Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Lance Armstrong's Reputation Goes Up In Smoke

A small English town decided to burn a 30-foot effigy of Lance Armstrong for their Guy Fawkes celebrations this weekend (for any non-Brits, here's some background on what that's about).

Every year, people in Edenbridge in Kent burn a model of a contemporary villain - apparently it was a tough choice this year.

It's a sad coda to the recent doping revelations surrounding the legendary cyclist, including the stripping of his 7 Tour de France titles and a lifetime ban from the USADA and the UCI.

What's so sad is to see all Armstrong's achievements literally go up in smoke.

This is a man who came back from testicular cancer to win the toughest sporting event in the world 7 times. His Live Strong charity - from which he has now stepped down - has raised half a billion dollars since 1997 and he has inspired and supported countless people - not only those suffering from cancer, as well as their families, but also the wilder world.

All that is now tainted.

However, so ingrained was doping in cycling at the time of Armstrong's Tour de France wins, that no-one else will be awarded his yellow jerseys. In the late 90s and early 00s, apparently the only way to win was to dope.

This has left the sport, which had been enjoying an unprecedented bounce from the Olympics and Bradley Wiggins' success, in a huge hole and one that could take years to dig itself out from.

Is there a way back for Armstrong?

As someone whose day job is PR and, often, reputation management, I think it's unlikely. But there might be a chance - with one proviso: Lance would have to come clean about his doping, admit his years' of lying and do something to change the sport forever.

But that looks unlikely - he still maintains his innocence, even after giving up the fight with the USADA.

What a waste of all that effort, achievement and goodwill...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Early Rider Balance Bike Review

Ever since our son was born in 2010, I've wanted to get him started on cycling. He's had a trike from Toys R Us for some time, but what I've always wanted was a balance bike - and specifically the Early Rider Classic...

The basic idea is to get your toddler onto a bike that feels like a bike - and learning to balance - from as young as two years old. Kids can always get their feet in contact with the floor, which is very reassuring for them, so slowing down or correcting a wobble is just a matter of putting their feet down.

It's basically like an old hobby horse or 'bone shaker' which is the origin of modern bicycles.

And what a beauty - it's like a toddler's version of a Harley Davidson! It's even got flames down the side!

I can't tell you the number of comments we get from passers by in the park or on the street, everyone absolutely loves the bike.

The bike is very well made from quality plywood with proper steel wheels and chunky tyres. It's solid, but it's not too heavy - easy enough for a toddler to handle and light enough for a parent to carry.

There are no pedals, brakes, chains, gears or cables so it's simple to look after and keep clean. The seat is adjustable and it's claimed the bike will fit a child from 2 - 4.5 years old, so plenty of life in it.

Our son is 2-and-a-half and he never really got on with his trike - he tends to stand up and push it rather than ride or pedal. But he 'got' how the Early Rider worked almost immediately and within days he was barreling along at a pace I find hard to keep up with at times.

He tends to 'run' with the bike, with his bottom on the seat supporting his weight and his legs pushing him along in long strides. On the flat he will often have his feet raised for quite some time.

There are two settings on the steering - you can restrict the amount of turn to make it easier for younger riders to stay in a straight line, but our son doesn't like it and steers fine.

One thing it does mean is that I will never have the classic moment when the stabilisers come of the bike and your child pedals unsteadily away for the first time, that's already happened...

These bikes are expensive - around £100 - but I think you get what you pay for. Not only will this gives years of pleasure, but I suspect it will be worth something when we're finished with it, which is more than you can say for most cheap starter bikes.

But the most important thing is that our son absolutely loves the bike - he wants to ride it every day. And if it encourages a lifelong love for bikes, then that's priceless!

In conclusion, if you have the money and want to give your child a start in cycling, buy an Early Rider!

Here's a video of our son putting the bike through it's paces...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Brad, Cav and British Cycling Success

As a passionate cyclist and fan of the Tour de France, the success of Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and British cycling at this year's Tour de France is my 1966 moment!

But there's a part of me that feels about this the same way I did in the 1980s when Indie bands I loved achieved 'cross-over' success and made it big, appearing on Top of the Pops (RIP).

Bradley Wiggins winning the 2012 stage 19 time trial
On the one hand, it's a wonderful vindication of your good taste and perseverance over years of neglect and niche interest - the Tour de France is on ITV4, for God's sake! - and to see the sport of cycling achieving it's moment in the sun is something to celebrate.

