Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sometimes it's nice to take time out to think about what makes me happy on a daily basis.  The things that make you comfortable and satisfied.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cycling Club Take Second BUCS Medal of the Year.

Last weekend saw another success for Leeds cycling club as the team of Stuart Clayton, Hugo Humphries and myself took team silver in the cyclocross. This the best team result in this event since 2006 and the halcyon days of club legends Will Simmons, Matt Clinton and Anthony Salmon.  This year Durham held the event, producing a competitive course which had just the right amount of mud to keep competitors on their toes: in some places this turned out to have a more literal meaning, with many of the front runners opting to run the slippery hairpin bends whilst less experienced riders found themselves over the bars in their attempts to drift around the course.  With the esteemed National Trophy race occurring at the same time in Southampton, a few top riders were missing leaving the race open to less well known riders.  However elite riders Nichols (Loughborough), Last (Newcastle) and Stewart (Sheffield) valued their universities over their sponsors and were soon off the front. Ex-GB and Endura rider Ross Creber (Northumbria) was chasing hard after a poor start.  The leading group exchanged attacks whilst Leeds riders Clayton and Humphries capitalised on their strong start. Clayton maintained a top 10 position within sight of the leaders for the first two laps before falling back to work with Humphries, who together held consistent lap times just out of the top ten.
At the head of the race drama was unfolding with Stewart rolling his tyre off the rim causing him to fall back and run to the pits, where a speedy wheel change allowed him to quickly get back in touch with the leaders who had tried to capitalise on his misfortune.  However this effort was to later cost him, with him losing a minute on Last and Nichols by the end.  The last lap saw Nichols launch wholeheartedly into an attack, gapping Last and never looking back.  Creber never managed to stay with the leaders yo-yoing between their wheels and no-man’s land.
I eventually managed to reel in the duo of Humphries and Clayton on the penultimate lap only to see Humphries have to stop to address a mechanical issue on his less than ideal steed.  Tragically it may have been this mechanical that cost us the team gold, adding more evidence to the case that Hugo needs a ‘cross bike.  A slip in the penultimate corner cost me Clayton’s wheel and with that my hopes of a Leeds-Leeds sprint evaporated.  Clayton was just pipped to the line putting him in 13th, with me 12 seconds back in 14th and Humphries a further 56 second back in 16th.  This left us 2 places off the elusive gold medal, awarded to Edinburgh with bronze going to Newcastle. This result gave us the silver to add to the team and individual gold’s won at the hill climb last month.  Hopefully there will be more silverware to come at the remainder of this years events.
Thanks to the University triathlon club, whom without we would not have been at the event.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Definitive Guide to Points Grubbing; Calum's First Elite Win.

To preface this I feel some things should be known:

1) Contrary to the speed that I ride I am actually an elite level mountain biker.
2) I worked pretty hard to get into elite and don't want to give it up.
3) To stay in elite you need to be ranked in the top 50 elites (out of about 60).
4) British Cycling take the points tally of your best 8 races.

With the above in mind and knowing that I missed the first half (more like two-thirds) of the season by being on the other side of the world, and being pathetically slow at races due in no small part to my (somewhat protracted) recovery from glandular fever and lack of meaningful training I have set the rest of my season up to include a series of points-hunting skirmishes.  These will mostly include going to races where few people turn up to and trundling round at speeds that would usually see me out the back of the field, but due to the lack of entrants turns up some solid points scores.  This is an activity I like to think of as points grubbing.

It's not big.
It's not clever.
And it's definitely not fast.

This points grubbing saw my father and I driving North the weekend before this for a weekend of 'racing'.  As you will come to see it was racing only in name and not really in nature.  Not to play down the fantastic events, but I was going to them for their lack of competition; for which I am somewhat ashamed, but I will not justify this further than I already have. 

The first race was the final round of the Nutcracker series in Fremington.  This was organised by the same people who ran this years National Champs event, which combined with the topography available ensured a good event.  The laps were long (at about 30 minutes each) with a reasonable climb to start the lap with, followed by some exposed moorland meandering and a loose technical and in places reasonably steep descent before the final traverse back to the start of the lap.  This moorland scenery gave for some stunning photographs from Joolze Dymond (some of the pick of the weekends work can be seen here: http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/mtb/article/mtb20110823--MTB--Nutcracker-Round-4-0) including a nice one of me coming into land from an opportunistic whip on the final lap.

Confirming my thoughts that competition would be sparse I ended up being the only Elite racer here, which left me only the Experts to compete with.  I didn't feel like I could win the Elites without actually beating the experts, so after a poor start set about chasing down the two Masters riders who (with a lap less) had gone from the front.  I never got in touch with the leader, but stayed with the second place Masters rider and generally enjoyed myself to comfortably beat the Expert riders. 

The weather started to come in and Dad and I had to make the decision on accommodation for our night up North.  In the end we decided to camp in Todmorden using Dad's little tent which provided the most comfortable camping I have ever enjoyed.  Dinner in the local 'Spoons and we were well on our way.  The following morning we were up bright and early to get to the next race just over the moors; Brownbacks round 4.

Here once again no Elite racers showed up, but my day was not as successful, tired legs and a puncture saw me trundle round with sport riders in front of me for 4th.  However, I was glad to finish and glad of the points.  The course for the Brownbacks races is one of my favourite, but it has not been kind to me the past two times I have raced there, ripping my tyre the first time and then this.  I will have to go back when I have some legs.

This little skirmish saw me crawl up the rankings from 49th to 38th, which should see me safely in Elite for another year.  However Dad has brought it to my attention that a certain Mr. Pybus is only a couple of places in front of me in the rankings with 7 races to his tally, so I have a new target.  Beat Jon!  As such there will be a few more races before the season is out and I can really concentrate on getting fully over this glandular fever and building more steadily back to fitness.

