Thursday, 31 December 2009

A decade of new millenium pedalling

Back in the 90's there was so much talk about the new millenium and how things were going to change. I remember phoning the Sony and Phillips helpline to check that my TV and video were not going to blow up on the stroke of midnight!

The whole dot com era was really taking off and it was a fashionable sector to work in. Less than half the people in my entourage had an email address.

And now look at us. My TV still works and so does my video recorder (yes I still use it when I'm feeling nostalgic!), and everyone I know has an email address.

On the cycling front, the late 90s was a new time for me cycling wise. So it's quite appropriate that I now reflect on the first decade of this millenium in the same breath as my first decade of regular cycling.

Early Beginnings

I learned to ride a bicycle as a 6 year old when my dad abruptly took the stabilisers off my bike and said "now ride!". Three days and several bruises later I was riding. After that, cycling was a very intermittent activity for me, partly because my parents were not mad keen on me doing what they believed to be a dangerous activity. From time to time, I rode on the footpaths near my house with mates, I rode to the shops as a teenager and was strictly under orders to keep to the pavements. I did a brief stint of cycling as a student and rode to lectures when I lived off campus.
I also did a few trips around the country - to the Lake District, the Peak District, the Mendips, the Cotswolds, Malvern Hills. Those had been real adventures for a noncyclist who was trying to discover the world! My family wondered why I couldn't have saved up for a car and used that to visit these places!

Up until 1998 I could probably recall all the moments that I'd been out on a bicycle as I cycled quite infrequently, and had focused on other sports.

Getting my pedalling started

So, in late 1998, spurred on by my running ability, I got this idea of joining a triathlon club. I'd been very pleased to have a bicycle that I could ride and train on regularly. That Dawes hybrid with the flat pedals that I rode with my trainers and my town shoes, as well as in a few triathlons was my pride and joy!

Naturally, I soon realised that I would need a "proper" bike. So in 1999 the very kind Maurice Burton of De Ver cycles built me a lovely red road bike from a generic aluminium frame and Shimano 105 components. This was my new pride and joy.
I had spent £80 on my Dawes bicycle, and to me that amount of money was reasonable but neverthesless non-negligeable. The red bicycle was a "whopping" £400. Gosh, I would really have to get my money's worth with this bike! I guarded it with my life!

So I began to take part in more events - starting with a few local triathlons at Crystal Palace, White Oak, Sevenoaks and Southwater. Being able to knock 30 minutes off my previous times for a sprint triathlon was thrilling. Now was the time to make it into the big world of travelling to national series triathlons - at Shropshire, Windsor, Milton Keynes and Docklands. I even did an event while in the French Alps and bumbled my way through a triathlon around Lake Annecy!
1999 was the year things began to kick off.

So the noughties was when I learned alot and became more of a biker and less of a runner.

Club Runs, Training Camps and Commuting

Club runs were tough for me as I didn't have a clue where I was when we went into the Kent and Surrey lanes. I was so anxious about not being able to keep up, and being left in the wilds to find my own way home. Thankfully the nice people at Crystal Palace triathlon club helped me along, even when I bonked after 25 miles!

I had very similar problems when I rode with the Addiscombe Cycling Club. That was tougher as they were proper cyclists, some of whom rode alot quicker than any of the local triathletes! I felt enormous embarrassment when I needed to stop and rest my legs on the 15 mile ride from Charlwood back to Croydon! Thankfully people like Andrew (Monty) Montgomery and Marco Faimali made sure I was ok.

My first cycling training camp was in 2000. It was with Graham Baxters Sporting Tours in hills near Benidorm. Keeping up with the slowest groups was a real struggle, and I ended up with a badly grazed elbow when I crashed while riding along a tarmacced road in a straight line!
I did another trip with Baxters around the Andalucian villages. Making it through the week was a real sense of achievement, having ridden from Malaga, round to Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera, Carmona, Cordoba and back.

As the noughties wore on I made progress in my cycling. The ride from Crystal Palace to Box Hill and back was now no trouble for me at all. I actually began to spar with other girls (albeit at the back of the field) in a triathlon!

I soon dropped swimming and became a duathlete, which was good for me as I immediately moved up the field since my running ability paid off too.

My work meant that I was going into central London so from 2001 I began to commute into town. Back then I used to race against other commuters or just race against myself. My commute became a race, and it gave me a buzz. There was something very exciting about racing through the streets of London on pedal power.

Nouvelles Frontieres

In 2003 I got more into the idea of going abroad with my bicycle. Organized packages had been fun, and there was something quite comforting about being in with a large group and a co-ordinator. There was the inherent protection from the hazards of being in a strange land - getting lost, eating something that you'd normally keep as a pet, or having to speak to a local!

So with my inquiring mind, my language skills and my bicycle I ventured to foreign places. I rode L'Etape du Tour and other high profile cyclosportives as an independent entrant. I also rode completely unheardof cycling events in France and Italy, where I was the only non-local in the village. There was real pleasure in just buzzing off on various trips to ride the lanes in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. And hey, I came back unscathed. I even had a good time!
I also managed to get in some cycling around South America, while on a long trip over there. The World's Most dangerous road (Death Road) in Bolivia was such a thrill, as were the cycling trails in the Sacred Valley around Cuzco, Peru. And if you really want an urban thrill, ride a bicycle down the main drag in Buenos Aires and see how many buses you can skirt around!

Of course, I didn't neglect the UK. I have done and still do cycling trips around various places of interest and will continue to do so, especially if Sterling goes into complete meltdown!

Right Here, Right Now

So here I am at the end of the first decade of the new millenium and cycling:

I still commute to work by bicycle, though just tend to ride at a leisurely pace. I still take my bicycle abroad and around the UK to race or just to pootle. I no longer do multisports, but have discovered the multifaceted world of cycling as a single discipline - road racing, cyclo cross, track cycling, cyclopsortives, time trialling, mountain biking.

Back in 2000 most of my friends were not particularly sporty and none of them were cyclists. I used to wish I had friends who shared my enthusiasm for cycling. Ten years on, most of my entourage is involved in cycling in some way, and I find it quite refreshing to be able to get away from that world at times, and hook up with non-cycling folks!

The red bicycle rarely gets taken outdoors now. It sits happily in my turbo trainer. I still feel an attachment to it, and I can't imagine getting rid of it.
It was replaced by a nicer looking younger model in 2003 - a Specialized. I still ride that and mean to change it, but a combination of gettting emotionally attached, not finding anything "wrong" with it, and not being able to justify spending money on a new road bikes means it could be with me for a while longer. Maybe 2010 will be the year that I fall for something else....I don't know what that will be, but I know that it will cost more than the £400 I paid for my road bike ten years ago!

