Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Letter to Bozz (the Mayor of that there London)

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Please excuse my slightly Northern habit of shortening names but may I call you Boris, or Bozza or maybe Bozz?

I think we'll stick with Bozz!

So anyway Bozz I've been in that there London today and I have to say that you've got some fairly decent stuff down there. You seem awfully keen on knowing what time it is what with the posh clocks all over the place; I especially like the ones in Fleet Street and the one at the Palace of Westminster which is not too shabby alongside ours on the Town Hall in Rochdale - good isn't it? 
Anyway Bozz the thing I didn't like so much was the traffic and indeed the roads you have down here. In particular I thought it was a shame that you've got all that extra paint on the road with pictures of bikes, buses, taxis and motorbikes alongside them - they might look fancy but they don't seem to do much really do they? Anyway I don't suppose that's your fault.

I noticed that some of the people on the roads are a bit confused and are not sure when to go, when to stop and when they ought to just get out of the vehicle and hand in the keys to the nearest Police Station. And some of the taxi drivers seem to have filled their heads so full of "the knowledge" that they can't remember some of the more basic stuff; one today even tried to pass me as I cycled along Fleet Street even though he was about to turn left, it's OK though because I ignored the paint on the road which might have confused him and put myself and my bike in a good visible (primary or control for the experts) position and made him wait a moment.

A little later I came across another "taxi driver of the overflowing brains" who didn't like being behind me even though there wasn't enough room to pass. When there was room I considerately left him a bit of extra space so he could pass safely and then I discovered a problem with your traffic lights. It seems that some of them don't work on some of the taxis and some of the bikes; best get them seen to eh! Of course I realise it isn't your fault!

I hear lots about the dangerous tipper trucks and wondered why you encourage cyclists to use a little lane on the left and then move forward into the Advanced Stop Lane (ASL) at traffic lights. I'm sure you must have a good reason for the way the roads are marked and I'm sure that those people who did what the road markings suggest, and then got killed by trucks didn't really mind, and I'm sure their families understand. Of course it's not your fault.

Hope you don't mind but I chose not to use those little lanes and the ASLs but queued with the rest of the traffic which seemed to be OK with that.

While I was riding around I couldn't help noticing that I didn't see many of the famous London bobbies around the place except at the railway station. I thought I saw one on the embankment beside your river but as he was on stilts and smiling a lot I decided he probably wasn't a real one. I expect that you don't need them out an about on the streets because everyone is so safe. It isn't really your fault but you really ought to know better, shouldn't you?

You might be able to make things a bit better by policing the traffic a bit more, you know things like dealing with people going too fast, cutting across lanes, parking in dodgy spots "only for a minute" and especially knocking other people over by not looking properly. You could make it even better by creating and enforcing a 20mph speed limit all over your town and by keeping cars and stuff off more of your roads.

I saw qute a few people in cars, trucks and buses being a bit silly with the way they were driving and was a bit bothered that they might hurt somebody. Finally I should mention that I saw some people on bikes and a few pedestrians do really silly stuff and they could have got themselves hurt which would also be a shame, wouldn't it?

Anyway Bozz that's all for now.

If you want to talk about how to run your city a little bit better I can help or I can arrange for you talk to some friends of mine who know lots about this stuff. You can call me Seamus, or Mr Kelly - well you know how us northerners don't like having our names shortened don't you.

Careful now!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Thinking Too Much: Connect2poetry celebration event

Thinking Too Much: Connect2poetry celebration event: Two groups of cyclists, a group,of walkers and lots of people to make up an audience enjoyed the special celebration at Healey Dell on 5th O...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cycling, walking, poetry and music in one!

This Saturday 5th October sees a special celebration event for the Connect2Poetry project at Healey Dell in Rochdale from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

At the site of Broadley Station, Station Road, OL12 0HZ, we will have the Songsmith Solar Marquee erected where both entertainment, in the form of the Connect2 poets and an open mic, and refreshment will be available. There is car parking available on Station Road. If anyone would like to read let me know by email at shaycycles@gmail.com.

