Monday, 27 June 2011

chasing the sun

We have a bit of a boring propensity to talk about the weather in these parts but hang in there for just a minute. This year has proven more of a conversation piece than usual. There is drought in the South East of England while up here we enjoyed 250% of the average rainfall in May. The most since records began in 1910. And no doubt June will look pretty similar. The solstice has already past and we've yet to complete a ride without the aid of a gilet, arm warmers, rain-jacket or some combo of the three. It’s enough to bring on the Celtic melancholy.

So with more rain forecast in the city at the weekend, cyclesguff set off in search of some sun. We have a favoured route that takes us out of Abington to Crawfordjohn then south and returning through the Mennock Pass with a spicy detour to the top of Lowther Hill. We escaped a rainy Glasgow and sped south on a promise of much anticipated sun. Not even road works at Happendon could dent our spirits, though the delay did mean we had to take more time for a bite to eat.

Finally on our way the run into Crawfordjohn is a road of delights. Rolling, traffic free and good quality surface though we were conscious of a gathering headwind. The road south proved more of a challenge with turns shared at the front to protect against the southerly blast. Our teeth to the wind in marked contrast to our usual fast run to the turn at Sanqhuar.
Beyond Mennock comes the delight of one of the longest climbs in Scotland. At 9 miles with 6 to Wanlockhead and 3 more on Lowther Hill it is the closest we've got to those European mountain climbs. The Mennock Pass never rests on a consistent gradient as it gains 300m to Wanlockhead. 

You may remember that we set off in search of some sun and still out of luck we took the turn to Lowther Hill. The sun wasn't up there either.

It is a private road to the radar station and we were left in little doubt of this fact. A barrier with extensions to the sides is an attempt to minimise any possibility of getting past. Luckily we have skinny tyres so we slipped through and found 10, yes 10 padlocks on the barrier. No we don’t understand either, other than maybe there was a problem in the past with crafty lock-picking joy-riders. In the next 3 miles there is 300m to gain as the road snakes south then switches back and up in 10-13% ramps.

The Low cloud swathed us in an eerie cocoon of mist and obscured the golf ball of the radar on the summit. It wasn't too cold but with no view to speak of we were not for hanging round. Wrapped in extra layers and with only minimal visibility we made a slippery descent to the main road before picking up pace through Leadhills. For a change we took a left off the B797 signposted for Crawfordjohn. From the road below, the climb looks quite intimidating but it is no more than a few hundred metres and then you can just about freewheel to Crawfordjohn. On the top there was the chance to enjoy some hilly rolling scenery before the final turns to Abington and a total of 74km (46miles) with 1050m ascent.
Even without the elusive sun we declared ourselves satisfied with a challenging away day and licked our lips at the prospect of more.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Virtual tinkering

Well folks, it's another crap day in the Blane Valley. It was almost pointless drying off after taking the kids to the pool, what is going on with this weather?  At least the weather provided time to break out the virtual markers and start playing with the gBike or should that be guffBike? 

guffBike started life as the Rhino BMX above and has resulted in what you see below. This is the first colour test - a virtual spray of laquer over the chrome frame, don't you just love photoshop? I've used a considerable number of packages over the years during various stages of product development. The one that gives me the most joy is photoshop. Solidworks, From-Z, electric image (remember that?) are all fantastic tools, but there is quality in photoshop that is pure magic. My five year old daugther even enjoys it and ends up being more fun than most of the kid's paint apps available to download from your local istore. Anyway, back to the the colours. These are inspired by the cover of the The Rider, by Tim Krabbe. 

The Rider was introduced to me by Routemaster General and is everything he said. Rarely does a book provide such an emotional account of racing a bike. A post is long overdue on cycling books. There are members of cyclesguff that are far more eloquent than me and have of library of cycling books that would challenge my entire stock. I did recieve a copy of 'A Dog in a hat' the other day - thankfully there are pictures in the middle.

The discs are Mooneyes and pay homage to those fab SoCal machines and Bonneville beauties. 

The brakes require a strip and rebuild and the wheels could do with a check. There is a tange 1" headset somewhere in the garage, this should fit without any issues. I'm changing the headset due to the original bike being fitted with a gyro and what's left of the headset is not worth the risk of something going bang. Other than that there isn't much to it. Once it's tested and all dialled in the strip down and repaint will start. A few more colour ways will be explored prior to then.  All going well, guffBike will be up the hill and freewheeling down this week. Oh, I'll have to look out the leathers and moto helmet prior to any gravity antics.

Stay upright

cycling conundrum number one

to shave or not to shave?