These two bikes have been joined by cyclo cross bicycles - a Pearson bike, which was succeeded by a Planet X, a Specialized mountain bike that I bought on impulse while on a trip to Germany in 2000, and an Orbit track bike bought from Sophie Perez, though it resides at the velodrome.
My Dawes hybrid has gone to a better place and I now ride another hybrid for commuting with. It might have been very basic, but the Dawes was the bike that got me into cycling regularly, and started this wave of enthusiasm that I have had for two wheels over the last decade. I look forward to more two wheeled fun over the next decade.

On a related note, I'd like to thank the folks who have been very helpful and encouraging towards me as I've pedalled through time - the bike clubs, fellow cycling buddies, bike shops and event organisers.

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Around Dobbiaco

The cross country skiing that I did started from Dobbiaco and from there we went to other neighbouring villages - San Candido (Innichen), Sesto (Sexten), Durensee, Val Falacina. I didn't loads of the running on skis stuff, but the photos show that I was there!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

White Christmas

I guess the bookies have stopped taking bets on a white christmas in London. I don't know of a time when there was so much snow in December in England. It's lovely!
Well, maybe it isn't if you're suffering all the traffic delays or if you were stuck on a Eurostar train for 10 hours.

But a white christmas is brilliant - just like in the Christmas cards.
Well where I am I know that it'll be a white Christmas here in the Dolomites. We've had lots of snow - both in the village and up on high. I've been doing cross country ski-ing, which is something very new to me and to my ankle (which is not enjoying the experience)!

I am looking forward to doing some downhill stuff at Cortina tomorrow, just like how Bing Crosby dreamt of how it used to be!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Back in the Saddle and Happy

It's four weeks since I sprained my ankle. After all this time hobbling around with strapping and being beholden to London Transport to get around, I can now say I'm on the mend. I'm still getting twinges, but that's bearable.

I can now walk around for more than 10 minutes without my ankle swelling up, and more importantly I can ride my bicycle.
Not only can I pedal but I can also twist my foot into and out of the spd cleats - something I'd been completely incapable of doing previously. Caution, I say spd cleats. I'm not sure I can graduate to Look pedals just yet. As we are still in the cyclo cross season spd's are more the order of the day in any case so not using Look pedals isn't a great loss.

The bottom line is that I feel free again. I can walk around without worrying about the distance. I don't have to suffer the idiosyncracies of our public transportation system. I can skip up the stairs without thinking afterwards, "oh I shouldn't have done that", and I can do my favourite sport.

My ankle has returned to its customary duties and has let me get back in the saddle. I've ridden my bike a little abit every day since Sunday, and I can feel a few kgs coming off - which is always a bonus!

The other good reason why I'm pleased to be back in action is that I now know I can go on the cross country ski-ing trip I'd planned, and I will actually be able to make the most of it. It would have been a shame to have spent all that money just to stare out of the window at a snow-covered mountain. So I will hopefully return from the trip with even more vigour, zest and energy to do more bike riding.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Cafe Stop

I'm not a big fan of cafe stops when I'm out cycling. It's not that I'm no more antisocial than the next person, but I get worried about losing my rhythm when I'm riding. As I get older I feel more and more like an old car that needs a fair amount of revving and maybe a little push before it can get going. Normally I take about an hour to warm up, and a minute to cool down. At this time of year I need 2 hours to warm up and 30 seconds to cool down! Even if piping hot coffee warms me up, by the time I'm on my bike again the legs are moaning and the group is looking back at me wondering what I'm playing at. I'm not messing around, I'm just waiting for the engine to get going again. Please be patient guys! So for this reason, I prefer club runs which involve doing the ride straight through with limited stops and a cafe stop at the end of the ride. That's what my club does on its Saturday morning rides.

While injury may have kept me away from the club runs it has not kept me away from the cafe stop. What's more, because I don't have to worry about the cooling down effect after my gentle half mile pootle from my house to the cafe, I can do a cafe stop at my leisure, and even join my club-mates as they watch the world go by. That's how I found them when I arrived at the cafe this morning and I was happy to join them in doing the same! Of course, we eventually sat down for the customary bacon sandwich, cake, coffe and chat.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Worrying Trend - Part 2

A while ago I published a post about the worrying number of women cyclists killed by heavy goods vehicles this year in London.

Sadly there is now another name to add to the macabre list. Twenty-three year old fashion student Dorothy Rose Elder died on 22nd November as a result of horrific injuries she sustained when she was crushed by a London Transport bus on 11th November. The accident happened at the junction of Theobalds Road and Southampton Row, near Holborn.

Police are still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the accident, and are appealing for witnesses. I am very sorry to hear about yet another life that was taken unneccessarily and my thoughts go out to Dorothy's family.

Some of you may have already seen this BBC article about women cyclists and why we are more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents than men. Whatever your opinions are, I found this article adds food for thought. It also gives a few safety tips.

Note that I do not how this latest accident occurred and so I can't say if the tips in the article would have helped. These tips could still be useful to all commuters who cycle in built-up areas where there are HGVs, trucks and buses.
The London Cycling Campaign have launched various initiatives, including lobbying and signing of petitions to improve the safety of cyclists in London. They encourage as many people as possible to get involved and help to reduce the number of cycling accidents on our roads.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

More Classic Cross

Today was Round 10 of the London Cyclocross League. Due to a lingering injury I was unable to go. I really would've liked to do this one as it was at a new cyclo cross venue, Hog Hill (aka Redbridge Cycle Centre). The organiser had done alot of publicity around the event and it looked like he'd gone to alot of effort to prepare the course for this race.

With the torrential rain that we had over the weekend and on the day itself, this race had all the ingredients to make it a classic cyclo cross race.

Spectators, race officials and photographers were even braver souls than the ones who lined up on the start to face the hour-long biblical conditions!

Unlike the mudfest of the previous week at Penshurst where a quarter of the field pulled out due to bike mechanicals, today's event hardly anyone's bike give up the ghost.

It seems that this race featured, among all the typical run ups, drop-offs and other obstacles, the right kind of mud!

The surface at this cycle circuit normally drains well, so despite the showers the organiser had still anticipated a dry-ish course. On this particularly tempestuous situation though, nothing had any chance of resisting a soaking.
But the "great" thing, riders said, was that conditions were just very runny, and all the clag simply ran straight off the bike. There were no problems of bike bits getting clogged up.
I suppose the main snag was recognising people. It wasn't just muddy faces that made people unidentifiable, but also the dark angry skies covering East London that seemed to protest over the bikers indulging in their Sunday afternoon fun. I don't imagine washing machines would have been happy at having to deal with all that cycling kit in the aftermath either!

