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.

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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).

‘The ides of March are come…’

Amidst all the training sessions and hard miles in freezing headwinds, our club members are currently gripped by a familiar angst about our Saturday club run. What has brought this debate to the fore?…could it be the time of year?

A couple of seasons ago we changed the structure of our Saturday club run. It used to be a mass start but now we have three start times for groups of differing abilities and aspirations. There was apparently a lot of unhappiness about the old structure; the club was getting bigger, people getting dropped and the need for safe passage out of town.

And now? unhappiness about the 3 group structure, the club getting bigger, people getting dropped…plus ca change as the saying goes.IMG_3719

There is something which fascinates me when people change a system. I see this, as I’m sure many do, in my work place on a regular basis. The logic is always the same. A change in system is designed to improve things. But when you change a system do you change human nature? Do we even consider human nature – our competitiveness? Our need to be part of something but also our need to express ourselves? Or our self interest?

Mostly our Forum reflects the negative aspects of the Club run debate. And on the road most guys have something to say about what’s wrong and how it could be improved. This for me is actually encouraging because it shows that our cyclists care about their Saturday run and that they want to preserve something, the thing that got them out on a bike in the first place.

Our weekend run is the very centre of our club. That’s why it stirs up so much passionate debate in our members. The best experiences I’ve had on a bike have been on those Saturdays, teasing one another or trying to crush your buddies on a hill, or those incredible and mysterious moments of riding in a group where everyone is quiet and the cycling is intense and purposeful.

I might add that having cycled with clubs abroad, the vibe is exactly the same – the anxieties are similar.

Yet most of all the agonising is part of the cycling calendar. Usually the debates are most intense at this time of year – March and early summer. Why? Because of the importance of the winter and the training that goes on. Cyclists are naturally anxious about their level of fitness and because we are all at different stages in the winter months it can be a bit confusing on the road. Some guys are already strong. As for me, I’ve been getting smashed every Saturday during the winter months.

Whatever the changes ahead in the club run, I’m sure that deep down, it won’t change our cycling natures! I’ve no doubt there’s guys have got me in their sights and believe me, I’ll be returning it with interest in the summer and when those little on-road competitions are over then we’ll ride some great miles, talking nonsense and sharing stories. Long live Saturday mornings!

!Code Red!

Ralph Nader‘s famous 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed described the dangers of the car and changed motoring safety for the better but half a century on, two wheels must still be wary of four wheels.

This Monday I cycled myself for 40 miles (testing a new campag chain but the finicky technology is for another blog). On tight narrow roads, I would pull in to let oncoming cars pass. Coming down into Crocketford, a driver did the same for me. We waved at each other in acknowledgement. On Tuesday five of us cycled over to the Glenkens. Descending down towards Carsphairn a lorry driver nearly wiped us all out on a tight bend with a look of utter indifference on his face.

And this is the daily dilemna for cyclists; is it going to be understanding and patience or complete contempt from motorists?

Here are some of my personal driving nightmares for cyclists.

  • the motorist on their mobile (funnily enough this is most popular both with country toffs in Land Cruisers and their distant cousins, the shell suited Vauxhall Nova chav/chavettes)
  • the oncoming motorist who makes no attempt to check their speed on country roads (occasionally some of them speed up when they see you – perhaps they think they’re playing Call of Duty)
  • the car which passes you with mere millimetres to spare – if their passenger window was down you could probably lean over and change the CD.
  • the horn blaring, window down, mouthful of abuse, car driver (although to be fair the verbals are usually delivered by his pot bellied passenger chomping on a burger)
  • the driver who manages to combine all of the above.

