Group Therapy

All three groups together

All three groups together

Our club organised their first Reliability Ride for August from Dumfries across to Bridge of Dee, Loch Ken then Corsock. It was a bit later than the traditional time in Spring but enjoyable nonetheless and different from our usual club runs.

We divided into 3 groups – 15, 17 and 19mph average over 55 miles. It’s definitely different riding in a group to a set time. Unlike club runs you suddenly become aware of a collective goal driving the pedals around which everyone in your group is responsible for – MAKING YOUR TIME!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

I rode in the 19 group and I never felt we were on top of our average speed…it seemed to constantly elude us. It certainly made for an interesting ride and I found us talking more tactics than we ever would on a normal Saturday. We tried through and off, someone at the front riding tempo and, for the final section, two guys at the front drilling it. We certainly sounded like the crossest cycling group in Scotland at times with some choice expletives especially along the Loch Ken section.

anxiety eased - we made our time

anxiety eased – we made our time

Unbeknownst to us at the time, our anxiety was nothing compared to the 17 group who suffered 4 or 5 flats. This would be enough to have you heaving your bike over a dyke but it didn’t puncture their resolve or their motivation and they arrived with 17.7 on their garmins…chapeau. They had the biggest group which can bring its own problems.

f*** another puncture!

f*** another flat!

Cool as cucumbers were the 15 group who we passed on the Loch Ken. They seemed to be gliding along unworried and well organised.

We finished the official part of the ride at Pringles Pub in Corsock – great grub and I discovered people more fond of cake than myself. I enjoyed the day and the way that your own efforts are part of a bigger purpose.


Bicicletas Bonitas!

Cycling with Club Ciclista Aluche turned out to be one of my most memorable days on a bike.IMG_1233

I contacted the Aluche club last year with a view to riding with them in the spring but as the time drew nearer it was looking pretty doubtful. I was only staying in Madrid for 5 nights and it was going to be difficult to get my bike from the airport onto the busy metro and then find a space in the hotel to set it up for cycling. Also I had had a bad winter with a virus and chest infection – I didn’t feel particularly fit.

I decided nonetheless on a Plan B – hire a road bike in Madrid for the day. The bike hire shop Rutas Pangea was excellent. They set the bike up with SPDs and a small toolbag etc. It was an old Macario frame with some tiagra. It might’ve been from the 1990s but it was a nice, firm ride.

So with a map to the meeting point and my Dumfriess CC top on I set off through the ‘calles’ of Madrid for a 100k cycle. Luckily it was the Semana Santa and the roads were very quiet. As I cycled towards Aluche I was hoping I’d followed the directions properly. I had – I heard them before I saw the club riders. The noise of their laughter and chatter filled the area. What followed was really humbling. There were over 20 riders assembled and each one of them came over, shook my hand, introduced themselves and welcomed me. It was a wonderful gesture. As we made our way out of the city, their joking and banter made me feel like I’d been cycling with their club for years.

The one with the red hoods and MMR from Asturias...extremely cool!

The one with the red hoods –  an MMR from the Asturias Region…full dura ace or ‘durache’ as they say in Spain – an extremely cool bike!

A very smart Pinarello!

A very smart Pinarello!

On one of the long drags into the Spanish countryside, I had the chance to check out the Aluche bike set-up. I was expecting to see a peleton of Orbeas but there was a wide variety of brands – Giant, Felt, Pinarellos. The MMR was a little bit special and could well knock the Van Nicholas off of my wish list. All the guys used standard doubles with shimano (although at our cafe stop there was the time-honoured debate about shimano versus campagnolo). Most rode 11-25 sprockets but judging by the mountains surrounding Madrid I’m guessing those sprockets will get changed depending on the route.

On the road the ride divided naturally into two groups A and B. Given my poor winter and the old Mercario, I opted for Group B. When the hammer went down it went down hard. The road landscape outside Madrid was long and draggy at times with a brutally nagging headwind. Pretty soon the Spanish/English barrier was replaced with the universal language of cycling – through and off. The towns and villages came and went –Pozuelo, Boadilla del Monte and then a cafe stop in El Alamo. Here we met up again with Group A after their extra loop – a great way to avoid two separate rides!

wine, coffee, tortilla and jamon

wine, coffee, tortilla and jamon

The cafe stop was incredible. Once again the warmth of the club was striking. Every rider came over and asked how I was getting on. I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything. After we’d eaten I was presented with a small coffee liqueur which we all downed then cheered. Amazing!

This wee nip certainly helps fire up the legs!

This wee nip certainly helps fire up the legs!

We assembled outside for some photos and were told firmly by a policeman to keep it down as a Semana Santa procession was taking place!

Think my old tin machine is ruining this pic

Think my old tin machine is ruining this pic

Heading back to the city we picked up some tail wind and the kilometres ebbed away on the widening roads. 100k of pure cycling enjoyment was coming to an end. As the centre of Madrid shimmered opaquely beneath the mountains, I wondered what was different about this club.