There will be 3 groups travelling to the Dell via the Connect 2 Network with stops along the way for poetry and to try the Connect2Poetry app (download from www.tellusanotherone.org.uk/C2P):

WALKERS at 11:30 from Greenbank Primary School, Greenbank Road, Rochdale OL12 0HZ - this will be a steady walk for approximately 1 hour with Vik and Norman. Transport will be provided back to the start and to Rochdaletown centre from Healey Dell after the event at 3:00pm.

CYCLISTS Group A from Littleborough Railway Station at 10:30 for a very steady bike ride with Seamus taking up to 2 hours with plenty of poetry stops along the way.

CYCLISTS Group B from Mills Hill Railway Station at 10:45 for a very steady 2 hour bike ride with Rick and Sam again with plenty of stops along the way.

If you would like to come along you can book with Cartwheel Arts (01706 361300 or admin@cartwheelarts.org.uk) which will help with catering but please come along even if you haven't booked and you'll be very welcome!



Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The post Armstrong era - I'm back - lets take our sport back!

Cycling has now entered the post-Armstrong era, sure he'll be around for a while finding non-sanctioned events to take part in and having legal arguments to keep hold of the money that organisations rightly want back. But in terms of real cycling we are now post-Armstrong (and post-lots of others too!).

I've not blogged much lately, other pressures of life and to an extent not being sure quite how to react to what has been happening to my favourite sport. We've talked about it, worried about it, sometimes been the butt of jokes about it and sometimes argued about it.

We've all known about drugs for a long time and even at an amateur level most people who raced for any length of time will know of people who were at least suspected of using banned substances on occasion.

Personally I know what steroids can do in terms of training and strength building - I stopped cycle racing because I needed steroid treatment for an eye problem - I'd almost certainly never have been tested but I wouldn't have felt comfortable competing unfairly.Winning feels brilliant; but only because of the sense of acheivement, having done your best and beaten other, often stronger, riders. Cheating to win would never feel the same.

On a high dose of steroids for several months I found that my power, especially climbing, was much greater than normal (generally climbing seated in a gear two cogs higher than I would normally use) and I stopped doing any kind of training because I knew something of the damage I could do to my body had I carried on.

Some people will take the chance with their health, will want to win at whatever cost and will continue to find ways to cheat. But most cyclists are not like that. Most cyclists love the sport and would love to see fair competition and winners who are real heroes.

The challenge post-Armstrong is how to take back our sport, let the world know that most cyclists just love cycling and all the freedom, pleasure and benefits it brings.

At the top level Team Sky seem to have the right approach.

Let's take back opur sport from the grass-roots upwards!



Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Fall - Lance Armstrong's descent

News of Lance Armstrong's life-time ban from all sport should have left cycling reeling with shock. But speak to cyclists, those who know racing. Are they reeling? Are they even surprised? The die-hard fans look to their hero with unfounded Icarus belief, a hero who fought cancer and won, and then won the Tour de France and then did it again, six more times.

A man who created the Livestrong brand, the yellow wrist-bands and the cancer fighting "Lance Armstrong Foundation"

Surely such a man would never cheat, never risk his own health, never need to win at all costs. Surely such a man is heroic, a legend, almost mythical? But like so many heroes of myth and legend this very human hero was flawed.

This hero cannot be wrong and he cannot be challenged. Those who dare to speak out are threatened, bullied, sacked, ostracised, belittled and their characters are assassinated.

Then at the last minute this hero chose not to fight his corner with the USADA, he didn't want the public fight. This hero doesn't like to lose and if you don't fight you don't lose.

This hero made a uniquely French bike race a global phenomenon, awakened American millions to a sport where they might win.

