Wednesday 27 April 2011

For Every Doon There's an Up - Sportive Kinross

Cyclists like hills, at least a certain type do. There is a whole other blog post I'll write one day about that. However, over the years, I too have learnt the joys of hills. So when my wife gave me a 'pass' to enter a couple of sportives this year, I took an interest in the Kinross Sportive.....sorry, Sportive Kinross (must get that right!) as that seemed to fit the bill.

 It had hills.

Not just the odd one, like in the sportives I had done before but 7 fairly significant hills. Luckily when I entered I hadn't actually counted them!

So here I am, a few days later, looking back on the sportive.

How did it go?

Thanks for asking! Personally it went very well. I hadn't trained enough. Then again, talking to a few riders on the course, I wasn't alone in that! Despite that I managed a official time of 5 hours 39 mins (rolling time of 5 hourse 23) over the 87 mile route. I was very happy with that.

But what about the sportive itself? Is it one that you should be considering for next year?I had high hopes for this one. Would my hopes be dashed?

I have been on a couple of very good sportives before (Etape Caledonia, and Trossachs Ton) and one very poor one (Rapha Condor Blackpool Sportive) and so I had some experience as a rider of what works and what doesn't.

For a brand new sportive I have to say, this one was excellent!

On arrival in Kinross, which the organisers had given plenty of information about (directions, parking etc) there was a good atmosphere from the start. There were three routes (I went for the hard one of course!) so there were a mixture of novices and experts. However, I detected no snobbery. Everyone was keen to get going. There was a delay at the start, due to a road traffic accident on the route (hopefully nothing serious), however it gave everyone at the start a chance to gab, and once things got moving we all warmed up.

The route started off gentle enough and there were plenty of pelotons to attach to....oh and to take the lead on of course! I love taking part in a peloton. If you haven't zoomed along a twisty road with 15 other like minded cyclists at 25 mph, then you haven't lived! I met a chap here on his first sportive who was keeping up with the group. It turned out that instead of taking the easy option on his first sportive, he went for the BLACK ROUTE OF DOOM! (I think that's its official name...) Brave man! Not only that, but he was pelting along with the group. I was worrying that I had started off too quick, I hoped he hadn't done the same. Still chapeau for going in at the deep end!

Then the first hill came, Lomond Hill. The pelotons soon became individual riders! The first hill hurt a bit. Not because it was a particularly hard hill, but because the legs were still warming up. However, by the top warmth wasn't a problem! Then followed an enjoyable downhill, passing through mist and clouds and onto the relatively flat section, where there were plenty of pelotons again! This was going to be easy.....

It wasn't to last, and to be fair, I knew the worst was to come. So I stocked up on more drink at the feed stop...and what a feed stop! There were cakes and buns galore, all home made. Yum!

It's not long after the feed stop that the real test began. 6 sizeable hills with no breaks in between....eek! I was lucky though, I didn't know the course well enough, so I couldn't remember how many hills there were. Probably just as well.

The hills started coming thick and fast, and to be honest, I lost track of which one was which. What was surprising was the variety. Each hill was very different, some had very steep sections, which I don't actually mind too much. I have sections like this on my commute. Some hills had some ups and downs, and some, just seemed to keep on going for a looooong time! One particular part of the course even made me laugh. On a descent there was a sign indicating it was a 1:6 descent. Then the road levelled out, you made a sharp turn and there you came across a second sign also labelled 1:6. This time it's not a descent though!

It was the long ascent that was my worst though. This was my low point on the course. This is where, for me, it hurt. I find, it's not unusual on a long ride like this to go through a tough period where thoughts of, 'why am I doing this!?!' go through my mind. Maybe if I was actually properly fit this wouldn't happen! I've been lucky until now though, as I've always made through the other side and have often felt stronger afterwards. My luck continued.

I cramped, I slowed, it hurt, but I made it.

Having conquered the pain, I gained my second wind, just a shame I also found some heavy rain as well! Yes the rain kicked in as I was getting ready to leave the second feed stop at Dunning (more yummy food!). On went the rain jacket, though I'm not sure how much difference that made. It rained a lot! Oh well, all part of the challenge!

