Thursday, 23 June 2016

Eroica Britannia - The Ride (Part 3)

The final phase of my blog about the Eroica Britannia ride starts with the climb upwards from Great Hucklow. Through the trees you can't see how long the climb is which is perhaps a good thing as it carries on for quite a while beyond the trees but  fortunately it is never too steep. Part way up I paused to get the photo of the gliders (and not of course due to tired legs - or was it?)

Gliders near the top of the climb from Great Hucklow
Gliders near the top of the climb from Great Hucklow
Over the top and we dropped down to Eyam. The extra weight I carry these days is no help on the climbs but, with the confidence that comes from using the same bike and brakes for over 30 years, the Peak District descents are always so much fun. The refreshment stop in Eyam was superb, as we've come to expect from Eroica, with plenty of fruit, scones, home made baking, tea, coffee and beer.

The refreshment stop in Eyam
The refreshment stop in Eyam
An interesting extra at Eyam was the gazebo seen in the picture above where two local artists were producing individual illustrative drawings of riders and bikes - sketched while you wait for just £5.00 a go - really unusual and unique memento of the ride.

Up to this point I'd been having a great social ride and other than a bit of headwind on the exposed hilltops the next part of the ride flowed by comfortably.

Then the route took us past the top of Monsal Head. The route previously had taken the riders up the climb of Monsal Head so I'd built myself up (psychologically not physically) and wondered how much of a challenge it would be having last climbed it more than 25 years ago. Now I realised that the climb itself hadn't even been included in this year's route. I paused for a moment. This is where I made my mistake.

I didn't want to miss out on the challenge so I turned right and rolled down the hill. As I rode down a group of cyclists with carbon bikes and low gears struggled upwards and doubt filled my mind.

Ready to climb Monsal Head
Ready to climb Monsal Head
I turned round in the bottom of the valley and faced the climb, pausing to take the photo shown above. Then off I went, taking things as steady as possible in my lowest 42x25 gearing and expecting the hill to get steeper near the top. Fortunately it actually eases toward the top except for the last couple of metres and with relief I was over the top and back o the route dropping down fast to Ashford.

The mistake had been over-enthusiasm and over-exerting my legs on the climb; I would pay with cramp before riding back in to Bakewell. Fortunately a brief stop at Thornbridge Hall let me stretch the muscles a bits. Yet more refreshments were available here but after a stretch I decided to plug on back towards Bakewell.

Thornbridge Hall
Thornbridge Hall

Bike ready to leave Thornbridge
Bike ready to leave Thornbridge
At the Bakewell end of the Monsal Trail riders were advised to dismount for the steep track down to the lane and I watched many skidding and sliding in their cycling shoes. Riding the previous day on my Brompton, with my friend Howard Broughton, I'd spotted and ridden down right hand side which had a tarmac surface and although steep was easier and safer to ride down than to walk in cycling shoes so I'll admit to ignoring the "Dismount" signs.

Riders walk back down from the trail
Riders walk back down from the trail
The last stretch across the show ground into the finish was lined with spectators and many young hands reaching out for high fives as the commentator announced the poet from Rochdale and I slowed right down to reach the smallest of stretched out hands - after such a great ride it would have been churlish to miss one small child.

Bike with finish in the background
All done!
The ride had been less challenging than the 55 mile route I did last year (just as well given my current lack of fitness) but it was great fun and well worth taking part. There were some real stand-out features:

  • The Peak District itself
  • The relaxed atmosphere among the riders
  • The support that riders offer to each other
  • The support from spectators
  • The tremendous refreshment stops
A grand day out!

Congratulations to Marco and his team.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Eroica Britannia - The Ride (Part 2)

Under the start banner and followed out of town across the bridge by warm applause a large group turned onto the first gradual climb out of town. The difference between various old bikes and their riders became apparent very quickly with some finding the going easy enough to chatter as they rode whilst others gamely struggled with old heavy bikes and limited gears and others still backed off the pace to keep their powder dry. Nobody was in a rush.

I pedalled up to the road junction leaving Bakewell to grab a few pictures before rejoining the group heading to Hassop Station and the Monsal Trail.

Picture shows: A gorilla, smoking a pipe, leads the army and a chap in a Fez out of Bakewell
A gorilla, smoking a pipe, leads the army and a chap in a Fez out of Bakewell

The postman carries his parcels out of Bakewell
The postman carries his parcels out of Bakewell
Yes the soldiers, gorilla and postman were all doing fine here.

