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A motley crowd…

When you put 300 seasoned cyclists in one place with their bikes, you are going to meet all shades of the cycling spectrum. From cool sleek carbon frames to ‘sit-up-and-begs’ with electrical assist….it is all there.

There are three-wheeled recumbents, two-wheeled semi-recumbents, a tandem trike that has been customized according to the owners wishes, conventional tandems, and solo bikes that have been specially adapted to the owner’s physical condition.

Take a glance around one of the two bike storage rooms and you are looking at most of the possible permutations that can be applied to the cycling machine.

Today’s route took us down to Haughton, Gnossal and Norbury Junction, the point at which two canals cross each other. And two excellent cafés en route…..what other reason is there for riding a bike?

The imperium of titanium

About three years ago, I cycled the 75 miles (120km) over to Hunstanton on the north Norfolk coast, pitched my tent in a small campsite, and headed over to a bike shop with the unusual name of Fat Birds don’t Fly. Believed to be the largest retailer of titanium bikes in Europe, it’s the premier place to spend a day trialling a variety of different models.

At the time, I was merely toying with the idea of acquiring a titanium bike, but I spent the best part of a whole day trialling at least five different models, all of which were carefully set up to my requirements. Although I hadn’t firmly resolved to pitch in for a new bike at the time, I certainly came away with a clear idea of what to expect from titanium, and like many important purchases, I put the idea on the back burner…….until three years later…….

My habitual road bike had done about 40,000 miles of faithful service, and bits were wearing out on a regular basis, so I re-visited the idea of replacing it with a titanium model, but wasn’t ready to shell out about £3000 for a new bike. IMG_20170825_120620724My subsequent foray into the second hand market took me down to Royston, and I found myself a more-than-decent Litespeed Siena, kitted out with some reasonable accessories, including Ultegra brakes and gears, and the first ride turned out to be ‘love at first flight’. Though a smaller frame than I am used to, with steeper angles and a shorter wheelbase, the feel is light (2kg lighter than the old bike) and springy…..and I find my average speed has increased by at least 2kph.

The additional benefit was that it came with a spare set of wheels, just what I needed to replace the disintegrating wheels on my old bike. So it looks like following the usual tradition of roadies and having a ‘best bike’ for the summer months, and an ‘old hack’ for the winter. Not sure I approve of this unbridled multiplication of bikes in the garage……IMG_20170826_170746147_HDR

Increase your annual mileage

Cut your food shopping bills…….become a mile-eater! Or, perhaps more accurately, cut your fuel bills by driving less. Now, this is a dream that many have, but the reality is frequently out of reach. The fact is, we have all developed lifestyles that fundamentally depend on access to a car. But can we do anything to reverse that trend?

Over the last few years, my annual cycling mileage has increased significantly. Now most of that is down to an indisputable truth: I enjoy a privileged state of retirement, which means I don’t have a job and, therefore, have more time to pursue things like ‘annual mileages’. What (you may say) has that got to do with the average Joe, who invariably has a job or business, and may even have the responsibility of a family to boot? Good question……

Commuting to workWhen I did have a job, because I lived only 1 mile from my place of work, my commuting rides only added about 400 miles to my annual total. Now, I’m not complaining about proximity here, I’m just stating a fact of life. If my commute, on the other hand, had been 10 miles each way, this might have been 4000 miles. But then (and here I surmise) I may have been less tempted to add leisure miles at the weekend, which is where the bulk of my mileage came from during my own working years.

Now, I know a lot of roadies out there are always looking for ways to increase their annual mileages, sometimes just for the heck of it, sometimes as the base training for the racing season, or sometimes to challenge clubmates or even pit themselves against cycling heroes via the plethora of ‘Strava Annual Distance’ award schemes that exist.

But how do you increase your annual mileage? Is it simply a question of spending more hours on the bike (hours which are frequently in short supply)? Or are there a few tricks of the trade? Things that might be viewed as clever cycling ‘prestidigitation’ that can creep into

Image courtesy Endless Cycles

Image courtesy Endless Cycles

the routine almost by ‘sleight of hand’, and not starve the already time-poor?