I must admit I didn't notice the rain much, which surprised me. Looking back on it, I think I was concentrating so much on getting up the hills as quickly as I could and getting down the other side without crashing.

Heading up Knockhill (I know this as I noticed the racetrack entrance) I met a couple of other riders fighting their own personal battles.

'Is this the last big hill?' I asked.
'No idea, I don't know the course either.....but I really hope it is!!'

Of course it wasn't the last hill, but thankfully the last hill, wasn't as nasty as it could have been. Not fun with 6 big hills behind you, but there were no 25% sections, and we all made it over the top for the short 'sprint' for the finish line. The descent of this last hill, Cleish Hill apparently, was glorious. The rain was all but gone at this point, the clouds had cleared a bit, and the view was glorious!

I'm quite a fast descender, but another rider shot past me on the way down! That was fast. I caught up with him on the flat...

'Great view on the way down wasn't it?'
'I don't know I wasn't looking'
'Aye, you were descending fast!'
'Aye, I'm a bit of an ar$ehole when descending' he said with a big grin!

At this point, knowing that it wasn't far to go (a marshal confirmed this with his, 'only 4 miles to go lads' shout!) I decided to push hard for home. The legs still had something left in them, which really surprised me! It was hard work, but I enjoyed this sprint for Kinross, and felt really good as I cruised over the finish.

There were no great crowds to welcome me home, the rain put an end to that, but it still felt like a victory conquering what was by far my toughest course yet.

I did it! :-)

Of course stopping was the worst bit, as that's when I realised how cold it was, and how wet I was. Eek! Luckily the organisers had prepared for that and had a free lunch organised, indoors! So I've never enjoyed a roll and sausage, cup of tea and a bun more (and a cream egg to keep you happy waiting in the queue!). Magic!

What a day!

Was it perfect? No. My one criticism was that the signs weren't great. They were quite small and often were placed just after the junction rather than warning you before. I came close to missing a turn, and I did hear a couple of others saying they did miss turns. I also saw almost no signage at the finish which meant I had to stop to check I was going the right way. However, this is a minor criticism in what was, and I think will continue to be a great sportive.

The organisation was great, the camaraderie was great, the food was great and the course was great. For me though, it was one comment from a fellow cyclist that summed up the day perfectly when I pointed out that the hills were a bit hard...

'Aye, for every doon, there's an up...'

Thursday 21 April 2011

I own the Road: Fact(ish)

I'm getting a little sick of the amount of youtube messages I get telling me to get off the road as I don't pay tax and insurance. So I thought it was about time that I cleared this matter up, once and for all.

What follows is a list of what I pay:

Buildings Insurance (my home)

Home Contents Insurance (contents of home and third party insurance that covers 3rd part liability when riding a bike)

Mortgage Insurance (If I get sick or die my family will have somewhere to live)

Car Insurance (Shock Horror! Yes I do have a car)

Life Insurance (Thinking of the family again!)

Cycling Insurance (3rd Part Cover from the CTC. In effect, I have two lots of 3rd part cover!)

Income Tax (Higher Rate)

VAT (Huge amounts of that!)

Vehicle Excise Duty (Not Road Tax!)

Council Tax

Fuel Tax (Car of course)

Bike Fuel Tax (Tax on buns)

I suspect that on average I pay above average Tax (my insurance might be lower due to having low insurance premiums at the moment, but that money just goes into the corporate black hole anyway... ).

Therefore, contrary to what a proportion of Youtube 'pundits' would suggest, it is in fact me who owns the road, so.....

I've bought the whole of my cycle commute route with this money.


Thank you.



Monday 18 April 2011

ASDA's Reply to My Letter of Compliment

Here is the reply I received from ASDA from the letter of 'compliment' I sent last week

Thank you for your email about our HGV driver.

I'm so pleased that you found that our HGV driver was such a skilled considerate driver.  As a cyclist myself, I know what you mean about drivers getting too close so its great to hear that our drivers take care on the roads.

I will pass your email on to the driving team, however I'm not sure without a registration number that they will be able to pin point the actual driver.  I will do my best however to make sure it reaches the right team.