Not helping a steady build is my current injury.  Having come off after 2 hours of the Torq 12:12 12 hour race last weekend I have been limping around the house wondering if I could have gone faster and pulled our mixed team up to 2nd or even 1st in the event.  All being well I will be back on the road bike tomorrow to spin the stiffness out.  Thankfully the injury is merely a flesh wound and as it felt fine throughout the final 10 hours of the event (better on the bike than off) then all being well there will be no complications.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A view from anywhere but the pack.

As the 'blogosphere' is currently buzzing with British National Champs posts I thought I would see if I could provide an alternative to the more race focused blogs out there and give an insight into my current mindset regarding racing.  Although this will be the second blog post today, there is really quite a gap between writing sessions.

I will start by saying that this is not about racing, this is about a weekend of doing a few of the things I love.  If I go off track and talk heavily about racing I will have to ask for forgiveness, but bear with it, all being well it will return to something a little lighter.  As such I won't give my usual course description, for this see the countless other reports flying around such as that found on British Cycling's website.  I also have no photos, so once again BC or Joolze is the go to.  I don't have lap times, I have a vague idea of how I rode and I know where I finished (for those concerned and so as not to maintain suspense for an underwhelming result, my number is 9th).  More over, I am not going to post excuses, my result was what it was and if you want to know background then it can be found in earlier posts.

My weekend started on Friday evening; I finished 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' (Stieg Larsson, translated from Swedish to English by Reg Keeland, interestingly changing the title from 'Men Who Hate Women') which was brilliant, although I was disappointed to have forgotten who gave it to me and that they had not written in it.  I have made a recent decision to try and write in all of the books I read, although 1984 now has a bit of a spoiler in the front of it thanks to this, which I'm sure Ric did not appreciate when he read my copy. 

I then finally got around to starting David Millar's autobiography; 'Racing Through The Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar'.  I had been keen to read this ever since I first read about his writing of it, and contemplated getting it on it's release in New Zealand but postage would have been extorsionate, so I waited patiently and knew that I had to finish 'The Girl...'  So on Friday evening I hungrily started this book but I was soon asleep after 40 or so pages.  This had been enough to wet my appetite though and the rest of the weekend was spent reading as much as I could.  I was thinking of providing a book review, but I'm no reviewer; suffice to say it is a key read for cyclists and those who doubt David.

Saturday started ominously enough with rain bucketing down delaying Dad and my packing of the car, but soon enough we were away, chatting occasionally but mostly with him driving and me reading.  On arriving at the venue I signed on as usual, relaxed with Steve, caught up with others then set about getting out for a pre-ride.  I took the go-pro camera with me and got a good few (of my own) crashes on camera.  It would appear that I had forgotten how to ride flat rooty singletrack in my time away.  Thankfully half way through the actual race it came flooding back to me.

The evening was spent putting up out tent, and although I was quite out of practice it went up smoothly enough, after which we found our way to a pretty village pub with Ben, Tim, Chris and Peter for some late dinner followed by lashings of custard (it wouldn't be a racing weekend without custard).  The night and morning settled into their usual routine with Dad looking after me more than I deserve allowing me to relax and think about the race.  I have to admit to not thinking about the race one jot, which was lovely.

The race went as well as could be hoped, with me riding lazily around in the top ten knowing there was a big gap between the guy I was riding with (Jack) and the rider in front of us and knowing that I would be unlikely to bridge it.  That is until Jon Pybus (recovering from a first lap mechanical) came storming past.  I couldn't resist jumping on then giving him a lead out.  People will have their own views on my lack of competitive spirit in such a big race, but I gave Jon what I felt he deserved and did try to out manoeuvre him knowing I was unlikely to be able to outsprint him.

No water in the showers left me muddy and smelly for the journey home, but all in it was a great weekend, not dulled by the grey skies and rain.  It was great to be camping with my Dad again and something that I had looked forward to for ages.  As far as my mindset with regards to racing goes, the race was successful because I had fun.  That is all.

Now I may try and get some semblance of fitness back for the end of the season. 

No promises though.

Forever Delayed (final goodbyes)

Before I left New Zealand I was pestered somewhat to update my blog as I had been (and remain) lacking in recent updates.  I thought of some ideas, but haven’t had much spark for writing and I don’t like writing dull stuff anymore, I would rather make this blog a bit more fun.  The ideas I came up with are below and a poor attempt at a sleep-deprived-alcohol-fuelled update from the last of my time in NZ.  Most of the ideas are still untouched and may eventually become blog posts, but for the time being I wanted to get this one up (which has had little work since I first started writing it) so I could move onto other ideas.

Blog Ideas:
  • ·         Best bits of Welly and NZ
  • ·         Sad to leave
  • ·         Happy to be going home
  • ·         Pathetic Fallacy
  • ·         Trip South
  • ·         Injuries and trepidation for the forthcoming season

I’m currently sat writing this in Auckland airport, waiting for my long flight home.  Thankfully I managed to sort out some slight issues leading up to this return journey, and even managed to do a last bit of travelling to boot.  I somehow managed to lose my passport within 3 weeks of this flight, having used it successfully for a year as ID, getting (very) drunk on occasion, and yet I lost it during exams, when I wasn’t drinking.  Having searched through my flat, my sisters flat and office and Katherine’s flat with a fine tooth comb I decided to give up and get a new one.  $330 later and a lot of worry and un-warranted stress later I have a new passport, ETSA, NZ Visa and am ready to go, although I already smell like I have been on the plane for hours having only taken the short hop to Auckland.

Saying goodbye was hard, and I have to say that I am completely in two minds about my departure.  On the one hand I miss so many things from home and so many people, but on the other I am leaving behind the most amazing place I have lived, where I have started setting up a life, with work, friends and other interests all catered for.  The riding has been superb and I think I am going to be longing for ‘deliverance’ for quite some time.  I’m already planning my return for a riding tour, and am hoping that Owen and Andy will be keen for some more Summer-time fun.  Looking back on it, I can safely say that the ride that we went on was the best thing I have done to date and I will have to try and replicate and better it; sooner rather than later.