Definitely sounds like Hog Hill was lots of fun, and I hope I get to ride a race like that before the season's out!

photo by John Mullineax @

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Grrr - Somebody's clipped my wings!!

So what's going ? I wake up in the morning, get out of bed and lumber around the flat, all ungainly like a wounded elephant. There's hardly any movement in my right ankle and putting any weight on it is painful. Once I get my trainers on things are a little better, with the support they provide.

The sad thing is, I'm only wearing trainers just to hobble around the flat. Not going doing anthing sporty. If I'm feeling really courageous I might walk to the train station and clock in at the office.

Somebody's clipped my wings, so I can't do my favourite activities. Oh, how I miss being able to run up and down, and cycle around. Everyone's moaning about the foul weather we've been having. How much more of a soaking can you get while out riding a bicycle in London during these grey November weekends? Well, what I realise is I'd rather be rained on in a dreich country lane than be confined to my flat at the mercy of reality TV shows, trashy soap operas and completely inane singing and dancing competitions!

I'm an amateur sports personality, get me out of here!

The mean deed was done last Tuesday week. While out doing my lunchtime run around St James' Park I stopped off on my regular circuit to do some skipping reps across the way in Green Park. I wasn't sure if I should have been doing the reps as it was a bit windy and I didn't want to risk tripping and falling. Well, I took the risk anyway and jumped for about 10 minutes. Everything went fine.

But, it was the twig on a slippery path wot did it! Jogging down a little cut-through in Green Park, my right foot suddenly wobbled, then jerked violently to the left and then to the right. I stumbled, but didn't fall down. Boy did it hurt though. I instinctively hopped a few steps forward, like you sometimes see sprinters do when they suddenly get an injury while running. When I came to a stop, I immediately felt the pain spread all along my foot and ankle as the inflammation set in. I looked back and saw the cheeky little culprit lying there in the wet mud, camouflaged among the autumn leaves. Bloody Hell!! It's typical how you can sail through the difficult things and then it's just that little bit of banana skin (or a twig even) that brings you down. With no other way of getting back to the office I limped along The Mall to return to work. My lunchtime sport had come to an abrupt, painful and very unceremonious end.

So that's it - a biplanar ankle sprain that's not bad enough to warrant a cast, but nonetheless highly annoying. No sport for the next few weeks, which means I'll be endorphin-light and grouch-heavy - hardly a bundle of laughs! I will be heavy, in more ways than one. Not doing sport has got me piling on the kilos already. I just hope that when my wings eventually grow back they will be bigger and stronger. They will need to be to get this bloater off the ground!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

So when is the cycling off-season?

The last women's road race took place in early October. Time to hang up the bike, take things easy and then get back into training. No racing, no really intense training. Just taking things easy for a couple of months.

Err, not really. That might have been the case 5 years ago but it doesn't seem to be the case now.

Back in 2004 there was a road racing/time trialling calendar which ran from April to late September. Then everything stopped and you went into hibernation for a few weeks, re-started training and then came out to play again in mid/late March. Some people used the time to do running, some did completely different sports like hockey. A couple of hardy souls did cyclo cross or duathlons. But in the main, people didn't do any cycle racing between November and March.

Now, it all seems to have changed. There has been a noteworthy increase in the number of women taking part in cyclo cross races - many of them coming straight off the back of a road racing season. Where only 3 or 4 women turned out to race a London league event, it's not uncommon now to have 10 women present on the start line. And that's not counting the women who do cyclo cross racing in the neighbouring leagues that cover the London area - Eastern and Central.

Track racing at Calshot velodrome has begun, and there is a winter league - although the venue is a good 2 hours' drive away, many Londoners still make the trip over there. Furthermore, there are winter road racing leagues at Hillingdon (in West London) and Redbridge Cycle Centre (aka Hog Hill, East London) which get a sizeable attendance. Of course we mustn't forget the roller racing national series and winter leagues!

So, with all these events taking place, when does a London racing cyclist actually get the chance to rest up? It appears that the answer is "You don't"! There's so much going on, and a combination of wanting the buzz of racing, being a racing creature of habit and even peer pressure means that you can very easily get roped into racing 52 weeks of the year!

Maybe this trend is also being driven by our professional/semi professional counterparts. After the final protour race - the Tour of Lombardy, some road racers turn to racing the World Cup events at the various velodromes and the 6-day events. There's road racing to be done Africa, Asia and South America over the winter months. And of course there's cyclo cross.
While the top racers don't necessarily take part in all of these disciplines, there is still enough to keep the attentions of the amateur cycle racer who would want to emulate their heros in each of these disciplines and,before they know it, it's all about racing, racing and more racing!

The trend of the never ending season can definitely be seen in other sports like football, rugby and tennis. A number of top tennis players have complained at the demands made on their bodies as a result of a punishing competition schedule. They've probably got a point.

There is a more sinister side to all this racing - so much racing means so much training (in theory), which means the body never really gets properly rested. This results in a greater tendency for illness and injury. I don't have figures but just looking around I see more and more cases of illness due to overtraining/over-racing and even chronic fatigue syndrome.

The message is, while the cycle racing calendar may be jam packed full of events that we can take part in nowadays, it is still worth dosing the amount of racing done. And as I sit here with a strapped up ankle after a nasty sprain, I realise that by having this (albeit enforced) break, I may actually be doing the rest of my body a favour!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Africans and Cycling

Traditionally, cycling in the African continent has been viewed more as a mode of transport than as a leisure activity. Bicycles are used very much for practical, even commercial reasons - for getting to and from work, or for transporting goods.

Unlike in Europe (or North America or Australasia) where people can own both a bicycle and a car, and use them for different purposes, in many parts of Africa a bicycle substitutes a car and a car replaces a bicycle when you fall on better times.
In fact, in Nigeria, my country of origin, some people are even ashamed to be seen on a bicycle as it is perceived as a sign of failure - not having done well enough in life to be able to afford four wheels. And then that leads to other issues when people believe you're in a lower socio-economic class. Furthermore, the lack of adapted infrastructure and "creative" driving techniques can make cycling a hazardous activity for those who are not properly resourced and kitted out.

A former Nigerian transport minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe tried to promote cycling as an alternative means of transport to motorised vehicles, as a way of reducing the gridlock that's crippling the country's roads, and improving the nation's health. This idea was met with widespread condemnation and ridicule, with people saying that it would take the country back to the stone age!
Deciding to lead by example, Maduekwe cycled to his government meetings. Sadly things didn't work out too well for him. Press pictures of him arriving at meetings with his suit and his papers completely drenched after being caught in torrential rain, and then being hit by a bus and knocked into a ditch didn't inspire confidence. He was not deterred and tried to establish cycle routes between Abuja and Lagos - unfortunately this was not supported.

