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...