On the other hand, it means that a new bunch of fans, unaware of the long history and baroque details of the sport, are going to tramp in to blithely enjoy the pastime you have savoured in magnificent solitude for so many years.

Before you know it, hordes of yellow-clad neophyte cyclists will be clogging every bike lane and b-road, inexpertly pedalling their newly-bought road bikes. Of course, it's only going to get worse if we do well at the Olympics too...

But the truth is that the current zenith of British cycling - and who knows whether this may turn out to be just a staging post to even higher achievements - can only be a good thing.

Just to illustrate: I was cycling today - completing the last stage of Rapha's gruelling 'Circle of Death' challenge - and someone drove past me as I went up a hill, shouting out of their car window. This is something of a regular feature as a cyclist, it's usually someone abusing me for being on their road/not paying Road Tax/etc. But before I was able to shout back a ribald riposte, I realised that what they had actually shouted was: "Go on, Bradley!"

I found that strangely moving; could this be the moment that ordinary people start to move their perceptions of cyclists from impediments, through being fellow road users, to being someone to acknowledge and cherish as they do in France...?

It's early days, but - fingers crossed - it may (almost) be time to 'hug a cyclist'!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Cycling the Tour's 'Circle of Death'

I may not be joining the likes of Wiggins and Cavendish to cycle the iconic mountains of this year's Tour de France, but my cycle clothing brand of choice, Rapha, are offering UK-bound cyclists such as me the chance to experience - even if vicariously - one of the infamous stages of La Grande Boucle - the 'Circle of Death'.

This stage, to be ridden on July 18th, includes some of the classic Pyreneen Tour climbs, including the Col d’Aubisque (1,709m), Col du Tourmalet (2,114m), Col d’Aspin (1,489m) and Col de Peyresourde (1,569m.

It's a total of 6,881m of climbing - that's 22,575 feet or 3/4 of the way up Everest (from sea level, not Base Camp)! The challenge - they're calling it 'Rapha Rising', appropriately enough - is to climb the elevation of the 'Circle of Death' between July 15-22.

Sadly my local area doesn't have many climbs of that magnitude, and work is hectic, so I'm going to have to replicate it by climbing the same tiddly hills again and again - numbers to be confirmed.

Will update with how I get on...!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tour Dreams Over For Another Year...

The Tour de France kicks off this week, but I'll be watching with rather mixed emotions this year.

On the one hand, it's wonderful to have the tour roll around, especially with British talent such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish in contention...

Mark Cavendish winning the World Road Race Championship 2011
But on the other, I was hoping to join my heroes this summer. Not literally - although Jens Voigt, at 40, is still flying the flag for us middle-aged cyclists - but because I was planning to embark on my own cycling tour of France this summer.

With my brother, plus a couple of friends, I had mapped out an amazing route over 13 of the great Tour de France cols, including Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez.

Sadly work commitments, weather and training regimes have meant that won't be possible this year, so I'll only be able to enjoy the challenges of the Tour de France from the comfort of my sofa.

Here's hoping for 2013. And good luck to Cav and Brad!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Let it Rain!

I'm not a fair-weather cyclist - I rode 300+ miles over Christmas in the wind, rain and sub-zero temperatures - but I do have my limits...

Cycling in June 2012...
June 2012 is forecast to be the wettest month on record and I'm afraid to admit that I hate riding in the rain, so cycling is becoming a rare pleasure at the moment.

I've ridden in some pretty awful rain - I remember the end of my first day riding from Birmingham to Edinburgh in 2008 when the heaven's literally opened in Buxton and a biblical downpour near Hamburg in Germany the year before - but it's just not something I could ever enjoy.

It's not so much the soaking - although that's bad enough - it's more the drying out of the clothes, the cleaning off of the bike and the way that rain seems to turn drivers into idiots.

So all I can say is, please let the sun come out in July!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cyclists in A&E on Channel 4

Anyone who regularly cycles on city streets will have pause for thought from the first programme of the new series of 24 Hours in A&E, which starts on Channel 4 on May 16th at 9pm.

The RTS award-winning series was filmed around the clock for six weeks at King’s College Hospital in south London, one of Britain’s busiest A&E departments, each programme focuses on people treated within the same 24-hour period.

The first episode features two cyclists who arrive with serious head injuries. IT analyst Christopher hit a log on his way to work and concerns are raised when scans show a bleed on his brain.  Meanwhile, Brighton cyclist Sarah swerved to avoid a pedestrian while riding downhill at 30mph without a helmet. She’s airlifted to King’s by helicopter.