The good news is that cycle sport is taking off in other African countries. Speaking to a cyclist from Uganda who had taken part in bicycle races there, he was completely amazed when I told him it was possible to race in the London area every day during the summer. He said that in Uganda they had just one road race a year, but it was a really big event for riders from all over the country and this was seen as a big leap in cycling.
The Tour du Faso, a stage race in Burkina Faso organised by the Tour de France's ASO has been on the UCI Africa tour since 2005. Other UCI races in Africa include the Tour of Cameroon, Tour of the Cape (South Africa), and the Tour of the Ivory Coast. The African road race championships were held in Namibia last week.

Yesterday, in Kigali saw the start of the Tour of Rwanda. Twelve 6-man teams lined up to start the stage race that will cover 1,069km through the land of a thousand hills over eight days. Prize money may be modest - 900,000 Rwandan Francs (1300euros) for the winner - compared with 450,000 euros for the winner of the Tour de France. Nevertheless, this race will be as hotly contested as any other, with teams from all over the African continent (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Uganda, Morocco) plus a couple from France and Holland.

Rwanda has come a long way since the vile days of the genocide 15 years ago. Cycling has really been embraced in this country, with cycling being encouraged not just as a mode of transport but for leisure as well.

The Rwandan national cycling team is coached by American ex-pro, Jock Boyer. The riders in this team earn 70 euros a month, which is enough not just to support themselves but also to send money back to help their families buy food and pay for medical bills. In a country where infant mortality is 90 deaths/1000, life expectancy is 40 years old and average salary is 12 euros per month, these pro cyclists are living very comfortable lives.

Tom Ritchey, bike frame designer, and one of the pioneers of the mountain bike has set up Project Rwanda to raise funds to buy more bicycles for Rwandans.
Shortly after the Tour of Rwanda stage race there will be the Wooden Bike Classic race - a mountainbike race for amateur cyclists, which is well supported by Rwandans and ex-pats.

In the words of Joseph Habineza, Rwandan Minister for Sport and Culture, "Cycling is the sport that brings our people together. It's part of our history, our work and our leisure. We really want people to enjoy it."
Sounds like they've got the right idea.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cycling's War Dead

At a time when we remember those killed at war I have been thinking about cyclists who perished. Browsing through a French history cycling site special mention is made to those cyclists lost during the first world war. It seems that cyclists paid very heavily with their lives during that time.

Among the French cyclists mentioned were former Tour de France winners, Octave Lapize (plane shot down, 1917), Francois Faber (shot, 1915) and Lucien Petit-Breton (killed in a motor car accident, 1917). The latter's brother, Anselme Mazan was also killed during the war, in 1915.

Other high profile cyclists of the day who were lost were the 1913 winner of the Giro d'Italia, Carlo Oriani (died from pneumonia), the 1896 Olympic track champion Leon Flameng (killed in a plane crash, 1917) and the English track star Tom Gascoyne.

As well as the elite cyclists there were hundreds of amateur cyclists killed during the Great War.

At Meriden in the West Midlands stands the National Cyclists Memorial, a monument which specifically commemorates cyclists lost during the First and Second world wars.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Heading for the Hills

There are lots of hills around near where I live. South London is full of them. As soon as I leave my home in the morning to go to work I am woken up with a steep hill.

The training rides that my club, Dulwich Paragon organises tend to go into the Kent Hills. Over the years I have learned to like hills and make them part of my cycling life.

The ones I really enjoy riding though, are the Surrey Hills. They are not the nearest hills to where I live, and my ride there involves the tedium of crossing the urban sprawl of Croydon. Once I reach the quiet leafy lanes around Dorking and Leatherhead, however, I am rewarded with beautiful landscape, spectacular views of the Downs, and delicious cakes at the Box Hill National Trust tea shop.

That's where I was today (riding around the hills, not just eating cakes!). Although it was a cold, damp, and at times a grey day, the beauty of the Surrey Hills failed to disappoint me. The various autumnal shades of browns, yellows, greens and red were really pleasing to the eye. The cover provided by the canopy of branches gave me a feeling of safety and warmth.

Today I was at Ranmore Common and Box Hill with club mates Steve, John and Emily. A good ride was had by all, despite us having to cut out Leith Hill due to time constraints. That'll be for another day I imagine.

Anyway, here's a quick shot of the route we took from Crystal Palace and the loop we did once we reached the Surrey Hills. A fuller route is detailed in an article I wrote for Cycling Active magazine. (Currently available in all good newsagents!)

Hopefully my next visit to this area will be in the near future.

View Crystal Palace - Surrey Hills (Ranmore) in a larger map

Halloween Snap Shots

It was a full week ago that we had the Rollapaluza Halloween cyclo cross race, but it I can't help talking about it even now. It was certainly the main talking point in the cycling community last week. It even overshadowed the Inter-Area championships which took place the same weekend. Even though that was a national event, also with a big field, many people talked of how that event really paled into insignificance by comparison. It seemed quite a sorry affair with literally one man and his dog spectating! I must admit I'm glad I didn't make the trip up there.
Anyway, for those who weren't at the Rollapaluza spectacular, or those who want to be reminded what a great night it was, here are some snaps.

Photos courtesy of Graham Stacey (Catford CC), plus one from Alistair Lang (Pearson Cycles) who I am not sure whether or not to thank. Maybe he had a moment of schadenfreude when he saw me crash. Ok, I will admit I do laugh when I look at that Frank Spencer moment!

Photo: London Cyclesport

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Bring on the Night!

So I made it through the the (not so) muddy hell Halloween cyclo cross. It wasn't pretty but I survived. Actually, strictly speaking that's not entirely true. Wearing fairy wings and a fancy catmask I didn't look too bad. I survived but I didn't come out unscathed. A couple of crashes on the whoop de whoo bumps left me with a grazed elbow.

I don't know where I finished. I'm pretty sure I wasn't last but I was a long way from the front. I should've put an additional light on my helmet as I couldn't see the twists and turns in the path very well, and that made me a bit anxious about going so fast.

I'm embarrassed to say that I wasn't particularly out of breath by the time I finished because I just hadn't felt confident enough to ride really hard. The times when I did give my bike some welly was when I needed to in order to get over the whoop-de-whoo bumps. But then I just lost control of my bike and ended up falling off the bumps! I think my fancy dress was intact by the time I crossed the finish line so I was happy enough.

