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Doc on a bike. NHS, Leicester Med School, Cycling Plus Magazine. LFCC Cyclocross Champion (old gits category). Riding's the best medicine. Follow me on twitter @awkwardcyclist

Monday, November 21, 2016

Beet It Sport Flapjack Review

 

In my constant quest for marginal gains I was very interested to hear of the possible improvements to be gained from beetroot. I've always been fan of the purple vegetable in cheese sarnies, but had no inkling that it might make me faster. It turns out that I would need a fairly large number of those sarnies to make a discernible difference, but luckily, Beet It Sport have a number of products to help bring the gains without the abdominal pains. I have been trying their latest offering - Beetroot Flapjack - and have to say I am impressed.

The science bit

It’s the nitrate found within beetroot that improves performance. When nitrate is ingested, it interacts with enzymes generated by friendly bacteria in our saliva to generate nitrite. When this encounters body tissue with lower oxygen levels, such as exercising muscles, it is converted to nitric oxide. This creates a number of positive physiological changes in the body, for example, it causes blood vessels to dilate, directing more blood and oxygen to the areas that need it most. This improves the ability of muscle cells to contract and produce more energy, boosting strength and endurance. It is important to note that mouthwash or toothpaste kill the friendly bacteria needed for the conversion to nitrite - don't use Beet It straight after cleaning your teeth.

How much is needed?

Research from Exeter University indicates that between 400mg and 800mg of nitrate should be taken 1 to 6 hours before riding. It’s worth experimenting in advance of an important event - have too much and it might upset your stomach. Beet It Sport Shots contain 400mg of nitrate. I've been using them for the past couple of cyclocross seasons before races and have found them to have no untoward side effects (apart from pink urine!). The flapjacks contain 200mg of nitrate per bar.

Raising the Bar



So what about the Flapjack Bars? They are quite small - just 9 x 3cm - so easy to carry and quick to eat. Despite this compact size, they pack in a decent 154 kcal, so provide a reasonable boost mid-ride. I like the taste of them - not too sweet and without an overpowering beetroot flavour. There is a good oatiness to the bars. I sneakily tested the bars on my unsuspecting beetroot-hating daughter. Although I'm not worried about her stealing bars from my stash in future, she did not detect the presence of the purple veg! Most people I got to the test the bars found them OK, but it would be worth trying before buying a full box. Personally I would prefer them to energy gels and tried them during my recent attempt at the Three PeaksCyclocross Race. The moistness of the bars meant I needed less of my precious water supply to wash them down than with Clif Bars. This cyclocross season I've been using them before races - one first thing in the morning, one on arrival at the course - and had no ill effects. Do they make me go faster? Hard to say - there is so much that contributes to a good (or poor) performance. The evidence does seem convincing though and if I believe they are going to work, then that is probably half the battle. Marginal gains indeed!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Seven Lessons I Learned From Three Peaks Number Two

So I survived another Three Peaks with body and bike intact. It wasn't all plain-sailing but I finished higher up the field and five minutes faster than in my first attempt. The aches and pains at 48 hours seemed significantly worse this time around (even my fingers hurt) but my enthusiasm for this wonderful event is only stronger. Here are the lessons I hope to take into next year's event.

Cheery on the approach to Simon Fell
Photo Jack Chevell

1. Never trust a Yorkshire weather forecast

The week before the race was spent anxiously checking the BBC Weather website. Heavy rain, gales, thunderstorms and hail were all predicted for the Horton-in-Ribblesdale area at various intervals. Mark Richmond kept us informed with various warning emails about survival bags, rain jackets and hypothermia. The night before he even advised sun-cream, sparking a surge of optimism. Arriving in the car park I was greeted by fog on the tops and pretty heavy rain. In the end it was distinctly damp and the wind on Whernside and Pen y Ghent threatened to blow the bike off my shoulder. A tougher and altogether different experience to the glorious sunshine of 2015.

2. You can't check your kit enough times

A last minute change of rucksack to accommodate the obligatory rain jacket almost left me without my tools. Luckily a quick run through my kit before joining the melee at the start highlighted my error. A broken chain near the end of the Whernside descent could have seen my race end early without that precious quick-link!



video
Simon Fell - short but perfectly formed video from Alex Duffill

3. Tubeless is trouble-free

After much debate I decided to race on my Schwalbe X-Ones with 65 psi. Significantly lighter than last year's set up I really felt the benefit on the road sections and the long carry ups. No punctures, no sickening clanging of the rims on the multiple rocky sections and great grip even on the wet slabs of Whernside. A good choice and a shoo-in for next year should I get a start.