During the summer months these drivers are usually dotted everywhere but for cyclists in the south-west of Scotland they mainly seem to concentrate themselves on the coast road where their patience is lowest and horn blowing highest by the end of July. (there should be a Springwatchprogramme about them)

‘mum I’ll be home for tea soon’

The advice from the police is to ride two abreast when in a group. For groups of riders this is  sensible. Drivers sometimes shout for single file yet this can increase a line of cyclists making passing more difficult. However cyclists are very good in my experience at letting cars get by them as they don’t like cars sitting behind them for long periods of time.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, we are certainly not blameless when it comes to road use. Yet it’s true to say that cyclists are very sensitive when it comes to road safety. This can be seen in the constant passing up and down the line of info about road conditions and traffic etc. Also our club has an etiquette section which is observed more than breached. Despite this several of our club members have been hit by cars and all they were doing was riding their bikes on a public road..

This is not meant to be a po-faced blog suggesting all motorists are the anti-christ. In fact some of the heat between two wheels and four wheels can be pretty entertaining with hindsight.

a car free zone – the Beef Tub

I remember we were coming back from Samye Ling and some boys spotted a tractor up ahead. They started tail-gating and looked quite pleased with themselves until the farmer realised what they were doing. He gave them quite a row. Not swearing – more like a chiding for school children. The boys re-joined us as if they were going to be grounded that night.

On another occasion two of us were returning into town when we were loudly harassed by a very irate female driver, peeping her horn etc. We started to laugh when she passed us when we spotted the license plate, the first three letters of which read PMT.

It still brings a smile to my face when I remember three of us descending Dunscore hill and a young chav of the type mentioned above, cut us up. My fellow cyclist shouted at the car

‘Hey come back here…I want to speak to you.’ 

He then cycled after the car. Some guys in our club can hit 60ks plus, descending Dunscore hill but that would’ve been quite something had he caught the car, as would the possibility of the Nova driver having highly sensitive hearing skills.

Cyclists have developed three universal signals for silly driving.

  1. The Ironic Wave (combined with an ironic grin) – for getting peeped at or some form of incoherent verbals.
  2. The quickly raised right arm with palm upward (reminiscent of Italian gesturing) – ‘did you seriously have to pass us that closely?’
  3. The slow yoyo hand movement – SLOW DOWN!

These lighter moments are infrequent. As has been said before, when there’s a dispute between a car and a bike, regardless of right or wrong, it’s the cyclist who will suffer.

In my experience the relationship between driver and cyclist has remained almost like an uneasy truce. I do feel that there is a sometimes a lack of understanding on the part of the motorist. With a little more patience, you will be able to pass us safely. Similarly it doesn’t take much to touch the brakes when you see a group of cyclists coming towards you on a narrow road. And if you’re going to shout at us keep in mind that we’re quite often riding in a deafening headwind!

At the moment there is only one Highway Code which should cover all aspects of road use. Perhaps we should add a new Code specifically for drivers and cyclists or an entente cordiale. With the drive by successive governments to encourage more people from their cars onto bikes, it’s time for constructive dialogue.

Who knows if things don’t improve, we might even see a Critical Mass event in South West Scotland.

The Mid-Weekers

People tell me I should get out more – thank god then for the mid week run…

During the winter, club cyclists have only limited access to their bikes. It’s the weekend mainly although some of the guys cycle back and forth to work or do a spot of night riding (with the right sort of lights of course) to get the miles in. I’ve only cycled at night once and I loved it. The audax boys have told me of their exploits about cycling through the night and seeing the sun coming up. I would really like to do that some time in the future – all day cycling. Mostly during the winter though it’s turbo time with some cross-training.

But once the clocks change at last and you’re driving up fitness levels there’s lots more time on your road bike with the ‘mid-weeker.’ Everyone enjoys these runs even those cyclists who are in the middle of the TT league or racing season. This year thanks to our Club’s route planner, Dumfries Cycling Club have had a great spring and summer of mid-week runs which is amazing given the poor weather. They’ve all been well attended usually in warm sunshine with upwards of 16 riders out for an evening of 30 – 40 miles.

