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Proof-reading blogs

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. Continue Reading →

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Tips for the cycling blogger

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. Continue Reading →

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Tour de France – Quotes, facts and stats

tourdefrance

“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.

roundabout-ripon4

“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?

Overall_Speed_Tour_de_France

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

Continue Reading →

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Not everyone can be Eddy Merckx

merckx-tour-flanders-76They 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. Continue Reading →

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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…) Continue Reading →

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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?

martyn-roach

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. Continue Reading →

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Guide to cycle lanes

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

cycle-path-donnignton-behind

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

cycle-path-donnignton-4

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.

Continue Reading →

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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.

800px-Killed_on_British_Roads

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) Continue Reading →

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Reducing the cost of cycling

Cycling can seem an expensive hobby. I am the worst culprit – just look at my product reviews Shimano Dura Ace Di2, AX Lightness saddle (69grams) e.t.c. Whatever branch of cycling you take up, it seems there is no limit to the amount of money you can spend. However, here’s a short reminder that it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. It’s quite possible to keep cycling very cheap.

1. Homemade mudguard flap

fairy-mudguard-500x376

50 years of mudguard flaps

 

A cut off bit from a washing up liquid bottle is the perfect size for a mudguard flap. It’s surprising how much a bit of super-glue and reusable plastic ties can do for your bike. This is the old make do and mend philosophy. Don’t just buy something new, try fix and adapt.

2. Make do with one bike

24 hour record holder (541 miles) Andy Wilkinson is a true legend of long distance time-trialling. He deserves more recognition than he gets. How does he do such impressive distances? Well, for a start he only has one bike – a basic steel frame; on this one bike he does his commuting, training and racing. He says that only having one bike enables him to really get to know his bike, perfect his position and enables him to do better races. For those of us who work on the principle that the optimum number of bikes is N+1 – this is truly radical, (but, how much money would I have in the bank if I had followed this advice) It is a reminder that you don’t need to keep buying a new bike in order to do better.

3. Make your bike last

wearing-dhb-jacket-commuting-bike

I went through a period of reviewing potential new commuting bikes – shiny single speeds, foldups, hybrid bikes, and lower end road bikes. But, when it came to the crunch, there seemed no point in spending money for only a relative minor improvement. My commuting bike has been going for 15+ years, and shows no sign of age; hopefully, it will last another 15+ years at least. It is true, a carbon fork would give a modicum of more comfort. Perhaps the braking power of disc brakes would improve performance 15% – but do I really need these? No. My commuting bike has already outlasted quite a few cars. When I try to work out the cost per mile of my commuting bike – it is incredibly low. My winter training bike cost £700 and has done (at a very rough estimate) 40,000 miles (0.0175 pence per mile). Is there any cheaper form of transport?

3. Homemade energy drink.

If you want to avoid paying £1.30 for every sachet of energy drink, why not make your own. Get some maltodextrin powder, fructose powder, a touch of salt, some orange juice and you have. Alternatively, you can just use ordinary table sugar. One simple recipe for a homemade energy drink. For 1 litre of energy drink, add:

  • 60-80 grams of sugar
  • No added sugar cordial
  • A pinch of salt
  • topping up with water

 

4. Avoid the fashion labels

rapha-outside

You can spend a fortune on Rapha clothing and the like. It looks good but comparatively expensive.

5. Buy from non-cycling shops

Often the cheapest place to buy cycling undergarments e.t.c is from non-cycling shops. Thermal underwear and wicking layers can be cheaper from clothes shops and other outlets. I got quite a few good thermal layers from Marks & Spencers – they do the job for winter training.

It’s the same with energy bars, often you can get same performance from much cheaper non-branded energy bars.  I often go to my local Pound Shop and buy six Fruesli bars or similar (12p per energy bar, and if you look at the ingredients, it’s effectively the same percentage of carbohydrates.

How did Graeme Obree prepare for his hour record? Marmalade sandwiches; I bet that is not part of Team Sky’s hour record preparation for Bradley Wiggins, but it did the job for Obree. You don’t always have to spend a fortune on energy bars to get the best nutrition.