4. Sub-Four hours is bloody difficult

My three ambitions for the race in ascending order were - finish in one piece, finish faster than last year and most ambitiously, finish under four hours. Two out of three isn't bad, but the 16 minutes I would need to make up for my final target seem out of reach. Descending is not my strong point, but even if I went downhill as quick as my club mate and ex-professional mountain biker Nick Walling, I would still have missed the target by a minute. Chapeau to anyone who gets a First Class Certificate!

5. If you're going to endo - do it in the peat.

On two occasions I found myself sailing over the handlebars - on Whernside and Pen y Ghent. Against the odds I manged to land in a bog on both occasions, narrowly missing some nasty, potentially bone-crunching boulders. It took me two days to get the peat out of my skin and my club jersey will never be the same again, but I see that as a small price to pay.

6. There's no such thing as a "too granny" gear

38/42 still not low enough to get me up to the hairpin at Pen y Ghent. I need a hidden motor.

7. This is the best cycling event of the year

The climbs really hurt, the descents can be terrifying and you get cramp in muscles you didn't know you had, but the atmosphere and the feeling of achievement at the end make all of that worthwhile. The marshalls, the mountain-rescue teams and the organisers are all heroes. Just after crossing the line a fellow rider told me he'd wiped one hour off his personal best after working really hard and losing a stunning amount of weight over the last year. The race is full of stories like that. Long may it continue! 

Cheery at the end.
Photo by Jack Chevell.

The rest of Alex Duffill's excellent short film of the race:

Three Peaks 2016 from Alex Duffill on Vimeo.
 https://vimeo.com/185044155



Friday, September 16, 2016

Dean Barnett's Three Peaks Course Notes

Former runner up and Three Peaks obsessive Dean Barnett gives us the benefit of his vast experience of the race with these helpful course notes.


The start is a wee bit manic, especially through Horton over the bridges and tight corners. The pack starts to split as the road goes up. Try not to go into the ‘red’ so soon…. As you drop down a slight hill you will see spectators lining the narrow farm track off the wide road. Someone always drops a chain as you thunder over a cattle grid and up a slight climb. As you crest the climb the fun begins… farm track, fields, walking, running, slabs of stone ….SIMONS FELL. 

Photo from http://www.slipstream-design.co.uk/phil-wilson-saddle-sore-but-still-smiling/
It’s steep and long! Trickle of energy and concentrate on keeping a good footing. At the top take a few seconds to look back, the view is worth it (if it’s not foggy!). You climb over a style – can be slippery – and start to ride / run up and down. Keep a safe distance from the rider in front as many slip off as they are still recovering from the earlier effort. You will hit a rocky path up to Ingleborough summit. Steps and more steps, the top is flat but very rocky. Get your timing dobber ready for the check point. 

Off the top it is rocky and tricky, lots of on and off the bike. After about five minutes you turn off the path onto a land rover track. Keep looking ahead as there are peat bogs and rocks! If you don’t respect the descent you will soon be sitting on your arse! All of a sudden you will see a cluster of spectators (next checkpoint), keep concentrating as the track still has a couple of surprises! The check point is just after a nasty bog!

Safely onto the road for a fast descent to the tip of Ingleton. Right turn and a slog of a climb!! Low gear for me. Groups of riders form on the road, don’t piss anyone off as you are likely to be in their company for the next hour. Eat and drink !!You turn off the road onto a farm track over a couple cattle grids, through the dismount section (drinks break) and start a long hike to the top of Whernside, the path zig-zags with loads of steps. The climb has couple of false flats as you near the top there are sections of the path you can ride with a low gear. Before you know it you are riding along the top ridge – get your dobber ready. 

