a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday, 13 September 2020

The 'Game Changer' ? ... with changes.

I don't normally do product reviews on the blog as other people can do them a lot better than I can, but because it is a little bit different I've decided to do one on my new gravel bike the Topstone Carbon Black 105 from Cannondale. When I say a  review I've made a few changes to the bike since I got it so this post is also about the bits I've changed as much as what I think of the bike. Before I continue I should make it clear that I got a good deal on the bike, from EPIC CYCLES who I don't have any association with and it's the first time that I have ever bought anything from them, they were great to deal with though and I would happily buy from them again. It's also my first Cannondale  and I bought it on a bit of whim just because I liked the idea of a bit rear suspension on a gravel bike (and because it was black) so my 'review' is independent and just my impressions. Also bear in mind that I am definitely not a 'tech head' when it comes to bikes, basically I like riding them and I like my bikes to look good for Instagram pictures ... obviously. 
I'm not new to gravel bikes, I've been riding an aluminium Giant Revolt since 2015 and its been a great bike which I still use. My off-road riding is pretty tame stuff really, mostly on a combination of cycle paths, gravel trails and bridleways so with a lot of changes in surface which for me is the perfect environment for a carbon gravel bike with rear suspension, hence my impulsive decision to click the mouse button on the Topstone
The Cannondale King Pin suspension system is basically a pivot point where the specially shaped chain stay meets the seat tube giving 30 mm of rear travel. It doesn't really feel like a suspension system when you are riding and there is definitely no 'bounce'. If you were to ride it for the first time with a blindfold on (not sure why you would ?) I'm pretty sure the majority of people wouldn't identify it as having any rear suspension at all as it's a very subtle set up. Even when you get out of the saddle or press hard on the pedals on the road it actually feels stiff and really fast, with smooth tyres I would think it's performance would be comparable to the average mid range carbon road bike. 
The Topstone has been described as a 'Game Changer' by some cycling journalists, I'm not sure about that, to be honest, but who am I to argue ? In my experience the performance of the rear end is definitely a bit special and it copes with changes in surface unbelievably well. There is rarely any loss of traction at the back wheel so you can maintain your hard earned speed more easily and that perfectly suits the style of riding that I do, which is great. The only slight problem with having a superbly performing rear end is that it makes the front end performance feel just a bit ... well, ordinary to be honest. 
After a few weeks of riding and a bit of trial and error with tyre pressures I decided to upgrade the tyres on the Topstone mainly to try and even out the ride sensations but also because I wanted a tubeless set up. Hutchinson have been making bike tyres since 1890 and are the leaders in tubeless tyres so were the obvious choice and I am now rolling on their excellent Touareg's and I've gone up in size from 37- 40 mm. I now run the front tyre at a slightly lower pressure than the rear and what a difference this set up has made. With the bigger Hutchinson tubeless tyres straight away the front end sensations felt smoother and overall the ride was more even in terms of quality and more comfortable. Not only that but I think I gained more grip too and felt like I was able to carry even more speed over whatever surfaces I was on. 
The tan revolution continues. I have been really impressed with the Hutchinsontires tyres so much so that I now have them on my #2 gravel bike the Giant Revolt and on both my road bikes ... and my MTB. 
There is nothing ordinary about the way the front end feels or looks now that I have it fully equipped for endurance riding. The bar bag and bolt-on aero bars are both from Australian company who specialise in endurance inspired bike solutions and who have a great range of well designed innovate products. This bag is just the right size and and secures with a couple of velcro straps. I now use it on my road bikes too, so that my rain jacket, multi-tool and a couple of emergency gels are there if I need them.
A closer look at the Farr aero bolt-on bars that weigh in at only 98 grams and are a superb bit of kit. I have been asked a few times about the aero benefit of these bars on a gravel bike and is there any point?  Well in my opinion 100% yes there is, especially if you assume an aero postion. The bars offer multiple hand positions which allow me to drop my forearms and tuck my elbows in, with shrugged shoulders and head low I can go quicker on any surface thanks to the aero bars, no doubt about it. On days when I am not really pushing the pace the range of hand positions available means that I can always always get into a relaxed position and I ride on them a lot of the time, especially on tarmac. 
Touareg tan walls from Hutchinson meant that brown bar tape was a must, I know it isn't everyone's cup of tea but I really like it, this is from Californian brand Supacaz which I have never used before and is apparently Peter Sagan's favourite. It's got that really grippy feel and it also comes with bar end plugs that are secured with an expansion bolt which is always a sign of quality tape. The top tube box was from Wiggle/Prime and I bought simply because the Topstone has the bolts in the top tube to fit it but it has turned out to be really useful. 
As you might expect I take my mid-ride nutrition requirements really seriously ... and my Jelly Babies have never travelled in such style.