It is a perennial question and one that, in my experience seems to excite British people, in a pervy kind of way, quite a bit. Far more than anyone I’ve met in France. Maybe because more people ride a bike and so more (men)folk shave their legs and it doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary. And as many have observed before French people seem a bit more at ease in their own bodies than us more up tight Scots and Brits.

In answering the question I suppose we should debunk a few myths and pretences. It doesn’t make you go faster, if so why so many stubbly chins in the peloton? Though I have heard that some Australian riders have taken to shaving their arms. Even some rugby players are in on the act.

A masseuse once told me that it is easier to massage shaven legs. Great, but in all my time cycling I have had at most 5 leg massages from someone else. I have pressed my thumbs in my calves fairly regularly though can't speak with any certainty on the with or without hair question. But that may be down to technique or the lack of it.

I’m not sure about the idea that road rash is easier to clean when your legs are shaved. Surely hairs just grow back through the wound? I can’t help thinking that you have to be going pretty well on the bike to get away with it. For all those doubts I am sure that your legs look quite magnificent when shaved, sculpted even, muscles flexing beautifully showing each sinuous effort of the pedal stroke and even more so if you have a wee bit of a tan.
Another question remains unanswered though, whether you use depilatory cream, wet or electric; where do you stop?

Some help from David Millar in today’s Observer
‘I shave my legs twice a week. It’s hard the first time you do it. But I’m very lazy. For a team photo in December I just did the fronts.’

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Weight weenies look away

Riding bikes has cost me money, lots of money. The money spent to lose a few grams, rotational mass and even the lid on my head is seen by some (wife) as ridiculous. No doubt, this is yet another classic example of the law of diminishing returns. After all, when the mtb is covered in mud, I don't rush to the nearest river and wash it off. I'm quite happy to start a long climb with two bottles and a days worth of food in my back pockets when out on the road. I'm definately not alone on this one, a light bike, trimmed to the bone and bristling with loveliness is a thing of beauty. A bike that's been specced with an eye for the details and put together through a process of care and tinkering is simply a treat. 

I have a few mates into hi-fi (or audiophiles if we must) who swear by cables and such like that cost £100's per sq metre and upon the all important audition I do my best to notice the difference. Truth be told - I can't, but I do enjoy the sense of satisfaction and tinkering that goes on when setting up a hi-fi. The parallels are there with bikes....why spend money on cable when you could buy more music - why buy another pair of wheels when you could go away for a week in the Alps? And it's not just a bloke thing!

Today has been one of tinkering, the Turner Sultan is finally behaving itself. The problem was terrible chain slip and after hours attempting to set it up I finally came to the conclusion that the chainrings where worn. Thankfully the local bike shop, aka Bryan came to the rescue, thanks mate. In the mood for more tinkering and with an hour to spare I decided to have a look at another project that's been lurking in the garage for a few weeks. This latest project looks lovely and cute sitting next to the big wheeled brethren. The project is definately a touch on the porky side and I'm pretty happy about that. You see, gBike will be apperaing on a descent sometime soon, in the interim the following pic will have to do.

I don't really need any more projects, but this was too good an opportunity to turn down and to make it even better I'm part owner. The other 50% belongs to an audiophile - hot rodder and all round tinkerer. The bike used to belong to his stepson, God only knows what Callum is going to make of it when he sees it. Now, Callum is a smart young man and I'm looking forward to testing him and asking whether the gBike should be light to assist with initial acceleration or should I increase the mass to keep the momentum. Now I already know the answer, it's simple, spend money finding out. Don't even get me started on the aero package.

Stay upright

Thursday, 23 June 2011

I can see blue

Wow, a break in the weather and about bloody time!  The pic wasn't taken on the Summer Solstice, the weather was truly awful. I live at the foot of a famous climb (by local standards) and watched a few brave souls mixing it with the torrential rain on the Solstice. Did I feel guilty, holding my cup of tea watching them go by? In short, no.

Anyway, back to the photo. Location: Just off the West Highland Way, looking out towards Ben Lomond. This is a favourite spot of mine and a photo is taken every time I'm passing. I do my best to set the shot at the same point. The bottom pic is from the depths of winter -5c and the trail is ice. What I would do to see a sky that blue at this time of year. 

The bike of choice was the Gary Fisher Rig 29er SSSS (single speed summer solstice) and is just the ticket for those flowing lines of the West Highland Way and trails close by. It was my first time on the 29er in weeks and my form is not at its best. Hopefully the next few days will offer some time to go out and work on the cycling tan.

Stay upright

Monday, 20 June 2011

The sun is shining

So, what does the summer solstice mean to you? I’m sure cyclists around the globe have plans and ambitions to enjoy the longest day. With this in mind, please send your pics and cyclesguff will upload and share.