This hero mixed with the politicians, the glitterati and the celebrities. A hero who preaches clean and plays dirty. A man who donates to anti-drugs development while leading his own team's drug fuelled regime. A man who helped shape the avoidance of positive tests, the systematic transfusions a culture of "risks for results". As others admit their misdeeds, face consequences, apologise and profess to turn themselves around this hero, this man can admit no wrong. For him the past is the past and it doesn't matter. He tells us his conscience is clear.

Tonight the news says otherwise.

When such a man falls, caught out by his own misguided belief, then like Icarus he falls far and he falls hard. A fall that far always ends badly!

Lance Armstrong's fall should end in the next few days. I expect he might try to take others with him.

The real tragedy for all sports would be a failure of the next generation to learn and to take a different route.

I won't be holding my breath!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Brompton World Championships 2012

Take 700 folding bikes, 700 jackets and ties, about 1400 burning legs and screaming lungs and what do we have?

The Brompton World Championships at Blenheim Palace this Sunday. With the main championship race and the new sprint and marathon events it will be an action packed day. Keep a look out for me (no 296) and my CTC colleague Pat Carr (no 127).

I'll be blogging from the event and posting some pictures.

Good luck to all my fellow competitors!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Back to Basics - Sprinting - coming soon

My next "Back to basics" posts will look at sprinting.

Many cyclists believe they can't sprint or are rubbish at it. It's true that we can't all be like Mark Cavendish, Mario Cipollini, Erik Zabel or Sean Kelly but everyone can sprint and everyone can get better at it by the combination of training, technique and tactics.

Perhaps these posts should be called the 3Ts - because training, technique and tactics are the basic tools that any cyclist can use to improve any aspect of their performance.

In the meantime have a read back over the Climbing - Back to Basics - Parts 1 to 3 and watch the real experts in the Tour de France. And when they get the chance watch Cav, Goss and co. in the sprints - hopefully my next posts will go some way to explaining (in simple terms) how those guys do it.

Back soon!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Fred Witton Challenge - Howard's day

The Fred Whitton Challenge is a gruelling 112 mile sportive challenge ride for charity around the Lake District, run in memory of Fred Whitton. It starts & finishes at Coniston, and the route includes the climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott & Wrynose passes

This year my friend an colleague, Howard Gott, completed the event in difficult and unpleasant weather conditions. Howard has kindly passed me his report of the event to include in my blog. Here are Howard's own words:


The day didn’t look too bad at 5am - no rain, not too cold and the promised wind had not yet whipped up.

With a start pretty much straight up Hawkshead Hill from Coniston, I took this first climb easy and waited for the much bigger Kirkstone Pass, which was easier than its height suggested - gradual mostly, and a rising wind pushing us up. “Is this Kirkstone” someone said in passing. “I hope so” was my reply (thinking if the biggest is this easy it’ll be fine......). It was steeper near the top but nothing to stop steady climbing.

Down to Ullswater and up Matterdale, the one climb I’d seen recently, the wind must have been helping, because turning west onto the main A66, a side/head wind struck us. I hid in groups where I could but didn’t escape the wind.

Turning south at Keswick, we were in narrow tree lined roads which kept the wind off, and it all felt pretty good until Seatoller and Honister Pass. Honister rises at 25% from the flat, there is no gradual rise, so a third of the way up this steep part I joined many others, and walked up, or more accurately teetered on my toes to get some grip. The gradient eased to bearable and I rode the rest, realising as we climbed that the wind was getting stronger and partly in our faces. 

A sheltered valley into Buttermere led to a welcome food stop - all sweet stuff but I wasn’t picky at this point - then turned north east into the climb of Newlands. The wind helped as on Kirkstone, and even the steeper parts didn’t feel too hard (all that sugar probably).
Descending from Newlands and approaching Whinlatter, my shoulders and neck started aching, and this persisted the rest of the ride, helped a little by angling my head to one side for a few seconds - not recommended on twisty descents. Whinlatter was a variable gradient climb I remembered from riding the C2C route some years ago - it seemed longer, which was not a good sign. At the top the wind became a straight headwind, seemingly increasing, so even some downhills felt hard work. 

