Thursday, July 30, 2015

Malcolms Madness

Each year since the Mules Club evolved we have embarked on a 'Summer Club run' designed to test our metal and have some mutual suffering. Usually this has involved finding a masochistic route with a selection of double digit gradients on the local North Yorkshire Moors.

During the actual rides it would become custom to laugh at our stupidity and pained gurning expressions, to tell exaggerated tales of elevated wheels, lack of gears, and descents breaking the land speed record.

This year the task of selecting our route was devolved to 'Malcolm' who is known by some as Lucifer or 'Diablo' for the wry smile he presents when watching his fellow riders suffer.
It is said that Lucifer fell from great heights, well this one descended on a Canyon Racing bike and wants nobody to return to the paradise that a summit might offer.
He would carefully select gradients to keep his disciples legs burning from his 'Velo Hell'

Amongst dozens of unnamed climbs he chose Blakey Ridge as our monument climb, way up on the North Yorkshire Moors. A place so remote that I expected to see 'The Slaughtered Lamb' and some American back packers deviating from the road.
Malcolm also put in his order for some gale force wind and squally rain to stack the odds in his favour.

Prior to our departure some of our club members started to drop out perhaps knowing 'The route', Malcolm, the weather or all three!!!

What alarmed me was the calibre of riders left.
I am no climber - but I can climb.
Knowing my limits I tackle these beasts as slowly as I can, often reassured that there will be some who will suffer more than me. For this trip I knew I was to be the 'Lantern Rouge'.

Those who elected to go or were drugged by Malcolm were all related to Mountain Goats, where I was a prairie dog.
Maybe .......the thought passed my mind. I would be Lucifers first Victim?

The countryside was breathtaking, and the initial 'Rises' as Malcolm put it -were significant ascents to me. As the terrain became more exaggerated so did my breathing and sense of terror like a condemned man travelling to the Gallows.

Well Blakey arrived and it did not fail to disappoint, rearing up from the valley bottom like a striking Cobra, all menace, aggression, and terror.
Malcolm was already hatching his next devilment by the time I arrived at the top, shaken and stirred and in need of some splints for my legs that felt like 'under set' Jelly.

When its all over and you are fortified by Cake and Ale things never seem so bad.
Malcolm knows us well.
He gives you just enough pain - but not too much, to ensure that he gets to choose the route next year.
Isn't that what the devil would do?

All in all the day was spectacular and my stories have have exaggerated to new heights.
Thank You........ Lucifer

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Toerclub Volendam - Here come the Dutch

(Dutch Corner at Alpe d'huez (Tour de France) velo passion personified)

As I have previously reported the passion for cycling in the UK has grown exponentially over the last few years but for one neighbouring country in particular that passion has always been there.
People often remark that Norwegians are born with skis on, well the Dutch have a similar trait.
They are virtually born with a bicycle - or fiets - attached to them. 

Almost as soon as a Dutch child is able to walk, he or she learns to ride a bicycle. They grow up on bikes. They ride them to school as soon as they are able to and when they are nine years old, they are expected to pass an informal test - an actual cycling demonstration - and earn a cycling diploma.

As teenagers, they go out on dates on bikes, with one person on the front and one perched side-saddle on the back. Lovebirds, young and old, ride side-by-side, precariously holding hands. People of all ages and socio-economic status - including government and other dignitaries - regularly commute to work on bikes (a flat bicycle tire is a common excuse for being late for work). Police patrol the streets on bikes, and most holidays of choice involve bicycles.
And bicycle use continues throughout old age.

Cycling in the Netherlands is a way of life. It is second nature. The Dutch do not typically get up in the morning and say "Today, I think I'll go biking." They just do it routinely, as a matter of course. They run errands, shop, go to work, and socialise on bicycles. They also carry anything and everything on a bike, including furniture, numerous shopping bags, four or five children… and even the family dog.
Practicality and day-to-day bicycle usage go hand in hand in the Netherlands; indeed they are the cornerstones of life in this traditionally Calvinistic nation. There is very little that is not done on a bicycle in this cycling utopia where an astounding 29.000 kilometers (18.020 miles) of dedicated bicycle paths (Fietspaden) lace this tiny country of only 41.526 square kilometers (16.033 square miles).