Image by Andrew Novell from Londoncyclist.com
You'll have to watch next Wednesday to find out what happens, but as someone who rides on the busy roads of Birmingham several times a week - and used to commute daily in London - it reminds me how close you can be to disaster.

And whether the accident is caused by bad luck or bad driving, it certainly shows the benefits of caution and wearing a helmet. Plus the series is a tribute to the incredible work and dedication of the NHS staff.

Full disclosure: I work on the series, but you don't need to take my word for it - the Royal Television Society voted it Best Documentary Series this year and the critics love it too...!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Taxi Drama Reveals Drivers' Attitudes To Cyclists

There was an interesting side-note to this week's story about Addison Lee (one of the UK's largest minicab firms) planning to break the law and start using bus lanes in London - something that only buses, cycles and black cabs are currently allowed to do.

Today's Guardian highlights an article by Addison Lee's boss, John Griffin, written for his company's in-house magazine which reveals his - and many others' - attitude to cyclists.

Cyclist Meets Taxi
Unlike cyclists, he said, drivers "have to undergo extensive training. We are sitting inside a protected space with impact bars and air bags and paying extortionate amounts of taxes on our vehicle purchase, parking, servicing, insurance and road tax...It is time for us to say to cyclists, 'You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up'."

This is a form of an argument I hear frequently when out cycling in the city. It divides pretty equally along two lines:

"You shouldn't be cycling on the road, you're dangerous"

"I pay Road Tax, you don't, get off the road"

The Guardian piece answers both these questions exceptionally well - so well that I will be amending my usual two-word Anglo-Saxon answer.

In terms of who is to blame for serious road accidents between adult cyclists and drivers, it points out that a 2009 study carried out by the Department of Transport found that up to 75% of such accidents were deemed to be entirely the fault of the motorist.

Similarly, if I were to cycle on the pavement - which I don't, unless the road is completely blocked - pedestrians would quite rightly point out that I should be on the road!

On the second issue, the Guardian make the excellent point that - apart from there being no such thing as 'Road Tax' - Vehicle Excise Duty is based on vehicle emissions, meaning that even if bicycles were liable, they would be zero-rated!

The other point I would add is that Vehicle Excise Duty is not - as many people believe - a hypothecated tax. That would mean that money raised from vehicle licenses would only be spent on road building and repairs.

Since 1936, when the Road Fund was wound up, money for road building and maintenance actually comes from general national and local taxation - i.e. you could equally argue that the VAT charged on your Mars bar or duty on your beer was being spent on the roads as your 'Road Tax'.

For the record, I think that more effective training of cyclists would be a good thing - many adults haven't cycled since they were kids and would benefit. But who would pay for it?

I also think that some kind of compulsory 'bike tax' scheme (like they had in Switzerland until this year) would also be a good idea - although it would be very hard to enforce and would probably cost more than it raised. Compulsory 3rd party insurance for cyclists would also be sensible.

Time for a more grown-up debate...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Inverted Bike Shop - Video

I just love this video in every possible way. Just watch it and see what I mean...

The shop it features is the 'inverted bike shop' of the title - the 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn, New York.The idea is that you come in and tell them what you want a bike for and they help you choose all the relevant parts.

And they'll actually let you help to build it of you like - how cool is that?!

The owner, Joe Nocella, set up the shop after having his own bike stolen and deciding to build a new one. He enjoyed it so much he did the same for other people and the idea snowballed.

The store looks great too, it's open plan with sofas and bikes on the wall. Perfect, I want to go there.

It's also a beautifully-made video. I've just completed a film-making course and I would love to be able to make films just like this...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Cyclists vs Motorists

As a cyclist who regularly finds myself remonstrating with motorists for their dangerous and inconsiderate driving, the CCTV footage of the Bristol cyclist being deliberately knocked off his bike by a bus driver - who received a prison term today - was my cycling nightmare made flesh.

There's a full report in the Daily Mail here.

The idea that a bus driver would use his vehicle to exact such physical - and life-threatening - revenge on a cyclist he'd just had an argument with is shocking. The cyclist, Philip Mead, could easily have been killed; as it was he was hospitalised for a fortnight with a broken leg and wrist.

The bus driver, Gavin Hill, was sacked from his job and has received a 17-month prison sentence. He called it a "moment of madness".

