- Posted by Michael Hutchinson
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The days are getting colder, and the nights are drawing in. Cycling is changing too, with cold-rasped lungs, stinging cheeks and clouds of rider
condensation rising from the winter racers when they make one of their occasional cafe stops.
But when I think of winter cycling, I think of none of these things. I think of getting dressed. Somewhere in the next week or two, the ratio of time spent riding to the time spent getting dressed to do it will reach a miserable 1:1.
Most of that consists of grumpily touring radiators to find the same old stuff, dry and stiff, and putting it all on again. The act of a few moments, you'd think. I haven't yet accounted for the amount of time that vanishes into the apparently simple act of deciding what to put on my head. I have more hats in my closet than the Lord Chancellor. And I loathe them all.
I own a black skullcap, designed to fit under a helmet. Simple, and fairly warm. However, it's essential to put a helmet on over this as fast as possible, lest I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. It's tight-fitting and dark, and when I wear it an optical illusion makes the upper half of my head look incredibly small. My eyes stick out at the top of my face like a crab.
My chin looks like something that would cause Eric Pickles to point and laugh. In other words, I look exactly like the horribly distorted Photoshopped caricatures of me that so frequently accompany these weekly columns.
I have an almost unused balaclava: there is never a day cold enough to justify it. When I wear it, I can't stop thinking that underneath it my face must be all squashed up, like a bank robber with a stocking mask. Combined with my helmet and glasses it looks utterly ridiculous, like the invisible man on his way to meet the club run.
It's been years since I've worn my helmet cover. These used to be popular, but in recent times they've fallen from favour. It's a large, insulated shower cap that fits over a helmet. Mine is in a violent shade of yellow and very effectively gives the impression of a man wearing upon his head a mighty cheese. That's not the biggest problem.
To call the effect helmet covers have on the limited airspace round your head ‘humidity' would be a considerable understatement. What you actually get is a full hydrologic system, with clouds, rain, fog, rivers, and oceans.
I own a tube of fabric with a drawstring at one end. It's equally useless as a scarf, a headband, or a hat. On the other hand, it's quite effective at forming a bag to keep your head in, as if you were happily on your way to your own execution. It's also decorated in a disturbing psychedelic pattern that suggests it was given to me by someone who thought I might want to wear it while I go skateboarding in about 1969.
Finally, from the days before helmets, I have a ‘thermal hat', which is warm, and comfortable. It's also surprisingly conical, to the extent that the apex is about six inches above my head. This would be easier to live with if it was not also orange and white.
The hat that would solve all my problems doesn't yet exist. It's a fur-lined helmet, with just enough ventilation to prevent the build-up of an ecosystem. I want the fur to stick out a bit round the bottom. I want it all in a nice bright colour. And I want it to have earflaps.
Only when this is invented will I finally be able to stop looking like an idiot for five months of the year, and to get out of the house in less than an hour.
Dear Dr Hutch,
I read your tweet last week criticising Kate Hoey MP for suggesting that cyclists should pay road tax. But I think if we did, then we'd get more respect on the road, since ‘road tax' is one of the reasons people don't like cyclists. The same for licensing and registration numbers.
Darren Ferguson, email
Darren, I'm sure you're right. If we did all that then there is almost no chance that anyone would think up any other reasons to complain about cyclists. After all, the haters of bicycles are a scrupulously fair bunch, who would, to a man, write to the Daily Mail comments section to say: "Fair play to them, now we'll have to stop running them over." (And there's no such thing as road tax anyway.)
Cycling Greats Federico Bahamontes (b.1928)
Federico Bahamontes was the winner of the Tour de France in 1959, six times winner of the mountains classification, and the rider voted the Tour's best ever climber as part of the race's 100th ride celebrations.
He was also sufficiently temperamental that in 1956 he stopped on a descent and hurled his bike into a ravine. His team officials split up into two parties - one to climb down the ravine to find the bike, the other to persuade Bahamontes to get back onto it.
To identify him in period photos, one looks for the rider with the legs of his shorts pulled up so far that they form a concertina of wool round his hips. This habit was probably related to his being the worst fidget ever to win the Tour - his style was a riot of shifting positions, sticky-out knees and hands that constantly moved about on the bars like a piano player doing arpeggios.
He was possibly the worst descender to win the Tour. First to the summit of the Galibier in 1953, he was so frightened that he'd crash on the way down, fly off the lonely road unnoticed and never be seen again, that he stopped to wait for the bunch so that at least there would be someone to tell the search party where to look. While he was waiting, he ate the most famous ice-cream in the history of cycling.
His 1959 win was largely the result of a French team that was divided between two leaders, and which decided the politics would be altogether simpler if they let someone completely different win. It's now generally considered impolite to mention this.
This article was first published in the November 21 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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Team Sky's 2014 campaign begins this week with the long-running feud between Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome still far from resolved.