Photo from http://www.swissside.com/103-2/

After the top the path is fast, 2 minutes in and the path disappears!! BEWARE. The fun now starts as large rocks with drainage gaps dominate the first half of the descent – punctures galore. Look for lines off the slabs, be ready to jump off and keep it smooth. As you exit the slabs the path is rough with sharp rock edges. Keep looking for tyre marks across the moor… it might be a good line it might lead to flying over the handle bars. You will know you are at the bottom of the descent when you hit the railway line. You now face a fast path with stream crossings to Ribblehead. Try and eat if you can!

At Ribblehead you will pass through another check point. The long road ahead is not easy, there are a couple of nasty climbs. You ride past where the race turned off to head up to Ingleborough, get a wee rest on the descent into Horton and ready yourself for Pen y Ghent. 



It is a busy climb, racers going up and down, walkers and spectators. Get into a good climbing rhythm. Heads up at all times as riders may well be coming down towards you. You should be able to ride the lower slopes. When you past through a gate it gets tough. You will either be walking or in the granny ring. You reach a grassy corner, from this point it is a foot race to the turn at the top. Its rocky and loose. The last 200m is on the grass, last check point before a fast descent, stick to the grass, bogs at first (beware the bogs) and then drop onto the path. Keep your nerve and bounce down!! 

As you hit Horton it’s a dash on the road to the finish! 

You will love it!!






Saturday, September 3, 2016

Schwalbe X-One update - a Three Peaks Contender?

Tubeless very easy indeed

So, 8 weeks in, are the X-Ones living up to their early promise? The short answer is yes. So far, so very good, which gives me a bit of a dilemma...


Dry runs

The Met Office claims that this summer has been wetter than average, but that doesn't seem to be my experience. Out riding on the trails around Leicestershire and Rutland, there seems to be a distinct absence of mud. On recent rides, the ground has been baked pretty hard - even heavy rain seems to dry out very quickly. This has led to some bone-shaking rides which have tested my fillings to the limit. Not that the conditions have bothered the X-Ones. They've stayed puncture and burp free, despite some uncompromising hits on the rutted and occasionally rocky trails. A few visits to Wakerley Woods to improve my handling on the singletrack have exposed the tyres to some nasty sharp gravel sections, again with no difficulties. I have even started making an effort to hit some boulders fairly hard to test the tyres to the limit, but they have shown no signs of giving way. Admittedly, practically all my current training is aimed at the Three Peaks, so I have mostly been running higher pressures than I would normally - around 60 psi. I decided to try them at 45 psi yesterday after some rain. Grip, handling and comfort improved and the tyres stood up really well to the broken tarmac, rocks and random housebricks of the field roads I took in. The only time I felt the tyres to be a bit less secure was when I ran a much lower pressure (below 30 psi) for a cyclocross training session with Dean Barnett. Racing on a steepish off-camber section I felt the rear tyre collapse under the strain - no loss of pressure or burping, but enough to make me back off on the next lap.



A contender?

Which brings me to the dilemma. With the tyres performing really well in the sort of conditions prominent in the descents of Whernside and Pen y Ghent, could my set up survive the Three Peaks? The appeal is obvious - tubeless means less weight to carry up the long climbs. With the risk of pinch flats removed, the opportunity to run lower pressures would make for a more comfortable ride than with tubes. My concern is around durability. The Smart Sams I ran last year were heavy and don't handle as well as the X-Ones, but they survived the whole race without a single puncture. Dave Taylor of Schwalbe UK, gave me this advice: 

Tricky to say, certainly if the weather changes. Smart Sam are the go-to tyre for this challenge although sponsored riders will use Racing Ralph or Rocket Ron (33/35c) or a combination of both. These are LiteSkin tyres so not particularly robust whereas the Smart Sam’s although heavier are more robust. Three Peaks will be a nice test for the X-Ones if you decide to use them and to be honest if you hit something that ends the life of the X-One then it will most likely also end the life of a Ralph, Ron or Smart Sam. For absolute piece of mind in all conditions use Smart Sam. For maximum performance and speed use X-One. Carry a spare tube with either. 

Before extensively testing the X-One, tyre choice for the Three Peaks was a no-brainer. The great performance of this set up is giving me food for thought. I would welcome the advice of any experienced Three Peakers out there..