Why are these runs proving so popular with club cyclists? Perhaps because the mid-weeker has everything after a pent-up day of work; a lot of joking, some chat about the weekend’s cycling or progress in TTs, some hard hills and a good work-out in the chain-gang. And after a stormy wet winter we can at last escape the turbo of torture in the garage and the blast of the ipod in your ears and get out and enjoy cycling.

Of course there’s also the amazing scenery in the south-west of Scotland which is a perfect backdrop to the whole night. Riding through this great landscape I sometimes think of Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner and that famous scene when he says to Harrison Ford...’I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhauser Gate‘. If I had the chance I would probably interrupt him and say ‘Yeah whatever Rutger, I’ve seen Criffel wrapped in the golden tinsel of a sunset and heard wild birdsong echo through the hills at Speddoch.’

Shut yer pie-hole Rutger, I’ve dazzled up Clone Hill

During a mid-weeker, no matter what their level of fitness, everyone has a go for the 30s and I mean everyone! If you get a pasting at a 30 you’re going to hear about it for the next 10ks or until another 30 sign looms up. It gets so competitive that one of our members ‘won’ a 30 using what can only be described as the bus lead out method. It’s not a technique you’ll see in a Cavendish/Griepel sprint. We all went into single file to let an oncoming bus through. The rider in question was at the front and took full advantage of the bus hemming us in to ‘win’ his 30. The debate about this ‘strategy’ lasted quite a while (all in good humour).

Although the mid-weeker lacks the sometimes serious miles of the main Saturday club run or speed training, it’s definitely a good training night without pressure. When the summer arrives and everyone is fit, the bunch moves along at pace. It’s great to feel your legs spin freely and hear the unique whir of hubs and cogs.

But there have also been several occasions when the heat has been turned up during a mid-weeker. One evening I went out a bit earlier as it was a lovely evening of warm sunshine and met up with the club later. It turned into quite a night. I was on my Tommasini with a 50 on the front and I was running out of gears at one point trying to keep up.

One thing to be careful about is when to eat for a mid-week run. No time for dinner as everyone is usually out by 5.30. So you’ll need to grab something earlier but lunch is too early. Of course by the time you get in you could probably empty the biscuit barrel before you’ve even showered. If you’re on a regime then eating after a mid-weeker means you’re going to struggle to avoid a wee treat.

Right where’s that 30 sign?

Even if you love your job as I do, mid week at your work can be a drag. So if you’re a club cyclist you’ll probably be watching the skies from your window and glancing at the clock, hoping the hours slide away till you can tuck some spare tubes in your back pocket then walk your bike out of the garage into the sun.

English: Cycling club in Swansea, Toronto, Canada.

Right Dumfries CC back on your bikes!

Tall(a) Tales

 Scottish Borders Recreational Cycling Group recently named the Megget and Talla route as the best in the region. What cyclist would disagree? Even in old testament rain, Talla is a spectacular holy grail for cyclists in the south-west.

Dumfries CC organised a long summer run from Dumfries to Talla Megget and back for June 30th. 106 miles. This was a cycle run I didn’t want to miss but I also had a family commitment that day.

Negotiations ensued. Asking a road cyclist when he’ll be back is like trying to guess the size of the universe…we can only be approximate to within a few light-years. There’s weather, pace, punctures and cafe stops to consider. I finally received clearance to go but got the impression (mainly through the expert use of tone by my wife) that a certain private part of my anatomy was at risk of amputation and destruction if I was too late.

My fellow roadies were amused – they’d all been under the same ‘clearance threat’ from partners at some point. Perhaps, I suggested, lateness should be a Club responsibility. If I’m late then everyone’s certain private anotomical part should be removed? Of course I didn’t get any support for this idea.