I am no sports scientist, nor even an expert in the world of cycling. I class myself as a ‘keen enthusiast’ who has simply learned a thing or two during more than 36 years of spinning cranks ‘in anger’. And why not share some of my findings with the information-hungry masses……well, at least a tiny percentage of the few that stumble into these pages.

What I have to share will be a mixture of personal practice and, sometimes, amusing reflections on the antics of fellow-roadies that may stir some to make comment, for better or worse. Roadies are a diverse bunch of characters. We have our little foibles, our routines and our strongly held opinions. There are frequently no right answers to prevailing cycling issues, but we love to engage in debate (even argument) about which is the best bike, the best way to record rides, ideal tyre pressures, how many spares of anything you should carry…..in fact, the list is endless.

If you’ve read thus far, you may just be interested enough to stay tuned over the next several posts, none of which will require any level of reading stamina……….(did I hear you mutter “thank goodness for that…this post has already outlasted its welcome”!).

Amen, I say to that.

An N.E.C. encounter……

A major reason for going to any major product exhibition is usually to view the width and breadth of the product range, and to update yourself on the latest developments.

Our visit to the N.E.C. Cycle Show today saw us walk into a huge arena of hundreds of exhibitors, displaying everything from bicycle hubs and bearings to complete custom-builds costing £thousands.

Absorbing and distracting? Yes, absolutely………but we only spent imaginary money as we hovered around the stands, especially as I found my attention locking onto some of the titanium offerings from Kinesis and Van Nicholas. All very tempting…..

Van Nicholas Yukon

Van Nicholas Yukon

Kinesis Racelight Grand Fondo

Kinesis Racelight Grand Fondo

But behind the scenes, there were stories to listen to. On a stage in the corner of the hall, we heard first hand of the experiences of some of the riders in the recent Tour of Britain, both old hands and young ‘rookies’.

There was a technical session on how women can make the cycling experience more comfortable for themselves……but astonishingly, about a third of the audience were men (including me!…….but then I was only accompanying my wife….).

The most absorbing session, for me personally, was to listen to the inspiring story of James Golding. At the age of 28, he was diagnosed with cancer and, at one stage of his treatment, was given only a 5% chance of survival. His weight plummeted from 14 stones to 6 stones, and his treatment was long and painful. I won’t try to tell the story of the cycling endurance records he has attempted to break (and will break in the future) because you can read about them for yourself here, but he is a truly remarkable character. Not only is he a survivor of cancer (twice), but he has risen above his fear of death to push his body to the limits of endurance in pursuit of huge goals, and has raised in excess of £2m for cancer research.

In 2015, he hopes to set a new 7 day record, cycling in excess of 1,547 miles. And then to tackle the Round-the-World record of 108 days, riding in excess of 18,000 miles. As an endurance cyclist with much humbler goals, I was delighted to meet this man and listen to his story.

With James Golding

With James Golding

Aspirations to be a ‘bent rider?

You might ask…..what brings a cyclist and a non-cyclist together……and for them eventually to get married? Well, it’s obvious that other points of attraction expanded the equation and, anyway, I had decided that I was going to teach my new wife the ‘simple art’ of balancing on two wheels…….or so I thought. Thirty seven years later, well……… she still can’t balance on two wheels…..so where did I go wrong?

Ah yes…..I nearly forgot…….we found alternative forms of bicycling transport……..you know, tandems and adult trikes. Doing this, perhaps, let her off the hook, even made her a little blasé about the importance of learning the skill. But once you introduce the idea of “Well it doesn’t really matter…..after all, we can look for an adult trike……or even check out the market for a tandem”, then there is no way of backtracking and renewing the resolve.

When we bought our current house, 34 years ago, there was an American adult trike in the garage going with the house. I like to joke that we took out a mortgage on the first trike, and added the house to it……. But now, in 2014, and two further trikes later, Jenny’s thoughts are turning towards something with a bit more comfort and efficiency. Her current trike started its life as a bicycle, and was converted into a trike using a conversion kit. Very clever and very serviceable, but it makes for a heavy, cumbersome machine.

