- Posted by Ian Cleverly
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Have you tried taking a bike on the train lately? I ask because my last three attempts have been unmitigated disasters, and as our man Matt Lamy found out this weekend, taking a bike on the train has become a minefield where nobody seems too clear of the rules. Has it has always been this difficult, or are train operators going out of their way to make life miserable for cyclists?
Not so long ago I could pole up at the station, buy my ticket and sling the bike in the guard's van, safe in the knowledge that both me and my steed would arrive safely at our destination.
Now guard's vans have been consigned to history, provision for cycles ranges from scarce to non-existant, and some train companies seem determined to keep us off their rolling stock altogether.
Virgin Trains cycle policy dictates that you call and book a place for your bike before travelling. Fair enough. So armed with a reference number alongside my tickets, I load up at Euston, and everything is hunky-dory.
Coming back, however, the man at the ticket barrier at Manchester station takes one look at the reference number, denies the series of numbers relate to anything - especially taking my bike on the train - and points me towards the snake of humanity queueing at the ticket office. An anxious ten minutes of waiting in line ensues, all the while glancing over my shoulder to ensure nobody runs off with my pride and joy, before I emerge with the reservation and, feeling like the winner of Willy Wonka's golden ticket, run for the train with seconds to spare.
That was too close for comfort. The next trip to Manchester needed to be better organised. I called Virgin Trains well in advance to clarify the bike-carrying provision on my train. The man on the end of the phone sounded utterly perplexed. If there was booking system in operation for bicycles, this chap was not aware of it.
"Just one minute, sir. I'm going to put you on hold." Cue several minutes of muzak of the pan-pipe variety, before our befuddled friend comes back on the line.
"I am afraid I am unable to reserve a position for your bicycle at this time." Does that mean the train is full and no bike places remain? "Not necessarily, sir. It has proved impossible for me to reserve a place at this time. If you call back tomorrow, it may be possible."
Now, either this man doesn't know what he is doing or couldn't be bothered. Or maybe - just maybe - there really was some kind of computer malfunction that made my request impossible to process. I gave up at that point, left the bike at home and took public transport. Well done, Virgin trains. You beat me.
But it's not all bad news. This week's excursion to Petersfield went swimmingly, South West trains providing a storage area for cycles where you can sit and gaze lovingly at your machine (if that's your bag). No ticket required, just turn up and pop it on the train. Perfect.
Fifty miles of South Downs later and an exhausted and dishevelled rider attempts to board the 5.15 from Brighton to London Victoria. "No, I'm sorry, you can't take a bike on Southern Trains until 7pm," says the nice man at the barrier.
What? So this three-quarters empty train is going to leave without me because there is no room for my bike? Crying seems a distinct possibility for a tired and emotional cyclist standing the wrong side of the barrier. I rack my brains. How about I ride over to Lewes and get the train there (a ploy that has worked on previous occasions)?
"No, sir, That is also Southern trains. The same rules apply." Any bright ideas for me, apart from spending two hours in the pub and getting 'tired and emotional'?
"Just a minute, sir." Our man consults his information sheet. "You can get on this Thameslink train to Bedford. That goes through central London."
Did I hear correctly? The train to Victoria is out of bounds but the one that goes several miles closer to my house is OK? "It's a First Capital Connect train. That particular train operator allows bicycles," says our man. I am not any mood to argue the toss, so jump aboard and am London-bound.
Needless to say, there is no place to properly place my bike on the train, so when it topples over from its position, jammed across the doorway, and bends the rear mech, I am not altogether surprised.
But enough moaning from me. Perhaps I was unlucky, or just plain disorganised. Perhaps the train companies really are part of an integrated transport policy that has somehow escaped my attention, and they really do welcome us two-wheelers with open arms. Or perhaps not.
Maybe six bikes is not enough, and I need to overcome my prejudices and add a Brompton to my stable.
Feel free to add your bike and train experiences, both good and bad. There has to be a better way than this.
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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If you don't like cycling then you're best off avoiding London at the weekend. Bike riders will be completely taking over the capital with closed roads for the Prostate Cancer Charity Tour Ride and the final stage of the Tour of Britain followed by the Mayor of London's all-day Skyride on Sunday.
There's been no shortage of city centre cycling in recent years, but this two-day closure for a series of events is further proof of London's newfound love of the bicycle. It'll be more the case of when the streets will be open to cars, rather than when they will be closed for cycling.
Five hundred riders are expected for the Prostate Cancer Charity ride between Westminster and Tower Bridge from 10am on Saturday, followed four hours later by the conclusion of the Tour of Britain on the same 10-kilometre circuit.
Sunday's Skyride could go into the record books as the UK's biggest bike ride. Last year some 50,000 turned up, but with good weather, increased event advertising and simply more people riding, we could be talking about doubling that figure. A longer, 15km circuit between Buckingham Palace Gardens and Tower Hill will be closed to traffic for six hours from 10am.
It's going to be a fantastic weekend for bike riders, but not quite so good for the capital's motorists.
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly
- Posted by Emma Silversides
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Emma Silversides (above right with Lizzie Armitstead, left) is a professional cyclist for the Lotto Belisol team and is based in Belgium. Here she shares her insight into the continental women’s scene.
I have just returned to a rather chilly Belgium after spending a week in the Ardèche where we were treated to sunny skies, warm temperatures and breathtaking scenery (if you had some breath left after racing with the Cervélo train!)
I rode strongly last year in Ardèche and was hoping for a repeat performance. The first spanner jammed itself in the works on the Friday before we left as I spent my afternoon in hospital following a heavy car accident.