My final hurrah sent me South again, this time in a car with Heather and Sarah.  Goodbyes were said in Dunedin to Emma and Tanya before a quite dash over to Queenstown for the opening of Winterfest (without snow, but with John Key and some classic Kiwi-Aussie one-up-man-ship).  In true Queestown style the two days were spent riding some fun tracks and getting drunk with Irish people met randomly on the street.  My riding here, and throughout the trip was hindered by IT-band pain in my left leg which hopefully some rest, massage and stretching will cure when I get home.  However I did manage to get up into the bike park twice, once riding down Hammies (not worth the climb in my opinion, fun, but not technical enough to maintain my interest) and the other time having ridden the Fernhill loop track in reverse before descending Vertigo and Singletrack Sandwhich, both of which provided more of a challenge, but nothing that scared me.

The bike propped up in a stream, I got a little lost...

 The Fernhill loop track however was fantastic, with stunning views over the lake and up Ben Lohmond; it felt pretty close to real riding and made me long for fitness so I could have done some real back country epics.  The Beech forest over the top was enough to make me grim wildly and find myself torn between wanting to take photos of the beautiful native woods and riding as hard as I could at and over the myriad of roots fingering their way across the track.  As usual I didn’t take enough water, but I find drinking out of mountain streams to be one of the most satisfying elements of riding in the hills so was more than happy to risk Guardia again (having drunk from streams quite a bit on the previous Southern trip).

A kayaker paddles across Lake Wanaka

 From here we explored Arrowtown and then moved on to Fox Glacier with a brief stop in Wanaka, a place which holds many happy memories for me having spent two Christmases’ there in the past.  Fox provided us with stunning weather and some beautiful shots of Mt. Cook reflected in Lake Mattheson at sunset.  After one night here we undertook (or rather I) the long drive to Abel Tasman and our next hostel in Motueka.  Turns out we scored with this one too, a cushty room saw me in a double bed.  From here the girls did a small part of the Abel Tasman track whilst I went off and found some riding over Takaka hill.  I may have taken the car on a mountain bike track in the process, but it seemed to cope ok with it, even if we did get a bit sideways trying to race a 4WD on the way back...

One of those 'stunning' shots of Mt. Cook reflected in the Lake.

 Here we see a slight break in proceedings due to more alcohol being served and my dislike of having my laptop in my face and hands typing from my chin.  Continuing this from an extremely cushty plane with plugs for laptops in economy (air NZ plug) and with 2 glasses of pinot noir and a Jonnie Walker whisky in me (not my first choice, but beggars can’t be choosers as they say)...

My ride of choice in the Kahurangi Park was that of the Kill Devil track, which takes you from the valley floor (pretty close to sea level) up to a nice wee ridge and from there undulates over the ridge.  Not all of this is rideable, whether it be due to restrictions placed by DOC (who have only recently opened up any of the track) or your own ability (some of the switchback on the ascent, which later becomes the descent; riding in NZ has gotten me used to riding both ways along tracks, are pretty tricky).  The track is however, good clean fun.  I didn’t make it all the way to the top due to the knee, but otherwise I want to go back and give it a proper go, I reckon I could clean it all with relative ease and some (sick) trials skills.

From here we returned to Welly via a pretty choppy ferry crossing with motion sickness setting in for the first time since a hung-over bus journey years earlier in Bolivia.  This just left me with final passport sorting and packing.  All done now thanks largely due to my amazing Sister; if one person has made this year it is her, as she does every year I spend in the same city as her. I can’t say I would like to live with her again: as I think she would agree, we need our own space, but being in the same city allows us to share our lives and be there for each other.  She is doubtlessly my best friend and has been for some time.  

On that note, it has not only been the place, but the people that have made this year so special, they gave me the opportunities to do all of the amazing things I have done, they made everything that I have done so much better.  It wasn’t long ago that I thought being alone would be fine, but in reality it is our relationships that define us, and as usual it is who you know not what you know; even if that statement is taken out of context. To that end I would like to thank everyone I have met this year for making this year the best so far.  I will miss you all, I have fond memories of so many people, including people that unfortunately I have failed to remember the name of; hopefully I will be forgiven.  

In the near future I hope to write a little travel recommendations blog for cyclists in Wellington, hopefully people can use what I have learnt this year to enhance their experience and maybe bring more people to Wellington; as I have recently been reminded by an important person in my life, New Zealand does have a large tourism industry, maybe I can put something into it having spent the last year as a tourist, although Wellington felt like a home by the end.

With that I say goodbye.  It’s been good, and I can’t wait to come back, maybe next time with some fitness so I can take NZ by storm...
As something of a postscript, the pathetic fallacy idea is largely in relation to the weather on leaving Wellington, a cloudy day, with classic winds, some rain, but shafts of sunlight breaking onto the bay.  The weather in Wellington providing the perfect representation of my mood.  Also, I will try to live up to the goals I set myself here, but the travel guide idea may be a while off.

I will leave you with a view from Queesntown of the sunrising on a new day...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sicko-cross: Bike Hutt cyclocross race 1

Every year I seem to forget just how painful cyclocross racing is just in time for the new season.  Having had a year and a half to forget the pain I was itching for a race, so much so that I was easily persuaded to get out of a warm bed at 7:15am having had very little sleep, walk home to find breakfast, bike and kit to meet Andy at 8am.  The race didnt start til 10am, but it was decided that we (being poor students and hardcore athletes...) would ride there.  The race was in Trentham park in Upper Hutt, a good 35km + ride which was done mostly on the Hutt River trail with a stop in Lower Hutt to find some coffee in a vain attempt to spark some life into my legs.