STOP PRESS:

Cycle Systems Academy got in touch via twitter to point me to this podcast with cycle-tech legend and 3 Peaks addict Keith Bontrager - http://www.cycle-systems.co.uk/archive/201604

In it Keith recommends tubeless, but at 100 psi. Last year's winner Paul Oldham also runs tubeless, but told me he runs 45 psi for comfort. The plot thickens! Further tweeting reveals Keith's logic - Paul is a better rider, picks better lines and avoids hitting rocks hard. Keith likes the margin of error that the higher pressure gives him and recommends a tough tyre like Bontrager CX3. I suppose he would :-)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Schwalbe X One Tubeless Easy Cyclocross Tyres

Decisions, decisions...



Before I got into cyclocross, I spent approximately no time at all worrying about tyre choice. I stuck a pair of Michelin Krylion Carbons on my road bike and basically forgot about them until the profiles turned a bit square-shaped 5 years later. Since getting into the muddy stuff however, I have spent more time obsessing about the pros and cons of various bobbly bits of rubber than any other part of my cyclocross set up. My current race wheels are shod with Challenge Limus tubulars and very pleased with them I am too - they perform excellently in the thick, slippery mud of the local cross courses. I do feel a need to handle them with kid gloves though. After the faff of getting them glued on (with the marvellous help of Nick Walling) I daren't risk damaging those lovely soft side-walls when out training on the rocks and gravel of the local bridleways. Practical they are not.

Tubeless Traumas


I've always been interested in the idea of tubeless for cyclocross. On paper I was attracted to the idea of being able to run low tyre pressures without having to glue various parts of myself to my wheels. I also liked the sound of being able to change tyres to match the conditions without having to invest in a garage full of spare wheels. A couple of years back I tried a set up using Stans Alpha 400 rims coupled with Michelin Muds. At the time there was a dearth of tubeless specific cross tyres, but I was assured this combination would be fine. Here I encountered the first potential drawback of tubeless - getting the tyres onto the rims. Try as I might, I could not get them to hold air. In the end a trip to South Wigston Cycles to take advantage of Graham's massive compressor saw me right, but this did seem to defeat one of the objects of the whole affair. The final nail in this experiment's coffin came after a fairly dramatic "burp" riding down a rocky and treacherous descent that saw me clinging on for dear life as the tyre completely left the rim. After a bit of internet research, it appeared that the Alpha 400s were not really suited to cyclocross tyres and I eventually sold them to a roadie in my club.

Tubeless Easy


My interest in tubeless was rekindled after my experience on the Three Peaks. The top riders all seemed to be riding tubeless set ups, including winner Paul Oldham, who used the Alpha 400s that I had (perhaps rashly) discarded. I found the clinchers I had ridden to be particularly heavy - something I paid for on the long climb up Pen-y-Ghent and was looking for ways to save weight for any future attempts. A timely visit to the Winstanleys Bikes website saw a bargain pair of American Classic Hurricanes winging their way to me - I just needed to find the right tyres. It was then I read about Schwalbe's X Ones. Described as Tubeless Easy, apparently these could be fitted with a simple track pump. Admittedly sceptical after my last experience I decided to give them a try.


The first thing I noticed about the tyres was the design of the bead. As you can see from the photo, this is significantly wider and flatter than a standard tyre bead. Fitting the tyre onto the Hurricane Rims took a bit of thumb power, but was helped by Schwalbe's Easy Fit mounting fluid - basically a slightly soapy liquid with a built in sponge to allow easy application to the beads. After that I was amazed to find that a track pump truly was all that was required to get the tyre mounted:  


After squirting in some sealant, the tyres have held pressure now for several weeks and an experiment in removing and replacing the tyre proved similarly successful. Could this be the tubeless panacea I was looking for?

First Rides




The tread on the X Ones is not an aggressive one - more like a Challenge Grifo than a Limus. I've taken the bike out on some rough bridleways and found handling confident in dry conditions and on grassy tracks but haven't yet had the chance to try them in some decent mud. I suspect they will find their niche in early season courses where I might be tempted to ride them ahead of the tubulars. I will post updates as the weather deteriorates! I am beginning to wonder if this might be a suitable set up for the Three Peaks (should my entry be successful this year), so I'll be giving the tyres some serious hammer over the next few weeks to see how they hold up. Watch this space...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Riding The Three Peaks - Article for Cycling Plus Magazine

I wrote this feature about my first attempt at the legendary Three Peaks Cyclocross Race. With entries for this year's event currently open I thought it timely to share it here. Article reproduced with the kind permission of Cycling Plus. Photos by Jack Chevell.