Global model for cycling 
With the largest proportion of bicycles transportation and the highest density of bicycle facilities in the world - including a cycling-dedicated infrastructure bar none - the Netherlands is considered to be the global model for cycling. Bike paths run alongside almost every road here, and there are even separate traffic lights for cyclists at virtually every intersection, with the bicycle symbol appearing in red, yellow and green. The infrastructure is totally geared toward cycling, making it a serious mode of transportation and an integral part of Dutch society.The Netherlands is the only nation in the world with more bicycles than people. In a country with 16,5 million people, there are 1,1 bicycles for each one - or roughly 18 million bikes. In Amsterdam alone, there are approximately 550.000 bikes, versus 215.000 autos. 75% of all Amsterdam residents (aged 12 or older) own a bicycle; half of them use it daily. That astounding, nationwide fleet of bicycles - the highest bicycle density in the world - has a major impact on such a tiny country.

Cyclists’ paradise

 If you happen to come into contact with a car the driver of the car is deemed to be at fault unless he or she can prove otherwise.
If Heineken did cycling - they would surely use Holland
Maybe that why it’s a Dutch Brewery.

Earlier this year we were contacted by Rob van der Plas of the Toerclub Volendam, which was founded in 1989 and has over 400 members.
They wanted to do a mini tour riding from Volendam to Rotterdam (Ferry to Hull) 100 miles or so around East Yorkshire before getting back on the Ferry and riding home.
They asked for some local guidance and support and the Mules were honoured to help.
On the morning of their arrival the heavens opened to ensure a traditional English welcome.
I had mistakenly thought that there were 17 riders an amount that one might expect on a mini tour.
I was wrong -There were in fact 70 !!!!!!!!
Comprising of men and women of all ages and sizes there were some common themes.
They could all cycle with skill, politeness and etiquette that sadly I rarely see in group riding within this country.

They snaked through the countryside of East Yorkshire with tempo and self-discipline providing a spectacle for the locals who instinctively put their hands together in applause. The first part of the route was confined to the Holderness plain (Flat lands), which would have been similar terrain to what they would be used to.
We then turned inland to Burton Agnes, Kilham, Langtoft and then over to Sledmere Hall for lunch.

We were joined for lunch by the ‘sun’ that obviously decided to come out in appreciation that the rain failed to dampen anybody’s spirits.

After lunch the course got a bit lumpy towards Fimber, Fridaythorpe and Huggate before dropping down to Beverley via Middleton on the Wolds and Lund.
The feeling of leading such a large bunch was exhilarating even more so when some of the riders asked me to slow down. It was not something that I have often had say to me before, but something that i have often said as I slip off the back on a big climb. 

I eventually  left the group close to Beverley with a great feeling having had one of my most enjoyable rides ever.I hope to  stay in touch with the Dutch for a return visit.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

All in a Spin

 During the earlier part of the year when people were talking about the shortest rather than  the longest day, I sought solace in the gym in order to maintain my cycling experience through undertaking almost daily spinning classes.

I unashamedly am happy to identify the Velocity gym at the Village Hotel in Warrington as my choice of venue. They provide a comprehensive spin programme with a variety of different classes and if you are shy or don't like dance music, you can tailor your own workouts through 'my ride-virtual spin'.
Mark who hosts a double spin class on Tuesdays knows a bit about cycling and tries to replicate the road cycling experience in the class both with his workouts and through his imaginative commentary.After one class he told me that we had just ridden on the A5004 from Whaley Bridge to Buxton up 'Long Hill'. Judging by the amount of sweat that soaked the wooden floor beneath me, id say that we probably did.

Spinning gave me a lot this year with 'summer form arriving' in April, personal bests served to me on most rides, and the ability to climb and find others still behind me when i get to the top. Despite the better weather I still spin once a week on Tuesdays with the promise of further Peak district Hills.

Spinning also brought me something else.........Sarah May

Each winter night whilst I was trying to keep my personal data on the 'myzone screen' in the red, other far more impressive challenges were going on behind me.

Sarah and her husband Jeff were spinning too.
I had passed the time of day with Jeff on a number of occasions after he had commented on my Mule Jersey and determined that the spin studio was my winter retreat.

I soon convinced him that I also rotated pedals in a way that moved you forwards.
He exclaimed that was what Sarah was doing
Moving forwards.

It was then that I learned that it was not that long ago that Sarah was on a dialysis machine with a grim prognosis after kidney failure.
The only help would be through a new Kidney.