On arriving at the park at 9.45am we soon remembered why we were calling it sicko-cross.  The course (as far as we could see) was slippery grass and sucking mud.  We were not wholly wrong although it did turn out to contain a nice flowing wooded track, which although not technical, provided a welcome relief from the mud.  Having signed on and changed my pedals and shoes to my mtb shoes (my left mtb pedal had worked itself very loose and I didn't trust it to stay on the bike for the whole session) we tapped out the majority of a lap (missing out the worst of the mud, although we didn't know this at the time) and were given a 10minute warning. 

Setting myself well back on the start line so as not to hold up any of the quicks on their actual cross bikes we were given a little briefing before seeing the race organiser smash off the front with a head-start.  We then followed, through the first 2 slippery turns (which I later slid out on quick spectacularly on the penultimate lap) and over the series of 5 barriers before the real mud fest began.  A 200m ish drag over slow grass culminating in a bog at the pinch point where we went from fields onto the forest path.  I attempted to make up places here, passing Andy and a few others before the path assuming that on the mtb I would be a little faster.  There were a few nice corners here that required the use of brakes, but nothing to trouble any rider. 

On exiting this section we came to a small set of steps up a bank which were easily negotiated before traversing down the bank onto tar-seal.  Climbing back up the bank on the tar-seal through an S-bend onto the top before dropping back off was probably the most technically challenging component of the course, which allowed riders to really focus on bringing the pain for the whole lap.  This was followed by the worst bog section of the course which brought me to a near standstill every lap and seemed to be where I was losing most time to those on 'cross bikes before a final slippery turn and a flat-out smash to the finish. 

This was repeated for 45mins +1 lap in normal cross style.  I made it up to the top 10 in the first lap then set my focus on the top 5 and first mtb.  With 3 laps to go I was really hurting, the first twinges of crap setting into my Quads showing the lack of hydration, however it didn't seem serious so on I plodded, every lap longing for the bell.  In the excitement of finally hearing the bell I took myself out just after the finish line much to the amusement of the crowd...  I thought I had my position (I think 5th, but I will have to wait and see) sewn up, but having crashed and being quite tired the gap I had worked hard to build had closed to about 20m.  This prompted some rapid gear shifting showing up just how muddy my bike was; only the 2 gears that I had been predominantly using were not skipping.  Cue rapid spinning but knowing that I just had a few more minutes to suffer I just about held on.

First priority was to find some way to clean our bikes after finishing, and ourselves for that matter, so into the stream we went, bikes fully immersed and faces dunked we put some fresh kit on and set off for home with the plan of getting to iRide for some food.  Andy did as he usually does and sat on the front and smashed it, whilst I was grateful of the tow, I was not to enthused by the pace and by the time we got to Petone and I took a turn on the Hutt road I was tanked.  having fed up, coffee-ed up and gotten warm we both went our separate ways and I realised how little I like living at the top of a hill.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Kinesis Maxlight XCPro3, Custom build

Having just handed in a piece of work that I am not very proud of I decided to 'waste' more time by writing a review of the bike I have been riding for the past year.  The 'wasted' time that could (maybe should) have been spent on this report was instead spent enjoying the sunshine and the first opportunities to ride in two weeks.  I have managed to get out every day for the last 4 days and intend to get out on the mtb again today.  I have to say I don't regret it at the moment, although I do wish I had managed my evenings better and spent a little time on the report rather than leaving it to the last minute.  I came out of the weekend refreshed, clearer of thought and rejuvenated.  It's amazing what some nice days in the sun with mates will do for you.

So, this review, the sole purpose of which is to provide me with some kind of therapy and release.  I have many fond memories of my time with this bike and will be sore to see it go (and I will be very reluctant to let it go if I have to), not only has it carried me round some great races, seen some amazing places and done some things that it may not have been meant to do, but it has also seen new friends arise from rides.

The bike itself has been a dream.  I chose to buy this bike (as my first fully personally funded mountain bike I might add, having been somewhat spoiled by parents and sponsors) largely on a price point basis, but also because I knew that I got on really well with how the Kinesis frames handle having ridden an older maxlight (full alloy) as my first XC bike.  Coming from the Yeti AS-R sl it took a while to get used to the harshness of a hardtail again, and thee first few rides on it were more of a chore than I would have liked, with me longing for the end (although it came too soon thanks to a puncture) of the first race on it.  However on coming out here it really came into it's own.  I will maintain that flatter trails really favour a fully, whilst steep stuff is still an area hardtails can hold an advantage.

The build of the bike is a little odd and has changed a little throughout the year.  The current build is pretty much where I want it to be for a training/fun bike, not that it doesn't race well, but it could be lighter and some things need replacing.  I went a little over budget in a couple of areas, notably the fork (DT Swiss XCR100) and shifting (XTR shifter and rear mech, 1x9).  I made these choices as these are two of the most important areas for me and having riden XTR I find it very hard to return to anything less.  The smoothness of shift is unparalleled, with the shifter feel being pretty close to perfect, even with a ruined rear mech.  My rear mech, it should be added, is a 2-3year old one that has been between bikes or acting as a spare and should now be retired as there is a ridiculous amount of play in the join between cage and body; having stripped it down a number of times the only solution is a new cage or mech (carbon cages are prohibitively expensive). 

The DT Swiss fork was chosen without any real testing, but I was sold on the stiffness of the carbon lowers and 'carpark testing' a set the Madison (UK Shimano, DT Swiss and others distributer) rep had brought in.  He also have them to me on a bit of a steal.  Thankfully they have performed well, but with one really major fault which caused me quite a headache over the NZ Summer.  They are one of the smoothest forks I have ridden, and thanks to the carbon lowers seem to reduce buzz at the bars (certainly compared to other bikes with fox or rockshox forks) whilst maintaining pretty good stiffness.  The lookout is very good too, very stiff feeling and with a very useful remote lever (which I have mounted under the bar where a front shifter would be), I have to admit to not being a fan of lockouts, but having it so accessible has meant that I have used it a lot and these forks deserve it.  The damping is very plush and the way I have them set up they sag pretty easily to give them that extra small bump compliance (at the expense of bottoming out over large hits, but they cope, as do I), as such I find myself locking out on most climbs and firetrack sections. 

