Saturday, 31 December 2016


It's been quite a year. So many people have had very hard times, we have lost big celebratory names, political turmoil has surprised many, and it seems folk are just wanting the year to end, and 2017 to start.

I'm just grateful. I am eternally grateful to have a job that pays well enough to fund an expensive cycling hobby, never mind also pay the mortgage, insurance, and increasing food bills.

I am grateful to have a comfy bed, warmth, running clean tap water, the ability to choose what I put on my plate and the luxury of portions that can be as big as I would like them to be.

I am grateful to wake up every day and know I have the most amazing supportive partner who tolerates the chaos that follows me everywhere, the fact I break pretty much everything I touch and the huge amounts of time spent riding and working away from home. He fixes my bikes, he looks after me like an angel, and he never criticizes or puts me down.

I am grateful for my broken arm back in March, and the ease with which it healed, how supportive work were during the time I couldn't drive, and for the amazing staff at Gloucester A&E. I am grateful for finding a love for running during my time off the bike, and I am grateful to have continued the long distance cycling during the rehab period thanks to so very wonderful tandem partners.

I am even grateful for the weeks and weeks of post-viral fatigue which hit in October and dragged on until Mid December, resetting my goals and breaking the 'must keep putting in the miles' rut which had formed deep from three years of Audax.

I am grateful for the amazing friendships that have continued during 2016, and those new ones which have formed.

It's been wonderful seeing a 'tongue in cheek' weekly 'Average Joes' social ride take on a life of it's own, and a fantastic group of like-minded riders come together and pull each other along without any pressure or ego.

It's been effortless keeping the group together, either on rides themselves, or through social media, as it's own synergism acts as the glue to bind it.

I am grateful for the massive variation in places I have ridden, from sea to hills

Urban cycleroutes to farmers fields

Through the summer heat and the winter cold. 

Mostly I am grateful to wake up every morning and know there is another day to be lived, another day without fear of oppression, hunger, conflict or poverty.

It may not always be this way. We need to appreciate every minute of every day and remember that, when the challenges come along, those first world problems of ours, it's our perspective that dictates our response.

2017 will be what it will be, but there are no plans. There will be no 'box ticking'. Work will be done, because it must be done. Rides, however, will be for experience and adventure.

No obligatory events. No more tick tick tick of clocks marring the appreciation of the moment. No more miles-for-miles-sake. Quality routes, multi-day trips and, of course, wonderful social rides with friends.

Friday, 25 November 2016

A Day with Legendary Tony Doyle

There is, in some ways, so much to say about the incredible Tony Doyle and his coaching methods, but, in fact, it is not for me to put them in writing. They work, in part, through his delivery, his outstanding ability to read people and immediately identify their physical and mental issues, and because, for the first session, you don't know what you are getting. Therefore you go with the flow and learn naturally, without any preconceived ideas. 

I can say, however, he is a true coaching genius. 

A few weeks ago I visited UK Bike Skills again with my riding buddy Other-Jo. We had booked the session on my encouragement as I knew Tony would bring the best out in her riding. Jo is a great rider, very competent and confident on our steep Malvern trails. It's very inspiring to have someone to ride with who has such a laid-back attitude to survival on steep loam. Seeing her confidence has given me the desire to push my limits on the off-piste trails I had spent much time avoiding. 

However, Jo was not as confident in the air, and knew her issues related to being in a protected position off the back of the bike. Despite practice, she was failing to correct the habit. 

I had been there myself, many moons ago, and Tony had helped cure the issue. I had absolute faith he would do the same for her. 

And he did. Just look at this perfect drop position. That is one radcore chick. 

By the end of the day, Jo felt confident to give the gap jump a try. This is truely an amazing turnaround in such a short space of time.

Tony's calm and collected coaching, combined with his ability to give people space to make their own decisions about their limits, is fascinating to watch from the sidelines. I want to tell you more, but it would compare to a plot spoiler of a film. Some things you have to experience yourself.

So I guess to me. Why was I there? To be honest, I just wanted a fun day out, to see Other-Jo go through the coaching, and pick up whatever I could as a refresher session. I had no expectations and explained to Tony I wasn't the rider I once was, lacking enthusiasm for speed and big features. It wasn't a fear thing, I guess I had been kidding myself I was happy to just sit at the back and guide everyone else around. Although, on a good day, I can still jump a bit and I'm alright on drops, it'll felt like my glass ceiling was reached long ago. I've tried endlessly to overcome my inability to really pop the front wheel up with any considerable height, and I had never really been comfortable doing larger jumps on the trail bike compared to hitting stuff at speed on a downhill bike. I had kind of reached a 'well, this is good enough' place.

