Crystal Balls 2013

2013-Official-Tour-de-France-RouteHopefully Le Tour 2013 will be more gripping than the borefest Team Sky served up last year. Froome looks the strongest of the favourites but he may be undone by old allegiances and on the road ‘understandings.’ 

Let’s start with the favourites who will line up at the start line in Corsica –

Chris Froome

Ryder Hesjedal

Joaquim Rodriguez

Cadel Evans

Jurgen Van den Broeck

Tejay van Garderen

Alberto Contador

Outside chancers – Robert Gesink – Alejandro Valverde – Richie Porte – Bauke Mollema – Andy Schleck – Haimar Zubeldia – Igor Anton

I’d say Evans will struggle this year as perhaps his glory days are behind him. Van den Broeck will need to steer clear of injury and spills and the talented Hesjedal is recovering from a serious crash in the Giro. The very promising Van Garderen will most likely have to sacrifice his chances for team leader, Evans. Schleck has not shown much form this year.

So…Contador versus Froome is the battle we all believe will define the tour. Froome can certainly match Contador on any stage, including the many mountains in this 2013 edition of Le Tour. But…does Froome have allies on the road beyond his Sky team mates?

Rodriguez - maybe not winner but gamechanger

Rodriguez – maybe not winner but gamechanger

I think it’s possible that being the favourite will make him have to do twice as much work covering attacks etc. And as far as attacks go we should mention the dark horse for this year’s tour – Joaquim Rodriguez. Although he’s No. 1 cyclist he’s not always been around for Le Tour. He presents a problem for Froome not just because of his ability but his potential to rekindle his allegiance with Contador and also Cofidis main man Navarro. Froome has a lot on his plate just with these two alone!

get on yer bike Sagan

get on yer bike Sagan

New talent Moser

Moser

The GC aside there’s lots of other possibilities for excitement in the 2013 race. Of course there’s the amazing Sagan who will enthral us, I hope, with his finish line antics. I’d love to see him and Johnny Hoogerland in a break away together. It would also be great to see  new talents like Ted King and the much talked about Moreno Moser show their hands.

ted king

Ted King

As for the sprints, will Matt Goss and Griepel get the better of Cavendish? It’s unlikely.

Best Bikes – I’ll need to have a good look over the opening stages. At the moment it’s the Garmin team’s cervelos

And the worst tops – Sojasun

really?

really?

 

LBS

What place for the Local Bike Shop in the carnivorous internet market place? The Clubman spent time away from his laptop/credit card to talk to the owners of two Dumfries bikeshops and found the human contact refreshing.IMG_1426

Like most cyclists I spend a fair amount of time internet browsing for components, clothing and (with the laptop discretely angled away from Mrs McG) my next bike. I have my favourite sites for purchasing. My number one at the moment is Merlin Cycles. They don’t have the range or massive stock of Wiggle but their customer care is excellent with impressive speed of delivery. I’m also a fan of SJS Cycles for the little bits and pieces you sometimes think you’ll never find.

Some of my fellow club riders are expert Online bargain hunters – they should be on breakfast TV with their skills. I can’t remember how many conversations I’ve heard on a club run which involve eBay bargains for cassettes, headsets or ‘genuine’ Oakley glasses. Most employers seem concerned about their workers using social media sites. If they found out how much time we roadies spend searching for the best wheel-set or a decent saddle, they’d be praising tweeters for their restraint!IMG_1425

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The old jigs are the best

Kirkpatrick Cycles has been Dumfries’s LBS for as long as I can remember. Those of us old enough will know that it was run for many years by Bob Forteath. I bought one of my first road bikes from him. The shop was an aladdin’s cave of new, old and ancient cycling bric-a-brac. In fact I’m sure I once spotted the genie pricing some down-shifters before re-vapourising into his lamp. Bob was everything you’d expect from an LBS even offering you his tools to borrow for a tricky job.IMG_1421Bob sold the business on to young bike enthusiast Ross Anderson a couple of years ago. For a young man, Ross shows plenty of astuteness. He’s re-organised Bob’s cave but cleverly retained it’s essential character. When you step into Kirkpatrick Cycles you know you’re in a proper bike shop. Old iconic frames nestle amongst modern components.IMG_1418What you notice immediately is how the shop is dominated by Ross’s work area. And that’s one of the essentials of the LBS, a good mechanic. I was telling Ross he’s already got a reputation amongst local cyclists for his mechanical skills and wheel building. The LBS is all about reputation.