The one flaw I have really found is their lack of servicablility, with DT being adamant that they are not to be pulled apart by anyone other than the distributors own mechanics.  This wouldn't have been a problem if there had been no problems, but when I noticed play in the fork I decided to get them serviced; better to pay for a set of bushes soon rather than ruin a set of uppers later.  On return from the suppliers they were not achieving full travel (wrong oil height I suspect) so back they went and once again returned, full travel, but still getting play.  This repeated a few times until I went off travelling, still with play.  Since I have given up and accepted the play (which is ~1-2mm at the axle) but I will look into it further when I get back to the UK.

The rest of the build is fairly unexciting, Hope Tech X2 brakes, SLX crankset, E-13 chain device (best single-ring XC chain device in my opinion), Thomson Elite seatpost, Easton bar, Specialized bar and saddle, Hope hubs laced to ZTR Arch rims and a range of tyres.  So all in a fairly inexpensive and dull build.  But one that has worked pretty well.

I have broken a few things in my time here, including ruining a front rim after nosediving to flat from a 2m drop.  Lukily I was fine, but I suspect this may have been what caused the fork to be less than perfect.  I have also replaced a bent set of Raceface Deus cranks, a squashed carbon bar and an uncomfortable Fizik Gobi saddle.

As I said, she rides like a dream; she climbs admirably, sprints without noticeable flex and descends with the pluck of a terrier.  I have to say it's the descending that really has me sold.  The bike just feels so playful.  I went for the medium size, which is slightly shorter than may be ideal for me, but I like a bike with a large standover and shorter top tube.  I'm not sure why she feels so playful, it could be the head angle, the fairly short chain stays, BB just below the axles, stubby top tube or something completely different, but everyone who has spent a while on her has said the same.  She handles trails that big bikes are uncomfortable on, takes the abuse that I throw out (sideways landings after over-enthusiastic moto-whips and innumerable crashes) and carries on without a care. 

There have been some great moments with this bike, and every time she drifts round a corner or floats into a transition she has me grinning from ear to ear.  She will be in the country for only a few more weeks, so if you want a go you had better get onto me quick!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Comment: The Lance Problem

As far as comments go, this is probably going to one of the more uneducated ones around.  Nevertheless, the situation cycling finds itself in at the moment is a worrying one and it truly scares me to think of the uncertain future of my sport.

Lance is facing drug allegations, as he has throughout his career.  This time people are really dropping him in it, with two of his ex-team-mates (who have already lost their careers due to drugs) coming out against him and in doing so implicating the UCI (Union Cycliste International) for their part in a potential cover-up as Lance has never failed a drugs test.

This is what I understand. 

I am scared because of the implications this has for the UCI and the sport.  Lance is the most well known cyclist in the world.  All he has done for cycling and his prolific campaigns in the fight against cancer have ensured this.  Some would say that he stunted cycling's growth by being so dominant in le tour and the way his team operated, which in reality should have pushed the sport on to compete with him.  This is a poor excuse to dislike the man in my eyes.  I can't say I'm his greatest fan, I found some of his riding dull due to his dominance, but that wasn't really his fault.  I also found him a little turgid in his interviews during his career (he's no Bradley Wiggins...), but that doesn't stop me wanting him not to be guilty.

I am wholly for strong drugs charges and anti-cheating measures, don't get me wrong; if he is guilty then it should come out, but if he is then he is going to take the UCI down with him, and with it the sport of cycling as we know it.

I don't think this is overstating the consequences, yes cycling will survive, but our sport will forever be tarnished even more than it already is.  Not only would we be known to have cheating riders, we would have the highest profile drugs cheat in the world, coupled with a cheating governing body.  The FA will survive it's current under-the-table World Cup stories because of the fan base around football and the belief people have in the sport on it's own.  But cycling fans and cyclists are already skeptical as to how clean out sport is.  Many of my peers have been quick to discredit Contador and his wins (in fairness I am not firm in who I believe in this case either, but it doesn't hold quite the same level of consequence), there is general banter about drug use within the Sunday bunch rides, and there is always an underlying feeling of suspicion after any 'unknown' rider wins a big race (and even the known ones; Cancellara and the 'engine').  Even as we try to push drugs out of our sport, the common belief of cyclists as drug-taking-cheats will remain.

I hate every year having to explain to people that not all cyclists take drugs, and explain what we (and I say we because I feel that as a cyclist I have a duty to actively oppose drugs taking in my sport, if every cyclist doesn't then the nay-sayers will find out and feel vindicated) are doing to remove them from our sport.  It hurts me every time someone tarnishes us with the brush of a cheater.  I have never cheated in my sport, I will never cheat in my sport.  So how will we explain and justify our sports existence if it turns out that it is corrupt to the highest levels? 

People will still ride bikes, that is unlikely to change; but would racing be the same?  Would there be professionals? Would there be sponsors? Would anyone ever want to touch our sport again?  There isn't enough money in cycling as it is for the amount of work that our athletes have to do; the day-in day-out hardships that they endure to reach their goals is on a scale unlike most other sports, and yet the pay for all but a select few is often not enough to support them, let alone let them live in the luxury of a footballer.  This is far more evident in mountain biking, with so many fighting for the elusive win and with less television coverage and subsequent sponsorship there just isn't the money there.  MTB XC is already suffering, I would hope that people would realise that there are far fewer drugs scandals in MTB than on the road and support us, but I can't in all honesty see it happening.  I think that this would likely kill XC as a professional sport.  It may be resurrected, but I can't see it happening in my lifetime, the memories would be too raw.

