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.

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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

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!

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.

It’s Entyrely Personal


I’ve found that once you get into cycling you make all your own choices about your bike set-up but the two most personal decisions are usually about tyres and saddles.
When I started cycling I never gave tyres a second thought – just pump them up and jump on. The cheaper the better. I had no idea that tyres take some thought in summer and for winter, not just the type but also the right pressures to use.

Nowadays the first thing I notice is the tyres other cyclists use and it’s sad to say, I also like talking about tyres. In fact just the other day I was thinking ‘whatever happened to latex inner tubes…do people still use them?…if you do then let me know.’

It didn’t take long for me to realise the importance of getting the right tyres for your bike and for you. I remember I got some very cheap tyres from Halfords to put on my first winter bike bought from Edinburgh Bicycle which came complete with a sprung seatpost (I hadn’t realised this until one of the guys pointed it out to me).

I think the first run with them I must’ve had 6 punctures. One puncture is bad enough in winter rain but it will test the patience of any club run if a guy gets six. This was the day I realised the importance of the old toothpaste tube in your saddle bag – you’ll probably forget it’s there but that little bit of tube can be invaluable when you get a split in your tyre or a bad sidewall puncture.

These tyres were made of paper I think or maybe ancient parchment might be more accurate. I made the mistake of taking them back to Halfords without my receipt. I was told it would be ‘an act of good faith to take them back without a receipt.’ Ha! What kind of act was it to sell them?

After the six puncture trauma I made a simple decision: if you’re going to buy tyres, get advice, shop around and be prepared to spend some money on these vital parts of the bike.

I didn’t get it right immediately. It’s trial and error and depends on the cycling you want to do and what works with your bike. I noticed that alot of guys used Michelin Pros. These are great tyres but like every other tyre on the market, no two cyclists say the same things about them. They’re light and highly responsive and they also look cool with a good range of colours. Of course they don’t come cheap but I got a pair for the summer.

With the first splash of rain I felt the back end of the bike was not so stable and on one ride I came down on a cow pat on the bend of a farmer’s road.

Lots of guys still ride michelin pros without any problem but they were not for me. After further trial and error I eventually found tyres that were good for me: specialized mondo pros and vittoria rubinos. These tyres have been ideal with a minimum of punctures and most importantly, a feeling of reliability in different weathers and cornering etc.

I remember watching an interview with Thor Hushvod about descending and he said it was about trusting your equipment. Even though I’m not the best descender, I can definitely relate to his comments. Over the years I have learned to choose bike equipment which I have confidence in and that is most true of the tyres you choose whether they be michelins, bontragers, vredesteins, continentals or schwalbes.

Just as personal as tyres and perhaps the most personal of all decisions is that friend of your backside – The Saddle!

used by the pros surely?

Like tyres I never spent much time thinking about saddles initially, it doesn’t matter what width or what angle it sits at – big mistake. When I got my first Felt bike I rode it with the saddle it came with which I later discovered is pretty unusual. At the same time I had entered an Audax K160. The Felt saddle was fine for about 15-20 miles. Thereafter it became more like an anal probe minus the aneathestic. That saddle should’ve been part of the furniture in the Tower of London.

With a week to go till the Audax, I had to make a decision quickly – either take the plunge on a new saddle or go to the Audax with the existing one plus 100 paracetomol and 800g of sudocrem. Having seen one or two club members using them, I took the plunge on a specialized saddle mainly because it had a central recess. It worked out and I rode 100 untroubled miles.

Ever since I have purchased specialized saddles for all of my bikes. I’ve spent some money making mistakes about equipment but it’s been a worthwhile investment in getting it right overall.

Bum saver!!!