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.

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.

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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

Cycling and Recycling

Sportives have lost a little of their allure for me but the 102 mile Galloway Recycle event certainly helped restore some of my enthusiasm.

Firstly I liked the title of this sportive – not so much the play on words but the fact that it reflected a clear focus, the use of re-cylced bikes for youngsters through the KilliCanCycle charity. We cyclists sometimes just think about the route for 100 miles or the weather but many sportives do a lot of good work for charities and the ambition of the Galloway Recycle organisers deserves credit. It was also a plus for the organisers with their speedy feedback on timings for riders. The use of transponders was pretty cool.

Living in Dumfries I knew the various parts of the route but had never ridden it as a complete route. Thinking about it in advance I calculated the lumpy ascent towards Gatehouse from Creetown would be a low point for the morale – I wasn’t disappointed. However I was looking forward to the Clatteringshaws section of the route…more of this later.

I intended taking my Tommasini for a bit class and comfort. I’d told some of the boys I’d be riding with a cravat and smoking a pipe. Unfortunately I’d spent the week trying to index my upper class Italian machine only to realise too late that it needed some new cabling. I took the carbon Felt instead which was untested for comfort over 100 miles. Either I’d be fine or spend half the ride with a fossilised back-side and numbed fingers.

One thing I really look forward to on Audaxes and Sportives is seeing the vast array of bikes on show. I would have to say that this has become less exciting in recent years. At the start point in Kirkcudbright there was a vast amount of colourful machines but I was struck by how similar bikes are now looking (my Felt included). Has the road bike market narrowed so much that we ride with much the same spec…the same finishing touches? What about some cool forks? Some striking lugs? To people out there who are new to cycling – don’t go looking for a Sportive bike because they don’t really exist! A good bike will do everything you want of it including sportives.

On the road I spotted one bike of note, an old de rosa, sparkling blue in the summer heat. The rider had a huge hole in his shorts and a pair of trainers on with SPDs. He was a strong cyclist without a doubt but please respect that de rosa with decent kit!

Sportives mean riding with different cyclists. This isn’t too daunting as road cyclists are of much the same mind and the conversation follows the usual topics; bikes, route, weather. On the Recycle Sportive I did hear two new phrases unknown to me. One cyclist in our group referring to the run along the Queen’s Way said ‘That was a chew-on.’ I nodded in agreement but what was I agreeing to? I don’t have a clue. Was it a re-working of chewing the handlebars? I heard another say  ‘I just about lost ma tattie…’ Eh? Come again?

One downside of riding with different cyclists is that in larger groups things can get a little nervy. A couple of our boys had a little spill on the Gelston section of the route – nothing serious – but no doubt it was the slightly different conditions of riding in an unfamiliar group which had an impact. I saw the same thing happen back in 2006 during the Cumberland Challenge and again this was early. Nerves like these are something we might share with pro riders in Big Tours where there are a lot of crashes in the opening days. I think it’s a good idea to take things a little bit easier for the first half of the route and get myself acclimatised.

What about the route itself? Well whoever planned this route had one eye on its challenges and the other on the natural beauty of the area – a stimulating combination. Also the weather was incredible – sunny and warm for the whole day (freakishly unusual for this summer). Everything looked glorious in the sunshine. Yet nothing looked more glorious nor more spectacular than the fast ride from Clatteringshaws Loch along The Queen’s Way to Creetown. I think at one point I forgot all about the road as I craned my neck left and right in pure wonderment. All those dismal winter runs, the turbo sessions in my freezing garage, the hill repeats…all of it was worth it to ride my bike through such majesty.

Add to this the rolling climb over to Laurieston and the moment you rejoin the coast road for Kirkcudbright and you’ve got a feast for the eyes and great work-out for the legs.

Sportives are collective events but really they are also individual challenges. No matter the route my hard section is always between mile 55 and mile 75. It is the time of doom for me. My morale is usually in my cycling shoes till I get to mile 76 and then the legs get a new shot of energy. By a cruel twist of fate my time of doom came just as we turned into a nagging headwind at Creetown and started to push our way up towards the feed station near Gatehouse.

Luckily I was in good company with Gordon and John from Dumfries CC and another strong rider. Following the road biker’s code we shared the work and got to the feed station. I noticed on this sportive how supportive the volunteers were and how well stocked the tables were with cyclist essentials: water, bananas, flapjacks and some words of friendly encouragement. At Gatehouse the marshals assured us we had several miles of downhill which definitely made my roll go down easier. They also supplied tunnocks tea cakes which I would’ve devoured had it not been for the possibility of them melting in my pockets. A tea cake at a feed station? I would never have guessed on that option.

We climbed up over Laurieston Moor in the baking heat. The abundant scenery made the lactic seem secondary. At this stage we were joined by another group and the nervy feel came to me on the descent and I lost contact before Castle Douglas. Getting isolated on a sportive is not too clever but until I start working on my descending it’s always going to happen.

However I knew I was fit and motivated enough to ride the last 25 miles at a decent tempo. I kept an eye on my average speed as a way of maintaining my momentum and rode steadily towards the tranquil seas at Auchencairn. I was glad the organisers had placed a feed station 10-12 miles before the end. I was desperate for some hydration and I was beginning to experience that hollow signal in my stomach (the signal = the knock is coming). One of the volunteers asked me if I needed anything. I summoned all my eloquence and shouted ‘WATER! FLAPJACK!’ That man saved me from slipping into deficit.

Flapjack! Suck yer puddings in!

My mouth crammed with flapjack, I hit the climb which begins in Auchencairn and climbs up towards Dundrennan. A photographer had positioned himself on one of the bends. Damn! 90 miles of biking, try sucking in your stomach with a mouth full of biscuit so you don’t look hellish in a photo! By good fortune we caught some tail wind which eased the struggle for the last 15k.

Near Dundrennan I saw one of my original group from Creetown up ahead. Just as I had nearly bridged the gap he caught a suped-up tractor and drafted it away from me. Chapeau to a rider who can jump onto a tractor draft after 95 miles.

The ride into the finish was uplifting. Tired legs and stiff upper body immediately gave way to the warmth of the crowd and the MC welcoming you back to Kirkcudbright. And of course your cycling buddies who finished before you give you a wave of encouragement. Long after the stiff legs and the gripping of the bars I’ll remember the Recycle sportive for its great organisation, friendly atmosphere and immense, endless scenery.

Cycling photographs provided by Novantae Photography ( I recommend this young man’s photography site for tremendous images of cycling across a range of events and some eye watering scenery).