Around pretty Loweswater was fine, and some shelter from the wind came in the twisting lanes to Ennerdale Bridge. The first climb from there up to Cold Fell nearly made me walk, it was so steep at first. The wind blew down the hill and made the easier part seem as hard as the first - I tried to concentrate on recognising the landscape but the legs wouldn’t let me. Joining a few others sheltering from the wind for a snack break, I scanned the daunting road ahead - a slight gradient but a howling wind across the fell. The break helped and I joined other suffering riders over the top to Calder Bridge and the much needed food stop. Tea and tuna butties and now only 28 miles to go - wonderful. 

In theory the wind should have helped from here but it didn’t until beautiful Eskdale and the approach to Hardknott. The beauty and the welcome push from the wind became irrelevant as the scale and steepness of the pass came clearly into view. A car driver wished me good luck as I approached the climb, which I just made up the first 200m but then had to walk the 33% first part - the legs had nothing left. I slowly pedalled the middle section but just ground to a halt as it got steeper near the top, and took tiny steps to the summit. One rider was walking up in trainers, carrying his gripless cycling shoes - that’s planning for you. Only about one in ten riders pedalled the whole climb - at Honister it had been more like seven out of ten, which shows the effect of the accumulated miles and climbs.

Hardknott’s descent is a genuine white knuckle ride - you cannot let the speed get up because you won’t slow enough for the sharp bends if you do. Giving grateful thanks to new brake blocks, I teetered down descents that felt even steeper than the other side. At the base it was straight into Wrynose, shallow at first but the steeper sections stopped me, along with most other riders I could see (the route notes call it nothing like as hard as Hardknott - maybe if you’re thirty years younger). A final steep descent, then it was bound to be easy to do the last few miles - except the last five or six were back into the wind and by no means flat. I was so exhausted I nearly missed the turn into the finish, but I made it. Would I do it again? Probably not, but it was a great experience - and very well organised. With more savoury snacks to go with all the sugar, it would have been perfect!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Climbing - Part 3 - Technique - Back to basics

This third article on climbing looks at how you can improve climbing technique to make climbing easier and faster.

The main technical areas where most riders can improve are; pedalling, breathing, body positioning and timing and controlling their efforts. Trying to improve in several areas at once is difficult so for most people spending a bit of time on each until it becomes habitual and then moving on to the next will provide the best results.

Modern bikes offer different gearing options compared to those used for racing 20 or 30 years ago so some techniques have altered to take advantage of that. Previously very low gears were used by tourists but those gears were too widely spaced to be practical when racing so often when racing riders would push higher (heavier) gears than used today. The changes in gearing include more sprockets on rear wheels enabling a wider range of gears, whilst still keeping close steps between the ratios, and compact and triple chainsets enabling smaller rings to be used at the front.  Because of this riders would be well advised to look at the techniques of top climbers from the modern era rather than those from the past.

Technique 1 - Pedaling

My previous post "Pedalling - back to basics" covers various aspects of pedalling and much the same priciples apply when riding up hills although when climbing the cadence (how quickly the pedals are turned) would normally drop compared to when riding on the flat.

Many riders pedal too slowly up hills and rely on brute strength to keep moving perhaps moving body weight around to add some extra force to the pedals. Watching top riders climb you can see that most of them are actually still turning the pedals quite quickly and it is when a rider 'blows' that the cadence really drops.

How fast you should pedal would vary depending on the physical shape and natural rhythm of each rider but for a rider who rides at 90 to 100 rpm (revs per minute) on the flat would climb most hills with a cadence of 70 to 80 rpm.

For most riders that kind of pedalling rate seems very high and the only way to make it feel natural is to train at high cadence on hills, at first it will feel un-natural and you'll get breathless (see below for technique) more quickly but with perseverance it is effective.