We joined the trail and headed towards Mill Dale and there was plenty of conversation, about the bikes, about where people had come from and inevitably about the beautiful Derbyshire scenery.

Riders setting off from a brief stop at Mill Dale Station
Riders setting off from a brief stop at Mill Dale Station
Leaving Mill Dale the routes take their own direction and for those on the short route it was straight into the first substantial climb of the ride. Over that climb and an easier ride to Tideswell and the first refreshment stop at the church - often called The Cathedral of The Peak. Excellent refreshments with bacon butties, fruit, flapjacks and heaps of other goodies and of course plenty of drinks. A very crowded, and very friendly, stop where it would be easy just to linger to chat but so early in the ride.

Tideswell - The Cathedral of The Peak
Tideswell - The Cathedral of The Peak

Bike ready to set out from Tideswell
Bike ready to set out from Tideswell
After Tideswell the road climbed into and then out of Great Hucklow and in the village I paused to grab a picture of the impressive vintage wicker sidecar outfit - awesome efforts young man! As the climb steepened the passenger valiantly got out and pushed for a little while.

Sidecar outfit climbing in Great Hucklow
Sidecar outfit climbing in Great Hucklow

More photos to follow in the Part 3 of my blogs about the Eroica Ride....

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Eroica Britannia - The Ride (Part 1)

Having barely ridden my bike in the last few months; riding around Derbyshire was always going to be a bit of a challenge. Last year I was commuting to work fairly frequently and opted for the 55 mile route; it was superb and just the right level of challenge with the distance and climbs plus the fact my 1985 bike doesn't have very low gears. This year my regular commute is up one flight of stairs from breakfast to the office so things are a little different.

Pat and Christine pose with their 1930s tandem
Pat and Christine pose with their 1930s tandem

Fortunately the options for Eroica include the easier 30 mile option for those who are riding vintage bikes that are harder work to ride (for example my good friends Pat Carr and Christine Tindale on their 1930s tandem - pictured below) and of course for those like me who are just not fit enough for the longer rides.

When I arrived at the show ground on Sunday morning to register for the ride I was relieved to find some areas a little less muddy than they had been the previous day. Heading to the registration tent were lots of cyclists tip-toeing through the mud with shoes gradually taking on the appearance of the soggy ground; I wasn't too keen to do that to my shoes so I pedalled across the mud covered boards and amazingly stayed upright and kept the shoes pretty clean.

Registration for the ride
Registration for the ride
I left the registration tent attached the number to my bike and pedalled back across the mud as onlookers waited for the slip. They were left disappointed as I and my kit stayed moderately clean but the tyres on my bike were now perfectly blended to the Derbyshire earth.

The back of the long queue to the start line
The back of the long queue to the start line
A quick trip into the centre of town across the footbridge and I joined the back of the queue heading for the start. At this stage we were not even in the road where the event started and there was clearly going to be a fairly long wait. Fortunately this is Eroica and not a sportive event so the riders were in very relaxed and friendly spirit and the half hour or so of waiting was filled by impromptu conversations about bikes, about the place, about where we had travelled from and of course about the ride.

A Mark 1 Raleigh Chopper, original flares and a brave rider
A Mark 1 Raleigh Chopper, original flares and a brave rider
We walked around one last corner and along with the gentleman on a Mk1 Raleigh Chopper (in his original 1970s flares, the postman, a gorilla and a bunch of "soldiers" we were off and sauntered out of town cheered on by a surprisingly large crowd. The experience had begun and the next few hours would be a voyage of discovery and a social event as much as a bike ride....

The start line finally in sight
The start line finally in sight

More to follow in my next post tomorrow....