On the eve of the team's pre-season training camp stories circulated indicating that the rift between Britain's two Tour de France winners is even greater than we thought. And to compound matters team boss Sir Dave Brailsford still seems reluctant to confront his two stars on the matter.
Brailsford says that he takes the blame for Britain's disastrous performance at the World Championships, where we did not finish a single rider in the men's road race despite Froome starting as a race favourite. Brailsford failed to resolve the differences between the two riders and instead of Wiggins working for Froome, he retired to the team bus as soon as possible.
Prior to the Worlds, Brailsford did manage to make Wiggins pay Froome his bonus for helping him win the 2012 Tour. A payment of up to 30,000 euros was made the week before the race, only 14 months late, but it was the first step in building bridges.
"Chris was supposed to sit down with Brad before the Worlds and it just never happened." Froome's fiancée, Michelle Cound, told the Times newspaper.
Brailsford acknowledges that it was his fault. "The buck stops with me," he says. Sir Dave isn't a fan of underperformance. This week in Majorca he should be knocking a few heads together.
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly magazine
- Posted by Hugh Gladstone
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One of the first things I notice before rolling up onto the boards of Ghent's famous 't Kuipke velodrome is just how shonky the so called cote d'azur looks.
Although on most tracks this smooth, shallow graded, broad, pale blue band serves as a welcoming halfway house between the infield and the serious racing surface, here it is narrow, of a significant slope and overlaid in places by scrappy corners of carpet jutting out from the track's apron.
Easing you onto the track it does not.
It takes me two or three laps of just riding around the inner ring of carpet before I pluck up the courage to bridge straight over the azure strip and climb up onto the finish straight.
I'm not an experienced track rider. And having only previously had tasters on the 250m at Newport and the 200m at the UCI's HQ in Switzerland, 't Kuipke's 166m circumference continues my track record of riding ever smaller venues.
Next stop Calshot.
With shorter straights and tighter curves, Ghent's bankings are inevitably steeper and scarier than anything I've ever ridden before.
After bottling it twice, I finally commit to staying on the banking. As any track rider will tell you, it isn't rocket science and you don't actually need that much speed; just a little commitment and self-belief.
Loosely translating as the Dish, Het Kuipke is an odd old place. Wedged into a big hall that smells of stale beer on the city's busy ring road, the boards here are used only for the Ghent Six-Day event. Across town, a 250m indoor velodrome serves all other local track cycling purposes.
A few laps into my ride on the track -a little excursion put on by Ridley bikes during some six-day downtime- I feel my wheel slip as I move up onto the double deck of adverts that run right around the track.
At first I think these have been installed with a dreadful choice of paint. That's until, halfway round -and halfway up- the banking, I realise I'm nursing a rear wheel puncture.
Inside, I scream a little.
Somehow I keep the bike upright into the straight, kick back on the fixed gear and descend onto the apron before the banking of the next turn rears up all too quickly again.
Wheel changed, chamois too, I find better traction and quickly get into my stride lapping the thing.
Behind the dernys later that evening, riders will do this in as little as nine seconds. Even at the modest speeds I rack up, swooping down off the banking and round the next tight curve makes for a wonderful cheap thrill.
"It's serious Gs, even at slow speeds," world scratch race champion Martyn Irvine agrees. "When you're racing, you're just stuck to the floor."
I find Irvine in the track centre partway through my have-a-go session. He's riding on the rollers, just trying to get some movement back into his swollen hip after crashing out of the six-day on the opening night.
Are you going to get up on the boards? I ask him.
His answer is negative. "The bumps will not be good for me," he says. "Even these rollers feel bumpy."
The Irishman is not being melodramatic. As he puts it, the Ghent track really does have "some character".
Under your wheels, the boards creak and groan like an old ship. In places you feel it sinking beneath you. Other spots are just plain rough.
The crudest of the Kuipke's impurities are the cracks of the giant door cut into the banking at one end. During the racing, it's worth spending a motorpaced event or Madison chase sipping on a Primus directly underneath it.
To hear and feel the chaotic action rumbling right above your head is not something you can do at the Tour de France.
As I always have done on my few rides in velodromes, I challenge myself to build up speed then rattle right around the very top of the banking.
My hands sweat at the very thought, but it isn't half terrific fun.
As the world tips up around me, I take a look sideways at what is actually the floor a long way down below.
Read more about the Ghent Six Day and Martyn Irvine's crash in the November 28 issue of Cycling Weekly, out today.
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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Bikes and lorries don't mix. It's as simple as that. If London mayor Boris Johnson is serious about improving safety and encouraging more people to cycle, we don't want juggernauts anywhere near us.
Segregation is the only solution, with British Cycling's policy adviser Chris Boardman the latest to call for a peak-hour ban on trucks.
Of course, the hauliers are outraged. Restaurants will run out food, they say; shops will have no stock. Life as we know it would instantly grind to a halt.
Remember when high streets were first pedestrianised? Exactly the same outcry. Closing the north side of Trafalgar Square in the capital was particularly controversial, with similar outrage across the country over motor vehicle restrictions.