Thus I planned to sit back, watch Tony work his magic on Jo, and soak up whatever I could from it.

In his own relaxed Zen-like way, Tony was having none of it. Next thing I know, I'm popping my front wheel up on logs and remembering why he turned me from a beginner-with-bad-habits to an intermediate rider in the space of about 20 minutes, all those years ago. This was my third, or maybe fourth, session with Tony, and yet again, I came away with renewed confidence and enthusiasm to push my boundaries.

With no expectations, I found myself really enjoying the session and getting airbourne, thanks to technique rather than speed. All those months of worrying about bike set up (is the rebound too slow? are my tyres too soft?) suddenly, gone. It's not the's the rider. Tony sure knows how to find the best rider in me. 

Thanks to Other-Jo for this great multiburst shot.

The weeks following the session is where the work really begins. Other-Jo is going to have the frustrating phase of waiting for it to click. Of constantly realising when things aren't quite right, and the conscious brain registering it. However, I think 'overthinking' is part of the process. I remember my earlier sessions with Tony and there was an awful lot of that for a good few months after. Like he was sat there, on my shoulder, loudly reminding me of what I needed to do and when I needed to have done it. Until, suddenly, a few months later, I was just doing it. I was just getting those drops right, my footwork had become perfect and it was all becoming second nature.

For me, this time, I don't have the overthinking thing. I guess the session brought back to the fore understanding that was already ingrained, I had just covered it over with excuses about being too old or not caring that much. Tony is still there in the background of my head however, quietly indicating when I need to make adjustments in technique, be those physical or mental. The few rides since, I am just so much happier to be on the bike.

Ultimately, that's all that matters.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Running out of Wax

This blog almost started with another 'it's been a pretty manic few weeks', but in fact, it's always manic. That is my life. Squeezing in as many exciting experiences around a busy reactive work industry, and burning the candle at both ends. Funnily enough, although it often gets close, I never seem to completely run out of wax.

Writing here is often enlightening and a reminder of just how many places and adventures I am blessed to take part in, and this blog is mainly focused on cycling. There is more to life than bikes, and get to travel all over the country for work, and have interests beyond two wheels. I see beautiful views from the places I survey and always try to get photos of them:

Then there is time to spend with Sophie-of-Fee, when she decides to pay me attention......not at this time though. Oh no, this was time for breakfast to get all the attention. Blind as a bat, deaf as a post, but fully aware of any situation that involves food. She may be a geriatric old bird, but she is definitely, 100%, still in possession of all her marbles.

There are books to read, friends to meet, I have just started a journey to regain some basic musical ability. Trips are being planned, maps are to be poured over. Mostly, every waking minute of a day is taken up, unless I make the decision to stop and stare.

Blogging slows down time, for when you start to recount a few weeks, you realise just how many beautiful moments have passed. If you extrapolate that to a year, 'On my, it's nearly Christmas already' morphs into 'I can't believe just how much has gone on since last Christmas, has all this really happened in one year?'.

Life live to the full if you want it to feel like a long one. Absolute time is irrelevant, it's our perception of time that matters.

Here's a compendium of riding stories from the last few weeks, starting with an overnight bivvy to the Forest of Dean. It probably deserved a blog entry of it's own, for there was a whole load of adventuring, with 150 km criss-crossing of Herefordshire, on bridleway, riverside tracks, technical trails, lanes, disused railways, bridges, and historic dykes, all under the increasingly orange canopy of autumn.

The Saturday was a drizzly grey day, completely at odds with the forecast, but we didn't mind. Everyone was well prepared, loaded up and just out to have a good time.

And what a lovely time it was, with plenty of tea stops, a pub visit, many photos taken and lots of laughs. The bikes kept in view as we drunk tea in a bus shelter. 

Steve had borrowed all my soft luggage and I ran panniers. Nick too was bike-packed, modern dry bag fashion. Most respect went to Del and his outstandingly heavy load, with tent, mats, front and rear panniers and general luggage making for a bike that could barely be lifted. How he kept it moving uphill I'll never know, but he did, and with quite a pace. 

The bivvy spot was great, hidden away far enough from the main tourist tracks for the four of us to be undisturbed. We settled into an evening of torch-lit card playing in the ridiculously warm October air, and packed up at 9 the next morning.

