsibility for the act of random stranger, but there you have it. Sometimes you have to take it on the chin. (By the way, it doesn’t work the other way around saying to others. “One of your fellow motorists nearly knocked me unconscious.:)

Representing the cycling world also extends to the world of professional cycling. I haven’t been asked if I’m going to ride the Tour de France for quite a long time. But I do know at an upcoming Christmas Party, I will have several inquiries about the Chris Froome drug saga. If I was going to answer properly I would try to mention the relevant points from this excellent blog by Inner Ring.

Read moreThe responsibilities of a cyclist

Proof-reading blogs

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It was interesting to write about the evolution of blogging and also gain a quick glimpse of my first efforts at blogging – 12 years ago.

One issue about blogging is checking your writing for grammar and spelling. How important is it?

Readers will fall into different categories.

  1. Some will not notice mistakes.
  2. Some will notice quite a few but not mind.
  3. Some will notice small mistakes and feel it diminishes their reading experience.

Can you spot the difference?

  • Clean up your rubbish!
  • Clean up, you’re rubbish! (1)
  • A panda comes into a bar. He eats, shoots and leaves.
  • A panda comes into a bar. He eats shoots and leaves. (2)

At school, I gained a grade A in GCSE English. But whatever I learnt in school, it wasn’t anything about grammar or spelling. I remember my English teacher putting copious amounts of red ink on my scripts, but I never remember learning any particular rules about grammar.

When I went to Oxford University, I remember a professor handing back an essay with a mark B+. He added the comment – “Very good, but it would have been an A – if you had given even the briefest attention to correct grammar and spelling”. I remember being very happy to get a B+ from Oxford. That was good enough for me!

When I started blogging and writing, the occasional reader would point out a mistake. My reaction has always been to correct any errors and try to learn. No one likes to be corrected, but I take corrections in the spirit of learning. Over the past 10 years, I am grateful to people who have taken the time to point out mistakes.

Generally, I’m not a great fan of internet comments; but I find it amusing/ironic that I’ve learnt more grammar rules from internet comments than I did from school or at Oxford University.

Read moreProof-reading blogs

Tips for the cycling blogger

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Quite a few people ask about blogging in general. How do you make money? Is it realistic to have a career from blogging and writing for websites? Is blogging not a bit web 2.0?

I started building websites back in 2003 with Poetseers.org – a  non-commercial site on poetry. I found using certain keywords helped get more traffic and I enjoyed seeing the traffic grow. This was in the day when knowing how to edit a website was still a minority – almost exotic interest.

In 2006, I was working full time (teaching economics) but with a desire to spend less time working and more time cycling. So I set up some commercial websites with an idea to make money. Early sites included Economicshelp.org / Biographyonline.net, Cyclinginfo.co.uk, mortgageguideuk.co.uk, netwriting.co.uk, housingmarket.org.uk, uk-houseprices.co.uk. The majority of my commercial blogs failed and have now faded away.  It’s better to do one site well, than several with mediocrity.

In 2012/13, Google changed their algorithms, and cyclinginfo.co.uk saw a big drop in Google searches, so I gave up the site and started a new one – cyclinguphill.com (Ironically, cyclinguphill.com is a much better domain name, and I was lucky to get a good .com domain in 2013) My first post on Cycling Uphill was  26th September 2013 – Mow Cop – the Killer Mile – it helped from a blog point of view that in 2013 I won the national hill climb championship. It definitely helped get the new blog off the ground.

(BTW: My first ever cycling blog was on Richardpettinger.com in 2005/06. The blog was entitled “It’s all downhill from here” – which I thought quite amusing for the title of a cycling blog! I’ve lost most of the posts from that blog which is a shame because it had a write up from National Hill Climb Championship 2005. It now languishes in a moribund location, with broken CSS in a place no one can find.)

These days I make a good income from websites (primarily economics and biography). It means that I’ve been able to give up teaching completely and spend more time cycling and blogging. In terms of my cycling career, having more free time is a big factor in being able to do better. I couldn’t have achieved the same with a 40 hour a week full time job.

I don’t think any careers service would suggest blogging as a viable career, but I feel fortunate to do something I enjoy and make a living.