The forecast for the day was a bad mix- some sunshine with heavy showers. You’ve got two choices – rain jacket on all day no matter what or jacket on and off. Luckily we started in dry weather, our back pockets stuffed like ammo packs – extra tubes, cafe stop money, extra food and some C02. For the first twenty to thirty miles we were definitely aided by a strong tail wind. The thing with tail wind is that at some point it turns into a head wind and cycling becomes a different matter. I think we all knew this would happen at some point probably when the legs were beginning to fill with lactic.

Our first serious bit of cycling came with the Beef Tub, a long, steady climb up towards Tweedsmuir and the Moffat hill range. We quickly organised ourselves into a big groupetto. Some rain drops splashed onto the handlebars and looking to the right across the valley, a monstrous dark cloud was slowly positioning itself above Talla Megget. Maybe it would move on by the time of our arrival….maybe.

Besides there were other things to distract us. Despite the security of the groupetto one of our long established members jumped off the front. We swept him up then off he went again and then again. Was this man trying for an imaginary polkadot jersey or was he on a cycling kamikaze mission? It’s a long way to the top of the Beef Tub on your own.

Talking of kamikazes we descended down into the Tweedsmuir side amongst some crazy drivers – the worst kind – high speed and impatient, throwing up waves of spray. So it was a relief to take the junction for the reservoirs. Some of the guys had never climbed up Talla Megget and they had been quietly extracting info about what to expect as the sun burst momentarily through the rumbling clouds. I thought to myself…jacket off…then the rain resumed. I wasn’t stopping  to put it on again.

There is a flat single track road which runs for a mile or two alongside the left side of the reservoir. Across the dark blue water, the far bank of Talla is a sheer, infinite hill almost like an ancient wall built by giants. And at the end of this mossy fortress and the flat road, was the climb itself. Cyclists get a prolonged view of its challenge. It glimmered dully like a pre-historic reptile, disappearing up into the mist and hills.

young Jack, conquered the climb at Talla with style

The pace at the front definitely slackened no doubt because of the downpour and the headwind but also because no one was going to drill it up to this climb. As we drew nearer we came across a curious sight. A female cyclist was sheltering under a row of spruce trees, smiling brightly at us as we passed. I was convinced she was an apparition whispering ‘Talllllaaaaa.’

Talla ramps up immediately. No searching for gears here, everyone is ready and pretty soon the guys are weaving about the road trying to keep that gear turning doing the silent cyclist dance. There aren’t any hairpins; look up the hill and all you see is more hill. The rain blew in sideways bouncing up to our knees. What keeps you going? Well at some point this climb is going to get slightly less straight-up brutal and more hill like! You daren’t look back down to see how the other guys are doing. You could lose precious momentum.

Caffeine!

Over the top and the descent for me is as daunting. The visibility is very poor and the run down to Megget narrows and twists with cattle grids and you need to be alert for oncoming cars or wandering sheep. At one point I was convinced my bike had no brake pads. The rain was so torrential I’m sure I was aqua-gliding. Near the high point of Megget my concentration was broken by the stunning sight of massed black headed gulls swarming above the water.

We re-grouped at St Mary’s Loch and as you can see from the photos, we paddled about in the cafe like beached seals. Caffeine in its many forms was the main order. Why bother with coffee or coke why not not just yell CAFFEINE NOW!

The next stage of the ride was by far the hardest. Our bodies were cold and wet and the 10- 15 miles to Wamphray were tough in a full-on head wind. I barely noticed the amazing Grey Mare’s Tail with the constant battering of the wind.

Sometimes the only thing to do on a big run is just ride your bike. And we did, riding quietly as a group onwards towards Lockerbie and Dalton. Just as I was thinking, a particualr part of my anatomy was safe, someone shouted ‘PUNCTURE!’ This is why we need to share the blame.

Joking aside I made it home with a great sense of achievement and my body parts were not removed. A centurion run is always memorable. It was a big turnout from the club and I don’t think we’ll forget that unrelenting downpour on Talla not because it was horrible but because battling hills in immense scenery in the darkest of weather elements is life affirming.