Monday, 20 June 2016

Eroica Britannia 2016 - poetry and irony

So the big day arrived and there I was sitting waiting over to one side of the stage and as the announcer stepped up introduce me I waited for the signal to climb the few steps to the stage.
I’d finally settled on the poems to complete the set the previous evening and they were printed and ready in my hand with a copy of my book as back-up should I decide to make any changes to the set as I went along. All pretty normal except that my hand that was shaking less than it usually might and I was feeling quite calm.
The signal came I stepped onto the steps, thanked the compere for her lovely introduction and walked up to the single microphone in the middle of the stage. There had been no soundcheck so I was a little surprised by the strength of the foldback speakers but at least I knew the audience would be able to hear:
I’m Seamus
And I’m
I’m a poet….”
With those first few lines from one of my longest lived poems I introduced myself and led into my half hour set.
Photo of Seamus reading in front of very large Union Jack projected on screen
Photo by Howard Broughton
As I did so the organisers projected a massive fluttering Union Jack on the large screen behind me. I had absolutely no idea and as I talked to the audience I had no reason to look back.
My poetry doesn’t shy away from issues and it is no secret that I have left wing political views and that social justice and fair treatment for ALL human beings are dear to me and feature large in my writing.
So as I stood (unknowing) in front of that massive symbol of national pride I read “Universal Citizen” pointing out that we are all the same, I read “Not like the rest” criticising successive governments for failing to treat some people properly and I read poems about my own Irish (immigrant) background.
I now know (because they told me) that some of the audience loved the irony of that juxtaposition of myself and my words against that flag.
To me Nationalism is all about pride based on things other people have done in a place where we happen to be born or original from. It is also one of the most divisive doctrines, alongside religion, that humanity has managed to create. The flag, like other national flags, is not only a symbol of pride but it is also an emblem of so much that is wrong in this world.
I love the place I was born, I love the places my parents were born. There are also other places I have come to love.
I don’t wave flags because where I happened to have been born and where my parents happened to have been born makes me no better, no worse, no more entitled or no more deserving than anyone else.
I am the Universal Citizen; whether you wave a flag behind me or not!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Re-building the Mercian Olympic - the challenges / the way forward

When looking to transfer my 1980s kit onto a 1970s Mercian Frame I might have expected things to be fairly straight forward; after all some of the kit is the same as that used on my original Mercian.

However looking at the details there are a number of differences in frames from the two eras that will require extra work or equipment. Realistically I won't be able to have the Mercian on the road for Eroica Britannia next week so have reassembled my MB Dronfield and will take my time with the restoration/updating. I intend posting pictures with my MB from Eroica following next weekend's festival and ride but here's one from last year.

The issues that have come to light quite quickly include the following:
  • Gear levers for the down tube need to have a band fixing. My favourite Simplex Retro-Friction levers don't have such a band but I do have some basic Shimano ones
  • No cable stops on the top tube - fortunately the original chromed clips were supplied with the frame
  • The front gear mechanism needs to be one with a band so could swap my Dura Ace mech for a slightly older but suitable SunTour mech
  • Bottle bosses are not present so to carry a bottle needs an old-fashioned cage with clamps or some form of adapter
  • Older hubs with 5 or 6 speed gear blocks (before cassettes) were significantly narrower than modern hubs. To fit a modern hub in the stays would need to be stretched significantly (9 or 10mm). The solution may be to find an older hub either in a complete wheel or to build with new rim and spokes
  • The 1980s brakes I have use Allen key fixings whilst the 1970s frame needs traditional nuts 
  • The Mercian being a more relaxed frame that the purely race designed MB needs an extra few millimetres of reach on the brakes
  • The saddle clamp uses a traditional and imperial sized nut and bolt rather than the newer allen bolts. The old style are vulnerable to damage and I had the one on my original Mercian Olympic replaced by the modern type
Some of the above fixes can be achieved quite easily but for the future there is always the option to have the frame itself updated by Mercian. Yes I am now considering an element of updating to the frame - the advantage with a steel Mercian frame is that I can get minor alterations and updates made to it by the company who built it and end up with a superb frame for much less than the cost of a new one.

I'd be interested to know what my readers think and would appreciate any comments on this blog, thanks.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Sunshine and Poetry – Best way to work

Picture of the set list with doodles
Set list for Eroica 2016

This morning the sun has been shining, the mercury nudged past 24 degrees and the garden bench beckoned. I’ve dealt with emails, checked the social media and then set to work in this rather warm and temporary office.
My set list for Eroica Britannia (now only 11 days away) needed some more thought and, as I tend to doodle while I think, I have ended up with the illustrated set list as shown below:
I’ve yet to decide the order for the set but I know where it will start and I have a pretty good idea where it will finish too and the middle will always find its own way if necessary.
Perhaps I’ll produce some printed copies for the audience once it is finalised – I’d be interested to know if people think this is a good idea; please comment here or let me know on Facebook at – “shaycycles”

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Eroica Britannia 2016 - Set List grows

With just 2 weeks today until Britain's most handsome festival of all things cycling and vintage my set list is taking shape. Like myself it has become a bit larger than it ought to be and over the next couple of weeks it needs to trim down a little.