Read moreTips for the cycling blogger

Tour de France – Quotes, facts and stats

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“It was a magnificently imaginative invention, a form of odyssey in which the lonely heroism of unpaced riders was pitted against relentless competition and elemantal nature. The Tour encompassed the territory of France, and Desgrange later claimed that it encouraged a sense of national identity, establishing La Patrie in clear geographic terms.”

– Jim McGurn on the Tour de France

The Tour de France is one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world. In terms of spectators getting to see the event live, it has no parallel – with millions lining the roads of France and Europe throughout the month of July.

Stats of the Tour de France

In 2013 – a caravan of 4,500 people including  organisers – teams – media – partners – publicity caravan – providers made up the tour. This excludes many volunteers and local council workers who help to get the tour ready.

Riders

  • 198 riders at the start (22 teams of 9 riders) 2014)
  • 300 support staff

Route for 2014

  • 3,664 km (21 stages)
  • 4 countries visited (the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Spain)
  • 33 French departments visited
  • 36 stage towns/cities

Internet popularity

  • 30 million unique visitors / 110 million pages viewed on letour.fr in 2013
  • Most popular languages for viewing letour.fr: French, German, Spanish and English (the most visited version)

Spectators by the side of the road

  • An estimated 12 million spectators (2013)
  • 63% of men and 37% of women
  • Average time by road side – 6 and a half hours of presence on average on the road-side.

Media coverage

  • Broadcast in 190 countries (2013)
  • Almost 100 channels including 60 live broadcasters
  • 90 hours of live programmes (broadcast internationally)
  • 5,500 hours of broadcasting throughout the world
  • 3.5 billion viewers worldwide (in 2013)

Le Tour de France in Yorkshire 2014

An estimated 2.5 – 4 million fans lined the roads to see the Tour de France cover two stages in Yorkshire.

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“I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you to everyone in Yorkshire who has made this Grand Depart so very, very special.”

Christian Prudhomme

How Long is the Tour?

The early editions of the Tour de France helped French gain a better sense of national unity and geographical identity.
The early editions of the Tour de France helped French gain a better sense of national unity and geographical identity.

Modern versions are roughly about 3,600 kilometres (2,200 miles) spread out over three weeks. Early Tours were longer. In 1926, riders had to cover 5,745 km over 17 stages.

The longest ever stage in the Tour de France was on 7th July 1919 – 482 km (300 miles) won by Jean Alavoine from Les Sables-d’Olonne to Bayonne.

Average speed in the Tour de France?

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In 1926, the tour winner averaged 24 km/h over the whole 5,745 km. By comparison in 2010, the average speed was just under 40 km/h for the 3,642 km.

The slowest average speed was in 1919, when French roads were in a bad state after the First World War. The winner Firmin Lambot (Bel) completed the course at an average speed of 24.056 km/h

Read moreTour de France – Quotes, facts and stats

Not everyone can be Eddy Merckx

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merckx-tour-flanders-76 They called Eddy Merckx ‘the cannibal’ for his insatiable appetite to win. They say Merckx was so prolific a winner that he caused a recession in cycling. His dominance so absolute, it became a race for second place and interest waned.

But, even the greatest champions eventually falter – a once effortless winning streak, rudely coming to a halt. The gradual, inevitable decline of physical and mental faculties, the inexorable rise of a new generation.

“There’s always somebody better than you are” – That’s one maxim to temper the pride of human life.

***

 

Two days after the 2012 national championship on the Rake, where I finished a disappointing 11th, I remember heading out for a 60 mile training ride, with a burning focus and determination to spend the next 12 months training and preparing for the national hill climb on the Stang. I hit the winter training with gusto, knocking out 1,000 mile months, despite a wet and cold winter. That intensity of purpose and commitment lasted all year, right up to that wet and windy day in North Yorkshire. At 36, and with long climbs relatively rare in the UK championship, there was a recurring thought that this could be a last chance saloon to win the national title.

After winning, you gain the confidence to try and retain the title. The single-minded purpose and commitment lasted throughout 2014 and 2015. If anything, I increased the intensity and volume of training, especially in 2014 where, with the help of Gordon Wright, I adopted an unusually scientific and methodical approach. But, despite the huge effort, it was not to be (4th and 6th). I don’t think I got any slower – others got quicker – and of course, different hills suit different breeds of riders.