Mr Mead is philosophical about the reckless swerve: "It doesn't matter to me what sentence he gets, it won't change what has already happened. For me what is important is that he has acknowledged what he did."

The thing that surprised me most about reading the story and watching the video was my own immediate reaction - I had some sympathy for the driver...

I have to preface this by saying that I don't know what their argument was about or who was at fault at that point.

However, having been in similar, if not quite so heated, situations, I know that blood can rise on both sides and that using provocative behaviour - attacking the bus wipers and then riding in the middle of the road - is almost certain to antagonise the driver.

As well as cycling, I often drive and realise that there's often a lot going on and that cyclists can sometimes be unreasonable in the omniscience they expect of drivers.

That's not to say the cyclist is to blame for his own fate, but it will make me think twice next time I want to have an argument with a motorist...

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Gear Review: Rapha's Winter Collar

As the chilly winter winds continue to blow, I thought it would be timely to pop in a quick review for an item of cycling clothing which has become one of my favourites on cold days: the Rapha Winter Collar.

Rapha Winter Collar
It's not sexy or particularly sleek (although it is nicely stretchy), but this is absolutely essential when the mercury hits zero!

Available in black, red and pink (as well as Moroccan Blue and Fig - yuck!) and made from a mix of 93% merino with 7% spandex (how Seventies is that?!) it's thin, stretchy, comfortable and itch-free. The merino also means that it stays odour-free after a few uses.

The collar can stay around the neck or as the temperature drops - or, for example, descending hills - you can hook it onto your chin or right up covering your nose. Combined with a merino skull cap I've been cosy in -5C (although far colder with the wind chill).

I chose black for practicality and matching other kit, but was tempted to get the pink version for the fun of it!

Keeps dogs warm too...
Like most of Rapha's gear - at £25 it's not cheap - but I've looked at similar-quality alternatives and they aren't much cheaper. And you pay for the quality.

If you ride at this time of year and are sick of having a frozen face and neck, then order your Rapha Winter Collar here right now.

And you get the added advantage of looking like a cycling ninja with the collar up and skull cap on!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Book Review: Mountain High by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding

As I plan and look forward to my trip to tackle 13 of the Tour de France's toughest mountain cols this summer, I was very pleased to find an incredibly useful book amongst my Christmas presents.

Mountain High: Europe's 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs is written by Daniel Friebe - at 30, a nine-time veteran of the Tour de France, a leading cycling journalist and ghost of Mark Cavendish's best-selling auto-biography Boy Racer - with 250 stunning pictures by cycling photographer Pete Goding.

Organised in ascending-height order, the book is a mix of the practical - including route profiles and maps (although far too small to be of any use) - and historical, recalling some of the feats of bravery and classic duels that these mountains have witnessed over the years.

The book features some of the sacred mountains of the European tours, including the Tour de France's Alpe d'Huez, Col du Tourmalet, Col du Galibier, Mont Ventoux and Izoard, from the Giro d'Italia, the Stelvio, Mortirolo and Colle dell'Agnello, plus climbs in Austria, Spain and Switzerland and even Belgium.

Colle dell'Agnello
The book functions equally well for the armchair enthusiast as it does for someone, like me, contemplating riding many of these majestic and awe-inspiring peaks.

It claims to be the most comprehensive guide to Europe's cycling climbs and I wouldn't argue - these 50 mountain rides will keep me busy for years ticking off the new challenges like a lycra-clad trainspotter (I've already done two - Mont Ventoux and Ballon d'Alsace).

Daniel Friebe writes well, he tells the stories of how goat tracks, many snow-covered until June, became icons of sporting endeavour. And it's obvious that he has shed blood, sweat and tears actually riding these mountains too.

The pictures by Pete Goding are excellent, capturing the beauty and bleakness of these legendary climbs.

Alpe d'Huez

My only criticisms are nit-picking. First, organising the climbs by height does mean that you are flicking back and forward to find climbs which are cheek-by-jowl in reality. Second, on a practical level the route maps are too small to be of any use, although the route profiles are excellent.

And finally, while I realise the British Isles doesn't quite have the geography to compete, it would have been nice for two Brits to have picked at least one climb from their native country.

That aside (and they are really comments, rather that criticisms) this is an excellent book and very good value to - published at £20, it is available for around a tenner at Amazon at the time of writing. Compared to Rapha's incomplete set of Great Road Climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees at £40 per volume, that's a bargain!

And I can't wait to start crossing off the climbs this summer!