There was even sparklers (yes, of course, no trace was left)

The next day we lost Del from the trip, and Nick, Steve and I continued with the loop, adding in the odd technical section. I did what I could with the panniers on, although I admit the handling was shocking with absolutely no weight distribution to the front of the bike.

However, it is a rewarding challenge and I really enjoyed it. Nick and Steve we flying with the soft luggage, even with the weight of the sleep kit, and I can see that I will need to run a similar set-up on any kind of future journey with these guys. They just can't help themselves when they see something mad to ride....

I'm happy with panniers myself, trundling along on solo tours and down rocky doubletrack, but if we are talking about steep off-piste singletrack with drops, a more balanced set up is the way. It was fantastic to see Steve loving his first bike-bivvy experience, and no doubt next year he'll have a soft-luggage set of his own.

Plus a better sleep kit, for he used some of my spares, including the awful slippy Thermarest, a cheap £12 plastic bivvy bag and his own heavy sleeping bag. Despite a night of no sleep and some gawd darned awful road climbs he was still happy at the end of the weekend.

Ok, maybe not happy after one particularly nasty road climb!

We finished on the bridleways close to home, touring past the sandy MX track of Bromsberrow, one of Steve's favourite places to race, and a very different place when it is full of noisy engines, vans, shouting and the smell of two-stroke. 

Further on we offered to show Nick the remote controlled car track, and found an event underway, and, coincidentally, a riding friend involved. He explained the technology as we watched the massively expensive mini-machines racing around like bluebottles. The track is hidden beyond the asparagus fields of Bromsberrow; wave after wave of yellowing ferns, a massive cash crop for just a few months a year. 

The last miles were across our own hills, seeing the dusk close in, and smiling our way down a steep loamy descent back to the cars. It really was a stunning weekend. 

Oh, and did I tell you there was donkeys? 

Moving into November, the weather finally turned, the temperatures fell and the evening night rides have become very chilly. Our small group of Tuesday riders, and the Thursday socials are still heading out and about, lighting up the hills and making the most of the week days. 

Sometimes those short rides really do turn into mini adventures, with hike-a-bike and hidden secret stuff away from the hills themselves. 

We aren't the only ones who ride all year, and often we cross paths with the other big groups, and occasionally intermix, even having lost riders unintentionally in the muddle, before reconvening at the pub.

And so to the roadie. It's a love-hate relationship. My first two years of road riding involved many many 1000s of kilometers of lanes, and I found the whole thing a massive adventure. Now, with the luggage carrying hardtail MTB at my disposal, I find the road bike often feels restrictive, penning me to the tarmac. Audaxing amplifies this, by confining me to a particular time and distance. Length, width, direction and even the clock, like a Bermuda triangle from which I can't escape. 

I am not good with restrictions. 

However, there was just one 200 km ride to finish the Randonneur Round the Year, and one massively overdue visit to Mum's was required. Two birds, one stone, and a hilly-flat-hilly Herefordshire-Severn Plain-Cotswold tour took me over 200 km to the comfort of a warm bath and overnight stay. In the end, I really enjoyed the day.  It was a tough 205 km, with a shockingly cold and lazy North Wind, intermittent sunshine, crunchy dry leaves falling and dancing across the lanes. 

The last twenty 20 km involved a plummet from 200 meters to 50 m, and then a long drag culminating in a 20%+ section to get back up to 300 meters elevation, before loosing it all again in a fabulous descent to Dursley. It was tough, I am out of practice on the roadie and I very, ever so nearly, stopped to walk. But I didn't, and with a real sense of fulfillment, I watched the final few minutes of sunset knowing the RRTY was complete. 

It feels like a big achievement this time. What with a broken arm in March, burnout later, and the loss of love for the road, I've had to work hard to stick at it in 2016. Third consecutive year. Done.

Sunday was a lovely day too. After a lazy start, being fed copious amounts of breakfast and drinking much tea, it was time to head home. Home into a Northerly and with empty legs. 

I had forced a bonk toward the end of the 200, to trigger some fat burning and remind my body what energy reserves are for. It seemed all the toast in the world wouldn't replenish those stores (in fact it was a bit of a cold virus which left me aching and sniffling the next day) and the 75 km home took a very long time. Long, but enjoyable, with coffee stops, photos, and a fair deal of off-road-on-road-biking. 

I just love the canals. 

That day, that Sunday, I loved my roadie again.