Your website sounds very interesting and I will have  look when I get home this evening, unfortunately I am unable to access external websites from work.  

Thank you once again for your compliment and your positive publicity of our drivers, it is as all compliments are, very appreciated.  If I can be of any more help please let me know.

Kind regards


Mmm. Can I think of any other way they can help me....? :-)

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Sportive Kinross - How Quick will I be? (Competition!)

I'm doing Sportive Kinross in a week and a half's time, and I've only gone and opted for the BLACK RUN OF DOOOOOOM!

What is this black run I speak of? Well, it turns out that it isn't too bad...for the first 20km, then it all starts to go pear shaped....or should I say, up and down shaped!

Don't get me wrong, I like the downs, but they unfortunately come with ups!

I'd be wrong to say I am a novice at this though. I have done the Trossachs Ton (100 miles) a few years ago, a sportive in Blackpool (the less said about that the better!) and the Etape Caledonia (81 miles). However, none of these had as many hills as this, and they certainly come thick and fast!

Am I worried....a bit. My training has been a little thin on the ground. It has consisted of my commute (about 12 miles each way with some short sharp hills) 4 or 5 days a week, and two training rides, one over Crow Road (about 31 miles), and one taking in Crow Road and Tak Ma Doon (about 42 miles).

So this may hurt a little.

For a bit of fun, I decided to make a competition out of it, with a real prize. I'm willing to donate £25 to charity. Which charity? That will be the decision of the person who comes closest to guessing my official time (as measured by the sportive chip) for the Kinross Sportive. So get it right and I will donate £25 to your nominated charity.

To help, here are a few facts and figures about my rides.

Trossachs Ton - 2009 (100 miles) - ave speed 16.2mph time 6 hours 13 mins
Etape Caledonia - 2010 (81 miles) - ave speed 19mph time 4 hours 34 mins (actually 4 hours 16 but had puncture!)

Two hill training ride a few days ago on the following route:

There was a nasty westerly head wind (which made the exposed section between the two hills bloomin' hard!). Ave speed 15.1mph, time 2 hours 44 mins

So there you have it. Place your bets!

 How long will I take to do the 87 mile BLACK ROUTE OF DOOOOOM! 

(Please try and chose different times! If two are the same distance from my actual time, the first posted wins! It's just a wee bit of fun!)

Tuesday 12 April 2011

A Complaint Relating to HGV Driving

The following is a letter sent to ASDA in relation to one of their HGV drivers.

Unfortunately I have a complaint, and it relates to the driving of one of your HGV delivery drivers. My complaint is that I am annoyed that other drivers don't always drive to his/her standard!

I am a cyclist and I commute daily to work on my bike. This week I am off on holiday and I decided to go out on a training run which would take me along the A803 towards Queenzieburn (the road to Kilsyth). Whilst cycling west on this road I noticed an HGV approaching behind me. There was traffic on the opposite carriageway so a safe overtake would have been impossible. Sometimes in this situation I find drivers drive far too close behind.

Not this driver.

He kept an excellent distance behind me, for a good 40-50 seconds, never placing me under undue pressure. He was also at a distance where had something happened to me, he would have had ample time to stop. Then, only when the road was totally clear, did the driver advance and overtake. Again drivers can often pass far too close.

Not this driver.

He overtook with plenty of space and did not pull over until he was safely past. I was very impressed with his driving and wanted to show my appreciation. This was a particularly good interaction between two very different road users. This is the way it should always be!

Not all drivers are as skilled as this driver in this situation. When I commute I film my commutes with a helmet camera and place any incidents on youtube. This video is a recent example of a poor pass.

I wish I had a video of this mornings pass to post on my channel showing an excellent example of an overtake. Unfortunately, as it was a training ride I didn't have a camera on.

I wonder, if possible could you pass this message onto the driver in question? He passed me at about 9:50am this morning (12th April) on the approach to Queenzieburn. I would love to think that my appreciation had been passed on.

I also write a blog about my cycling experiences (, and I will be posting this letter into my blog. I assume you won't mind as it is good publicity for your company and for one of your excellent drivers.

Please, keep up the good work!