Read moreNot everyone can be Eddy Merckx

Tidying the cycle shed

I’m reading a book – ‘The Life-changing art of tidying’ – It is a Japanese guide to clearing clutter, getting rid of things you don’t need and creating space. It advises starting off with the easiest categories first – clothes, books, paper and then moving onto most difficult categories like photos and sentimental stuff.

Well, all that went swimmingly – even the so called sentimental childhood photos going in the bin without so much as a demur. I was getting great joy from clearing the clutter. But, the really difficult category that the Japanese author failed to mention was that of miscellaneous cycle parts…

Shelf
One cycle shelf of many. Note best pair of overshoes kept here. Suspiciously tidy. Though plants pots are not cycle related.

Firstly, where to start? I have miscellaneous cycle parts littered all around the house – outside shed, conservatory, cupboard under the stair, cupboard in living room, window sill in living room, not forgetting the black hole which is my loft. There are also three very old wheels, suffering various degrees of rust – stuffed into gaps between house and shed. I didn’t dare look at the back of garden, in case I found a long forgotten rusting old 501 frame unearthed under a heap of rubble. The only room which could be considered cycle free is the bathroom – as long as we ignore the road rash bandages and creams to reducing itching in the skin – post-epilation / waxing of the legs.

One thing the book suggests is that you must keep all categories in the same place. I was getting off to a bad start, with cycle parts dotted around the house and everywhere else as well. (I even have a secret collection of cycle parts at my parents home in Yorkshire…)

Read moreTidying the cycle shed

Amateur cycling

One of the attractions of sport and time trials in particular is the amateur ethos. Doing sport – not for name and fame – but for your own individual sense of satisfaction. Seeing sport not as ‘win at all costs’ but an opportunity for self-transcendence. How far can you push your mind, body and spirit, using your own efforts?

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Martyn Roach of the Hounslow and District CC. Resolute club man, and national champion.

The amateur / Corinthian ideal is not about money. But, the attitude with which you do sport. In the 1950s, sport tied itself in knots – banning people from racing who accepted so much as an inner tube from a bicycle company. This made a joke of amateur sport and, inevitably over time, the line between pro and amateur became blurred. I don’t think anyone mourns the loss of strict rules about not accepting money. But, whether pro or amateur, whether well paid or competing for just honour – an athlete always faces the choice of how to compete and with what attitude.

Read moreAmateur cycling

Guide to cycle lanes

Cycle lanes come in many different forms – the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes the downright bizarre.

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Cycle path Oxford

In recent years, the number of cycle paths in the UK have increased substantially. In theory, they have the potential to make cycling safer, more enjoyable and reduce friction between different road users. However, because of the haphazard nature of creating cycle paths, there often seems little continuity in design and implementation. It means we have cycle paths ranging from the good to downright bad and some just silly.

More than anything, we need road planners to be bolder in actually designating more space for cycle paths. We widen roads to make dual carriageways, often all we need is a couple more feet to create a really good cycle path. Also a good cycle path is much more than painting a white line on a pavement and hoping it all works out fine.

Segregated Cycle Paths

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Bi directional cycle path enables commuters to avoid crossing road and congestion.

This cycle path is separate from the road. It doesn’t conflict with pedestrians and is wide enough for dual way. This is an ideal cycle path for an inner city path. It is the kind of path which would encourage a huge range of new people to start cycling.

Read moreGuide to cycle lanes

Changing attitudes to road fatalities

Following up from Road fatalities in the UK  this post looks at fatality rates going back to the 1920s.

Reading a book – the History of Time trialling by Peter Whitfield I was struck by some statistics about the level of road fatalities, during the 1930s and 1940s.

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Despite road traffic being only 10% of today’s levels. Road deaths reached nearly 10,000 a year. There were up to 1,000 road fatalities a year of children under 10.

Yet, despite these shocking statistics, there was a widespread acceptance of these deaths. Nearly all road fatalities were put down as ‘accidents’. It is quite a shock to learn that during the Second World War – 50,000 people were killed on British roads (Source: Time, Speed and Truth, P.Whitfield)  – This was a greater number of fatalities than the blitz (where 40,000 civilians were killed in air raids)

Read moreChanging attitudes to road fatalities