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I think she’s enjoying herself……

So………we went a-hunting one day recently, and ended up at D-Tek in Little Thetford, a one-man business that eschews the internet, and which deals only in alternative bicycles……. mainly recumbents (more succinctly known as “bents” amongst enthusiasts). And here she is trying out the first of two machines, and the second even more laid back than the first.20140725_153013_Android

During the test ride of the latter, I jumped into (onto?) the former, and off we went together cruising the local estates, riding beneath radar detection. A very cool experience.

The decision to buy one will, undoubtedly, be a lengthy one. You’d be surprised at how many different makes and styles are on offer from across the world. And I’m sure that all, or nearly all, will have to be checked out.

The nine month pregnancy……..

Ah, the gestation period of the child in the womb….. nine months, give or take a week or two. Even the most impatient expectant parent would not dispute that those nine months are worth the wait.

In that period of time you could also grow 4.5 inches (120mm) of hair, watch the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy 532 times, or cycle the length of the equator doing 92 miles (148 kms) per day.

Now, did you know that the gestation period of a bespoke bicycle can also take nine months? Well, to be honest, many bespoke bicycles take much, much longer than that. I have heard of two and three year waiting lists.CIMG9696

The broken bicycle I nearly dumped in Melbourne, Australia, nine months ago, has finally found its replacement. The gestation period included my somewhat lengthy search for a frame-builder, the four months it took for my frame to enter Dave Yates’ “to do list” and be built, and the remaining months for the protracted delivery of the parts (from across the globe) and then the kitting out of the bike itself. Of course, I could easily have cut down drastically on the time required for each of these phases, either by simply buying a bike ‘off the peg’, or alternatively, buying a ready-made frame and having it kitted out with parts off the shelf.CIMG9699

Well, that had been the story of my cycling life to date. Every bike I had bought in the past had been ‘off the peg’: ridden and tested thoroughly, comparisons made with multiple other models, before the pin number released money from the plastic card. This time, every minute detail of the final product would be pored over and discussed, measurements would be taken (and then taken again), subtle braze-ons for the frame and colour scheme had to be decided. Would it have disc brakes or V-brakes? 26 inch wheels or 700c? What angle of rake for the forks? Would I be doing off-road as well as on-road? Two or three bottle holders? Front and rear panniers? What finish would I like on the paint?CIMG9703

Never before had I done so much decision-making in the production of a bike. Never before had I acquired a new bike without having test-ridden it several times beforehand, studied its finished profile from several angles, and been absolutely happy with the “feel” of the finished article. Making the commitment before seeing the finished product is, for me, a leap of faith into unchartered waters. But it couldn’t have been achieved without the expert input from professionals in the trade: both Dave Yates and Simon Nix of Grafham Cycling were the backbone to this process, and I owe them both a huge vote of thanks. I also owe a special vote of thanks to Ian Rushton of Cambio Ltd for his company’s generous financial support, both in donations to Save the Children’s Syrian Appeal, and for help in replacing the bicycle that came to grief in New Zealand.

For the cycling nerds among you, I will post the vital statistics on another post. But you have a few photos here to whet your appetites.CIMG9704

…..so it’s goodbye to 2013

I’m not one of those bloggers who likes to do a long, detailed summary of the last 12 months (thank goodness, I hear you say….). They usually end up being tedious “boasts on a post” (sometimes you get Christmas letters just like that). But I have noticed that it is many weeks since I talked about anything cycling-related. And having changed the header photo on my blog to an image of a walker (a picture I took in the early morning just north of Sheffield), you may be wondering if this man has hung up his wheels. Well, the short answer to that is…… no chance!