The course had a good mix of fast sections with technical (though safe) obstacles thrown in. A lap was also long enough that you didn't get lapped too quickly by the faster riders. In the women's race I was lapped by the winning girl, Corinne Hall (Team Corridori) and then was just caught by the second placed lady Joanne McRae (Arctic Premier) as I crashed spectacularly in the home strait. By then, my biggest concern was whether my fairy wings hadn't been squashed!

Even though the race took place in the dark, overtaking was still quite orderly and people were able to overtake each other without too much difficulty. A couple of people had problems with keeping their lights mounted on their bikes, and they ended up racing with it in their mouths! Joanne McRae was compromised when she had to ride the first lap with no light after hers broke, and so she took time out to get another one during the race.

For this Halloween event the racers got into the spirit of things (no pun intended!), with most of the women and many of the men wearing fancy dress. One guy, who raced wearing a plastic face mask, said it was like racing with a wet face towel on the whole time. It still didn't stop him from doing well.

But what a night, what an atmosphere. The organisers, Rollapaluza and Tour de Ville had gone to alot of effort to make this a well organised and successful event. And sure, they succeeded. There were large crowds out to watch us and cheer us on. It seemed like all the cycling community, as well as other local triathletes, and just other locals had come out to watch. Loads of people cheered me on as I stumbled over the hurdles and struggled to get back on my bike each lap. There was funky music, drinking and general merriment. This event was a real credit to cycling in London. Thanks to Rollapaluza for another great night.

photos by John Mullineaux @ London Cyclesport

I wanna go to Italy!

With the route for the giro d'italia having been announced a week ago, I've been looking at the interesting stages of the 3 week race in May. A number of famous climbs have been included along the way - passo di Gavia, passo Motirolo, Monte Zoncolan, Monte Grappa, Plan de Corones etc.

I have done a few trips to the Dolomites and have ridden one of the most famous passes - the Passo dello Stelvio, but it's been a while since I was there to do anything really classic.

So, for next year I would like to do one or two of the high profile Gran Fondos. Looking at the calendar there's alot to choose from. Right now registration is open for the Maratona dles Dolomiti and also the Nove Colli - two of the biggest events. But then there's also the Felice Gimondi, the Gran Fondo Pinarello, the Marco Pantani, the Campagnolo, the Colnago etc. So much to choose from. Most of these events include well known mountain passes in the routes. It would be easy to just take off to Italy during the Giro and ride up to the Zoncolan or the Passo di Gavia the day before the pros pass through. But really, riding through the Dolomites in May isn't exactly tropical. Remember that famous stage on the Passo di Gavia in 1988, where many of the riders completed the stage practically in a hyperthermic state? Even in recent years we've seen pictures of riders gingerly attempting descents in the snow!

The pros get paid to risk life and limb doing this sort of thing. I don't!

So realistically, if I wanted to get a taste of some Giro d'Italia action while getting the chance to follow the same route as the pros, it looks like the event of choice would be the Nove Colli, which happens to be celebrating it's 40th anniversary this year, so there'll be additional fanfare.

The route will go in and around Cesenatico in the Emilia Romagna area. Although there are no classic climbs, this is still a very lumpy area to ride - well, there are at least 9 hills!

To get a taste of the classical climbs I could do the Maratona dles Dolomiti, which takes place in early July. There is also the Giro dles Dolomiti, which takes place over a one-week period in early August and is based in Bolzano. By doing those two events you get to ride the Passo Pordoi, Passo di Giau, Falzarego, Plan di Corones and the Stelvio.

If doing the Gran Fondo Marco Pantani you will also get to ride the Mortirolo and the Gavia.

So there's quite a choice of places and events to ride in Italy. I've only mentioned the Dolomites and Emilio Romagna, but there is of course, the Veneto area (Treviso, Verona, Venice). Remember that the Giro will finish in Verona this year, and the stage will take in an interesting hill climb up the Torricelli, a steep road that leads up out of the city. (There is an amateur version of this race in the late summer.) That could be a good excuse to head to Verona in late May. There's also Tuscany, Liguria, the Appenines and of course the islands of Sardinia and Sicily - all of them with significantly (in)famous climbs, Gran Fondo events, and beautiful scenery to be sampled. I haven't registered for anything yet - I will need to get my skates on for the Maratona, and also get organised for the Nove Colli. Not sure exactly which events I will do but I have a feeling that 2010 will be about Italy.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

It's all getting spooky now!

It was ages ago, back in August when I signed up for the Rollapaluza Halloween Cyclo Cross race. It sounded a good idea at the time while having a beer one Monday evening after a track training session.

The cyclo cross course at Herne Hill doesn't really suit me, but as it's so local to where I live I always like to make it down there for the race if I'm around. The fact that it was in aid of Halloween was probably more by default than by design.

But now, 2 days from the day of the race the magnitude of the event is really dawning on me.

It'll be on a Saturday night, in an in-field which has been adorned with a whole manner of obstacles. The beer tent has been erected, lots of folks are talking about how they'll be coming over to watch.

I have looked at the start list and the fields will be BIG. All the who's who of London cycling seem to have made a date with this event across all the categories. Twenty-six women have signed up for this race. I have never seen such a long startlist of women's names in a cyclo cross race in the London area! Don't get me wrong, I think it's brilliant. The field will be pretty strong though and the battle at the front end of proceedings will be as hard fought as for any national level cyclo cross race – especially with the prospect of generous prize money to take home.

So with all the pre-event fanfare that's going on, I'm actually getting a little nervous. Loads of people will be watching me so I don't really want to make an ass of myself. I did my first 'cross race of the season last Sunday. I came through it ok, so I know that I will survive the 40 minute race. I have dug out my night riding lights. Hopefully the cable from the lights to the battery is long enough to fit the cross bike frame. I even ventured out at night off-road. It was pretty scary when I was alone, but Saturday should be alright as I'll have about 79 others riding around me!

Wanting to get into the spirit of things, I have decided to do a bit of fancy dress. I've got a mask and some wings. Hopefully my visibility won't be further impaired by my cat-mask, and I won't get the wings caught in branches along the way. I have no designs on winning, but if at the end of the race my wings are not hanging down my bum, my mask hasn't flown off and my skirt isn't caught in my wheels, I think I will have done well! And I will savour that all important beer afterwards!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Back in the Cyclo Cross Groove

After alot of deliberation and even a false start last week when a mechanical problem stopped me getting over to Reed Court Farm, yesterday I finally made it to my first cyclo cross race of the season. Hillingdon was the venue, and overall it treated me well. The sun was out, it wasn't muddy at all. The course was fast and not especially technical. Just how I like it.