Explaining cyclocross to a non-cyclist can lead to some raised eyebrows – “so you jump off a moving bike and leap over hurdles?” Tell them about the Three Peaks and they’ll be measuring you up for a straitjacket. 38 miles of the wildest countryside Yorkshire has to offer, 3-5 miles unrideable and 5000 feet of climbing. There’s Simon Fell – the toughest climb in cycle sport - a calf-destroying grapple up a field too steep for even the robust local sheep. There’s insane descents with rocks, drop offs and hidden bogs to contend with. Oh and don’t forget that you have to do all this on a drop handle-barred bike, carry a survival bag and rescue whistle and give a donation to mountain rescue when you enter. You’d have thought all that might have put me off, but I love cyclocross and as Dean Barnett, Three Peaks obsessive and runner up in 1995 told me – the race is the pinnacle of UK ‘cross: Wembley, Wimbledon and Twickenham all rolled into one. June 20th, the email arrives – I’ve got 14 weeks to prepare for the hardest cyclocross race in the world.


In the beginning...


In 1961, 35 competitors turned up for the first Three Peaks. The race was won by John Rawnsley of Bradford RCC, the man who would go on to run the event for over 50 years. Even those 35 racers surpassed expectations. In response to a complaint in Cycling Weekly about this new “mad scramble” across the Yorkshire fells, John replied “we very much doubt if there are 30 riders in the country who will be prepared to climb three 2,500 foot mountains in just under four hours, with a total distance of 25 miles”. The race has evolved over the years – this 53rd edition covered 38 miles and attracted 650 riders. The basic principles remain the same, those 2,500 foot mountains still loom large and strict rules govern the type of bike that can be used. Those competitors from 1961 would have understood the benefits a full suspension mountain bike might have given them, but such technological advances are of no more help to the 2015 field. Only cyclocross bikes with drop-handlebars are allowed. This respect for tradition is one of the things that make the event so special, there is no big money corporate sponsorship here. With entries heavily oversubscribed and riders attracted from as far afield as Pakistan, the US and New Zealand, it’s a tradition that clearly works.
So how do you prepare for the challenge? This is where the great community spirit of the Three Peaks comes to the fore. It may be super-competitive at the top end of the race, but for the rest of us mere mortals there’s a feeling that we’re all in this together. Numerous blogs tell tales of previous editions and give out priceless advice - the excellent “ThreePeaks Cyclocross Blog” collating them all in one handy site. The magic of twitter meant I was able to get helpful tips from Dean Barnett and one of the race favourites Paul Oldham. Most of that advice could be summarised in one sentence: ride your cross bike a lot, ride it on rough off-road and shoulder it as much as possible. Leicester Forest clubmate and Three Peaks veteran Nick Walling was a bit more specific. “Carry your bike up hills so steep you couldn’t run if you wanted to.” Unfortunately, whilst the rolling countryside of Leicestershire provides excellent cycling, vicious gradients are not scattered widely - I was directed to the Iron Age hill fort of Burrough Hill. Steep ramparts built over 2000 years ago to ward off rival tribes provide a perfect training ground for calf-burning hill reps. I got a few funny looks from dog-walkers as I lugged my bike up the embankments time and again - in ancient times I might have been burnt as a witch. Trying to fit in training between my jobs as a GP and an educator at Leicester Medical School and occasionally spending a bit of time with my family was turning out to be a challenge. Finding suitable places to practice became something of an obsession, culminating in numerous visits to the Arts and Humanities department at the University. Not to seek inspiration in poetry or literature, but to take advantage of its 18 floors of stair-climbing goodness.