The doctor’s advice was “nothing for a week, and make sure that neck collar stays on day and night!” Having my name on the list for Mendrisio meant a lot to me and I was not going to surrender with out a fight.
Despite the doctor’s initial suspicions of a fractured breast bone there was nothing broken, just severe bruising. I did not want a situation whereby I was sat in Belgium half way through the tour, feeling okay, wondering ‘what if?’ The bad luck didn’t come to an end however and on the first day my head took its second hammering of the week as I performed some superb acrobatics while simultaneously having my left shoulder making close contact with the concrete central reservation.
There had been nowhere to go as a domino chain of girls fell on my right and the 80cm high reservation certainly was not going to give way on my left. My forward rolls saw me land directly on my feet and with a quick change of front wheel, some pulling and pushing on the bars, I set about taking Grace [Verbeke], who had also been one of the many victims, back to the peloton.
Later in the stage I punctured, conveniently at the bottom of a narrow climb, I finished my day in the peloton and easily managed a smile; Lizzie [Armitstead] had bagged third, Grace fourth and I had survived the first day!
My physical condition went rapidly downhill from then on. Breathing was the hardest following the car crash, to add to that my left shoulder was very painful, it had impacted in the area of the collarbone break from earlier in the year, pulling on the bars was virtually impossible.
I continued to race against the odds, maybe it could come good. The company of another northern lass helped hugely throughout the week; it is not the easiest thing to race in a foreign team at times but having a English team mate makes a huge difference. We resided in a caravan site for the duration of the tour and mobile home F6 became a little haven for Lizzie and myself after a days’ racing.
Lizzie had a cracking tour, which I can confirm was fuelled on pancakes and Nutella, I suspect that she will be one to watch at Mendrisio alongside Emma [Pooley] and Sharon [Laws]. As far as women’s racing goes I think the GB team will be a force to be reckoned with. If Sky had enough money for a women’s team...!
This week will see me arrange imminent travel to England for a replacement car, searching for and moving into new accommodation here in Belgium, visiting a physio to assist the healing of the shoulder and breastbone and securing my team situation for next year. Almost forgot to mention a bit of recreational cycling!
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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It's hard to believe, but Britain's first ever sportive is about to become a teenager. The Circuit of Kent celebrates its 13th birthday on Sunday when 820 riders attempt 80 or 140-kilometre circuits, starting and finishing in Sevenoaks.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to turn up and ride on the day, as the event is a sell-out and entries closed a couple of weeks ago. The organisers could double the size of the field, but are keen to preserve the unique, friendly nature of their event, which even includes a meal for riders when they finish.
Electronic timing isn't unique to the Circuit of Kent, but it's a shame that more events don't post target times based on age and gender. This 50-year-old male has to beat three hours 14 minutes for 80 kilometres, which should be possible if I don't stop at too may refreshment stops. There's also the small matter of editorial pride, as I'm picthed against the formidable might of CW's advertising department.
For anyone not riding the Circuit of Kent, you can still take us on in the Bike Blenheim Palace Sportive, on October 4. Entries are still open for both the 60 and 100-mile routes around the stunning Cotswold countryside. See you there.
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly magazine.
- Posted by Simon Smythe
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We have more celebrity stalkers. On the ferry from Friedrichshafen to Romanshorn, where CW Tech is holed up for the duration of Eurobike, Sean Kelly sat at a discreet distance. Then Teutonic sprinter Erik Zabel kept a beady eye on us at the Rudy Project stand. Meanwhile his protégé’s WWII fighter bike was on display at the Scott stand fresh from the Tour de France with six ‘wings’ stickers on the top tube – one for each stage win. No sign of Cav himself, but Tony Martin did show up for an interview with sister mag Cycle Sport later.
So in order to carry on our secret business we had to duck into the Charge Arms, which was cleverly disguised as the Blind Beggar complete with English rogues with waxed moustaches sitting outside drinking, where we were treated to a bottle of Charge Ale and a presentation about Charge’s new clothing line called Surface. If you spill your pint down it the beer rolls straight off.
That seemed to have thrown the sprinters off the scent, so we carried on to Cannondale, where we borrowed a three-speed Bad Boy and took it outside for a ride around the track where the electric bikes were being demoed. It seemed to be faster than them, so we were promptly thrown off – supposedly because we didn’t have the correct wristband.
If you want something incorrect, at the Hot Chili stand not a Frankfurter würstchen but a 45kg (kilos, not pounds) aluminium chopper was drawing the crowds. Made by German mentalist (metallurgist?) Sascha Diether, it will cost 18,000 euros. And it doesn’t even have Di2 shifters.
There’s a lot of Shimano’s electronic groupset around now – this time electronic shifting really seems to be catching on. One company that’s not remotely interested in it though is Phil Wood. The cult West Coast track hub manufacturer didn’t bother with the glitz and the PA and the halogen lights. All its hubs were arranged on a simple black table. There’s a 38th anniversary version that comes with a free Phil Wood dogtag. For the 40th anniversary there’s a Phil Wood titanium frame planned. No word on the 39th though. Watch this space.
Elsewhere there was a battle going on for the most innovative way to fix a drink bottle to tri-bars. HED has a bottle cage mount that clamped to the stem with the bottle facing forwards, whereas Vision has a whole aerodynamic pod strapped under the extensions which can take two different liquids and will have coloured tubes to tell you which one is tea and which one coffee (or Ribena or Jack Daniel’s or whatever…).
We were going to tell you about the bodypainted topless models but we’ve run out of time. Tune in tomorrow.