No bike is perfect so you are probably thinking that there must be something that I don't like about the Topstone well there isn't really. The only slight issue I had when I first got it was that on some coarse tarmac there was a slight hum/buzz from the front fork which turned out to be from the internally routed hydraulic line. On smooth roads it wasn't there and off road I couldn't hear it due to the additional tyre noise, any way it irritated me for a while but a bit of 'gaffer tape' on the inside of the fork where the line exited, along with the tyre upgrade solved it. 
To say that's the only issue I've had is not strictly true because on my very first ride and only three miles from home I managed to snap the rear derailleur hanger clean in two. No fault could be attributed to the bike for this unfortunate mechanical mishap however, I hold my hands up and confess that I was completely to blame (I still don't like to talk about it to be honest) but if you are that way inclined you can read the full tragic tale here Secrets of the balancing bike trick.
I've told you about the front end improvement so I had include a picture of the Topstone's artistically enhanced rear end, a personalised Asssaver Kaliedo probably a love it or hate it addition but I think I might stick with it. I also have a little Asssaver at the front which is more for looks than function although it probably stops a bit of spray and stops the some off-road gunge from getting to the headset.
Suspension on a gravel bike is something relatively new so  the jury is probably still out on whether it's actually necessary or not. The more I ride the Topstone the more highly I rate it and after three months and a fair few miles my final comment on the Topstone, I absolutely love it !


Sunday, 16 August 2020

Wearwell CC a brand with history - revived.

The Covid-pandemic has thrown up a lot of challenges for all of us and lots of folks have missed out the things that they would have enjoyed during the summer, for me that means no racing season for the first time in thirty six years, I did manage half a dozen low key events in January and February so at least I've pinned a number on this year which is more than most people. 

It now seems clear that there will be no 'meaningful' bike racing in the UK for the whole of 2020, there are some time trials around of course but to be honest any race format that doesn't allow me to keep my beard out of the wind is a none starter for me (just saying) So a full year of racing has been lost and it's been a big blow to a lot of people, me included. Missing the whole season is also likely to have put the future of some of our longest standing events at risk. So if one year is a big loss and damaging to the sport what effect would sixty years without racing on the roads have ? why the question ? because that was the length of time up to the middle of the last century that road racing in the UK didn't happen. Bike racing on Britain's roads was effectively banned in 1890, a ban that was put in place by the then governing body of cycling the National Cyclists Union (NCU) and driven by increasing hostility towards racing on public roads (sound familiar ?).
                                                    Wearwell a historic British cycling brand now revived after a gap of over forty years.

I have been reflecting on this situation and it prompted me to do a bit of research to remind myself of the full story and the circumstances behind it, in doing that I came across a website called Tour Racing which is a great resource if you have any interest at all in the history of cycling's big races from the 1950's onward's. There are some great pictures on the Tour-Racing site and one that caught my attention (above) led me to some British cycling history that I had never heard of, the story of a historic cycling brand called Wearwell Cycles I'm not a cycling historian by any means, although I have written a couple of cycling history posts in the past, including this one on women's cycling from Bloomers to Boom-Pods 

What I like about the Wearwell story is that it has all the ingredients of a classic cycling saga, a bitter feud, intrigue and betrayal and triumph against the odds. It's a story definitely worthy of re-telling but as it is recounted in detail on the Wearwell CC website there is no need for me to cover it all here, so I will just touch on a little of Wearwell's history and their participation in the very early editions of the Tour of Britain. 
The original Wearwell Cycle Company Ltd was established in Wolverhampton in 1889 as a bicycle manufacturer and was owned from 1922 by a man called George Alexander Waine, I'll come back to old George a little later. The Wearwell story starts with a company called the Cogent Cycle Company was founded by Henry Clarke in 1867 unfortunately Henry died prematurely and the business was taken over by his five sons who promptly had a family feud over how the company should be run. At this point The Wearwell Cycle Company was formed by four of the Clarke brothers who wanted the brand to stand for quality, honesty and integrity. By the early 1900's Wearwell were producing over five hundred bikes per week and exporting them all over the world. Unfortunately this is where the intrigue and betrayal part of the story happened and you can read about that here Wearwell History

I love this picture from the Tour of Britain: the spectators, the cap, the bottle (and stopper), the knitted Wearwell jersey over what looks like a wool crew neck base layer, really cool  ... or perhaps not ? 