Ross treats the compliment modestly but he is clearly hard-working. When I ask him about the LBS versus the Internet Bike Shop he emphasises the importance of personal contact. He can’t match the mark up on bike costings but he’ll be at his work station till 10pm and in the next day at 8am working on that bike you bought online. (biggest problems? cyclists using Muck Off on their headsets).IMG_1474

Across the river Andrew Grant runs another drop by LBS – DG2 Wheels. He’s assiduously built up his business since 2009, expanding every year. At any one time he has over 100 bikes in stock (I loved about 99% of them). He tells me road bikes and hybrids are now easily out-selling mountain bikes and that female customers are in the ascendancy.

DG2 is quite a contrast to Kirkpatrick Cycles. The large airy unit has none of the old bike shop claustrophobia. Although it is decked out with brand new bikes (Focus, Raleigh plus rising star, Moda) and glistening components, Andrew’s approach to his shop is as traditional as Ross over at Kirkpatrick Cycles.

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The emphasis is on the personal approach to bike buying and servicing. Andrew argues he doesn’t sell bikes but rather ‘helps people to buy a bike…’ Purchasing a bike is about answering many questions; purpose, fit, material and crucially, after-sales.

Both Ross and Andrew concede the power of the internet bike shop but stress that sometimes buying a bike online is risky. The bike needs to be set up and then looked after through proper servicing and that means a mechanic you can rely on…that means the LBS. And what if you need something quickly – some cabling inners? Spokes? wheel truing? Imagine there wasn’t a LBS for all of those necessities which keep you on the road?

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We are well served with Local Bike Shops in the South-west. I’m an internet bike browser but I also like to go somewhere for a browse or a hunt for the right spacer or the right tool for Campagnolo chain-sets or just for a chat about biking. Long live the LBS.

Stravarama

The first spring-like day in March also means my first strava session = what shape’s the body in after winter’s hibernation and…will Strava become obsessive?

First Strava session - not great but not bad either

First Strava session – not great but not bad either

I have mentioned in a previous blog that one of my cycling goals this year was to participate in Dumfries CC’s very well run TT series. So after many years of cycling why now for a taste of time trialling? Two reasons; I think when you’re cycling you always want to try new things and have variety. You hear this on the road when cyclists talk about their training or their objectives for the year ahead. The other reason is a little more specific. I want to see if I can improve marginally,  riding with cadence, riding in a  certain shape and sustaining a tempo.

I’m not really concerned with the TT league placings (maybe this is reverse psychology – acknowledging defeat before losing)? but my objective is that the TT discipline will impact on my cycling in a good way. Likewise I’m hoping to join one of my fellow roadies who is a keen mtb rider for some sessions to help with bike handling during the spring.

Key to my preparation for the TTs will be the app. STRAVA. I’m not a fully signed up Garmin user at the moment. The cost of a Garmin could get me some new cycling shoes and a cool pair of Castelli bib shorts.

Strava is an excellent free app which probably sucks the battery power on my iphone but no matter. The GPS is pretty accurate and you can then store your rides on your own Strava page. The Strava page has a social network aspect with fellow bikers following you etc.

castelli v garmin?

castelli v garmin?

But the key to Strava is the stats breakdown – the specifics of performance. There’s something magnetic and potentially obsessive about stats: what your body is doing or not doing. This winter I’ve tried to work a lot more with stats using my old cateye cadence monitor. After many years of battering myself on the turbo ‘trying to get better…’ I decided this year to only allow achievable targets and these targets must only be marginal improvements. Does this sound unambitious?

Probably yet the results for me have meant a very different winter to others. Take intervals for example, the staple of the turbo session along with the pyramid. This winter I decided every aspect of the interval session must be absolutely correct;

  • interval speed/cadence,
  • off interval speed/cadence
  • rest speed/cadence.

Without doubt I found dealing in these specifics very hard, physically. But I’m glad I finally found out how to have a proper and therefore successful interval session!