It was then that my education began, firstly I did not realise how many people have kidney failure through a variety of reasons and secondly how difficult it is to find a kidney that would match.The process is long and drawn out providing a roller coaster of emotion.

Amazingly in Sarah's case she got a kidney that came from her brother. 
For most people after going through such trauma, being well again would be enough, but not for Sarah.
She wanted to help others in the same predicament and became heavily involved in a charity called 'Kidneys for Life'

Sarah does not take her health for granted and rejoices in being 'Well' 
She decided that this summer she would ride with a few friends on a sponsored cycle ride from London to Paris.
Such is her infectious personality and positivity she has now persuaded others to join her, surgeons,other transplant patients, friends and family.

Knowing that there was not a great deal of cycling experience I offered to help out with some coaching but Sarah and Jeff soon persuaded me that I ought to cycle the trip too.

What could I say

Cycling from London to Paris has always on my bucket list and I look forward to completing it. I hope that over the coming months I can in some small way help Sarah and all the other riders to provide them with the confidence, stamina and ability to reach the Eiffel Tour with me.

Any money raised will go to helping people live lives that we take for granted.
This is where my readers come in.
Please support us.
I have provided a link to my just giving page on the right hand column

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Tour de Winterfell

I love Music. During my impressionable years I would listen to music constantly, from Blue grass to Grand Opera there were no horizons on my route of discovery I wanted to embrace it all.
I would rejoice in often finding an artist who would inspire me. Who would present a complete package of lyrics, musicality and harmony, to provide me with an irresistible audible treat.

I would deliberately seek those who were lesser known, so that I could covert them for myself, then  in time delight in telling people of the Jewel that I had found.
This contradictory action never served me well as universal popularity was never far away.
I don't like sharing.

When the Tour de France came to Winterfell (Yorkshire) I could not have been more proud.
To see all of my cycling heroes ride, sweat, bleed and suffer on the same stretches of road as I have ridden, it was awe inspiring.

Of course I knew that everyone south of the wall would be searching for their winter coats and shoe covers prior to leaving  Kings Landing. For the total urbanites within the metropolis, enquiries were made to see if roads and rail links stretched this far or whether our hostelries still heated water over an open fire.
 During the two day visit to the White Rose County the population of Yorkshire probably doubled where the foreigners to the south of Westeros were treated to the delights of the northern lands and hospitality, with the odd wildling emerging from the roadside crowd from time to time.

Their famous "Box Hill" may feature in Britain's 100 Greatest Climbs but surely such a visit would  put it into some sort of perspective, its  nowt but a sleeping policeman compared to some of tut Yorkshire hills us Folk would say.

When the tour moved south to Cambridge and finished at Kings Landing it thankfully drew the likes of the"Lanisters" back home, leaving Winterfell for us Yorkshire folk to cycle in at our leisure.

I was not ready to tell people about Winterfell, but with the exposure of 'Le Tour' it was out in the open. Having now realised that we can offer hot and cold running water, breath taking scenery and a passion for cycling that you could only find in some parts of Italy it was soon announced that Winterfell would have its very own Tour.
So it came to pass that in May 2015 the first Tour De Winterfell took place.
Stage 1 from Bridlington to Scarborough taking in the North Yorkshire moors
Stage 2 from Selby to York taking in the East Yorkshire Wolds including Newbald (My village) for which we now have the famous "Cote De Newbald Climb"
Stage 3 from Wakefield to Leeds via the Yorkshire Pennines which also ran an amateur sportive held on the same course hours before the professional race.

 Once again the crowds flocked in and the participants were treated to a right royal welcome by us Yorkshire folk, each village was adorned with bunting yellow and blue painted bikes and cheering crowds. I had the good fortune to gain a place within the sportive and was privileged to have a taste of 'a view from the road' on the professional circuit with thousands of cheering supporters.

The weather was horrendous with heavy driving rain and a chill in the air which made the arduous course all the more challenging. Climbing up Howarth Main Street on wet cobbles was the highlight  of the day.  Something that will resonate for years

Of course as soon as the pros started the clouds disappeared and the sun came out ensuring that their experience of Winterfell would not be dampened by the elements and provided further evidence that if god was a mortal, he would have been a Yorkshireman!

