Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Gear Review: Polar RC3 GPS Training Computer

For anyone who doesn't own a GPS cycle computer I have one piece of advice: buy one immediately!

If you're someone, like I was, used to an old-fashioned 'cycle computer', running by cable or wirelessly from your front wheel, it may be time to wake up and smell the 21st Century cappuccino...

But which to buy? Today I'm looking at one of the latest examples - the Polar RC3 GPS - which promises 'unprecedented training accuracy and insight'. I've also asked my brother-in-law, Huw - a committed and extremely capable triathlete - to test the RC3 and add in his thoughts.

The three colourways available are shown above, but I've been lucky enough to get my hands on the eye-catching limited edition Tour de France 100th anniversary special edition. Lucky me!

Polar invented the wireless heart rate monitor back in the 80s, but this nifty little package combines monitoring your heart rate with a GPS to track your route, speed (current, maximum and average), distance (total, training and lap) and altitude, as well as a detailed breakdown of your level of effort. Once uploaded to Polar's own site or third party sites, such as Strava, it opens up a whole new level of monitoring.

And on top of that, it also promises the services of an expert trainer...

Friday, 8 November 2013

Health Facts About Cycling - Infographic

We all know that cycling is a great way to enjoy yourself and get from A to B, but I was really pleased to find this infographic highlighting just how healthy cycling is...

The stats come from an infographic created by Action Medical Research, a British medical research charity who run an extensive range of cycling events to help fund research into rare diseases affecting children. Find out more here.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Incredible Bike Video

This video, shot on a helmet-mounted Go-Pro, of a downhill ride - including a backflip over a 72-foot canyon - is absolutely incredible.

Partly because it's beautifully shot, but also because the route is absolutely mental...!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Gear Review: Abus Granit 53 'London' D-Lock with Cobra Cable

Bike locks are one of those things - like drains or computer backups - that you only really appreciate when they don't work.

I speak as someone with painful personal experience.

The Cannondale Bad Boy I rode from Land's End to John O'Groats in 2003 was nicked from outside a Sainsbury's in Islington, 10 feet from a security guard...

To be fair, it was locked up with a flimsy (and light) lock. So the anger and confusion I felt as I walked home was mixed with a sense of guilt that I'd let the bike down!

I'm not alone, according to Stolen Bike Statistics over 115,000 bikes were reported stolen in the UK last year. And with only 1 in 5 bike thefts being reported to the police, the actual figure is likely to be nearer 600,000 - more than 1,600 every day! And a depressing 93% of thefts are never resolved.

I learned my lesson and bought a Kryptonite New York D-Lock, drawn by the bullet-proof construction and the guarantee that I'd get £1,200 if my next bike (a Cannondale F800 Lefty) was stolen.

Fast forward a decade and I have the chance to try out a rival to the Kryptonite's crown.

The ABUS Granit 53 'London' D-Lock also comes with a cable to loop through your wheels - absolutely essential if you've ever seen the number of bikes securely-locked with D-Locks, but minus their wheels...

So how do the locks compare?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

An Electric Bicycle That Can Reach 50 MPH!

Apologies for two posts on electric bikes in as many weeks, but I saw this video and couldn't resist!

This amazing chap/eccentric inventor has come up with a way to make an electric bike that will do up to 50mph!

All you need is a pretty standard mountain mike, two hub-motors and a backpack full of lithium-ion batteries. Oh, and $5,000 to buy one....

But he's keeping pace with motorbike up a mountain - what's not to love?!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

'Rubbee' Makes Any Bike Electric...

I'm not a fan of electric bikes. They're heavy, ugly and - if you want to ride a bike - you can bloody well make the effort to pedal it!

But I'm really charmed by this new detachable electric drive which has been looking for funding on Kickstarter (they've now hit their £63,000 target!).

The Rubbee Electric Drive for Bicycles

It's beautiful, simple and really clever. It weighs 14 lb (6.5 kg), ihas a range of around 15 miles and can get the bike up to a top speed of 15 mph. It's also easily removable and re-chargeable and will fit on most bikes. What's not to like?!