So going back to the start, why was racing banned in the first place ? well it was essentially an issue of social class, racing events on public roads had quickly become very popular and were regarded by many as disruptive working class gatherings that disturbed the weekend tranquillity of the countryside. Obviously these were very different times but not too difficult to see the similarities with  the current amateur racing scene (pre-Covid) and the difficulties that race organisers face in some parts of the country. Anyway, in its wisdom the NCU decided that it was their duty to preserve cycling as a gentleman’s leisure pursuit as they were concerned that the unpopularity of racing with the public, would lead to a total ban on cycling as a recreational activity, sounds odd now but that was their reasoning.

It wasn't until 1922 when the Road Racing Council (RRC) was formed that racing on public roads in Britain was officially sanctioned, and then only in the form of time trials against the clock. Follow this link to my post on the origins and history of UK time trialling with the rather catchy title Scorching - and pretending not to race. (if you read the post and you will understand) Even with time trials now taking place bunch racing remained confined to motor racing circuits or private roads.

This situation remained until Percy Thornley Stallard a Wolverhampton bicycle shop owner, instigated the re-introduction of road racing in the UK by staging an ‘illegal' road race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton on 7th June 1942. The NCU promptly suspended all those involved and in response Stallard founded the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC). It was this organisation that re-introduced massed start road racing in Britain by attracting sponsorship and publicity following the continental format and it was this approach that eventually led to the first Tour of Britain in 1951 under the sponsorship of The Daily Express.

In 1952 Wearwell sent their first sponsored team to compete in the second edition of The Tour of Britain although the young and fairly inexperienced squad failed to make their mark despite regularly placing riders in breakaways, the next year was to be completely different story with a much stronger team of Trevor Fenwick, Johnny Welch, John Pottier, Les Scales and Ian Greenfield.

In the 1953 edition of the tour the Wearwell Cycles squad became champions of Britain winning the Team Classification by taking four podium places on the General Classification and Les Scales taking 2nd and 3rd John Pottier 3rd having been the first British rider to wear the Yellow jersey against continental opposition. In 1954 Wearwell were again represented at the now thirteen stage Tour of Britain with a stronger six man squad this time taking three stage wins and a six podiums.  

 "The Wearwell riders took team honours. theirs was no fluke victory. Study the result lists and you will find no team more consistent in its placings, each man playing his part at the right time. They derved every minute of their win. And there are a quite a lot of minutes in 210 hours 28 minutes 2 secs"
                                                                                       The Bicycle 23rd September 1953

Unfortunately during the difficult economic times of the 1970's coupled with a rapid increase in car ownership bike sales took a huge hit and after struggling on until 1975 the Wearwell company finally closed its doors and that was the end of the 100 year history of the Wearwell brand - until recently.

The current Wearwell kit, you can always tell when people are serious about what they are doing with a brand from the effort that they put in to the small details, when the packaging and presentation are first class you just know the contents are going to be good. It's not just about the packaging though, anybody can do that, what particularly impressed me is the effort made to make the link to Wearwell's history, like enclosing a picture of  John Pottier, yellow jersey wearer at the 1953 Tour of Britain with an account of Stage 6, the 151 miles from Newcastle to Glasgow, along with a post card sized image of the Wearwell Tour squad.
  I have been riding in Wearwell kit it for a couple of weeks now and posting pictures on Instagram obviously, the quality is top notch and everything about it gives you the feeling that Will Laughton and Alex Joynson the guys behind Wearwell really do care passionately about the brand and it's revival. Possibly not too surprising in Alex's case as  Wearwell CC  represents the re-birth of his family business and an opportunity to contribute to the family cycling legacy, remember George Alexander Waine at the top of the post who bought the company in 1922 well that was Alex's great-great Grandfather.