6. Get aerodynamics for free

If you really want to go faster, then the secret is to make yourself more aerodynamic. At 40kmph, 90% of resistance against a bike is air resistance. If you look at some pictures of time triallists, you will see how they can reduce their frontal area. The secret to reducing frontal area is not spending £3,000 on a time trial frame, but, getting the body into most efficient tuck. Even a cheap pair of aerobars for £20, will make a huge difference to reducing wind resistance and give you a good bang for your buck. You can spend a fortune on aerodynamic aids, but many of the key improvements can be made with very little cost. Tips for aerodynamics.

7. Do you really need it?

So often I’ve bought something because it was well marketed and looks nice, but I don’t really need it. There are some accessories you need like a lock and lights. But, for some reason, I’m always gullible for the latest light, which is brighter than the last. So I have a whole shed of different lights and components. When I look at my shed, I’m embarrassed about all the things I’ve bought thinking these will be good, but they hardly get used.

8. Ditch obsession with low weight / expensive components

margina-gains-1g

A 1 gram weight saving really not worth making!

 

This is a definite case of the kettle calling the pot black. Is there a worse culprit for spending silly money on silly weight saving components? (marginal gains hill climb bike) Probably not, but unless you miss a major hill climb championship medal by 1 second, those 500g weight saving is not essential. Even a bike 1kg heavier is not the end of the world. If you look at time saved from weight loss on a bike – it is less than you might imagine. 1kg up the Rake is worth 2 seconds.

If you really want to save weight, eat a few less chips; that’s the really cheap way to loose proper weight.

9. Buy the complete bike

It is amazing the equipment you can get on a sub £1,000 bike. If you spend £1,000 on a road bike, the constituent parts would cost you roughly double. Therefore, always try to buy the best bike you can and resist temptation to add expensive parts which only marginally add to performance.

10. Go down a groupset

The main difference between Shimano Ultegra and Shimano Dura Ace is about £500. The main difference between Dura Ace Di2 and Ultegra Di2 is about £1,500. If cyclists had to do ‘blind testing’ of different equipment, would we notice the difference? Probably not. I appreciate blind testing is difficult for bicycles, but if we were really honest, we would often struggle to notice the difference.

12. Do your own repairs

bike-in-stand

Rather than taking it down bike shop, and getting someone to do it for you, you can save quite a bit. Though with my experience is an amateur bike mechanic, this may prove a false economy. Also, compared to motor repairs, I’ve always found bike maintenance to be very cheap.

13. Ride the bike

croissant-on-the-commute

Croissant on the commute – cheaper than filling up car with petrol

 

The real way to get value for money from your bicycle is to ride it around town. Save money on the bus, save money on parking and petrol. Or even use a bike instead of owning a car. If you use a bike like this, it will pay for itself within a few months.

 

Conclusion

Cycling can be a very cheap method of transport. It is only in recent years, that we have been increasingly enticed to spend more on bicycles and bike components. However, I’m the worst culprit. I just like spending money on bicycles. Many times, I don’t really need to spend the money, but what else are you going to spend it on which will give as much joy? The only thing is if you’re on a tight budget, just remember the 24 hour record holder – a relatively cheap old steel frame. At the end of the day, it’s the human engine and not the size of your wallet, which makes a cycling champion. And if you’re not in the world of marginal gains, cycling can be very cheap indeed.

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Tips for beginner cyclists

For those just starting to get into road cycling, these are a few tips from my own experience of riding a bike for past 20 years.

Buying a bike

The first place to start is with buying a road bike. You don’t have to spend a fortune. For an entry level road bike, I would advise selecting a budget and sticking to that. Anything in the range of £500 to £1,200 is a very good starting point for an entry level road bike.

bike

  • I have tested a few sub £500 bikes, and they are fairly decent. If you want to get started in road cycling, don’t worry if your budget is only £500. I have bought a Specialized Allez road bike (£600) to use when in New York, and it gives a good enough riding experience for my training over in the US.

Continue Reading →

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