The Strava sessions help continue this approach – the bends, the climbing and the straights – all improvements and targets must be incremental and achievable. IMG_1176

There are dangers of course with Strava. For example how long will it be before we start saying ‘ I strava’d’ instead of I went for a bike run? But the main one is becoming what American riders call  a Stravasshole. On the Boulder Cycling webpage they even have a list of criteria for the Stravasshole –

  • Choosing a Strava Segment due to favourable winds
  • Stravaing while in a pack, no, this is a solo thing!
  • Descending in a bubble and yelling “Strava”
  • Posting your Strava account link on your resume

I hope it doesn’t all go too far, I’m a big enough idiot without adding Stravasshole to my list of under achievements! For those interested there’s a great article about the Strava craze, including its dangers on the Outside web page – you’ll find it here.

Of course instead of all the stats and Strava, if you come home after cycling, your clothes soaked in sweat, your eyes sunken into your cheekbones and legs smashed…then you probably had a hard session!!! (you’ll know this without checking your Garmin).

Into The Valley

In the shortest days of the winter our fifth long winter run took us to Scotland‘s highest village, Wanlockhead via 3868 feet of climbing. I won’t even pretend the scenery was magnificent but on the other hand, after a week of immersion in Quality Street this ride was a welcome relief from decadent over-indulgence.DSC00608I was doubtful for this run all week. On Boxing Day I joined the club for some post turkey miles and pulled a spoke through the rim of my back wheel. No readers I don’t think there was a connection…they were very old rims!

I got myself some decent open pros as a replacement and fitted them just as the stormy weather was gathering on Friday, stoking up the crumpled leaves about my garage door. I set the alarm for 8 a.m. and listened to the wind and rain outside. At the last minute it was the bike or more Quality Street. I went to meet the guys for 9.

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind...

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind…

Low cloud hung over the hills and the valleys all day except for the last 20 miles. As much as I love the scenery in the South-west of Scotland, these conditions were grim. We were blown up the Dalveen and once over the top we rode at 25 mph average. However we knew what was coming…turning onto Elvanfoot, heading for the Leadhills, we went from 25 to about 9 mph.

In the absence of splendid scenery (the hills around Durisdeer excepted) there was plenty of interest in the 12 man peleton. There were two guys riding the route in the big chain-wheel and highest gears as part of their training regime. Andrew our route-master told me he broke his front-mech and found a replacement in the drawer of his kitchen (that’s quite something)!

When I said to Ian, a young Doctor at the Hospital, that I had a medical question he replied ‘Oh is it your prostrate?’ The guys thought this was hilarious.

waiting for the grub!

waiting for the grub!

Highlight of the run was our cafe stop at the local pub just before descending the Mennock pass. Mein Hostess single-handledly fed and watered 12 hungry cyclists, most of whom were huddled round a small fire with steam rising off their wet clothes.

fireside chat

fireside chat

waiting for the burgers

waiting for the burgers

Since the food would be a while I wandered round and took some snaps. I found myself in what looked like a play area and nearly jumped out of my longs. On a shelf was a human head…that’s what it seemed like in the gloom of the mid-afternoon.

yep...strange but true

yep…strange but true

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by...watching a programme about food..

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by…watching a programme about food..

We left the pub in a downpour and descended Mennock with its huge valleys of mist and nothingness. The truth is I’d rather climb this brute any day than descend it –  the Tour of Britain ventured up here a few years back and we went as a club to watch them grind up. Everyone suffers on that climb, the great leveller.

The wind chill and surface water on the Mennock were potent hazards but not the greatest danger – that was left to the Taliban ambushing sheep who’d launch themselves sporadically at your bike. I was glad when it flattened out and we wove our way through the Drumlanrig estate. By the time we were on the Clone Hill, the murky clouds were gone and the winter sun was nestling in the hills.

With so much climbing there were tired legs at the end but I think the general view was that everyone felt glad they’d done it. I certainly was and it was good to make contact again with the bike and the weather and the wild…when I got home the Quality Street were finished.

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

Preludes and Interludes

'...nothing better than a wandering cloud,I cannot miss my way...' Wordsworth

‘…nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way…’ Wordsworth

When I started cycling, I joined some club members for a ride round The Lakes. If you haven’t been, try it sometime…your legs will forgive you, eventually!