Sunday, 21 June 2020

Secrets of the balancing bike trick - revealed.

You may have seen pictures in cycling magazines of bikes mysteriously standing up on their own and if you are an Instagram user you will definitely have seen seen lots of pictures of balancing bikes. I don't know how professional photographers do it for their pictures in the glossy bike mags but I've developed my own method that works pretty well all be it with a bit of risk ... to the bike, not to me.
Here is one of my Instagram: tony_rees123 shots of my trusty Giant 29er seemingly balanced on its own, strategically positioned in front of a puddle with a cloudy sky in the background to get the maximum reflection effect - but how is it done ?
Sometimes people just balance their bikes by putting something under a pedal, a water bottle (tricky) or their helmet (not ideal) or on whatever is to hand when they are taking the picture, something like a half inflated football, although you're probably not going to come across one of those very often. Of course none these are strictly speaking balance bike shots because we can see how its done.
But in the very unlikely event that you do come across an abandoned football you can get a much better picture if you know the balancing bike trick.
There are a couple of key elements to a good balancing bike picture and number one is a good location, bridges are good, as are subways and nice empty roads work well, but anywhere will do as long as you have the second most important thing - a windless day ! don't try this in anything other than the stillest conditions, it will end in tears, trust me I know.
When I said at the start of this post that this trick is not without risk I was speaking from my own recent painful experience. Above is picture of my brand new Cannondale Topstone gravel bike pictured (balancing) at one of my favourite Instagram locations, a graffiti covered subway which is only a few minutes ride from where I live. I took this picture on my very first ride on the new bike and I was so keen to take some pictures of it that I decided to go for a balance bike shot ... in less than optimal conditions, you can probably guess what happened - yes a split second after taking this shot my shiny new and expensive gravel bike that I had ridden all of three miles fell over, worst of all it fell towards me but I wasn't quick enough to catch it and it hit the concrete hard and snapped the rear derailleur hanger clean off, I kid you not ! 
Multiple expletives followed and then a call to Mrs Rees to come and pick me up, but first I had a fifteen minute walk across fields to the nearest road carrying my brand new (broken) gravel bike, muttering away to myself the whole way, not how I expected my first ride on the new machine to end. Fortunately the only other damage was a bit of a scuff on the bar tape and I had a new hanger fitted within a couple of days and the Topstone was sorted. 
 I will be doing a full review on the Cannondale (a gravel bike with suspension) on the blog as soon as I have done a few more rides on it and taken a few more pictures obviously. Although after my upsetting maiden ride episode I decided not to take any chances and ordered another replacement hanger for it and one for each of my other bikes too ... just in case.
OK so I have kept you waiting long enough, hands up if you want to know how to do your own balancing bike pictures.

You will probably not be too surprised if I tell you that bikes won't stand up on their own, well not for more than a second anyway, something to do with gravity apparently, so you will need some way of supporting the bike in a vertical position. I use a custom made device designed and manufactured to the most exacting specification specifically for the job - a bit of metal tube with the end bent over.
In this picture I have supported the bike where the chain stay joins the seat tube but I also have a shorter tube that does the job, cut to length to fit underneath the rear bottle cage. The shorter support is useful as it fits inside my pack pack which is handy, with the long tube getting it to the my chosen location is a bit trickier, I generally tape it to the top tube wrapped it in some pipe insulation, can't be too careful, there is enough potential for damage taking the pics without scratching the bike on the way to take them.
Once you have taken your picture, hopefully without the bike hitting the deck all you have to do is remove the support from the picture and as with most things in life these days you can get an app for that. The one I use is called RETOUCH which is free to download for the Iphone and is fairly simple, you just use the 'quick brush' feature to get rid of your support. What the app actually does is move parts of the image around to cover up what you want to disappear, so there is a bit of a knack to and it does take a little bit of practice. When you take your picture if you position your support so that it will be against a plain background (as above) you can make it disappear in a way that is almost impossible to detect.

So that's it, I have let you in on all of my balancing bike picture taking secrets, well ... almost all.
Probably best not to attempt this one until you've had a bit of practice as you could easily end up breaking a lot more than just a derailleur hanger. Thanks for reading.