With Lake Pukaki, leading up to the base of Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand

With Lake Pukaki, leading up to the base of Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand

Despite the gales and heavy rains of the last few weeks, I decided not to be deterred, and December has turned out to have been a busy month on the bike….. even allowing for the interruption of Christmas (just shy of 1000 miles/1600kms). But it is also at this time of the year when I cast an eye over mileages, places visited and routes taken over the previous 12 months, that I may be guilty of ‘waxing lyrical’. If I do, please excuse me. If it bores you, just hit that little x at the in top right hand corner of your screen……

I was riding with a couple of cycling buddies a few weeks ago, and one of them said: “Frank, what mileage are you aiming for this year?”. I replied: “Well, there’s an outside chance I might hit 11,000 miles, but I’m not banking on it with these weather conditions”. Someone else teasingly said “Well, I shouldn’t tell you what I once did many years ago”. Well, of course, it invited the question from everyone in the group “So what did you do many years ago?” Almost soto voce, he said “26,000 miles”. My immediate response was “so you mustn’t have been working for a living……”. Well, of course, he did hold down a regular job, but was still covering more than 500 miles a week (including commuting and racing).

Tommy @odwin 1912-1975

Tommy Godwin 1912-1975

Of course, anything achieved by anyone in the light of what Tommy Godwin did back in 1939-40 pales into insignificance. He began on January 1st to ride 200 miles a day for a whole year, covering more than 75,000 miles (120,000 kms), and then proceeded to do the fastest 100,000 miles(162,000kms) on record, which he achieved in only 500 days. ‘Chapeau’ to him…… and remember, nearly half his mileage was during the first 6 months of the War, and he was riding a Raleigh weighing over 30lbs(14kgs)!

Anyway, let’s climb down from the dizzy heights of the super-achiever, and dwell in the realms of the ‘wannabes’ and the ‘might-have-beens’. This humble crank-turner did hit 11,000 miles just 3 days before the end of the year, which is just as well, because in the closing days and hours of the year, an annoying head cold is keeping him (almost) confined to quarters.

Outside the 2,500 miles/4000kms of my expedition Down Under, my biggest month of the year was the 1,250 miles cycled in August (including the CTC Birthdays Rides), and on only 6 days of the year did I exceed 100 miles/162kms (though many were just 5-10 miles short of that).

At the top of Mam Tor in Derbyshire

At the top of the Mam Tor road in Derbyshire

Jenny, my wife, constantly tells me I shouldn’t push myself so hard, and maybe I should listen more carefully to my body. Oh dear, the beginning of a new year means resolution time. Is it time to grow up and settle down…….? Slippers and pipe maybe…..? A good resolve for the coming year might be to find ourselves a more comfortable tandem, and to spend more time pedalling as a twosome with Jenny.

Now there’s a thought…….

From NZ to Oz

My hosts in Invercargill, Cecily & John Mesman, had spoilt me rotten; and Marie Teuwen, President of the Southland branch of Save the Children, had organised a welcome fit for a hero (and I’m only a pedal-twiddling lycra lout). It was sad to leave their company, but the show had to go on.

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A combination of one of these….

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and one of these got me from the toe of NZ, via Wellington and across the Tasman Sea, to Sydney where once again (once the bike was reassembled) I was able to display this

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to give the Aussies I encounter an opportunity to match (or even outstrip) the generosity of the Kiwis. No sooner had I set wheel outside the airport, I knew I needed local help to get across the city. A passing cyclist (and if he reads this, a big “thank you”) stopped and very patiently mapped out a route for me, which got me to the district I needed. That was brilliant. Then a couple of iPhone toting 20 somethings opened up Googlemaps and finalised the fine detail. (Of course, I could have done this for myself, but it’s much more fun asking others!).
I had to race against the fading light (sunset is over an hour earlier than in NZ) across a city that has some notoriously unfriendly cycling streets, but before the light disappeared I eventually found Dee Read’s lovely old wooden cottage
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and she gave me the warmest of welcomes. Thank you, Dee! This encounter happened through the networking power of Facebook, where a mutual friend had shared details with her own lists of friends (thank you Anne!). I thought I didn’t know Dee, until she looked at me and said she’d met me before somewhere.
Well, to cut a long story short, both her children had attended Kimbolton School in the 1990s, and I had taught one of them for a year!
It is a cliche, but it’s true…..it’s an unnervingly small world.
I will spend today unapologetically being a Sydney tourist, I have a (cheapish) ticket for Il Trovatore at the Opera House, and I’m meeting up with Richard Tulloch (another blogging friend) for a bushtucker lunch, during his break from drama rehearsals at Sydney University.
It promises to be a fascinating day.
Children in Syria Appeal: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