Even Sir Richard Branson is impressed...

Good luck, chaps!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Cycling Video: 'Experiments in Speed'

This is such a wonderfully bonkers (and beautifully shot) short film of frame builder Tom Donhou's quest to get his bike to go as fast as possible - in his case by drag racing behind a modified Ford Zephyr...

"A lot of people think about it but it's whether you actually go through with it," Tom says. "It started out as just an idea, to simply build a bike and see how fast we could go..."

To reach his target speed, he gets component-makers Royce to build a 104-tooth chain ring (for the non-cyclists amongst you, the biggest a road bike's chainring usually gets is 43-teeth)!

Tom is a Rapha Continental frame builder and rider.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Another Mont Ventoux Ride for the Record Books

Mont Venoux is an icon in the history of the Tour de France and Chris Froome's incredible ride yesterday adds another tale to that legend.

Chris Froome conquers Mont Ventoux
Having ridden Ventoux twice myself, I have very personal reasons to appreciate something of what the riders have gone through. Despite first appearing as recently as 1951 the 'Géant de Provence' is one of the classic mountains and it's regarded as the most gruelling climb, in what is a pretty tough field. There are higher mountains, there are steeper mountains, but Ventoux has something special.

Roland Barthes, the French philosopher and cycle racing fan, sums up Ventoux's almost supernatural quality: "The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering."

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Gear Review: Lezyne Micro Drive Front Light

It's less than two years since I last bought and reviewed a set of bike lights, but I've just been sent a new front light to review which has blown me away and made me realise just how much things can change in technology in such a short space of time.

Back in 2011 I bought a Cateye EL-320, which was a pretty much state-of-art LED, producing what seemed a blindingly bright light and and lasting a pretty long time between charges.

What a difference 2 years make...

On the left is the Cateye EL-320, all 176g (including the mount) and 100mm x 45mm of it, powered by 4 x AA batteries. On the right is the new Lezyne Micro Drive front light, which weighs 67g (with mount) and 71mm x 26mm, powered by an internal Lithium Ion battery.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Tour de France - Chris Froome wears the Yellow Jersey

Chris Froome blew the Tour de France apart today. After a week of edgy manoeuvring, and with only seconds separating the leading contenders, Froome is currently wearing the 'Maillot jaune' with a lead of over a minute on the nearest contender, Movistar's Alejandro Valverde.

Chris Froome takes the Yellow Jersey
That may not sound like much, but Bradley Wiggins only won last year's Tour by 3 minutes and 21 seconds from his Sky teammate, ahem, Chris Froome...

It's another feather in the cap for Sky, lead by Dave Brailsford - who has also led Team GB's cyclists to such incredible success.

But I've not posted about this year's Tour yet because, to be honest, of a lack of excitement on my part. Without Wiggo there to defend his title - whether through injury or ennui - Chris Froome is the only real British hope to win (although he was born in Kenya and grew up in South Africa, only riding on a British licence from 2008).

And I do find Froome hard to like. In last year's Tour, Froome acted as Wiggins's 'super domestique', basically there to do his hard work for him and taking little of the glory. Not much fun, but that's how these things work - it's tradition and very like the F1 idea of 'team orders', where drivers allow their team's top driver to beat them in the hope that they will win the title.

But I found Froome rather graceless about his role in Wiggins's success last year, for example his performance at Peyragudes and his comments about Wiggo's non-appearance at the tour this year.

I've worked in PR for 20 years, including sports - for example looking after Channel 4's Ashes cricket coverage in 2005 as well as working with Premier League football clubs - and I understand the kind of ego-related battles that go on. But I think Froome has shown a lack of discipline as well as poor PR skills. Hopefully he will learn the skills that Wiggins displayed late year.

And I'm willing to lay all that to one side if Froome, who's an amazingly able cyclist, whether in the mountains or in time trials, can keep hold of the yellow jersey and win - in his own right and in style - in Paris...!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Danny MacAskill's New Street Riding Video - in his Bedroom!