Best regards


Thursday 7 April 2011

It's Time to Contact the Police

No, don't worry, I haven't had a major incident on the road.

What I have had over the years are plenty of mild to moderate incidents where, it wouldn't have hurt for the police to 'have a chat' with other road users.  There is nothing that can bring events into focus like a visit from the police at your door discussing your driving/riding etc. Of course I've never had that experience, but I know that having the police come to my door to 'express concern' about my driving/riding would have a profound effect on me and most other drivers/cyclists.

Of course, some would suggest I am long overdue such a chat about my cycling!

Over the years I've contacted the police 3 times for incidents, and yet I've had plenty more where the 'chat' would have been worthwhile. I've also had plenty of videos where I've had YouTubers making the following comments:

Have you contacted the police?

You REALLY need to contact the police about this one!!

It is your duty to contact the police!!!

 If I did call the police, which would I prefer to turn up? 

So why don't I contact the police more?

There are a couple of reasons. First, I suspect that whilst the police might take my incident seriously (they may not of course!), they are busy and underfunded and so their time is limited. The last thing I want to do is drag officers away from a more serious incident, not that some of my incidents aren't serious of course.

However, the biggest issue for me is time. My time. Here in Glasgow and East Dunbartonshire to report an incident I need to contact the main police office by phone. I then need to either visit a police station, or have a visit from the police at home or work. All of this takes time, which when you have a busy job, and a family with three young children is difficult to justify personally.

So a lot of incidents go unchecked, apart from being published on YouTube of course.

So what can be done?

There is an answer. The Metropolitan Police in London have come up with the RoadSafe initiative. The MET have set up a dedicated unit that deals with reports of poor road use. That is, dedicated officers who only deal in road incidents such as those I've encountered from time to time. Not just from cyclists of course, from any member of the public.

What is important is that the reporting can be done online which means that it is very quick to report and easy to link the police to any footage you may have of the incident. Even more important is that they get results. For example the following is an excerpt from the Roadsafe website.

The team from Road safe London recently received a complaint from a cyclist, that a London bus driver had been recorded on camera driving a bus below what the complainant considered to be an acceptable standard.
Road Safe London contacted the bus company concerned and informed them of the existence of the video footage which had previously been posted on “You tube” by the complainant.
As a direct result the driver concerned has been invited to attend a disciplinary hearing. A company representative of the London based bus company said “We take driving standards extremely seriously, and have a number of initiatives, to improve driver awareness and promote road safety. These include driving instructors travelling on our buses in plain clothes, safety posters highlighting cyclist’s vulnerability, and on going training for drivers”. 

So, perhaps it's time to look at expanding these services beyond the limits of London. Maybe instead of having a Roadsafe London, we should have a Roadsafe UK. Perhaps it's time to campaign for Roadsafe's expansion.

However, I'm a scientist by trade, and whilst emotionally expansion of Roadsafe seems like a good idea, does it actually do 'what it says on the tin'?

What are the cost implications? Perhaps, by setting up a dedicated unit and focusing resources, costs actually go down.

Does Roadsafe London actually make a difference? Are there any statistics that show progress. Do the users of the service feel it makes a difference?

Is any of this data available?

If all of the above suggests that Roadsafe works and is economically viable, then surely the case for expansion is straightforward. 

Surely all of our roads should be safe for all road users, not just the roads of London.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Tips on Dealing With a Puncture When Cycling

I have had the misfortune of being visited by the puncture fairy a few times recently. Yes it was my fault really, as the rear tyre was starting to look like Edward Scissorhands had been doing my bike maintenance. The tyre has been duly swapped.

However, it has meant I've been getting plenty of practice in dealing with punctures and, knowing how much angst some suffer when the fairy strikes, I thought I'd share my thoughts on how best to deal with them.

The scout movement had it right ages ago of course.....Be Prepared! If you are prepared then it saves having to walk 6 miles home (I had to do this recently when I had a rim failure). The fairy has a strange sense of humour.

So what does be prepared mean? It means carrying 4 or 5 things...

Carry a spare tube or two and/or a puncture repair kit.