FREE COUNTRY by George Mahood

In the world of long-distance cycling, the UK E2E (Land’s End to John O’Groats) is a hoary old chestnut. For many it represents that Nirvana-like state of achievement, a bespoke Utopia that appears as the ultimate of aspirations among many would-be expedition cyclists. The route has been travelled by many and variously: by that I mean by tens of thousands using dozens of different modes of transport. People have walked, run and cycled it. Others have done it in a wheelchair, on skateboards and roller skates. The youngest little mite to cycle it was just 4 years old, and aFree Country few days after completing it he started at infant school. Amongst the craziest takes was a golfer who played the longest hole in the world: 1,100 miles in seven weeks. Of course, he hit the ball every inch of the way (wonder how many he lost?).

So to pick up another book or, as I did, download a digital version, of yet another attempt at the distance……….well, to say the least, I was a bit underwhelmed at the prospect. But………….then I started reading it. And I read it, and read it………and enjoyed it from beginning to end. I won’t spoil the story for you, simply to say that two lads (with nothing better to do) dreamed up a plan over a pint or two. That plan was to cycle the 1000 miles from south to north, but to set off with nothing more that the union flag boxer shorts that you see them wearing on the cover.

Like ancient pilgrims, they begged and borrowed everything they would need to complete the journey: clothes, bikes, food, accommodation, cycle maintenance. I was astonished how much free beer they drank en route (several nights almost to the point of drunkenness) and amazed at the apparent credulity of the people who helped them out. It just so happened they were honest, upright citizens, but what if they had been gun/dagger toting layabouts?

Even if you are a non-cyclist, read it. I guarantee you will enjoy it. You can get a digital download for £1.99 from Amazon.

August: the bottom line

As a cyclist, I try not to be fixated by mileages. I do keep a note of every ride length, but I try to avoid counting up on a regular basis. Best to remain free and simply enjoy the wind and adrenaline rush.

However, when I got to the last day of August, I knew instinctively that the monthly total had been big. Riding most days, including a continuous 9 day spell during the CTC Birthday Rides in Shropshire, I had the feeling that it might have been my biggest recorded month ever. Now, before I get into statistics, the issue of records being broken almost monthly this year needs a few comments. I am, of course, talking about the weather.

Everybody has been assessing the miserable wet summer we have just had. They tell us it was the wettest June on record and that the summer has been the wettest in 100 years. I have no grounds whatever on which to base a refutation of these claims, because the meteorologists have all the scientific facts and I do not. All I can say is this: over this prolonged wet period (April to August) I have been out most days on the bike, cycled several thousands of miles, and I have probably been rained on no more than a dozen times and, only once, torrentially so. My rainproof has spent infinitely more time inside its stuff bag than out of it, and my arms and legs have the tide marks to prove that the sun has shone for long periods over the last few months. On the strength of my unscientific observations, I blow a raspberry at all the negative naysayers out there who try to make us feel miserable about our lot. One thing is for sure, our reservoirs are full once again!

Now back to the statistics. The other day I was riding with someone who regularly covers more than 12,000 miles per year, topping out at a massive 17,000 miles one year. So he will not be impressed by anything I can do. My August mileage this year (and I always count in kilometres) topped out at 2,254kms which, if you get out your calculator, is exactly 1,400 miles. I got out on the bike on 25 days, meaning my average ride was over 90kms/56 miles. I only ever expect to do more than this when I am on a long continuous trek, like my rides to Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Nor do I expect to replicate this any time soon. It is not my intention ever to become a victim of statistics. I prefer to be in thrall of the sheer delights of riding a bike, through the countryside and over mountains, and re-filling the ‘tank’ with coffee and cakes in the company of like-minded pleasure-seekers.