Yes, it was a big shake-up - for the better. Who'd want to return to a situation where shoppers are forced onto the pavement to save being squished by traffic?
It isn't naive to imagine similar improvements for cyclists in the not-too-distant future. There has been a significant shift in public opinion and the current death rate among cyclists has shocked the nation.
Decisive action is urgently needed, but at least we're talking, and that's a start.
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly magazine
- Posted by Michael Hutchinson
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I like to imagine a meeting room at the council offices. It probably has large
posters of roundabouts and bits of bypass of which the team is especially proud.
I envisage two men dressed in brown corduroy suits from the 1970s, with yellow shirts and sideburns, as if in a documentary about British Leyland.
"Starting at the southern end of the route," one of the corduroy suits might say, "the consultation raised a query about this section. As you can see, the bike lane disappears here." He points to a large-scale map. "And then
reappears here, on the other side of the motorway junction, some 400 yards away."
"So? I would have thought that the cyclists just disappear and then reappear accordingly," the other suit says.
"Yeeess. Well, seems that they can't actually do that yet, which is certainly inconvenient. If they could, they'd be able to just teleport right into town."
"They could just ride along the dual carriageway and over the motorway roundabout. Real cracker of a roundabout that. One of Kevin's last before he got too fat to get out of bed. Three lanes, traffic lights, all designed to maximise vehicle throughput velocity. I think the cyclists would actually rather like it."
The first corduroy suit nods in agreement. "Good!" he says.
"Next we have some drain gratings on the current path that will apparently trap bike wheels."
"Oh yes, did you miss the meeting about those? They're only wide enough to trap tyres under 25mm.
Effectively they're a sieve, to remove the kind of people who buy expensive racing bicycles. They'll land in a heap, get taken to hospital, and the local kids can nick their bikes. That's socialism in action."
"And this nine-inch kerb just here?" He blithely stabs a finger at another point on the map.
"For wrecking wheels, which are then replaced at this bike shop, 200 yards away, here," Corduroy Suit Two points out his brother-in-law's bike shop. "That's capitalism in action."
Corduroy Suit One thumbs through some notes. "There were some other issues that were raised," he says. "Ah yes, the bike path design also includes a flight of steps just after the Tesco junction."
"Of course it does. It's much easier than having a slope. How would you like it if we took the office steps out and replaced them with a 40-degree hill?"
"That's impossible on a bike."
"No, no, they have special wheels for going up steps now. Square ones." "Ah, sorry, I didn't know that. It's good that at least one of us went on that course." "Last item: the one-way street just south of the town centre. There is a suggestion that we create a contra-flow bike lane, going against the traffic."
"What? We have cars and lorries all going one way down a narrow road, and we encourage bikes to go in the other direction? Protected by a bit of paint and a few six-inch-square signs that nobody understands? That's brilliant.
That could resolve the whole cycling issue in a matter of weeks." "That's not all. Once we've got rid of the cyclists, I mean ‘resolved the cycling issues', we can use the lane for parking. It's right outside the office." "Wonderful idea. Parking is getting so hard I keep waking up in a cold sweat after a nightmare where I had to cycle to work."
Acts of cycling stupidity
Not strictly cycling, but... A triathlete friend of mine reported a clubmate who was thinking of buying himself an ‘endless pool' - a sort of water treadmill that creates a strong current to swim against in something not much bigger than a bath.
He was concerned that, like a running treadmill, the fact you weren't actually moving would make any given speed feel a bit too easy. He explained this to the attentive salesman: "I assume that it's the same in an endless pool, so I want to know if the same solution works?" The salesman looked a little puzzled. "I mean," he continued, "Can I set the pool to a one-per-cent gradient so that I'm swimming slightly uphill?"
How to... Put on a rain jacket
There are three ways to put on a rain jacket. The pro way is to sit up, hands off the bars, take jacket from team car, and put it on with the casual assurance of someone at home in front of the wardrobe.
The amateur way is to stop, take jacket from pocket, put it on, and start off again.
The idiot way is a combination of the two. It's normally done by someone who would stop if they were on their own, but who is trying to look cool in front of his friends. And fails.
Take jacket from pocket. Try to ignore the smashing noise that was almost certainly a phone from the same pocket hitting the ground. Sit up, and take the remaining hand off bars. Replace hand very fast as you swerve into the guy next to you. Apologise.
Notice that the jacket flaps a lot more than they do on TV. Notice also that jacket is already zipped up after your other half washed it and folded it. Unzip it, almost crashing again in process. Put right arm in left sleeve. Remove. Place left arm in right sleeve. Swerve helplessly on to the wrong side of road.
Finally, struggle arms into correct sleeves. Try to stretch bottom of zip downwards far enough to get it sufficiently straight that you can zip it up. Discover jacket is size too big for this. Lean back on saddle to stretch it further. Lose control. Crash into hedge.
Zip up jacket.
This article was first published in the November 7 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!