Archive for October, 2011

Organise

October 25, 2011

Word:Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland

Ever considered running a cycling race? Got what it takes? Read this, think carefully, and then do it. Just be ready to put heart and soul into it…

The Premise

Start by moaning to anyone prepared to listen about how poorly presented bike racing is in your chosen domain – in this case cyclo-cross in the UK – without any actual intention of getting involved per se, hoping to throw some ideas in the mix, then neatly step back for others to take on the baton. Fellow lovers of the sport will back everything you say, before disappearing in the shadows. For the moment, you and your brilliant ideas are all alone.

The Hard Sell

No sponsor, no cash, equals no flash. Times are hard and persuading a company to part with a big bundle of notes for what is essentially uncharted waters is never going to be easy. I got lucky and found someone who believed in the idea soon enough. You may have to work harder for it.

Distribution Network

Putting together three big races when previous organisational experience is limited to a nine-year-old’s birthday party, ending in your son and his best mate exchanging blows, does not preclude you from the task ahead. Find an existing event that needs bells and whistles, offer your services to the organiser (they’ll be glad of the interest) and, with a lot of graft and a splash of cash, you have a race that people actually want to attend.

Keep on Delegating

Around this point, you will realise you are hopelessly out of your depth and require assistance. Call on favours, use bribes, promise the earth, but get help before it swamps you. If not for Laura, Jack and Konrad from Rapha, I would have abandoned ship long ago.

Work / Life Balance

Hah! Forget it. Your day job will suffer, sinks will remain unblocked, firewood unchopped and the family neglected, and riding your bike will become a distant memory. It will soon pass…

Anti-authoritarianism

Sport governing bodies are one of life’s necessities, but it is amazing how much can be done without their involvement. Keep asking questions and you will probably be told no. Keep your head down and crack on and it’s fait accompli.

The Social Network

Like it or not, Facebook and Twitter are your friends. Pump out the information. The web is an insatiable beastie, just keep pouring snippets down its gullet. Cycling websites likewise.

Sit Back and Relax…

Everything is in place for the big day, so rest easy and watch the action – except there are stalls to be set up, beer to be shifted, banners to be erected, press reports to be written, results to be pored over, toilets to be cleaned: all this and more. Anyone actually trying to hold a conversation with you will notice a distracted, faraway look in the eyes that will make them wish they hadn’t bothered. Sincere apologies to all those well and truly blanked by yours truly.

And that’s about it. If you can cope with that lot and still come out the other side with a smile on your face, then get stuck in and do something for the sport instead of moaning about it. If I can do it, anyone can.

The smiles and thanks from all and sundry make the whole shebang worthwhile, trust me.

Rapha Super Cross: Broughton Hall, Yorkshire Oct. 20th  Misterton Hall, East Midlands Oct. 27th  Alexandra Palace, London Oct 28th

Advertisements

Training Diaries

October 12, 2011

Words: Tom Southam Photos: Wig Worland

There is a game a good friend of mine likes to play. While we sit about together in the bike riders’ twilight, the long afternoons that we pass away “resting” while the rest of the world industriously turns, he sits surrounded by a pile of his old training diaries and encourages me to “pick a date – go on – pick a date from any year and I’ll tell you what I was doing on my bike”. He will then promptly read out a perfectly descriptive vignette of a moment in time, sometimes many moons old, which tells a story of a day on the road. It is amazing how just a few well-chosen words not only take him there, it can take the listener there, too.

I recognise the stories, made up of efforts, times, intervals and heart rates, because I like to play this game too, albeit at home and without an audience. Up on a shelf I have ten full seasons of pedalling, catalogued: “Training diaries: 1994-2003”. They are a written record of almost every ride I did, from kid through to professional bike rider. Leafing through these in the odd private moment takes me way back.

“Thursday, May 26th, 1994. Mileage: 10 (St Just run, slightly shortened), Weekly total: 22 miles. Weather: Breezy, cold, overcast. Notes: Back was awful again. Went well on big chain ring but on hill I was shit, couldn’t get any rhythm. Been ill, only just recovered. Bad day.”