Destination Mallorca: cyclist’s winter haven

I was finally persuaded to join my cycling club’s annual winter training week in Mallorca. One of the membership runs training camps for cyclists throughout the winter, and St Ives CC (which is primarily a racing club) make a pilgrimage out there every March and immerse themselves in calculating wattage, pulse rate, optimal cadences, latest ‘tricknology’, carb intake measured against power output……..C’mon guys, lighten up a little………..this is all about riding a bike…….just enjoy it!!

Apparently some 60,000 (yes, sixty thousand!) roadies head to Mallorca every winter from northern Europe to get in their base, or pre-season, training. The roads are filled with packs of multi-coloured, lycra-clad mile-eaters, legs turning at optimal speeds to give all the ‘right readings’ on their electronic monitors, so that they neither over nor under train. Instead of simply enjoying the ride or the wonderful surroundings on either side of the road, their eyes are locked onto the readings of their Garmins, pacing themselves according to a pre-planned schedule.

I (along with a few others)  am going simply ‘for the ride’. My cycling goals and objectives are to enjoy the hard riding in the mountains, be intoxicated by the long descents, and have fun…..then more fun……..and enjoy the post-ride carbo-loading (ie. eating and drinking ;0)). If you happen to be on the island at the same time, you may see a lot of the red kit of St Ives CC……… and before you make any comments about the leg-warmers……yes, I’ve heard them all!! But you’ve got to admit, they could become cool fashion. But I have noticed that I am the only one of the membership that dares to wear them. I wonder why……………. .

One day, when I get tired of the hard saddles and the semi-crouched position of a road bike, I may invest in one of these……….. this is a Trice three-wheel recumbent. It’s the closest thing to a bed-on-wheels you are likely to get!!

Three men on a bummel: Jerome K Jerome

If you have already read Three men on a boat, you will see this little volume as a natural sequel. It brings back together the same three protagonists, but this time on bicycles and, instead of the river Thames being their ‘terrain’, it is the Black Forest in Germany. This book was given to me as a Christmas present (someone knows I like cycling!) but I was not only intrigued about the nature of cycle touring in the early 1900s, but also its location. Back in 1982, Jenny and I did a tandem tour of the Black Forest, a fascinating journey with the ‘earworm’ tune of A walk in the Black Forest constantly going through our heads! As we climbed a 12km hill one day, someone shouted in a strong northern accent (imitating some well-known chimpanzees selling tea): “Can yuh ride t’tandem, then? And we thought we were in the heart of Germany!

Jerome’s journey reflects the Victorian interest in the use of bicycles for touring, including discussions of the anatomical principles of saddle design (things never change!), brand competition and advertising, and the sheer logistics of setting off on a bummel (A German word meaning a long journey with no particular destination in mind). We also get a skewered glimpse of German society in the days of the German Empire, when it was clean, orderly and obedient to authority. If you enjoyed Three men on a boat, you will be intrigued by this, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t quite live up to its forebear.

In the morning’s thin mist……………….

The ‘Dunkirk spirit’ was evident. The miserable, cold misty start to the day did not deter seasoned adventurers, and the allure of a promised sunnier afternoon was all too tempting. A goodly number assembled at Stanwick Lakes café, charged their legs with the necessary carbs, and donned their winter layers to do battle with the elements once again. Cruising through the lanes of Northamptonshire, enjoying the camaraderie awheel, we traversed the A14 by cattle bridge and our entry into Cambridgeshire was heralded by the appearance of the sun, and suddenly………..we had gone from winter to spring in a matter of minutes.

Lunch at the White Horse in Tilbrook was, as ever, convivial and sociable, and the service and menu that Richard (and his team) provided was characteristically excellent. Challenged by the fact that one of our team had ridden all the way from Market Harborough, prompted me to take a detour round Sharnbrook on the way back to Kimbolton. Thus a 2 mile journey morphed into 25 miles, and it brought my day’s total up to a respectable 60 miles. It began to feel like a normal Thursday!

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