I must admit, I'm a big fan of carrying tubes. I find puncture repair in the pouring rain, and yes it always is, is at best fiddly, and at worst impossible. That doesn't mean you shouldn't carry repair kits. Fairy's have been known to inflict multiple punctures when they are in a mischievous mood....

Have the right tools - A piece of string and the right lever!

As with many cyclists, over the years I have bought various tyre levers and gizmos that are supposed to help get tyres on and off. I've spent many frustrated mornings/afternoons/evenings cursing the tools as I manage to take them beyond their design limits (design, what design!?). I've also ended up with very sore fingers. However, late last year I had two revelations. My puncture epiphanies.

The first was when came across this video

Marathon plus tyres are probably some of the hardest to fit (I know I used to have them), so this video was a true coming of age moment for me. I tried it, and it worked. I tried it again, and it worked again! In fact ever since watching this video I have never had a problem fitting a tyre by hand.

So, as long as you are willing to wiggle it a bit and have a piece of string handy, your sorted!

Getting the tyre off in the first place, though, can't be accomplished with a piece of string unfortunately (unless you know better!). You need a tool or tools to accomplish this. This was my second epiphany. I came across the Crank Brothers Speed Lever on Wiggle (at the moment it is cheaper here). Out of sheer desperation, I decided to buy it, as it only cost a few quid (about £5).

So there I was commuting to work (in the rain of course) when the fairy paid a visit. Pooh! I prepared myself for the battle to get the tyre off with the new gizmo. So I followed the instructions, inserted the lever and clipped it into the wheels axle. I started trying to pull the lever around the tyre (as instructed).

At that moment the rain stopped, the clouds parted and there was the most angelic of sounds, like a thousand angels singing ........ok, that might be overplaying it a bit. None the less, I was amazed as the lever literally zipped the tyre off! This video demonstrates...
Now, I'd be lying if every tyre came off as easily as the first. It doesn't. Sometimes it can be a little hard to get going due to resistance, however, I've never had to go beyond a few tugs to get the tyre off. You could always try lubricating the lever with some oil, as that might help. However, it has been, by far, the best £6 I have spent on my bike.

So just be sure to carry one or two spare tubes, a puncture repair kit, a piece of string and a Crank Brother Tyre Lever, and your sorted.

Right that's punctures sorted. So where exactly is the head set on a bike then.......

Monday 4 April 2011

Very Close HGV - Follow Up Reply

Following the reply from the HGV company regarding my incident, I have decided to enter further correspondence. Here is the letter I have sent to the company.

Thank you very much for your reply last week. Could I just clear one thing up that wasn't entirely evident from your e-mail: I assume you and your company agree that the driving was below acceptable driving standards? Could I also clarify why you could not identify the registration of the vehicle? I provided it to you in my original e-mail and if you listen to the video I shout it as the HGV passes by. Also, in my original raw footage it is possible to read the plate. Just to confirm it is SF55AOC. I assume given this, and the tachograph recordings from the HGV should enable you to identify the individual involved.

I am pleased that you will be conducting a 'method statement talk'. I'd be interested to know what form the talk would take ( will this form part of your 35 hour vocational CPC training?). In fact I wonder if you would be interested in going one step further.

I recently came across this article discussing an initiative led by the Mineral Products Association ( In this cyclists were encouraged to learn more about HGV visibility, and allowed the MPA and the companies that took part to learn the views and concerns of cyclists.

It is my understanding that HGV interaction are one of the biggest killers of cyclists, sometimes through the cyclists own fault, sometimes the drivers, so initiatives like this are excellent in raising awareness of the safety issues for cyclists and HGV drivers alike.

Taking part in a scheme like this would not only be excellent in raising safety awareness, but it would provide your company with positive publicity which I am sure would do no harm to your business. I would happily contact the MPA and my contacts in the press to investigate the practicalities of taking part.

Please let me know if you are interested in this initiative. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards

I will of course keep my blog up to date with any replies. 

Saturday 2 April 2011

Very Close HGV - Company Reply

On Friday I received a reply from the company I complained to earlier in the week. The following is the reply from the company (anonymised)

Thank you for your email, the footage of which we have viewed.