Sunday, 24 May 2020

Lock down life: Cycling in search of the 'Teesside Banksy'

Anyone who has visited my Instagram @tony_rees123 (eyes right) will know that I regularly take photographs of bikes leaning against various structures, some of these images also feature graffiti, just as a way to add another element to the pictures in a desperate attempt to make them look a bit more interesting. 
   Looks like Snoopy has decided that Woodstock's been locked down for long enough.

When the pandemic arrived and lock down followed one of the the first thing I did was get my Zwift set up sorted, happily our weather has been great and I haven't needed to use it yet. Although I have managed to ride outside everyday I found that, not too surprisingly, my motivation had taken a bit of a dip. The race season had vanished at a stroke so nothing to train for, no group rides with the boys and not even able to do the mainstay of my training, those leisurely rides to the cafe. 

I still wanted to ride every day though not just to try to maintain the decent level of fitness I had built up over the winter but also as an escape from the tedium of lock down but, there were a couple of problems. I wanted to comply with the guidance and stay fairly close to home and I have also been a bit time constrained due to lock down related responsibilities, meaning a maximum ride time of around two hours which is a little bit restricting and had the potential to get fairly boring fairly quickly.

Well before Covid-19 was even a thing I would sometimes pick training routes with good locations to do my BAAW (bike against a wall) Instagram thing, so I decided to do more of that and to use these difficult times as an opportunity to be a bit more creative with my Instagram content. Unfortunately so far my creativity has only extended as far as me leaning my bike against someone else's creativity, that someone being Teesside street artist Karl Striker
I already knew of the work of Karl Striker as this piece of his stencil art is only five minutes from where I live and the theme very appropriately is escape, just like Snoopy and Woodstock above. Originally there was an angry dog painted on the wall, just about where the front wheel of my bike is and the boy in blue was escaping from it. The dog was painted over long ago but I think the fence which is there to stop people trespassing on the railway has probably helped protect the boy.

I refer to Karl Striker's work as art but is it ? really ?  when does graffiti (vandalism) become art ? a very basic distinction is that graffiti created with permission becomes art. I am pretty sure that all of the pieces on today's blog have been done without permission but they are still, in my opinion art, you may not agree. Both graffiti and urban art are forms of expression that come in many styles, from very simple name tagging to more more sophisticated work which may also have a social or political message. Aside from the issue of permission appreciation of any art form is obviously subjective, beauty as someone in ancient Greece famously said 'is in the eye of the beholder'.
Another one from my neighbourhood just a couple of miles away from home. This one is on a busy access for both cars and pedestrians and has survived for several years, an indication to me that people like the work and respect it for what it is, urban art. A lot of Striker's stencil pieces are now more than five years old, some have been painted over either with graffiti or by the authorities and some have disappeared because the locations have been demolished or refurbished, although many of them have remained untouched for years. I have also heard rumours that there are still some out there that have yet to be discovered ... I've no idea where to start looking but I'm on it for sure !  
Surveillance is the theme in this one (could this post be any more topical ?) I must have had my motivated head on this particular day as I am on a race bike, clearly not motivated enough to resist those Instagram urges tho. In this one by cleverly choosing a location underneath a surveillance camera Striker conveys the message that we live in a surveillance society and are all being watched but that we too are also the watchers.
Classic behind the scenes BAAW shot of one of my favourite Karl Stiker pieces 'Grey Pigeon Down'. The thing that intrigues me about this one is that it's hidden in plain sight. The stencil is painted in an open area that has loads of traffic passing through it, I must have driven by it, within a few meters, literally dozens of times over several years without ever noticing it.
Called 'A toy with a chequered pattern' this one took some finding even though it's located in the centre of town, not sure what the message is here but I really like it. Karl Striker is an artist who over the years has managed to rigorously maintain his anonymity. Street artworks like these are basically illegal, which explains his desire for anonymity but concealing his identity also allows him to blend in to his surroundings while creating his work, many of which were apparently created in daylight.
Returning to the theme of escape, I had to escape from Teesside to find this one. This full size image of a cinema usherette carrying a tray of spray cans appeared overnight on a shop door way in Darlington back in 2014. The stencil appeared on what was at that time a picture framing business, whether this was intentional I don't know but it did lead to a collaboration with the shop owner for Striker who started selling framed prints of his work.
Unfortunately I really can't relate to this last one, I don't know why, I think it's probably this self-promotion thing that I don't get. Anyway, if you want to see more of my BAAW pictures be sure to visit @tony_rees123 on Instagram.