So what am I scared of?  I'm scared of the loss of professional cycling, not only for my enjoyment as a fan, but also because it would signal the loss of my dreams.  It will be the saddest day of my young life if Lance was to be found guilty.  Ironically the only way I can think to cope is to ride my bike.  Maybe there is hope yet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The week that was.

Preface: This is not a fun blog post; this is not worth reading, this is because I'm bored and I like to write occasionally.  If you are interested in the monotony of student life, some casual wine tasting and a general insight into my life without my bikes, read on.

So the worst week of uni in NZ is now over, albeit 3 days late.  Deadlines extended to Monday from Friday allowed me to spend another couple of sleepless nights worrying and working on my geophysics field report.  We had a good month or so to write this, but somehow (and as ever) the deadline crept up on me and my peers.  Thankfully I had managed to leave myself in a better position than some, not being able to ride does have it's advantages in terms of free time to work.  I would have liked to have been able to ride my bike this week, the de-stressing power of being high above the urban world drifting around trees and missing then by whiskers (or not as is so often the case) never fails to relieve stress.  My trackstands improve no-end during exams; my chosen revision break has been messing about on the bike, and when you only give yourself 10mins trackstanding seems to be a good way to spend it.

I managed to get the majority of this report finished on Friday night, although not without doing myself some damage in the process.  Glandular Fever requires lots of sleep, report writing does not; to combat this a lot of caffeine was consumed.  This resulted in a complete absence of real sleep when I did eventually allow myself to go to bed.  It also had some worrying physical side-effects, my heart started skipping beats on Thursday and by Friday night I was missing about 1 in ever 20.  This didn't help my sleep any, but thankfully a day without caffeine and a good nights sleep solved all those problems.

The aim was always to have the work done on Friday as I had prior engagements on Saturday meaning no work would be done.  This weekend it was two of my good friends birthday's, Heather and Gordon.  Heather took us to the theater on Tuesday night, which I have to admit is not something I would usually do, not because it's not my kind of thing, but it just doesn't occur to me usually.  We went to see Death and the Afterlife of Elephants, which caught Heather's eye as she loves elephants.  I'm not going to critic the play, suffice to say I, in my limited knowledge and theater experience, loved it.

Gordon took us wine-tasting in the Wiarapa on Saturday, and with me not being able to drink I was in charge of driving the minibus.  It's been a while since I drove a manual, let alone a van, but it was good to smash through a gearbox, burning the clutch over the Rimutaka hill road and throwing everyone about kept me entertained.  The wines were by an large fantastic, but the thing that made it all the more special was the people who shared the day, not only Gordon's friends, but also the people who educated us (the woman at Margrain was especially good, as was the couple at Julicher, both were very happy to talk).  We all went away with different favourites, although I have a new found love of Reislings and desert ('pudding' as Gordon would have it) wines.

With the Everton/University Hall ball in the evening I returned home, picked Rachael up from the airport with Heather and Sarah, had a quick half change of clothes and headed off.  As expected I crashed around 11pm and toddled off to bed satisfied with my day.  Sunday was spent putting the finishing touches to my report and doing my maths homework.  All is well, all is in, stress levels are much lower and all being well with a good sleep tonight I may actually be able to ride my bike tomorrow, although there is talk of doing the Tongariro crossing on Wednesday to show Rachael some on NZ and get Heather out doing some walking!

Ramble over, maybe next time I write I will have something more interesting.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ramblings of an invalid

Sitting on the bus coming back from my most recent field trip chatting aimlessly with Sarah Osborne, half listening into Heather Willott's conversation from the seat in front of us and meandering vaguely about the topics of geology, family, work, life after uni and sport my mind stumbled across the idea of why I ride.  This is a very common thought for me when I'm going through dark points in my life; as I've said many times before my riding is the thing that keeps me going, it's the thing I fall back on in times of need, it's been my constant for the last 6 or 7 years, I wouldn't be who I am without it, I wouldn't have met the people I have, I wouldn't have explored the places I have.  I probably wouldn't be a Leeds student and I almost certainly wouldn't be a Victoria student without it as both universities were chosen primarily for their riding with educational value the second priority.  As many more erudite and well-versed individuals have said over time (and if I were better read I would be able to quote someone here) our lives are the results of the many decisions we make on a daily basis.  I would go further and to say that not only are our lives the result of our own choices, but also the result of the choices made by those around us, as as ever it is our friends and those around us who determine many of the opportunities open to us.  I'm sure there could be some sociological study into the number of opportunities open to people and the relationship to the number of people they have contact with, although I'm sure this effect has diminished somewhat with the advent of the Internet which has undoubtedly provided many with previously unfathomable opportunities.

I digress; the thought that spawned this rambling was that of why I ride.  Sarah was telling me of how she was pushed to run when she was younger by her parents, and appreciated this, it made her run harder, train more and achieve things she may not have been able to achieve otherwise.  I however don't feel like I was ever pushed by my parents into doing anything, I can't say whether either parenting style is right or wrong, certainly Sarah is far more successful than me in her studies, and she has an incredibly bright future ahead of her.  I would like to think I have a lot of opportunities for my future too, although my academic life may be somewhat limited by my attitude towards work, my love of riding and my occasionally poor time management (for example, this week is the busiest of my year so far and here I am spouting a crudely constructed blog on the basis of an off hand thought I had a day previous).

The fact that my parents never pushed me into any one thing allowed me great freedom to do as I pleased as I grew up, flicking from rugby, cricket and athletics onto riding, having had a short spell of being fascinated by the saxophone (I still plan on learning to play the saxophone later in life, purely for my own pleasure) before sport took over completely.  If I'm honest the saxophone fascination was mostly due to one person who still plays a major part in my life; Sophie Dennis is my oldest and closest friend and a very talented musician who I wanted to impress (I'm sure she knows this so it should come as no surprise), however in doing this I discovered that although I have little musical talent I do have a real love of music.  My world is not complete without music and I forever have songs running through my head, but I feel something similar to Stephen Fry ('Moab is my Washpot' is well worth a read) in that I cannot replicate the sounds that reverberate around my mind, much to my frustration.