Our recent icy blast has meant less road cycling for me. In years gone by I would be checking every forecast even the sky itself, for the beginnings of a thaw and when it didn’t appear, I’d ride nonetheless, worried my fitness would suffer.

Not so nowadays. Why go out on minus zero days when your body temperature rarely rises higher than the thermometer and with every blind bend on a country road you’re wondering if a thoughtless farmer has let his field flood onto the icy road? At those moments shivering hands want to clutch at the shifters but your cycling brain says keep rolling straight. For 3 hours your nose is cold. If there’s ice and snow so be it. I’ll enjoy the break and the rest.

It happened that during our cold snap, my wife had organised a hotel deal for a weekend break down at the Lakes. Great – a chance to immerse myself in the unique landscape of the Lakes National Park, laze about in the cafes and perhaps a bike shop or two.

A mile from Kendal

A mile from Kendal – ‘The world is too much with us…getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…’

We had a lovely time so well done for the plan Mrs McG. A word for our wives and partners, or as I call them – cycling widows, before I move on to the heart of this post. They put up with a lot from we cyclists, getting used to our disappearances for 3-6 hours and then sitting patiently as we say things like – ‘I was thinking it’s time I got a new frame..’

The trip down to the Lakes brought back some fond memories for me. One of my first cycling trips away was in the Lakes. Also I’ve had a few journeys down with cycling buddies wandering round the great cycle shops in the area, spending the day debating shimano versus campag..or carbon over titanium.

Keswick at sunset. here you can do two things...coffee shop or outdoor shop

Keswick at sunset. here you can do two things…coffee shop or outdoor shop

Although it’s only 60 miles approximately from South West Scotland you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Lakes are the same in terms of landscape. Actually they’re subtly different especially colour and contours. The lakes are darker with their brooding, impossible hills and passes. It was here Wordsworth wrote his greatest poetry and no wonder, the enigmas in the hills and sky are like another planet. The towns and villages seem tiny, sunken places, humbled by the neighbouring giants.

Colossus and leg breaker

Colossus and leg breaker

It must be 8 – 9 years since I rode in the Lakes. Some of the boys from Dumfries CC and myself made the journey south to take on some of the passes. I hadn’t been cycling seriously for long (in fact I was sporting a baseball hat under my cycling helmet instead of a proper cycling cap – newbie)! I think I went down there as though it were just another route. I couldn’t be more wrong. Cycling in the Lakes is a special experience. Ask the guys who’ve bravely entered the famous Fred Whitton Challenge. Some of the boys from our club have tried it and survived…just.

The Lakeland Pedlar - our rendezvous

The Lakeland Pedlar – our rendezvous

As usual for The Lakes, it was pouring rain the day of our ride. As it was so relentless we decided to cut the route to about 40 miles. The route included Honister and, as I remember, Newlands. One of the guys said to me as we approached Honister ‘Get it into the Granny, easiest cog. If you survive till the grid you’ll be alright.’

I wasn’t sure at this point if he was psyching me out. No. He was giving good advice. The foot of Honister is really brutal. I immediately found the granny next to useless and wished I’d had a great granny instead. We were weaving all over the road at about two or three mph, grinding the cranks like they were made of concrete. I got to the grid then fell over. It was a relief. I think someone was lying beside me. We got back on and then slowly wove up the remainder of the climb.

going up is brutal and coming down, terrifying!

going up is brutal and coming down, terrifying!

The reward at the top of Honister is a Slate Museum then a downhill of terrifying proportions! Downhills are my achilles heals on normal runs but this one was more like sky-diving! I remember being so terrified I unclipped half way down and used my cycling shoes as extra brakes.

Newlands was tough but not quite as brutal as I recall. Soaked to the skin we never made it to Hard Knott and Wrynose. Along with Kirkstone and Whinlatter these are the iconic names of the Lakes.

I was stopping the car every mile trying to capture it all

I was stopping the car every mile trying to capture it all

We rode back to our cars. Legs in bits but spirit unbowed, I had done something a little special and even years on the memories are vivid. Since that time I’ve been back a few times but hanging out in cycle shops is not too arduous.