I think their bond of friendship was tangible. The way they spoke with one another and rode together showed their closeness as a group. They seemed at times more like brothers than a cycling club. The rider I’d contacted last winter, Domingo, was not present as he had had a really bad fall in the mountains with the club and had been airlifted to hospital (I remembered what that was like). He emailled me from hospital saying ‘the boys will look after you…trust me…I owe them my life.’ Something about this statement seemed very real and true about CC Aluche. I could see that clearly as I could see it in my own accident 2 years ago.

At the metro they all stopped to say goodbye and shake hands. They called me friend and ‘hombre’. After a bleak winter in Scotland, this ride was a pure tonic, a celebration of everything brilliant about cycling. I’ll be wearing my Aluche top as soon as it arrives!

Later in the week I persuaded Mrs McG and Miss McG to visit the famous Otero bike shop in Madrid (muchas gracias guapas)! Photos below.


one of the old Otero frames

not much from the outside but a tardis really

not much from the outside but a tardis really

Otero Team Time Trial Bike

Otero Team Time Trial Bike

would love this frame

would love this frame

Knock Knock

Cow – ‘That’s out of order mate..’
Cyclist – ‘Sorry I’ve blown.’

It doesn’t and shouldn’t happen too often but when it does Hitting the Wall, The Hunger Knock or the Bonk is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

On one of our recent club runs we were joined by a new member. Near the end of the run he began to drift back. He stopped and fired a large handful of Haribos into his mouth, he mentioned having a narrowing vision…he’d got the bonk. Thankfully we were only a few miles from Dumfries. This powerful phenomena will visit all cyclists at some point in their cycling. I like to see it as a mysterious process but there is a scientific explanation well summarised in this extract from BikeRadar’s excellent article on the subject.

‘The simple explanation for its occurrence is that long-endurance exercise depletes the body’s store of glycogen, which produces the energy required to maintain performance. When the glycogen depletes entirely, the body has no more fuel and instead burns fat, resulting in a surge of fatigue and a performance collapse.’

That’s it explained in a rather large nutshell. Or is it? The article becomes more intriguing later on when it states that research suggests the bonk...’may be more complex  with genetics, mental factors and training all playing a role.’

Mmmm well…That’s the science aspect but what is it like for a cyclist on the road. I’ve had the hunger knock or bonk, several times which I think is about average in many years of cycling. If you’re suffering from it regularly you should perhaps stop your subscription to Eating Disorders Monthly. Cyclists will be able to tell you quite vividly about those memorable moments of physical implosion. They don’t occur too often and you won’t forget them.

I remember on one club run in Spring hooking up with another cyclist and getting up the road from the other guys. My fellow escapee said ‘Looks like it’s just you and me.’ These little contests happen all the time in club cycling. I was game but didn’t really do my calculations. There was still about 30 miles of the route to go, we were drilling it and I’d had a bowl of cereal and a slice of toast for breakfast. As you can imagine this was not going to end happily for me.

We got onto the Solway coast road with its amazing undulations of sea and sky. We took turn about but with 15 miles left, my turns became shorter, less purposeful. I tried to mask my drop off in effort but I eventually had to come clean and say I couldn’t pull at the front. My companion said what all cyclists would ‘Sit in for a while.’ After all he’d calculated I might feel better in a bit and then take my turns again. There’s an interesting observation…no two cyclists get the knock at the same time.

Sitting in didn’t help. My body had abdicated. I started to focus on his cog whirring hypnotically. It became less of a cog and more a blur then a distant worm hole. Nausea rose and subsided. My head seemed empty of any relevant thought or feeling  except the sight of the blurry cog. We reached New Abbey, a fit rider and a shell of a human being.

With Whinny Hill coming up I knew I was smashed and so did my fellow roadie. He ploughed on and pretty soon the others arrived. One look at my face and they rode through me. Thank god. I didn’t care. If Stephen Hawking passed me on a motobility scooter making suggestive remarks about my wife I wouldn’t have cared. When you get the knock your universe shrinks to nothing and become a single cell organism. 3 miles to home feels like 300. A rise in the road is like the Galibier. It’s like someone had chiselled out your insides. A disembowelled Zombie could out ride you.

The calculation fuel + effort

There have been one or two other occasions with The Knock and the process is the same; the miscalculation with fuel, riding hard and the consequences. Funnily enough a couple of years ago, we were out in a large group and my fellow rider mentioned above blew. He told us to leave him. I didn’t feel any superiority. None of us did, only sympathy. We left him to his fate like a rabid dog. The following week he was back in top form. To blow is part of your rites of passage into the cycling world.

Of course there are lots of other ways to feel bad on a bike which do not involve getting the knock. Many riders can be heard talking about a dodgy stomach. Digestion and stomach problems can be a common problem on the road. If you pass wind you better hope it’s just air that follows.

Earlier this winter we rode on wet showery roads past a newly dead badger (they can grow to the size of small bears in the South West). The following week the digestive system went into overdrive. Speaking to the boys, I found quite a few had the same problem. I convinced myself road spray had contaminated my bottle from that deceased Badger. Far fetched? That badger was probably on the grassy knoll when Kennedy was assassinated.

As I said earlier a lot of time cycling is a calculation between effort and fuel. I hope that the more I’ve cycled the better I’ve become at this equation.