Only thing is owing to me not letting out enough air from my tyres these dry conditions made for a very bumpy ride. My bones have been rattled all over and I feel like I've done Paris Roubaix. Also my back aches as I didn't get out the saddle on the various little climbs and the new stem on my bike is probably a bit too long. Oh, and I felt a bit sick on the penultimate lap as it's been ages since I pushed myself so hard over 60 minutes. My lungs hurt too. But still, it was a great to be back.

Delia, my club mate was first lady.

I finished second or third, after a duel with a Twickenham CC girl. There were quite a few ladies out for the race, which is always good, and my club actually had 3 ladies racing. That must be the first time ever that there were more than two women from the same club racing in a cyclo cross race (apart from in team championship races).

Yesterday has made me feel quite energised and ready for more. It won't be too long coming. There's the Halloween Cyclo cross this coming Saturday. I'll need to sort out lights and some fancy dress. And with the planned tricks the organisers are building into the course, it could be scary! Bring it on!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Birth of a Legend

Alphonse Steines' cunning plan to take riders over the Pyrenees for the next edition of the Tour de France was met with dismay. "You're going crazy!!" was the response from race director, Henri Desgrange.

"But this is the injection we need if we want more interest from the public. We have taken the riders over the Ballon d'Alsace. We need something more. Let's try the high mountains!" Argued the innovative sports journalist from Luxembourg.

Desgrange agreed to his assistant going out and investigating a route. So in January 1910 Alphonse Steines set off in a hired chauffeur driven car from the village of St Marie de Campan, to climb up the 17km to the col du Tourmalet. Everything was going ok as the car crawled up the road. Suddenly at 4km from the top, and as the night was closing in, a snowstorm struck, rendering the road impassable. Despite Steines' determination to continue, his chauffeur refused any attempt to drive on.

The ever persistent Steines got out of the car and continued his ascent on foot in the darkness. Neither the bitterly cold snow nor the threat of bears in the wilderness were going to deter him. When Steines had not returned at the end of the evening a search party was sent out. He was found at around 3am shivering, tired and in shock near the village of Barèges. The innkeepers took him in for the night where he was offered a meal and a hot bath.
Later that day Steines sent Desgrange a telegram:
"Crossed the Tourmalet. Very good road. Perfectly practical. Steines"

When the route was presented to the bike racers in April 1910, a number of them recce'd this new Pyrenean inclusion. Alarmed by what they found, many of them didn't bother to start the race. "We'll never be able to get up there" they said. On July 3rd only 110 riders actually showed up on the start line, compared with the usual 150. People simply didn't feel it would be possible or even safe to ride up all these Pyrenean climbs.

As he "raced" up the Tourmalet on 21st July that year, Octave Lapize, one of the best climbers of the day was reduced to walking up this giant of the Pyrenees.
"You are murderers, yes murderers!" he shouted, later on as he passed the organisers. At the bottom of the col d'Aubisque Lapize vowed he would quit the race once he reached the nearby village of Eaux-Bonnes. Having been persuaded to continue, he won the Tour de France that year, ahead of only 40 other survivors of the gruelling competition.

Last Thursday when Christian Prudhomme unveiled the route of the 2010 Tour de France, many of the racers were excited at the tantalizing challenge of scaling the col du Tourmalet twice.

Professional teams will be doing their utmost so they can qualify to compete in the world's biggest bike race.

Amateur bike riders will be flooding the Etape du Tour lottery system or paying over-inflated prices so that they can ride stage 17 and pedal up the Tourmalet.

It's quite ironic how back then, in 1910 riders shunned and cursed the idea of cycling up the col du Tourmalet. A century later cyclists the world over, can't keep themselves away from it!
And just think, if it hadn't been for Alphonse Steines' "white lie", today we may just be contenting ourselves with a spin over the Ballon d'Alsace!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Off Road and On Road

We started our Sunday by doing a ride around the trails of Surrey. It was all very pleasant. I was beginning to get the hang of being in the dirt, even if my 1999 Rockhopper is becoming a bit of an antiquity!
When it came to the infamous "Wall of Death" near Warlingham I wasn't too keen to have a go though. Mind you I wasn't the only one to get nervous at the sight of this sheer drop, so it was just left to a couple of brave and skilled souls to have a go while the rest of us looked on.

Our group leaders conveniently took us to the top of Titsey Hill for around 1.45pm on Sunday, just in time to reach the proceedings of the annual Bec Hill climb.

We were able to watch the competition unfold on the 700 yard long White Lane, which leads off Titsey Hill. All the locals were out in force to watch the ultimate battle of the power to weight ratios.

A few girls took part, which was good to see. The overall winner was a non-local guy, Michael Leonard Smith of Team Milton Keynes with former winner and hot favourite, Jody Crawforth claiming 3rd in the pouring rain.
I have such admiration for all the people who have a go at this.

photo by Fred

The climbs aren't long but they are very steep - almost 20% in places, and they have to be taken at speed. In addition the crowds that line the road can serve as encouragement, but also in my case, a chance for a public humiliation!

I may feel more comfortable riding on road than off road, but seriously I would prefer a mountain bike race over this 700 yards of pain. Maybe one day I will get the courage to take on this challenge.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

I was very curious to have a go on the famous Rollapaluza rollers, having spectated at one of their well-renown spin evenings. So I signed up for their "Brief Encounter" night - roller racing in pairs, Madison style. Two teams of couples would compete against each other over 1000metres. The first person would spin on the rollers for 500m, and the second person would then continue the remaining 500m. As I needed a partner Fred signed up as my just about willing partner, and we entered under our team name, Rumble in the Cronx.

By the time we got to do our heat in the qualifying rounds we had already had a few beers so I wasn't sure if I was properly prepared for this. Our aim had just been to have a go (as opposed to competing) while not embarrassing ourselves too much. Sitting on the stage in front of the crowd among all the lights gave me a slight sense of nervousness. Members of the Rollapalluza team were on hand to help us adjust saddle height and explain how the game worked. We also had a couple of minutes to warm up and do some practice spins. The rollers felt weird, as the first thing you notice is the lack of resistance. It's very much about keeping a fluid pedalling motion and avoiding rocking from side to side. This was more about flexibility than strength.

The last thing that Rollapaluza's Anna said to me before the start whistle was that I was a bit unlucky to be pitched up against one of the fastest female roller racers on the scene. I realised I would have to give it my best shot if I didn't want to humiliate myself.

At the whistle I pounced down on the pedals, forgetting about techniques and just spun my legs as quickly as I could. I couldn't hear much, apart from loads of shouting but without any distinguishable words. I just about made out Anna's words as she shouted, "you're beating her, you're winninig." I tried to keep going, but I could feel myself waning and the beer swilling inside me. I felt sick and thought I might fall off the bike as I was rocking around so much. What was only about 30 seconds felt like half an hour! Finally I was told to stop and Fred picked up on things. He had a significant lead to play with, which was good news for him. But the guy he was up against was a master of spin, so Fred was caught and overtaken right on the line.