It's all about the bike


With body preparation well underway, it was time to get my bike ready. Having spent most of the spring upgrading my trusty Cannondale to a fast and lightweight race machine, I had to do a bit of rewinding. A punishing course featuring boulders, loose rocks, raised drainage channels, muddy bogs and 18 miles of tarmac would make mincemeat of my carbon fibre wheels and soft handmade tubulars. The race has been described as the most inappropriate terrain on the most inappropriate bike – I had some work to do. First up: the tyres. Schwalbe Landcruisers – a solid clincher built for commuting and touring – are the most popular choice. I found them to be fairly useless in mud and opted instead for the hardly more glamorous Smart Sams. With rocky descents making pinch flats a constant hazard, I was advised to pump them up to 70psi – a level of pressure sufficient to cause nosebleeds in most cyclocrossers. Cheap and chunky alloy rims with 32 spokes per wheel and my bike was getting positively hefty. To compensate for this I nicked the cassette off my mountain bike giving me the granniest of granny gears - a 36 tooth rear sprocket bigger than my chainring. Cross top levers completed the package enabling me to brake hard from different positions to allow some respite for my shoulders on the long descents.
And so to Yorkshire. Greeted by an unexpected sunny morning as we made our way to Helwith Bridge, it was obvious that this was no ordinary race. A hot air balloon was slowly taking flight by the carpark, mountain rescue teams enjoyed a cuppa and a commentator was getting the atmosphere going with an accent that made Geoffrey Boycott sound like a soft southerner. Signing on, I received my race number, had a small timing chip strapped to my arm and got on with my pre-race faffing. Survival bag taped to the top tube, Camelbak filled up, pockets stuffed with energy bars, I took my place at the start – a melee of riders crammed into the street with barely room to swing a cleat. 

It's all go!


Looking round I struggled to imagine how we could all get going without a mass pile up. It was all fairly amiable though and my nerves settled as I got chatting to my neighbours. When the start did come, it was significantly less dangerous than my last league race and flying along the fast rolling road to Gill Garth I began to think that this could be fun. Hitting the first off road section a grunt behind me marked the first crash of the race and reminded me of the need to take things seriously. I was going well as we hit a succession of short climbs punctuated with treacherous boggy sections and I made up a few places. Suddenly, there was Simon Fell to bring me down to earth – a string of riders disappearing up a tussocky cliff. Battling my way up the iconic climb it was noticeable how quiet everyone had become, pained heavy breathing replacing the previous chit chat. Not daring to stop for fear of toppling backwards, I pulled on the grass, gritted my teeth and dug in. Finally the gradient started to ease and I risked a look over my shoulder to be greeted by a magnificent view. Low cloud clung to the valley far below as bright sunshine shone on the seemingly endless procession of riders making their way to the fell. 



Fantastic teamwork from cheery marshalls got me and my bike quickly over the style known as Rawnsley’s Leap and a bit of post-Simon Fell euphoria set in. Not that it lasted long. It soon became clear that the climbing of Ingleborough was definitely not over, as another summit reared up out of the peat bog. Bike back on the shoulder, a rocky clamber in unsuitable shoes and the welcome sight of the checkpoint - I’d cracked it! One peak down, two to go and time to experience my first Three Peaks descent. Before the race, it was the descents that gave me the most anxiety. Technical downhills have never been one of my strengths, and the prospect of ending the race in my orange survival bag seemed all too real. Riding across the plateau, I tightened my brake cables and prepared for the worst. I needn’t have worried. After an intial, unrideable plummet, a rough track gave way to a wide expanse of moorland. Following the line of previous riders I started to pick up speed. This was actually enjoyable. I’d obviously bought a winning ticket in the Ingleborough Bog Lottery and stayed upright all the way down. Several riders were less lucky – somersaulting dramatically into a muddy bath as their front wheels sank deep. Laughing a little manically I careered towards the marshalls and the gateway off the moor.


Over the top


Back on the smooth tarmac I took the chance to refuel, shovelling in energy bars. A group ahead was making good progress and I worked hard to get on the back, shamelessly drafting to the foot of Whernside. After the rigours of Simon Fell, I was hoping the worst was behind me - the endless stone steps up the fell had other ideas. This was a real grind, and every rider fell into their own pace – for every rider that passed me another cramped up at the side of the path. Reaching a false summit it was back on the bike before an ungainly encounter with a kissing gate – the less said about that the better. Past the summit, another checkpoint and it was time for best descent of the whole race. Famous for its stone steps, raised drainage channels and boulders a-plenty, the long and fast rattle down the mountain requires constant concentration, but is no less fun despite that. Against the odds, I stayed upright again and on reaching Ribblesdale Viaduct and the welcoming crowds I allowed myself a “weeeeee” as I shot down the final grassy slope. Two peaks down, just one to go!