My plan is to join a few riders embarking on a trip along the West Highland Way and camping out on Conic Hill. Unfortunately I won't be able to join them for the camping due to a major move at work tomorrow, now that might be the longest day.....

Stay upright

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The yellow is almost upon us...

I recall a time when anything to do with the Tour de France or cycling in general was hard to come by. The only tonic was a trip to the newsagent. The 'scage at the mags' as it used to be known was a quick look at custom cars (you probably know why), NME and if my mates weren't looking, The Face. 

I happened to find myself in town yesterday walking into W H Smiths. I enjoy these 20-30mins of indulgence and my path through the mags is a well-travelled cornucopia of delights. Such is the market driven world that we live in, my restless quest for more info and ‘must haves’ is always on the up. This is where the challenge begins. With limited time (and reluctance to buy) what do you choose? For cycling it used to be the comic, nothing other than good old Cycling Weekly, the classic, the PR of mags. However, for a number of years it did have the reputation for being too dry and self important. It is now struggling to have the impact and star studded content that the big players have in abundance; the varnish gloss of Pro-cycling’s back cover, the free DVD included with the 2011 TDF guide, the Pro-riders review of yet another >10k hyperbike. The challengers continue to attack.

The MTB mag scene has also exploded. The mtb version of Rouler, Privateer is enjoying rave reviews. Poor old Singletrack may suffer the same fate as MTB-UK-stickers don’t make the mag! We want impartial content, the fresher the better. This then brings me to the web, pdf downloads from the ride journal, a quick look at bikerumour, pinkbike and other esoteric delights and insights can be had for free. So, where does this leave Cycling Weekly? Well folks, in my opinion it’s in yellow from the prologue. No other mag can provide the level of content (‘weekly’ must have something to do with it) and the Brit contingent in this year’s event will no doubt provide some exclusives and gems. And, let’s not forget a little escape to scage the mags, the feel of the paper and the even nod to the chap standing next to you reading the same mag is one of lifes little treats.

Monday, 13 June 2011

wiggo this time round?

In the Criterium de Dauphine last week Bradley Wiggins made an impressive show of himself. He took the lead in the time trial and defended all the way to the finish over some pretty serious lumps including the Glandon/Croix de Fer and La Toussuire.
Kind of makes you wonder what he can do in the Tour de France and could even be convinced that he might just be the first British rider on the podium*. Only one way to find out...

*Clean podium that is, not retrospectively after riders have been banned and their places given up. That would be a mess.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Contador Wins 2011 TDF

The question was posed recently on the VCDL podcast of whether it would be fair to strip Bert of his Giro win and one, probably two, TDF wins, having been seen to win the latter two cleanly. Certainly, I don't think he is daft enough to be doping now, whilst an investigation rumbles ineptly on. He will have been subject to rigorous doping controls and still he makes light of the toughest mountain stages.

But the crux of the matter for me is whether Contador should be punished for a positive doping control or punished for the excruciating ineptitude of the UCI. If they have reason to suspect that his exoneration by the RFEC was unwarranted and that he should serve a suspension then they should bloody well get on with it instead of making a mockery of the sport by allowing him to do pretty much whetever he damn well pleases, whilst the UCI, without irony, can come to a decision in their own sweet time and apply a retrospective ban.

It is an injustice beyond words that this can happen and I believe that if he is allowed to race, which he has been, and can prove that he is doing so cleanly, which he has done, then he should retain the fruits of his efforts. The UCI, WADA and all the other governing bodies need to get their collective heads out their arses and get this nonsense sorted. So they've decided to have the hearing in August? Give me a break.

Forget dopers and cheats, the UCI are the biggest criminals in our sport.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

creatures of habit

It is one of our many human qualities that, having found something we like we stick with it. A foible no doubt exploited by those in marketing or sales who find ever more sophisticated ways to persuade us to stick with the brand.

So it is with the cyclesguff choice of routes. Though we have built up a repertoire of options over the years we tend to stick to a set 2 or 3 routes. Not always through a lack of imagination since we are blessed with a prevailing Westerly in these parts that influences the way we return home, wind at our backs.

This weekend would have been no different had it not been necessary to accommodate a family gathering on Saturday and a blustery Easterly that has been around of late. Some creative thinking and the aid of a map (beautiful things surely?) provided a chance to do part of the route in reverse and try out some new roads that we usually pass-by. Sunday was a straight reverse route but it too offered up something new.

Well ridden roads where we know every nook, corner and pothole offered new delights and previously unseen glimpses of buildings and vistas that had been hidden behind fences and hedges or left in our wake as we passed in the opposite direction.

Familiar and strange at the same time, the shape of the route, the curves and hills that we had taken for granted now required a different pedalling effort and position. It makes for new insights and appreciation of what we put on the road all those other days without really thinking about it.