In Arragon Cycles Penrith, obsessing on the Van Nicholas

In Arragon Cycles Penrith, obsessing on the Van Nicholas

Proof that a great bike like a Scott can be ruined by a hideous paint job!

Proof that a great bike like a Scott can be ruined by a hideous paint job!

The Lake District is legendary amongst cyclists and rightly so. Its passes are exacting tests of your legs and your will power – you’ll need to dig deep to survive. Oh and the great cycle shops will drain your wallet. One day I’ll go back again to cycle and reclaim those hills.

Postscript – One of the boys on our Forum just reminded me about the Lakeland Loop 2013…that could be the day to end my lengthy interlude from Wordsworth’s dark, exciting landscapes!

Crossing The Winter

Today at mile 93 of our Club’s 3rd long run I drowned in a dark, lactic ocean. The winter is upon us and the road to full fitness will be long and lonely.

After a tanking cafe stop at the Clachan Inn, Dalry – 17.11.12

As I have said in previous posts, the Winter is not the end of cycling. The cycling continues but these cold, wet months are about training to maintain fitness, to rest a little and to prepare for next year. Also they are about weight. You might put on a few pounds or  take the opportunity to lose a kilo or two. Non cyclists are usually surprised when you say that the winter is a good time to lose weight.

Hunger but in a good way…and of course the caffeine!

Filling our boots before the slog over to Corriedoo

The common view is that weight can be lost in the summer when you’re more actively outdoors. But if you’re a cyclist trying to lose weight in the summer, you’re probably behind the rest of the riders in the club. The winter gives you control and a plan and a regime as does early spring. The summer is too busy a time for that kind of focus.

However the focus comes at a price since even with the social side of long club runs, your winter regime is essentially a lonely pursuit. The challenges are only for you and are only set by you. You can’t lie to yourself. Everything must be true and accurate.

our winter bikes – a means to an end…but what end?

On today’s long run which took us along the Solway coast, followed by the spectacular Loch Ken then over to St John’s of Dalry, I spoke to a few guys about their winter. Everyone does it differently but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it solo. My personal preference is to cross train. This means running, turbo, club run and core. Like all my club mates I have a plan for the winter. I don’t share my targets with them. Why would I? Why would they? But isn’t it amazing how we pursue those targets religiously? There isn’t a cyclist who lies about their winter regime. Well…why lie to yourself?

Many years ago my old cycling mucker Ian handed me a tattered thick booklet. It was called ‘The Blue Book‘ by Peter Read. Here’s what a fellow cycling blogger said about it-

‘When I started turbo training I bought Peter Read’s “The Blue Book”. Peter is well known in cycling circles as a guru of turbo training and his books have been used for many years to good effect. I have only read The Blue Book and can vouch for the effectiveness of the sessions. As well as helping you plan your sessions there are specific sessions to help overcome your weanesses, be it top end speed, power, endurance, etc etc.’

He goes on to add some pretty good advice about the book, saying…

‘…keep the steady rides for the road and use the turbo for interval training, easy recovery sessions or for when the weather is really bad. For interval training, the turbo becomes a different beast, an instrument of torture known in some cycling circles as “The Rack”, but it is fabulously effective as such and if you have the means of measuring power output then you can accurately repeat sessions and measure progress. Boring? Never, especially when the figures tell you you are improving…’

Ian always impressed on me the positive aspects of turboing which has meant I still enjoy it. Lots of guys don’t (yet they still do as much as me). When you’re on your turbo it’s sad but true, even though it is a chariot of pain, it is without doubt, the bike of truth. Those intervals are measured to the exact second as are the pyramids. Cutting corners or poor efforts on the turbo do you no good.

sharing a joke with my cycling buddy Ian Harkness, the man who introduced me to the systematic torture of the body a.k.a the turbo!

Yet the turbo also means loneliness. Perhaps this is why a lot of guys buy themselves ipods or imagic turbos; there’s some company in music or a little animated cyclist smashing you on a simulation of the Galibier! I stopped using my ipod recently. My only company is the whirr of the back wheel and the digital clock crushing me relentlessly. The garage is a lonely place, killing yourself between the lawnmower and some old tiles. But it is also a place of self-determination and ambitions.