Scottish street riding pro Danny MacAskill has released his latest hit YouTube videos. This one is called Imaginate - apparently the first of a series of 6 - this one inspired by childhood and filmed inside a giant replica of his bedroom!

Two years in the making, there's a huge Rubik's Cube, a toy train station, blocks, pencils and playing cards, as well as a toy tank and soldiers. It's already had 2.5 million views after being release on une 19th...

“I thought it would be really cool to build a version of my bedroom floor and fill it with some of the obstacles I would have had in there and ride some of those things I’d dreamt about,” says Macaskill.


Friday, 21 June 2013

Race Across America - Cycling Insanity

I've done a fair few cycle tours - Land's End to John O'Groats and Birmingham to the French Mediterranean among them - and my cycling ambition is one day to cycle America coast-to-coast.

But, reading about Christoph Strasser's victory in the Race Across America has rather put that - in fact, any cycling challenge right up to the Tour de France - in the shade. The Austrian former bicycle messenger took less than 8 days to complete the 3,000 mile route - that's nearly 400 miles a day!

Christoph Strasser - Pic: Lupi Spuma
I've driven across America and it took three weeks. Admittedly there was time for eating, sleeping and some light tourism, but there was an awful lot of time in the driving seat...

The Race Across America is, literally, an insane challenge and one that has led to deaths as well as exhaustion and delirium - as many of the riders sleep less than an hour a day to complete the course as soon as (super)humanly possible.

Jure Robic, a Slovenian soldier-turned-ultra-cyclist and five-time winner of the Race Across America, believed he was being pursued by bearded men with guns, as well as bears and wolves, and occasionally dismounted to argue with mailboxes. He died in 2010 while on a training ride on a narrow forest road.

“With the Tour de France, you stop at the end of the day — you rest, you get a massage, eat a meal, sleep and then start fresh the next day,” says women's winner Leah Goldstein, a former Israeli commando. “But with RAAM, you don’t. You’re sleep deprived and disoriented.”

Goldstein herself has suffered from Shermer's Neck - an ultra-cycling ailment where the cyclist's neck is no longer able to support the weight of the head. It's actually named after one of the early Race Across America riders, Michael Shermer.

A Shermer's Neck Sufferer with home-made support
Only 200 people have completed the route in the allotted 12 days in the thirty year history of the Race Across America - amazingly one of them was 65 years old!

So well done Christoph Strasser, you've earned a lie down. But I think I'll stick to cycling that's a little more pleasurable...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Gear Review: Halo Proactiv Sports Wash

If you're anything like me, your cycling gear looks and smells something like this...

My wife won't touch my cycling clothing - and particularly not my shorts! To be honest, I can't blame her - if I had a choice, I wouldn't either. Like any exercise, cycling makes you sweat and your gear bears the brunt.

But I also like good quality cycling apparel, such as Rapha, made from materials like Sportswool and Merino wool, which need to be looked after and washed at 30C, which means boil washes are out of the question.

The problem is that washing powder may clean your gear and make it smell nice (for a while), but it doesn't kill the bacteria that causes the problem, they just mask the smell and they leave soap residue behind too.

But I've just been sent something new that claims to change all that. Halo Proactiv Sport Wash says it's the first non-Bio detergent specifically designed for sports clothing that kills the nasty bacteria that actually causes all the problems, leaving your cycle wear clean and fresh.

At £5.99 for 1L it's a bit pricier than Persil (for 25 washes - that's 24p per wash, about twice the price of normal washing powder). But that's worth it if it does the job!

Anyway, the proof of the sports wash is in the cleaning...!

After washing my cycling gear - shorts, jerseys, jacket and socks - a couple of times with Halo I've been impressed. First off, there's definitely been no harm to the fabrics and they've come out clean and with no residue.

My immediate impression is that my cycle clothing seems particularly fresh and that that appears to last longer than I remember with normal washing powder. It may be a placebo effect, but it would certainly be explained by Halo removing the smell-causing bacteria. I will certainly keep using this and update my post with my longer-term impressions.