The road to Horton in Ribblesdale provided another chance to refuel, spin my legs out and take a turn at the front of a small group, trying not to notice Pen y Ghent looming ominously ahead. Off the tarmac, onto another rough track, my granny gear found its niche as the gradient increased. Fast riders were coming down from the summit and constant concentration was required to avoid a collision. Through a gate the gradient finally won and I started the laborious shuffle to the summit. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, the final peak was bagged and it was downhill all the way! A moments relaxation, a loss of concentration and I was grovelling on the gravel – my first crash - right at the end.  No serious harm done, though my saddle was now pointing at a somewhat alarming angle – not that I was spending much time on it. I don’t remember much more about the descent - it was rough, it was rattly and there were moments when I was hanging on for dear life, but I made it down and onto the best bit of tarmac I have ever ridden. 4 hours 21 minutes after that hectic start, the commentator was still in fine voice – a Yorkshire accent never sounded so good. I had survived my first Three Peaks in one piece, my survival bag and whistle unused.

Worth the pain?


So did it live up to the build up? Was it worth the obsessive preparation, the mysterious bruises, the “Three Peaks shoulder”? I’ve had some fantastic experiences on my bike down the years, but the atmosphere, the views and the brilliant riding mean this one definitely tops the lot. I’ll be back next year – I just need to sort out my kissing gate technique.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Orange is the New Bike


At the start of 2016 I took the massive decision to leave the GP practice in South Wigston, where I had worked as a partner for 18 years. I was offered the opportunity to work at Lakeside Surgery in Corby where I could devote more of my time to the teaching of medical students. It was a tough decision, made tougher by the fact that commuting by bike - something I had done regularly for 7 of those 18 years - was going to become nigh on impossible. Early starts, a large practice area and limited time for home visits meant that the 26 miles of travelling to get to work in the morning were going to have to be by car. Less awkward cyclist, more frustrated motorist. Salvation was at hand though, from a seemingly unlikely source.

Fold Comfort

I'd always liked the look of folding bikes. This was partly based on the fact that most owners rarely have a bad word to say about them, but also the ingenuity of their designs appealed to my inner nerd. Living 4 miles from my place of work and with plenty of bike storage when I got there, I couldn't really justify the expense of another niche bike. After the move to Corby was confirmed however the seed was planted. A bit of railway timetable studying and a change to my working arrangements at the University and suddenly I was interested in folding pedals, retractable seatposts and tiny little wheels. A trip to a local bike shop was organised and the chance to test ride a couple of models. First up the Tern Eclipse P18. A great bike, you could almost forget it was a folder. Familiar SRAM gears and 24" wheels led to a smooth ride and I was almost tempted. Unfortunately, those large wheels translated to a pretty bulky object when the all important fold was put to the test. Next up, the Brompton M3L. Now here was an unmistakable folder. Tiny wheels, narrow handlebars, Sturmey Archer gears. All very quirky - within 5 minutes pedalling I was hooked. This is a bike that genuinely puts a smile on your face. Collapse it down and it truly remarkable in its compactness - the simplicity of the folding itself being almost addictive. All that remained was to choose the colour.

Brompton a l'Orange

And so I took delivery of my newest and most eccentric steed. The happiness of that first test-ride has persisted and I still smile every time I take it for a pedal - especially if I catch sight of myself reflected in a shop window. After getting used to its twitchy steering and occasionally clunky gears, I found myself getting quicker and more daring on my short commute to the Medical School. That journey to Corby still needed conquering though. On a sunny afternoon in May, I took the plunge. 


A train to Kettering, with the Brompton on the luggage rack, so far so smooth. A quick dash across the platform, another luggage rack utilised and I arrived in Corby. Bike stored snugly under my desk, a surgery completed and it was time to ride home. 


Avoiding the business of the A426 and the A6, I opted for a cross-country route through the quiet countryside I know well from my road bike forays. This is not a flat route and it was with some trepidation I approached the climbs out of the Welland Valley. I needn't have worried. The lowest of the 3 gears proved to be just low enough as I ground my way up the infamous Goadby and Noseley hills. 


No Strava segments were ever in danger, but the gentle pootle I was committed to turned out to be one the most pleasurable rides of the year. I have the feeling that this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. I wonder if I could use it in a cross race?