This extract is from the first diary that I ever kept, in what was my first year of competitive cycling. I was 12 and had just started to progress from sporadic forays into the countryside wearing a woollen Peugeot jersey and jeans, to donning Lycra and stringing together what I thought I could call training rides.

If you grow up through bike riding you don’t have much time for looking backwards. One thing that does become apparent when you do get to take the occasional glance at your life, though, is that each year has a definitive shape, texture and feel.

Years passed don’t just blend into one another; each one is markedly different from the next as so many things change from year to year. Firstly in the massive physical improvements you start to feel as you grow, then in the teams you ride for, the different jerseys, the bikes and the little details like the cycling shoes you wore and how they hurt your feet, or cool bits of kit that you had. There is also the wonderful expansion of your geography, your view and understanding of the world filling out as you ascend through the ranks as a rider.

Each year has a structure; the winter signals the rebirth, the hope and aspiration that sees you ploughing through all weathers to be ready for the new year, each spring heralds a damp wet windy beginning, each summer lifts successes into new light, and each autumn sees hope having a quick glance up the road ahead. For most bike riders this is all clearly mapped, plotted and recorded for posterity, in notebooks, in journals, on wall charts and more recently in the electronic seas of the World Wide Web.

The collection of training data has always existed; what has changed over the years are the fields of data collected, and how and why they are interpreted by each individual. The mind of the bike rider varies wildly. Trying to look beyond their shades to work them out is a waste of time; if you want to know a bike rider, just flick through the pages of their training diaries. There you will see the blueprints, not just to a career in pedalling, but also to the mind of the riders themselves.

Extract from Rouleur 26, out soon.

Hutchinson

October 6, 2011

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland

Hutchinson makes some of the finest racing tyres on the market and have done so for a very long time. Anquetil, Bobet, Armstrong; all Tour de France winners, all riding on French rubber. We went to Montargis, south of Paris, to find out about warp and weft, TPI and other mysterious tyre terminology…

I am not the kind of cyclist who thinks too deeply about what sits beneath me. An inquisitive mind for all things mechanical is a wonderful thing. I just don’t possess one. If a bike works, is not too heavy and isn’t ugly, that’s good enough for me. Imagine the lack of enthusiasm approaching my first Rouleur equipment feature, something I have successfully swerved thus far. What can be said about tyres? (I must at this point give special mention to the Editor who managed a thoroughly enjoyable feature about spokes… from Switzerland). But the whole day was absolutely gripping.

Warp and weft! There’s two words you don’t hear often, unless working in the clothes trade. The warp is the lengthwise yarn held in tension on a frame, while the weft is woven between at a right angle. Samuel demonstrates with a small section of base layer the strength the material has in one direction, then turns it round and simply rips it apart with ease. The clever bit comes by turning the material 45 degrees where the combination of strength and elasticity reaches its optimum.

The tyre-related acronym even I knew about before visiting Montargis was TPI, or threads per inch. The more, the better, giving a thinner and more flexible tyre carcass. “In the beginning it was 33,” says Samuel, “with big yarn, then doubled to 66, then doubled again – 127.” Hold on a minute…

“But in reality it is not that. It is 100. I don’t why.”

Content that if Samuel doesn’t know, it’s probably not worth knowing, we move onto the most labour intensive part of the tyre making process, rows of deft-fingered women bringing carcass, beading and tread together with meticulous high-speed dexterity. Then to huge heavy presses for final shaping and stretching, the finished articles emerging steaming to be cooled on racks.

This is the point where I am struck by how many pairs of hands have worked on each and every one of these tyres. I expected some kind of mass production, automated line, without having really thought it through. The reality is, yes, it’s a production line, but with a necessarily hands-on approach that is very much old school manufacturing at its finest. I vow never, ever, to complain about the cost of a pair of tyres again.

Extract taken from Rouleur 26, coming soon