That was brilliant. I was on a real high when I came off the stage and was ready to do it again, even if my pulse rate was at almost 200bpm and I was panting for several minutes afterwards. There's definitely something addictive about it. You get the same amount of endorphins released into your brain from 30 seconds of roller racing as you do from one hour of cyclo cross racing. Get that!

It was a shame we lost, but our time was by no means embarrassing and we'd been up against a strong pair. The fastest 16 teams qualified for the knock-out rounds. We came 17th. Fred was quite relieved to hear this as he began his third pint of Guinness. We watched the rest of the rounds, which became more and more tightly contested as faster times were produced.

The competition was eventually won by Anna's team, Tom and Jerry. Regardless of how well people did, a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Riding with Sean Kelly Again

(photo by Robert Power)

We rode the Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford last year. This year, once again we made the trip over. It's quite a convenient time of year to do this event as it falls on the August bank holiday weekend. Also, we get to visit Fred's friends and family at the same time.

Our cycling weekend actually started in County Wicklow when we visited friends in Laragh near Glendalough. This is quite a touristic part of Ireland. The scenery is quite pretty. In fact I was quite impressed by the awesome views as we rode around the Sally Gap.

A hurricane which was taking place in the Caribbean was making the tail-end of its presence known in Ireland, so as we rode through the lanes we were "treated" to regular buffets of wind.

That initially put me off venturing up to this exposed gap in the Wicklow mountains. I began the climb with a certain trepidation, but after getting used to the head wind I thought I'd venture further and see how I far I could get. In fact I got all the way to the top and was able to admire th views below. The Sally Gap is a really spectacular area to ride, and the vistas are amazing. I was glad I hadn't stayed down in the valley.

After our time in the Wicklow area, we then headed on to Waterford, where we took part in the Sean Kelly Tour cyclosportive. Last year's edition of the event had been really enjoyable, so we headed over once again. Fred hadn't been able to ride it then, due to illness, so he was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to the ride as well, but I was slightly more anxious because I knew what the hills would be like, and I had struggled up Mahon falls and the Mama road the previous year. There was also the matter of me having to interview Sean Kelly for a Cycling Weekly article straight after the 100 mile ride. Would I really have any energy left to do that?

This was the third edition of the Sean Kelly Tour, and word had spread that this is cracking event. Consequently, a record 3000 riders signed up for it. The organisers at Waterford County Council were really pleased at the turnout. Apparently the town of Dungarvan, where the ride was based had been bracing itself in anticipation of this event for months before, and it had been the talk of the town.

On the morning of the event, I took a while to get myself together, and seeing the grim skies made it very tempting to roll over and stay in bed. Maybe I would just do the 50km family ride, which wouldn't be starting until 10.30am. But discipline got the better of me, as well as boyfriend who didn't stop goading me about what a wuss I was being, so rolled out of bed. Thankfully the good people in the organising committee had put us up in a hotel that was a stone's throw away from the start line.

Things got underway at around 9am. Not sure if it was a delay due to the overwhelming numbers or one of the dignatories oversleeping and turning up late. I could sympathise with him!
As we the peloton paraded through the streets of Dungarvan all the folks in the street cheered us on. It felt great being part of this event. The rain had stopped and the day was brightening up too.

My ride was quite straightforward this time. There were no surprises. The first significant climb, Seskin Hill was steep like before and lots of people had to walk or take a breather.

(photo by Robert Power)

I managed it though quite slowly, so as to save myself for the later difficulties. Mahon Falls was a stinker. I averaged 4 miles an hour up the 4 mile climb - like last year. Mama road was where I had a wobble - just like last year. I was supposed to ride with a friend of Fred's up this road. She's new to cycling (although she's an elite level orienteer) but I couldn't keep up with her. I could feel my wheels slowing down and my arms aching. I ignored the problem and continued to ride. We'd been chatting while riding along, but then a moment came when conversation become impractical and she latched onto a quicker group while I stayed back to deal with my difficulties.

Thankfully this climb was only 3 miles and I was glad to reach the summit. I also found my mojo again so was able to get some momentum back into my ride and pressed on home without stopping at the summit. Una ended up finishing behind me, as being a new rider she took the descents slower than me, and as it was a long descent practically all the way back to HQ I gained ground on her. I suspect that next year she will be descending as well as climbing quicker than me and I may not even see her during the ride!

A 100 mile cyclosportive always takes it out of you. Just being out on the road for several hours in the saddle tires you out. Even though I'd done a steady ride I still needed to wolf down everything in site when I reached Dungarvan sports centre. The organisers had thought about everything, and there was food aplenty. (Not only at the HQ but at the other indoor feed stations.)
Last year we posed for photos with Sean Kelly, like many of the participants. This year was different though, as we got to interview him. He was in a bit of a rush to get away as he had to travel to Eurosport HQ to do the commentary for the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) bike race.
(photo by Tom Keith)

Some folks had said the interview would be brief as Sean is not a man of many words. In fact, it wasn't the case at all. He was very amenable and had alot to say about the ride and cyclosportives. He also did alot of signing of autographs and posing for photos too. A very nice man.

And thus concluded a very enjoyable day through the Comeragh mountains on the Sean Kelly Tour. Thanks to Johnny Brunnock and his team at Waterford Council for welcoming us, and also to the staff at the Tannery Townhouse and Restaurant.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

24 hours with Velib - How it was for us - Part 2

So we were all set with our temporary membership cards with Velib and we picked our bikes. Now, for all the years that I've been riding 2 wheelers I still needed to give myself a bit of a warm-up, getting used to riding these bikes with a different geometry.

My body was in a very upright position and my arms were higher up than I would normally hold them. The saddle was wide enough to accommodate my ample bottom, although it wasn't a soft gel saddle. The pedals were probably slightly more forward than I'd been accustomed to. Overall it felt quite strange. Things were abit wobbly as I circled the block several times. People looked at me quizzically, wondering why I was wasting my money hiring a bike just ride around in circles. I almost wanted to explain to people - "I am a real cyclist, honest. I just need to get used to this new fangled thing!"

After a bit of jiggery pokery and fettling with our bikes to get a better set-up, we were zooming through the bright lights of Paris.