One month on, the bunting and bikes remain on the route although the graffiti on the roads is now fading, what we do have though, is an influx of new riders finding the treasures that I have encountered for the past 8 years cycling around the lands of Yorkshire.
Sometimes it is good to share.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Marauding Mules

Mallorca is the largest Island in the Balletic Archipelago.
It is a real diamond amongst the scattered jewelled outcrops that rise up through the surface of the Mediterranean.

This strategic outpost appears to have been an obsession for all those who seek to conquer.
The interested parties provide an assortment of classical and mythological warriors as well as a few misguided souls................ but more about them later.

The Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans were the first to arrive, in the shadow of the imposing Tramuntana mountain range to the north west.
Their respective hints of civilization were soon halted by the next batch of more boisterous inhabitants.
Gunderic and the Vandals, the Byzantines and the Barbary Pirates soon arrived taking in more than just the sea and Sangria.
Finally the Spanish, Catalans and Italians all sought to ‘have a go’ before the island became a Spanish province in 1716.
300 years on and little has changed, the Island is still invaded throughout the year.
However the only things that are taken are the vistas, and the only blood that is spilt is by accident.

The new invaders are Lycra clad warriors, with bucket list entries ready to be struck through.
Descending through the heavens from all corners of the globe the appetite for conquest has never been greater.

The Phoenicians replaced by Orica GreenEDGE, The Romans by Lampre- Merida, whilst Gunderic and his band of vandals are now replaced by Philip and the Mules.

The natives are not hostile, but a friendly bunch who provide a warm welcome, wine and victuals fit for a king.

With winter setting in and the imminent threat of having to cover ones knees, Mauel our Spanish Dr suggested that vigorous exercise, specialised hydration and an exotic diet should be prescribed he exhorted

Rather than write out a prescription he highlighted the great value of a Ryan Air £37 ticket to Mallorca and homely accommodation at his sisters in law.

Knowing his medicine as he does Manuel also decided that we should be introduced to an unfamiliar drug.

A SuperSix EVO with Shimano ultra Di2 voted the best bike in the world in 2012
Not being one who resists what might be good for me, I duly took my medicine along with some other fellow Mules.

I think there is always an inner debate in your head.

Do you hire a bike or take your own?
Having done both there is no right answer 
It basically comes down to choice, cost and logistics.

You don't want a bike that feels like a coat that you might leave behind in a pub

Something that was great when new, but has seen better days
You don't want to eat into the money you had put aside for post ride lubrication

And finally you don't want to spend more time obtaining the bike as you did travelling to your destination

Ours were sourced from Bikehead ( who now operate from two locations in Aloro and Alcudia.

The bikes were delivered to us on arrival which is a usual practice if you are in a group.
I must admit I did not know what to expect. 
My gleaming beauty were far greater than the engine that was going to be use to power it.
Things in life are never equal.
For those who like to know about the bits and pieces 

Quick Facts about SuperSix EVO
  • Ultegra 6700 Wheelset
  • Cannondale Hollowgram SI Crank
  • Ultegra 12/27 Cassette
  • Compact chainset with 50/34
  • Fizik Antares Saddle
  • Bikes comes with one bottle (Yours to keep)
  • Bike computer (Upgrade to Garmin Edge GPS €5/day)
  • Saddlebag containing 1 innertube, 2 tyre levers and a pump.
  • Continental GP4000s tyres.
  • Weight 7.1kg

As well as these there were other models designed for every level and budget.

And so to the riding

Although most cyclists come to Mallorca for the warm weather climbing the island offers everything in the way of terrain.

If you want flat there is the coastal plain running from the South West to the North East

If you want mixed terrain North to South
And if you want some mind blowing climbs,switch backs and vistas the west coast offers it all.

Most cycle shops provide a user friendly, waterproof cycle map which corresponds to the signage out on the road.

Getting lost would be more of a challenge than some of the sturdier climbs.
These also provide gradient indicators so that you can plan where you might want to rest and where you might want to be sick.
The car drivers on the whole respect cyclists and provide plenty of room.
The ones that don't are usually in hire cars with recognisable regional accents, the sort that you might find on any railway station in the UK.

Going at the end of November was a risk weatherise, but there were many positives.
The Accommodation and flights were cheaper.
The traffic was always very light.
We could always get a place at the most popular restaurants
And finally the locals will now lookout for the Mule jerseys in the 2015 UCI Cycling Calendar 

As it turned out we had three days of great cycling, with a little rain during our very last ten minutes of cycling.
All in all we actually got more wet on the inside than we did on the out.