I loved all the sports I competed in, but found that my body held me back, almost as much as my mind.  When I found cycling thanks to my uncles and friend Morgan Jones I knew that this was what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.  I started off dreaming of being 'the next Steve Peat' although it would appear that the next Steve Peat is actually Steve Peat as he is still going strong and will hopefully continue to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.  It didn't take me too long to realise that my fitness allowed me to ride xc pretty well and that DH was prohibitively expensive, especially for someone living in the flat South of England.  For this reason and the Steve Peat link I have always felt that I should have grown up in the North.  This really comes out in my poor attempt at a Yorkshire accent, and even more so when I am in Yorkshire.  I apologise to any true Yorkshiremen, I don't mean any insult with my impersonations, it's merely a sign of admiration.

However even with my geographical limitation I continued to pursue the riding dream and I now find myself on the other side of the world with some of the most amazing riding around, a British National Championship race 9 weeks away (give or take) and glandular fever meaning that I can't train for it.  So I find myself questioning why I ride, why I have spent so much of my money on my bikes, why I have given up so much time to riding, neglecting my studies and friendships along the way.  I can't say it's for competition, I haven't won a race in over 2 years now and I can't see myself winning any any time soon (although coming close in local races in Wellington was lovely), yet I still continue riding and training (somewhat scrapily as work commitments get in the way more than I would like).

I gave a brief description of why I ride to Sarah, and it's an idea that's well formed in many people's minds and as such is well documented in cycling magazines, and I'm sure variants of it come from all sports people the world over.

The reason I ride is for that perfect moment.  It may only come around once a year, it may come around daily.  I could last for a fleeting second, or it may last for a whole ride.  However long and frequent it is, the memory remains.  The search for these moments is what gets me out of bed in the morning to ride, makes me brave the cold, wind and rain; has left me scared, broken and out of pocket, and what keeps me coming back every time wanting more.  I have always said when it's not fun anymore I'll stop, but I'm not sure what that will take, there's always hope that you will have the chance for another perfect moment.

These moments are indefinable, they can sneak up on you at any time; you just have to give them the opportunity to be there by getting out there on your bike and riding.  It could be a corner perfectly railed, shooting you out faster than you came in, the ripping sound as your tyres struggle for traction or the slop of mud.  It could be a climb nailed, getting to the top like you had wings.  It could come from all sorts of directions, it could even be a view that makes you stop and take note.  All of these things have happened to me since Christmas and the memory of them and the realisation that they will come again sends shivers down my spine.

I'm so hungry to experience them again, and I know I will.

I made a promise to myself and to Sian that I would take a couple of years out after uni to try my hand at my sport and see how far I can take it.  I feel that I owe it to myself to do this, even if I don't make it, if I can train hard for 2 years and get faster and experience more of these moments then it will be time well spent.  Others may not understand it, a lack of results or anything tangible to show for my time would frustrate many, and does frustrate me constantly, but all I have to do is remember these moments and I know why it's worth it.

I don't think I'm special in this feeling, I'm just grateful that I can appreciate it.  I look forward to ripping the trails up again, in the meantime I will continue to sift around.  If you see me riding slowly up a hill in Wellington, don't laugh at me or pity me; I'm out there on my bike pursuing these moments, you never know, I might rail past you on the next descent.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Learning the Art of Sifting

Sifting was a completely new concept when I came out to NZ, introduced to me by Dave Aldred (of NZMTB fame and general chilled froode) when he showed up to ride in baggies etc with me in my usual lycras.  Whenever I rode with people at home it was either on the road (lycra) or riding hard with racers off road.  Occasionally I would go for chilled rides with Steve, but even then there was always a jersey involved and a lot of sprinting after each other.  This is all well and good, but I have actually learnt to enjoy a chilled out, relatively slow ride, or sift in my time out here.  This is going to be quite a necessity if my body keeps on playing up the way it has been.

Another bout of illness saw me with a wicked fever last night having done a hard training session on Sunday which involved smashing myself around the Makara road loop for an hour at above race pace.  Or at least above the pace I would usually sustain for a 2hour race but would be aiming to hold/break for the nat champs at home.  This did see me stamping up the rolling roads out to Johnsonville and getting lose on the main descent, leading to me getting a little sideways as the back end stepped out on some gravel as I cut the apex of a hairpin at 45kph sending me onto the other side of the road.  Thankfully nothing was coming the other way.  I did ride slightly more cautiously, and restrained myself from overtaking the car that pulled out in front of me, although I maintain that my cornering speed was a lot greater than his.

Anyway, after this fun I got my recovery going, trying to look after myself (compression tights, recovery drink, chilling, not exposed to other people...) but still I managed to wake up Monday morning feeling like I had been hit by the mother of all man-flu's. Again.  Today though I feel a lot better, having slept for 37 hours in the last 48, although the fever last night didn't help matters; I always have fairly lucid dreams when I have fevers and I hate it.

On waking and walking to Uni this morning it would appear that Wellington had pulled out all the stops to provide us with a beautiful day; still conditions with fog lingering in the harbour and sun penetrating the mist.  By the end of the day (4pm) I couldn't resist a ride.  Sifting it was.