So all-in-all I would give Halo Proactiv Sports Wash a definite thumbs up, so far 8/10. If it continues to do the job, who knows, it may be a 9...

Performance 10
Price 7
Overall 8

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cycle Slalom Lanes Introduced to London...

Here's a classic example of why British cycle lanes are useless, wasteful - and, most importantly, dangerous. Watch the video..

This is a brand new stretch of cycle lane on the busy Bethnal Green Road in London, which cost the council £8,000, highlighted in today's London Evening Standard.

So what exactly is wrong with it?

1. It's less than 200 yards long, meaning cyclists then have to go straight back onto the road.
2. It's like a cycling slalom - there's a lamp post and a parking meter in the middle of the lane!
3. It runs right next to the edge of the pavement, meaning that any passengers opening their doors are going to be hit by unsuspecting cyclists.
4. As the cyclist in the video rides along, a workmen is wandering along the lane with a hosepipe, while his colleague has his van door open across the lane.
5. At one point it crosses a side road (one of my personal bug bears this) - so you have to give way.

So it doesn't do what it's supposed to, it's dangerous and it's a waste of money - and now the local council are considering paving it over...

I give up!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Let's Be Honest, Penny Farthings Belong In A Museum...

I was reading a piece this morning - in, it won't surprise you to hear, The Guardian - about Penny Farthings making a comeback.

For anyone unfamiliar with history of the bicycle, the 'Penny Farthing' - or 'ordinary' bicycle - was the incarnation of bicycles preceding the modern 'safety' bicycle, which was pioneered in the 1880s in Coventry by John Kemp Starley.

The ordinary bicycle was a huge improvement on the earlier 'velocipedes', which - partly thanks to pneumatic tyres having not been invented - were also known as 'boneshakers' and the equivalent of modern-day 'balance bikes' (beloved of our 3-year-old) with no pedals or gears.

Ironically the Penny Farthing was perfected by James Starley, John Kemp Starley's uncle. His 'Ariel' included innovations such as the first spoked wheel, which were much lighter than existing wheels.

The name 'Penny Farthing' is a pejorative late name given when the bikes were already on their way out. It refers to the large front wheel (a large old English penny) and smaller rear wheel (the smaller farthing).  With the pedals powering the larger front wheels directly, without chain and gears, the only way to increase speed was to increase the size of the wheel.

The huge downside was the danger of sitting high over the centre of gravity of the front wheel with the your legs under the handle bars. If you hit something, you were likely to 'take a header' and be thrown forward off the bike head-first.

'Taking a header' or 'coming a cropper' - an all-too-common Penny Farthing experience 
The invention of the 'safety bicycle' - the forerunner of the modern bicycle - with equal-sized wheels, chain and gears was a huge step forwards and laid the foundations for the 1880s boom in cycling - and signalled the end of the 'ordinary'.

Let's face it, Penny Farthings are quaint, the equivalent of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Seeing someone on an 'ordinary' in the modern world is utterly charming, but my first thought is to fear for their safety.

And invariably these days, the bike will be ridden by a someone in tweed...

To be fair, in 1886 George Pilkington Mills apparently rode from Land's End to John O'Groats in under 6 days on a Penny Farthing, which would be good work on a modern bike (although the record is under 2 days, it took me 14 days in 2003).

And Penny Farthings take part in the wonderful London Nocturne at Smithfield Market...

So, a revival may be over-sold (certainly from a safety point of view), but it's lovely to see these wonderfully imperfect, anachronistic bicycles on the road.

But best to see them where they belong - in a museum. And, I highly recommend a trip to Coventry Transport Museum who have a wonderful bicycle collection, including the 'Ariel' created by James Starley just down the road...

Friday, 7 June 2013

D-Day By Bicycle

There was no Tour de France in 1944 for understandable reasons - there was a war on - but bicycles did play a little-known role in the liberation of occupied France.