The Science Bit

In simple terms when climbing at lower cadence the leg muscles will fatigue more quickly because of the higher force they have to apply to the pedals. At the same speed with a higher cadence the force exerted each time a pedal is pushed is lower BUT pedalling at a higher cadence will burn up more energy causing the heart and longs to work harder. There is a choice between putting more stress on your leg muscles or burning more energy. As long as energy supply and hydration are sorted the second is usually more effective.

There are couple of good articles on this subject see;

http://www.bikeradar.com/fitness/article/technique-pedal-like-a-pro-12772/

http://bikecan.nationalmssociety.org/site/PageServer?pagename=BIKE_CAN_CyclingResources

Technique 2 - Breathing

It seems almost too obvious to say, but it often needs to be said; However fit and strong you are if you don't breathe you won't move. If you don't breathe effectively then you won't climb effectively.

Ideally most breathing at areobic levels is done via the diaphragm and you should breathe in a controlled and calm manner - once you are gasping or taking short fast gulps of air then you are getting insufficient oxygen for the effort you are making, the work becomes anaerobic and you will fatigue quickly, power will drop and you will build up lactic acid which will hurt your muscles.

Technique 3 - Body Position

When climbing wind speeds are relatively low so win resistance is less important than it is on the flat. This allows you to ride in a more upright position and that in turn helps with effective breathing.
Keeping your head up will also ensure the air pathway to the lungs stays clear.

Sitting on the saddle when climbing uses fewer muscles than standing up so when climbing for a long time sitting down requires less oxygen. Sitting down and gripping the top of the bars (on dropped bars) reduces pressure on the diaphragm and keeps the airways open making breathing easier. The easier it is to breathe the more energy you can generate to climb. Often holding the bars toward the middle means that your elbows are further out from the body and this gives more room for the intercostal muscles (between the ribs) to move so that you can beathe more deeply.

Like the pedalling techniques above this does not always feel natural at first and repeated training using these techniques is required to make it feel more natural and to be able to climb like this for longer.

Sometime when you want to accelerate,  the gradient is too steep or your gear not low enough (or you can't manage to maintain the seated position any longer) you will stand on the pedals - this allows you to apply more force to the pedals but the effort will tire leg muscles more quickly.

When climbing standing on the pedals (out of the saddle) you need to concentrate on breathing and balance. Breathing - keep your head up, keep elbows comfortably apart. Balance - keep enough weight on the back wheel to maintain good grip and prevent the wheel from slipping but keeping enough on the front wheel to keep it firmly on the road.

When moving from a sitting to standing position the bike will tend to slow down briefly while you make the transition and in close groups could cause a crash. To prevent that you should push harder on the pedals to lift yourself off the saddle rather than just standing up in a natural way.

Technique 4 - Timing and control of effort

Some riders climb best on short hills of a couple of minutes or less while others prefer long climbs taking to minutes or more. Whichever you prefer you are always going to have to climb the other sort of hills and you should measure your efforts so that you are riding strongly as you crest the summit. Knowing how hard to ride to crest the hill strongly comes with experience and getting to know where your own thresholds lie - both of those things come only with training - lots of training.


In summary - How to become a good climber

The old way to become a good climber was to get on your bike and climb hills, and do it again and again and again. That is still the best way but with attention to techniques and power to weight it will be even more effective.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Climbing - Part 2 - Power to Weight - Back to basics

In part 1 I concluded with the two things that make climbing harder than it could be for most cyclists and the reasons are insufficient power-to-weight ratio and technique, and that both can be improved through training. This post looks at the first of these; training to tackle the power-to-weight ratio.

Clearly there are two issues to tackle here and in order to be most successful there is a need to strike a balance between them. Power can be increased by using specific training but doing so can increase body weight. Various training and dietary techniques can reduce weight but can also reduce power.

So how can you improve your power-to-weight ratio without gaining weight or loosing power?

Unless you are already very fit and trained in cycling the first step is to ride regularly and at a pace that makes you breathe hard and for half an hour or more at a time. Doing this consistently over a couple of months will bring basic "bike fitness" (i.e. being able to cycle for an hour or two fairly easily and able to start some more challenging training).