It wasn't a fast, hard, long or overly technical ride, but it was just what I needed.  The body coped and hopefully riding gently like that will actually help me overcome the illness rather than hinder my progress.  I just rode along Highbury Fling and down Transient, including the newly finished section of it allowing me to avoid the road.  It was great, sliding around the unsurfaced, muddy tracks, pumping to avoid pedaling, and just generally chilling out on the bike.  Hopefully I will be able to ride hard again soon and not have to worry about waking up ill again.  Maybe the doctor will be able to reveal something on Friday, all being well I will be able to get a blood test and find out what is up with me; just doesn't seem right going from being consistently healthy to being ill for most of the last 9 weeks.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Leaves on the Line (Further Delays Expected)

Having changed plans to cope with my first bout of illness at the start of this term, cutting my build period for National Champs to only 14 weeks (3 blocks and 2 taper weeks), which is reasonably ok, I will do all I can in that time and get myself as fast and fit as I can be.  So I have just about hit the first block (well I'm into the second week) but the first week was pretty much written off by field trip/illness.  Once again I found myself full of a cold, thankfully this time it was an actual cold (or atleast a cold that I was very used to) and it lasted only a week, so I'm back into full training.

The worst part of the cold was the timing, not for further delaying the training, but for the fact that it hit during my field class.  This field class was a week long trip to do Geophysical surveying around Ruapehu.  The weather was by and large, grim.  Raining and cold from the gun, culmintaing in snow on the penultimate day.  However for the last day it did clear to beautiful blue skies giving us our first views of the mountain (knowing there is a girt volcano a few km away but not being able to see it is a little sad).  My group definitely lucked out and ended up doing a gravity survey up the side of Ruapehu on the Tukino Skifield Road getting up to the snow line, checking out glacial valleys, boulder rolling, snowman making, snowbal fighting and a little bit of geophysicing.

So back to Wellington, recovered, writing rubbish and riding occasionally.  House is empty, feeling a little lonely, but atleast I have heating to cope with the bitter Southerly blowing through at the moment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Train Like Calum; A Comedy of Errors.

The question of 'Calum, how did you get so damn fast; I want to be like you!' has unfortunately never been posed (or at least not to me, maybe to other Calum's throughout the World) but if it did, the main gist of the answer would be to harden the f**k up.  This is advice I really should take myself, but since I managed to loose my Morvelo arm-warmers emblasoned with the letters ttfu ('Tighten The F*** Up') I seem to have forgotten. 

Today's ride was my first ride of a 'real' distance on a road bike for an awful long time.  However I say real in the loosest sense as 83km is by no means Earth shattering, and neither is the 2hours 44minutes it took me.  However I would like it to be known that this ride did include a good ~12km of unsealed road, and a series of errors on my part (hence the title). 

The ride was one I have been longing to do since I arrived in Wellington but slipped my mind until last week Stewie (mechanic at iRide; I should mention in passing that I no longer work there, university and training are taking over) went and rode most of it before I did.  This sharp reminder meant that I had to get out there and do this loop.  Now this ride isn't an amazing ride, it doesn't have Earth-shattering climbs (in fact it is mostly flat), nor does it have the blissful emptiness of some rides, but what it lacks in hills it makes up for in views. 

The loop taken can be seen below, the software used comes as part of the igotu gps kit which I have been using for a while now.  It's a really useful training tool, and pretty cheap!

Ride data from 13/04/11
The loop takes in the Hutt road followed by Petone front, out to Eastbourne and carrying on along the gravel road towards Pencarrow head before turning off onto the Wainouimata Coast road, back up to Wainoui, over the hill and back to Welly.

The ride started late (4pm, it's getting dark at 6pm now) having spent the morning spending money I don't have on luxuries, the middle of the day in class and then finally getting round to riding the bike.  As such I knew I would be hard pushed to get around the full loop and was planning to ride part way along the gravel before turning back.  However having hit the gravel and carried on riding hard with a tailwind it >35kph I felt like I should be able to make it all the way round.  This ambition was soon thwarted by my next mistake.  Riding hard with relatively low pressures soon saw me with a pinch flat in my front tyre.  Thankfully I had had the presence of mind to bring a spare tube with me and soon got myself going again.  But I found myself with a conundrum; to go on or go back?  I had taken a map with me, but in true 'errors' fashion my map did not include the small section or road I was sure I was on.  As such I was unsure of just where I was and whether it would be safer (less gravel) to go on or back.  Here the TTFU adage came to mind and on I rolled, a little slower and a little more cautiously albeit, but onwards nevertheless.

It ended up being the right decision as the remainder of the gravel road did not take too long, although it did get progressively thicker, and where it wasn't think there were some evil corrugations (think wash-board) to contend with.  The hill over to the Wainoui Coast road certainly wasn't easy either, the gravel and gradient combining to mean bottom gear and some mtb skills to get traction up there followed by some slow speed descending to avoid pinching again.

Once on the road I was in familiar territory though, having raced over this way in 2010 in my first race in the top group (and suffering like mad) at a PNP race.  So I knew that the rest of the ride was largely false flat with a headwind.  Suffer time.  Thankfully I felt reasonable and could keep tapping away at >32kph for the duration; life in the drops til the hill.  The hill being Wainoui hill, which I'm sure is a lot bigger from Wellington.  Grateful for this I spun up there, mindful of the fact that there was little shoulder, heavy traffic and steadily darkening skies.  On went the USE lights to blind any unwary drivers (dipped so as not to cause too many issues) and provide slightly more safety for me.

At the top I stopped to take a photo of 'the pretty lights', but my hands are not tri-pod steady and nothing really came out, leaving me slightly frustrated, but warm inside knowing that I was one of few people that gets that view from the bike along with the prior views of the South Island a views across to Wellington from the gravel. 

Descending was a bit hairy, I'm not a fan of that road at the best of times, let alone in the dark.  This was not helped by the wind which whipped my contact out of my eye (first time it has ever happened!) meaning I had no depth perception, making seeing objects that could cause a high speed crash difficult to say the least.  I ended up taking the last bit of it with one eye closed before taking out my remaining contact.  My mind is used to coping with both eyes being ruined, not just one.  As such I spent the rest of the ride without much vision.  Fun.

The ride along the Hutt

So the moral of this ride is:  take more tubes, TTFU, and just enjoy riding your bike!  Looking forward to training properly after my field trip next week.