Picture of my developing set list for Eroica 2016 in notebook
My developing set list for Eroica 2016

There are a poems that have been heard around the country, poems that have only been heard close to home and a few that have never yet been heard in public. The task challenge in finalising a set list is to appeal to the audience, to get over whatever messages are intended, to give the audience a range of emotional experiences and of course to do the things we love to do. For my Eroica set the questions include:

  • How many poems about cycling? (currently 5 or 6 on the long-list)
  • How many political poems? (tricky just days before the referendum, 1 or 2 on the shortlist)
  • How many personal and family poems? (a few that have wide enough appeal)
  • Can I risk the really serious subjects? (can I avoid them - no - so yes there's a few in the long list)
  • Can I risk making the audience cry? (can I even stop them crying)
  • Should I give them something to laugh or smile about? (of course - even if just to stop them crying)
  • How many old ones?
  • How many new ones?
  • How many can I fit into a half hour set with room to breathe, to listen, to digest, to laugh or cry and to chat with the audience?

So here I am in the middle of the night adding and subtracting from the list, a mini-referendum for each poem; in or out?

And as I think I'm nearly there I wonder about finishing one or two of the bunch of poems still under construction, but it gets late and "what if they aren't ready, what if they won't be good enough?" and the poet tries to get some sleep.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Countdown to Eroica Britannia 2016

Last year the organisers of the UK's greatest festival of all things cycling and vintage gave me a slot to perform my poetry in their Arts tent. The experience was terrific and you can read about it in my posts from last year's event.

nib with ink 7
Pen nib with red ink
I am really delighted to say that I've been invited back for the 2016 Festival and will be performing at noon on Saturday 18th June.

I'm busy planning my set for the event and I'll be sure to include some of my poems about cycling and of course some of my newest poetry. It would be safe to assume that the set will be designed to entertain, to inform and most of all to give pause for thought.

I'll be reading work from my book "Thinking Too Much" and a range of my more recent work including some about my own family which, although very personal to me, are likely to resonate with any listener. There will be copies of my book available for sale and I'll be very happy to sign copies after the performance, I may also have a selection of my vintage cycling images for sale and will be happy to take orders on the day.

Come on Hat poem
Here's one of my recent poems under development- Come on Hat - it may well feature at Eroica Britannia 2016

The full set-list will evolve over the next couple of weeks but it is sure to include:

Too Soon - a poem that looks back to my 3 year old memory of my Grandad and the photo, still displayed in his house, that takes me back 52 years before he was taken too soon.

A minute and a half - one and a half minutes of words that hurt less but evoke the memory and feelings of racing up Monsall Head - a hill that some thousands of riders will tackle the day after my performance; in my case at a much more sedate pace than in the 1980s!

Entitlement - A brief look at the Lance Armstrong story and the American Dream (with a line nicked from John Mellencamp).

Re-love your old saddles with South London Saddles - As seen at SPIN Manchester

Whilst visiting SPIN in Manchester I came across some great examples of craftsmanship and style at the stand of South London Saddles.

Suitably impressed by the display of saddles and bags, including those shown above, we stopped for a chat with proprietor, Emma, to talk about exactly what they are offering.

Emma, pictured at the stand above, will re-cover pretty much any old saddle with carefully selected new leather in a wide choice of colours. In addition to that she will also add your choice of design, including bespoke illustrations just for you, to the saddle using carving and colours. On close examination these look great and very well done.

For years I raced with Isca Selle Tornado saddles - I just couldn't get along with the Turbo's, Rolls or Concors that were popular at the time. Now I only have one tornado left and the cover is both worn and damaged to the point it has been repaired with Superglue last year (far from a perfect fix!). I can still find no racing saddle to match the Tornado but mine is now beyond use.

Here is where Emma and South London Saddles come into their own; for a price less than many new saddles (around £70) your favourite old saddle can be recovered, often making it better than new and creating a unique saddle, a one-of-a-kind just for you. For that kind of price it makes great sense and solves that problem of finding a new saddle that suits you.

Of course you can also buy a brand new customised saddle if you prefer and there are some special offers on the website at the moment. Maybe you have a saddle like my Brooks B-17 which is a design classic and ideally suited for its purpose but would like something a bit special - you could always ask Emma to add a unique design onto the leather....

As well as saddles South London Saddles also offer a range of uniquely designed bags and accessories including leather handlebar grips and clever D-Lock holsters that attach to your belt.

Well worth a look!

South London Saddles can be found at:

and on Facebook at:

For more information you can email Emma at:

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Today it is so about THIS bike! Nostalgia meets practicality

When I started cycle racing at the age of 15 in 1976 it was pretty normal for riders to start out with less specialist equipment than today. After a year or so racing on "gas-pipe" bikes with basic components including coterie steel cranks and usually built with pretty basic high-tensile tubing we wanted to move on to something made of Reynolds 531 tubes.