Assuming you are already bike fit then let's look at power-to-weight specific training. Joining a gym and following a planned programme of resistance training can be effective but as the training can be done on a bike why pay to use the gym.

POWER

The basic principle of training (see my previous post "Back to Basics - What is training?") means that repeatedly stressing the body by carrying out a particular activity will cause it to adapt and become more effective at that particular activity. The more a rider climbs the better they will become, but if the climbing is done at slow speed that's where the improvement will come.

To boost the power for climbing will involve work hard on the kinds of climbs where improvement is desired.

Short Steep Climbs

To boost your power on steep climbs find a steep climb which takes at least a couple of minutes to climb, the sort of hill generally climbed standing on the pedals. For those without access to the necessary hills a turbo trainer with fairly high resistance can be used instead. 

Initially you should warm up thoroughly and then start to train on the climb making repeated short efforts with recovery periods between (interval training). You should make efforts of 40 to 60 seconds duration, pushing a fairly hard gear and accelerating as much as you can in the last few seconds of each effort.  You should be trying hard enough that by the end of each effort it is difficult to keep climbing.

In the first stages of training you might be able to manage four efforts with a gap of a few minutes between (e.g. 50 second efforts with 3 minute rests). The rest periods are important and you should pedal easily during them but don't stop pedaling. As you improve you could increase to 6 or 7 efforts in a session. After that you shouldn't need to increase the number of efforts but you can always increase the effort you make each time by riding faster and pushing a higher gear. If you can manage more than 6 or 7 efforts then you are not trying hard enough in each effort. The rest periods should stay the same so that each time you make an effort you have had the proper recovery period.

After your interval training you need to ride some more at a steady pace to let your body warm down properly.

Long Drags

Long drags are climbs which are usually tackled sitting on the saddle and take at least a few minutes to climb.

Interval training can boost the power needed on these climbs but the efforts will each be significantly longer and normally done sitting down. Like for steep hills you should be pushing hard and try to increase your pace at the end of each effort. When starting this type of training you should aim for about four efforts each of 4 to 5 minutes with rest periods of the same length.

Over time the length of the efforts can be increased rest periods should not be lengthened and may even be reduced (e.g. climbing for 15 minutes and only resting for a few minutes whilst cycling back down the hill before climbing again). About 30 minutes total climbing in a session should be plenty even for the fittest climber, remember you can always ride faster if it isn't hard enough.

Technical Climbs

The climbs I define as Technical are those where the gradient changes during the climb and there are often twists and turns which tend to interrupt the climber's rhythm.

The single climb is likely to go on for some distance but the changes in gradient and rhythm mean that it is a mixture of the long drag and the steep climb, sometimes sitting down and sometimes standing on the pedals. Effective training for the two types of hills, as above, will generally enable you to handle this type of climb quite effectively. If necessary you can train on this type of hill or undertake sessions combining interval type efforts on both types of hill. Making extra effort at the points where the gradient and direction occur will boost your ability to handle such changes in future riding.

WEIGHT

To have a high power-to-weight ratio the rider should aim not to carry excess body weight.

In general training on the bike is good for controlling body weight. Training as described above for climbing steep hills may cause a minor increase in body weight but the weight will be more than offset by the increase in power. Training with weights in a gym can cause significant increases in power but these can be accompanied by increases in body weight which are too great to be offset by the additional power when climbing.

If the rider needs to reduce body weight significantly to help with climbing then simply increasing exercise whilst not increasing calorie intake is the only reliable system. To lose the weight too quickly can risk causing a loss of power and lack of energy making recovery more difficult. It is therefore important to continue to eat healthily whilst increasing training.

Significant weight loss should be always be gradual and at a rate which doesn't create an ongoing feeling of fatigue.

TECHNIQUE

In my next post on climbing I'll look at how technique can be improved to climb more effectively.