Fred had a cunning plan of changing bikes after 25 minutes of riding so that we could avoid paying anything for going over the 30minute mark with the same bike. So when we arrived at the Quai d'Orsay we stopped at a station and decided to make the change. Typically things didn't quite go according to plan. The people ahead of us in the queue didn't know how to operate the console, and we had to help them with it, which took a few minutes. He managed to hook his bike back into the station on the 29th minute, but it turned out he hadn't hooked the bike in correctly so he was still charged anyway!
Tip - when you hook your bike in the Velib station wait for a beep sound which confirms the bike is properly in place and your rental period has finished.

We then set off with new bikes and continued our journey, having decided not to try that trick again!
Our journey was more than 2 hours in total and it cost us 5 euros each. It's more than we'd expected to pay, but still it was not bad considering the distance we travelled.

The following day we became more accustomed to the system and were soon real Velib dab hands. We knew how to adjust the bikes for a better fit, we could collect and deposit bikes in a jiffy, and we were pretty good at finding our way around Paris - also helped by the various green and white bicycle direction signs.

Our trips on Monday:
Ledru Rollin Metro station to Hotel de Ville - 16 minutes
Chatelet (Boulevard Sebastopol) to Gare de l'Est - 13 minutes
Gare de l'Est to Pigalle - 10 minutes
Pigalle to Republique - 19 minutes
Republique to Bastille - 17 minutes

As seen, alot of distance was covered that day. As all of the journeys took less than half an hour, we didn't pay anything to use the bikes, which was great - and we had glorious weather to boot.

Just be careful that some of the stations we went to - notably at Pigalle and at Republique had nowhere to return the bikes to so we spent a few more minutes riding to another station (not usually more than 200m away) to where we could deposit our bikes.
Also, when choosing a bicycle to pick up at the Velib station have a quick look at all of them and check out the one you would like first before you make your selection. Some of the bikes are not in the best nick and it takes time if you have to keep changing bikes.

This was a different cycling experience to the fast and furious commute around London, or even the daft commuter races that take place. This was very laid back and pleasant. It was also quite a weight off your mind parking your bicycle and knowing that you didn't have to think about locking it or wondering if it would still be there when you returned to it!
I definitely recommend Velib.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

24 hours with Vélib - How it was for us - Part 1

I'd heard lots of positive things about Vélib, so as we had a few days in Paris in July, we decided to give it a go.

We initially thought of signing up with Vélib on Sunday afternoon when we arrived in the Bois de Vincennes, just on the Eastern edge of Paris and saw loads of these bikes at the Vélib station.

The Vélib station outside the entrance to the Parc Floral de Paris was flush with bikes. In fact, there were more bikes than racks at the station so some people had just chained their Vélib bikes randomly to railings or trees.

Great, we thought. We won't have trouble finding a bicycle when we want to ride back into central Paris.

After our afternoon of strolling around the woods, watching a jazz concert and basking in the sunshine in the Parc Floral, we decided to make our way back into the central zone.

Alas, everyone else had had the same idea as us to pick up a bicycle from the Vélib station - except that they did so before us! When we arrived at the station there was just one lonely bike left. No one wanted it because most people arriving at the station were in pairs or groups. Vélib bikes are sturdy, but not really designed to be ridden Cuban style with all your friends, family and shopping perched on the handlebars!

Instead of a sunny overground route to take us back into Bastille, we took the métro.

The aim, with Vélib is that once you have made your journey you return your bike to a designated bike station to end the hire period and you stop being charged for the bike.

As it had been a lovely sunny afternoon, all of Paris (or at least those from the Eastern arrondissements) had decided to ride out to the woods for an afternoon picnic while watching the jazz festival.

Now the stations only have space for about 50 bikes, so many people had been left in that awkward position of leaving their bikes somewhere else. Railings or trees may show that you think outside the box, but this idea is heavy on your money box as you rack up charges until you return the bike to a designated Vélib station. Thus, your afternoon picnic with free jazz in the park for a few hours becomes quite expensive!

Note that Vélib hire charges are cheap for short periods of time (free for the first 30 minutes) and then the price increases quite significantly after 2 hours. The charging structure is designed to stop people hogging bikes for hours on end.

It's a good job we hadn't ridden to the Bois de Vincennes. Stations in places like Bois de Vincennes, on the outskirts of Paris don't have as many bike spaces as other Vélib stations in Central Paris.

That is one limitation, as it means then that you run the risk of arriving there and having no where to leave your bike - especially on summer weekends. You also have problems picking up bikes, especially at peak times at the end of the afternoon when everyone is leaving the woods.

Our date with Vélib was therefore put back until the next time we needed to travel somewhere outside of Bastille. And that wasn't until around 12.30am after our evening meal by the river near Bastille Arsenal, and a few shandies in some bars on rue de la Roquette.

We walked down to the Vélib station at Ledru Rollin métro station and registered there. The Vélib station has a console with a screen where you effect all your transactions. It was very easy to follow.

As we were only staying in Paris for a couple of days we just took out 24hour rental for the princely sum of 1 euro.

After leaving a credit/debit card deposit of 150euros (as an authorisation so not actually debited) we were issued with a hire account card and a security code for carrying out transactions and viewing our account details.

In the space of 5 minutes we had joined the Vélib world and we were ready to hire a bicycle. Fastoche! Easy Peasy!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Worrying Trend

Eilidh Cairns, 5th February, Notting Hill Gate

Rebecca Goosen, 8th April, Old Street

Meryem Ozekman, 9th April, Elephant & Castle roundabout

Adrianna Skrzypiec, 15th May, Woolwich

Maria Emma Garcia-Fernandez, 12th June, Charterhouse Street

Catriona Cockburn, 29th June Oval

Chrystelle Brown, 16th September, Whitechapel

What do all these women have in common?
They were all killed by trucks while they were out cycling in London this year.
Rest in Peace.

This is a very sad and worrying trend. In some of these cases the women were killed when trucks that were turning simply failed to see them.

Now, I don't know the exact circumstances of the above tragedies but something needs to be done to ensure the safety of us cyclists on London roads.

The London Cycling Campaign have designed a leaflet to be issued to drivers of heavy goods vehicles in order to raise their awareness of cyclists who may cycle within a blindspot.
There is also a campaign for special wing mirrors to be placed to improve peripheral vision.

We as cyclists also have a responsibility to ensure our own safety. Making sure that we can be seen and following the highway code.

And please, please be careful out there. DO NOT CUT INSIDE A LEFT TURNING VEHICLE. If in doubt, wait for it to pass. You will only lose a couple of seconds. The alternative may lose you your life!!

This may sound quite frank, but I am always so sorry to hear about people who lose their lives in such an unnecessary way. A few of these women were just on their way to work and never made it there or back home to their families.

In the name of safer cycling in London, let's do as much as possible to eradicate this worrying trend.