I can confirm it is our company logo on the vehicle, albeit we are
unable to identify clearly the registration.  We will, however, check
which specific drivers were on that stretch of road at the time of the

As a Company we expect all our drivers (HGV and Transit Van) to
undertake their duties to a very high standard, combined with due care
and attention to all vehicles/cyclists on the roads.  

It is not very often we receive a complaint or concern relating to any
of our HGV's, as these drivers are all very experienced.

It is Company's Policy to take Disciplinary Action against an employee
resulting in any incident like this, or who may fall below company

We intend now to have a refresher 'method statement talk' with all
drivers following your correspondence.

Yours sincerely

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

Friday 1 April 2011

Place Where Cycling is NOT Advised - Part 2

Your going on holiday to Blackpool. Yippee! It's time for Kiss Me Quick hats and candy floss. What else do you need to make the holiday great? That's right just one more thing, your mountain bike!

Your mountain bike? Why would you need a mountain bike in Blackpool? It's as flat as a pancake. No mountains for miles?

Ah, but when planning your route, you decided to take in a small detour of the Pleasure Beach. :-) What could be more fun than hopping off your bike every couple of hundred metres to jump on an exhilarating ride, or get scared witless (or bored shi...) on the ghost train. Wooooohooo indeed.

But being the adventurous type, that just doesn't seem exciting or thrilling enough. Anyway who needs to be strapped into a carriage on the Big One, when you have brought your trusty dual suspension super machine?

Anyway you came across this footage of someone driving around it.

If you can drive it in a car, there is absolutely no reason why you can't ride it on a bike. There were no 'No Cycling' signs in that clip.
We have the same rights as car drivers, don't you know!!!

So you plan your route with special attention to jumps and a plan to avoid cycling over peoples heads (shoulders are much more stable).

That should do it. So off you set on the first climb.

You start off and are soon startled by your speedy ascent of the first climb. It rises from near sea level up to 235 ft in a short distance. This should definitely feel harder. It's only when you realise that the clattering noise you can hear is a moving belt, that you happen to be riding on and is aiding your climb, that you realise what is going.

How thoughtful was that! An excellent idea for novice cyclists attempting their first big hill. Cycling needs to be encouraged so I might just contact my local councillors about this when I get home. 

Despite having the climbing aptitude of a mountain goat, you decide to take the help all the way up. Why not, I can also blog a review of how good it is afterwards.

You reach the top of the first climb hardly out of breath, at least until you take your first look at the first drop.

Mmmm, definitely a technical downhill....

Still you've trained for this day cycling over a ladder laid in your back garden so you're ready for anything.  Weeeeeeee.......Well, not so much weeeeee as in wee...bump....wee....bump.....wee....bump.....wee....bump

It's like the ultimate succession of speed bumps, and it's stopping you from reaching the quoted 74mph on the downhill. Strange...bump...what...bump...have...bump...they....bump...put....bump...bump (getting faster) put....bump...bump... that....bump....bump...there....bump...bump...for?

You look to the sides of you and see that there are some smooth safety barriers to each side. They do look strangely worn in places. Am I supposed to cycle there? I'm good but not Danny MacAskill good!

You reach down and unlock your suspension and things improve drastically. Brilliant!.

At the bottom you've picked up some speed, which is nice as the first ascent looms ahead. With all the bumps it looks difficult, but your up for the challenge. Kick down a few gears and go for it. It's at this point that your spidey sense kicks in.

Mmmm. somethings not quite right.....and what is that rumbling coming from behind me? Must be a CTC group ride coming up from behind. 

So you double your effort. You can't have ladies and gents in tweed jackets overtaking you! Yet, they seem to be getting closer, and if your hearing is not deceiving you, closer at approximately 74 miles an hour.

Must be on electric bikes.

The noise continues to get closer, and closer, and you can make out the sound of high pitched screams, mixed in with the now deafening rumble. 

Ah, the riders behind must have just realised that Brompton's, with their small wheels just aren't designed for Roller Coasters. 

With that in mind, in fact with that being the second last thing to ever be on your mind,  you are then swept along with what you can only assume is a... 

.....screaming, tweed wearing Peloton of very fit electric Brompton cyclists..........

There's a sentence you don't hear every day.....