My first 531 frame was a very well used, and slightly too big, Claud Butler which was cheaply resprayed in plain white. After another year or so I finally moved on to one of the aspirational frames - a Mercian - mine was an Olympic, used but in great condition purchased for £35 from the Mercian shop on the edge of Derby.

Over the next couple of years I used that frame for all sorts of racing and riding and gradually upgraded my equipment until I was on Cinelli bars and stem, Campag cranks, hubs, peddles and brakes and a mixture of other equipment of my choice.

Then in 1980 my Mercian was stolen. It was replaced by a Raleigh Pro which itself was eventually replaced by an MB Dronfield in 531Professional tubing made to measure by Vernon Barker. It is a beautiful frame, it handles superbly and it is light and responsive, it is however purely designed as a racing frame and I'm no longer a racer. Much as I love my MB it was designed purely as a racing bike and these days I want a somewhat more relaxed ride, something I could roll along on all day, but one I know I can trust completely should I want to briefly relive those 50mph plus descents of my racing days.

There was only one solution and here it is, my replacement Mercian Olympic after just 36 years; courtesy of my great friend Pat Carr and the Brassworks Cycle Company:
Here on Facebook
Website here

After removing the bubble wrap:

So today the MB Dronfield frame has been stripped of components and it will appear for sale shortly.

The exciting part of the project now is the build of the Mercian, most components will come from the MB but there are a few which the older frame will require to be different. The challenge will be having the Mercian ready for Eroica Britannia at Bakewell in a few short weeks (

Friday, 20 May 2016

An interesting approach to luggage

Whilst visiting SPIN in Manchester I came across the Carradice stand with a great array of bags from the famous Lancashire maker of saddle bags and a wide range of bike luggage. You can find Carradice on Facebook at:

There were traditional bags in the still-as-good-as-it-gets cotton duck material, there were the quality workmanship and there were touches of a modern-retro feel. They've managed to produce cotton duck bags on new colours and there is plenty of Harris Tweed but for the real traditionalist there is still the original black.

For the more weight conscious there are bags made from Cordura, still tough and water resistant and in a range of models and styles. There are bags to fit to your saddle, to front and rear racks and of course as befits a British maker there are bags to fit the luggage block of the Brompton. You can read all about the current range of luggage from Carradice at their website here.

What really caught my eye, and got me talking to the representative on the stand was a whole new range of bags under a new brand name, UPSO.

Photograph of UPSO bags on the stand at SPIN Manchester
UPSO bags at SPIN Manchester

These bags are made in the same factory, cut and sewn using the same equipment but the standout features are:

  • They are constructed from heavy duty, waterproof, recycled lorry tarpaulins
  • Each bag is unique with the colours and design or the material being used to create a brand new and eye-catching aesthetic
  • There are brand new styles of bags including seat-packs and bags suitable to use away from the bike
The bags, see picture above, look good. They stand out and the re-use of material is likely to be popular among environmentally conscious cyclists. I've not had a chance to use the bags but the nature of the material, it's similarity to those used in other well known waterproof bags suggest that they will function and look good for a long time.

I had a good chat with the rep from Carradice who was happy to explain the design and production values and processes, including the relatively complex business of recycling the material and making sure it was suitable for purpose. The whole approach of re-use of materials and of new designs and each item being individual appeals usually appeals to me and should I have the chance I'd love to head over to Nelson one day and meet the designers and makers at Carradice.

Were I in the market to replace my current pannier bags then I'd certainly be heading over the hills to Nelson! You can read much more about the new range of UPSO bags here or from the front page of the Carradice of Nelson website here.

I'll be posting about some other interesting finds from SPIN over the next few days....

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Had a great time visiting the Manchester edition of Spin, the urban cycling festival, and was delighted to meet up with Marco Mori who brought Eroica to Britain.

Seamus and Marco Mori 2 at Spin in Manchester
Meeting Marco Mori at Spin

Eroica Britannia is a 3 day festival of all things vintage and cycling being held for the 3rd year in Bakewell from 17th to 19th June 2016.

After a successful debut last year I am delighted to have been invited back and will be performing a half hour set of my poetry at noon on Saturday 18th. I will of course also be enjoying the festival and will be doing a bit of bike riding too.
Feeling excited.

More about Spin, including some interesting new products, to follow over the next few days and on my writing blog at