A Channel 4 programme last night, D-Day: As It Happens, marked the 69th anniversary of the Normandy landings by following the events of the day in real time. It was a fascinating piece of television, backed up brilliantly on Twitter. And it revealed that bicycles were one of the secret weapons of the invasion.

One of the seven real-life characters highlighted by the project was Ronald 'Dixie' Dean, a 21-year-old British commando who landed on D-Day at Ouistreham with his trusty BSA bicycle.

Ronald 'Dixie' Dean
D-Day is something I've read plenty about - and I've visited the landing beaches - but I'd not realised the role of bicycles so clearly before.

Canadian troops landing with BSA airborne bicycles in the 2nd wave on D-Day
It seems quaint, but the idea was very simple - bikes would make the troops more mobile after they landed and more able to cover ground quickly before the Germans had an opportunity to counter attack.

I wouldn't suggest for a moment that bicycles were crucial to the Allied success on D-Day, but the programme's Twitter feed does show how they could make a difference at critical moments...

Sadly Dixie Dean was killed on June 6th, 1944 as he advanced inland. It was heart-breaking to see the story develop live on Twitter.

If you want more information, take a look at the Channel 4 site, plus there's fascinating history online online about bikes and World War 2 - for example herehere and here (about the folding airborne version!).

It's a fascinating subject and only reinforces my desire to cycle across Normandy to visit the D-Day sites...

Thursday, 23 May 2013

"#BloodyCyclists" - I Pay Road Tax Too...

A disturbing story about a young woman in Norfolk who wrote the following on Twitter last week about hitting a cyclist on the road:

Apart from being an unpleasant sentiment, it's an astonishingly thing to post on a public forum. And, as a result, the cyclist has now been found and Norwich Police have become involved, contacting the driver:

Apparently the cyclist was actually hit - he was taking part in a sportive at the time - although fortunately he (and his bike) are fine.

The second thing the story points up is something that a number of motorists throw at cyclists - that we don't have an equal right to be on the road as we don't pay Road Tax, as they do.

As ipayroadtax.com entertainingly - and quite rightly - points out, 'Road Tax' doesn't exist and it hasn't since 1937. What drivers pay is Car Tax - or, more formally, Vehicle Excise Duty - and motorists do not pay directly for the upkeep of the roads, which actually comes from general and local taxation.

Like most cyclists I drive too and pay Car Tax. Of course, if cyclists were required to pay VED, we would be zero-rated as it is based on carbon emissions!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Lovely Video About A Passionate Cycle Collector

This is such a lovely little film about a wonderfully passionate bicycle obsessive, James Macdonald - 'The Spokesman' - who collects and restores unloved bikes in his native Australia as a 'time capsule' for future generations.

The film, made by Dean Saffron - a photographer based in Brisbane, Australia - is an absolute joy!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Motorists Fined For Using Cycle Lane - Quite Right!

Police in Twickenham, south west London, have been fining drivers for using a cycle lane - after one of their local commanders was knocked off his bike - according to this report at Road.cc

This is obviously good news. But why does it need an officer being hit himself for police to take action? Rule 140 of the Highway Code tells drivers: "You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white during its times of operation."

A number of drivers were apparently handed £30 fixed penalty fines for illegally using the bike lane.

I very often see drivers parking or driving on cycle lanes. It's dangerous and inconsiderate, but nothing is done about it. I frequently have drivers tell me that cyclists ignore the rules of the rode, cycling through red lights and on pavements - which I don't, by the way.

I happen to agree with them that cyclists who break the law should be penalised, partly because this argument is used against blameless riders such as me, but the same should equally apply to drivers who break the law.

And at a time of austerity, couldn't this be a useful source of income...?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Bike Lounge at the Hare and Hounds

It's nice to see cycling culture finding a footing in our culture, as evidenced by a new cycle social at the Hare and Hounds in King's Heath, Birmingham.

It's every 2nd Tuesday of the month starting on January 15th and, as well as like-minded folk, it promises guest speakers, cycle-themed films and an open mike slot to update others on upcoming events and news.

And it's in a lovely pub - what's not to like?!