As I said at the top of this post, lactic got me today but as the boys pulled away, something made me keep on turning those pedals even though getting back on the group was futile. I’m not sure what it was: trying to reach towards something or was it keeping something at bay, the body’s pain? Irrespective of what it was, there’s no crisis, no plan changing. The lonely crossing of the winter will continue and who knows, next time I may well pull clear of the lactic kill zone!

One Day in a Hundred

Every now and again you have a day on the bike which turns out to be the opposite of what you expected.

Criffel brooding in the distance

Alert! This morning started with a change in the weather forecast. Not admittedly on a par with Michael Fish and the great storms in 1987. But wrong enough for you to think twice about cycling. It was supposed to be dry and cold but this was undermined by the torrential hale storms battering the roofs as I toasted my bagel. The weatherman was saying things like ‘this thick cloud is snow’ and ‘long icy stretches in the south-west’ as though he was surprised. One day I am going to take those guys to court for the amount of times they’ve made my heart sink an hour before a ride.

A quick rethink of cycling clothes and I made my way down the road for early miles with some of the boys. The Bankend road was different from what I was expecting. Huge floods from the fields left the road submerged. I was wishing my bike had a persicope! As well as the standing water which made our route resemble a drowned world, there was fast running water everywhere and riding parallel with the swollen Nith, it was hard to tell where land ended and river began.

The watery flatlands of the Solway

I had a feeling in my creeking knees that somehow today was going to be different. We then had two punctures in quick succession. As always, puncture repair always brings out the best repartee from cyclists and this morning we were blessed. We had one cyclist who worked on the nearby Caerlaverock wildlife Reserve and the other a Farmer. Plenty of conflicting comments on wild life. I tried to chip in by telling them I could do a great Hooper Swan call.

Hooper or Whooper?

The problem was…no such bird exists but the Whooper swan does! These elegant birds were then described by the farmer as ‘huge footed vermin…’ So it went on.

With the double puncture blow, we missed the main club run by over 15 minutes. Was the next 3 hours going to be spent exchanging wildlife insults? I suggested we rode the route sensibly as cycling can be a funny old sport and you never know what’s up the road. Perhaps the main group were having similar problems (with punctures and flooding as opposed to Autumn Watch trade-offs).

Having coped with the deluge around Bankend we then headed over to Beeswing ( a quiet road punctuated by a serene loch on our right). No deluge but unbelievably we encountered snow. We could see the main group’s tyre tracks woven ahead of us as we rode in single file. This bitter enemy of the cyclist helps improve your butt clenching muscles. Luckily it was turning to slush when we arrived.

What? flooding, snow, sun and then a massive flock of oncoming sheep…are you making this up?

Then the sun came out triumphantly. I said to the boys we’ve seen it all today and one replied ‘Except fire.’ Let’s not tempt it. Trying to stuff a flapjack in mouth at the time I noticed red markings round the foil. My mouth had started bleeding. I know I’m a glutton but I didn’t realise I needed my jaws re-configured.

We met up with some of the Club near Corsock including my old cycling mucker, Harky who told me he’d ordered his new Cervelo. I was pleased for him but readers please also see one of my previous posts on Bike Envy.

We rode down Corsock Moor. I don’t dislike anything in cycling apart from the descent off that moor. Why? Well the bike busting cattle grid, the stones, leaves, blind corners and creeping verges are reason enough but the biggest source of dislike must be that in the many years I have cycled over that descent, the road has NEVER been dry.

after the sheep attack…Brian and Ian

Just as we reached the bottom we were met by a bizarre sight; a huge flock of sheep funneling up the narrow road towards us. We jumped up onto the high verges. Our journey was nearly over. I said it was not so much Three Men in Boat as Four Men on a Bike except that one of us was missing. Colin had got ahead of the sheep attack. We battered along Irongray to catch him but he had literally disappeared! Missing poster needed.

Cycling into town, the dark clouds were gathering again for another ration of rain. I got home before the afternoon showers arrived. Over a bowl of homemade soup I could only laugh. Every one in a hundred days do you get a ride like this – all the seasons rolled into one, punctures, a bloodied mouth and wildlife up close – an entertaining way to cycle those winter miles. We’ll be on time for the next Club Run!

Grinning on the way home through the lens flare – John, Alex, Brian and Ian