For me the distinction between art and graffiti is quite clear, much of the stuff I see and lean
 my bike against for Instagram are tags or names and their creation has as much to do with ego as it has with self expression, people just spraying things up to leave their 'mark'. Street art is something different, something that has meaning, is more thoughtful and creative and in the work of Karl Striker also has an element of social commentary, but that's just the way I see it.
Thanks for reading (and appreciating the art) 



Sunday, 10 May 2020

Rolling back the years ... with electric assistance.

My most popular blog post ever is one from 2017 and it's called 7 Winter Days: What an elite rider did and why he did it. The post details the training undertaken by my son Jack in a typical winter week in December. I did part of that week's training with him, I say part because even back then holding his wheel had become a bit of an issue. As I have got older training at the level of someone who races at the highest level has, not too surprisingly become increasingly challenging. Our approach now is for me to only train with Jack when the prescribed efforts are deemed suitable (by Jack) and even then I usually end up doing a somewhat diluted version of the plan, although it still hurts ... a lot. Getting old is definitely not for the faint hearted that's for sure. However, on a more positive note I can still do the cafe rides and a solution to the training problem (or at least a partial one) is thankfully now available. 
On one of the last rides that Jack and I did together before lock down I was riding a Ribble SL E and what a difference it made. It was like going back in time while at the same time seeing in to the future - and the future looks very encouraging. 
Before the bike riding could commence we had to have coffee, obviously and we met Joe and Jackson from Ribble at our usual cafe the Mockingbird Deli in Yarm. The plan was to shoot some video (that you can see here: youtube) of the new bike in action side by side with the Jack's  Ribble SL Team Edition Jack had proposed a tough route that would take us up on to the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. This is a loop that we have ridden together many times but not really one that I would consider training on with Jack these days, it's way too hard.
We rolled out from the Bird fully caffeinated and with some some strategic shoot locations on the way to the hills agreed. As we headed towards the moors I couldn't help thinking about the last time I had ridden this route with with some of the Ribble Weldite lads. On that day I was unceremoniously off-loaded half way up the first climb and the next time I saw the boys it was back at the 'Bird' ... they were just leaving ! (you can read the full story HERE Power2)
Press the button for three levels of power assistance.

My first impression of the SL E was that it didn't look or feel like an 'E' bike and apart from the discreet button on the top tube (above) there was nothing to suggest that it was anything other than a high end lightweight race bike. I have ridden an 'E' bike once before and I enjoyed it, it was a mountain bike with a pedal assist system where the motor delivers the extra power straight to the cranks, effectively doing the pedalling for you. The SL E adopts a very different approach and consequently provides a completely different riding experience. The extra watts on the SL E are delivered through a power hub at the back wheel, precisely where you want them. For those with an interest in the techy details it's a Mahle ebikemotion X35 250W hub ... apparently.
It's so easy to forget the the SL E is actually an electric bike as the power delivery is really smooth and for want of a better word, sophisticated which makes the riding experience feel really authentic. The power produced at the pedals and transferred to the back wheel by the chain is supplemented by the power hub at the press of a button, so you get the extra watts exactly where you need them, when you need them.
After taking the shots on the flat roads, the plan was to then do the drone content before getting some action stuff from the back of the van. 
The top of the Clay Bank climb and Jackson is getting down to the serious business of Jack's profile shot. How did the effort up the the climb go ? well, one of us pressed a button and made a devastating acceleration just as we got  near the top, causing the other one to loose the wheel and be left for dead. I'm not going to name the looser as that wouldn't be fair so to find out you are going to have to watch the video ... it was Jack.
One of the most advanced and lightest E road bikes available the stealth look of SL E is helped by having a fully integrated battery (I haven't got a clue where it is) and further emphasised by the all new Anthracite colour scheme incorporating some subtle silver accents, this really is a nice looking bike, I want one. 
Final task of the day was to record the voice over in the warmth of the van. You will hear my dulcet tones if you view the video, described, very accurately by someone who's judgement on these matters I trust implicitly as, sounding like a 'Boro Morgan Freeman' ...  I'll settle for that !

Sunday, 3 May 2020

theraceforthecafe: Friends like these.

I'm going to introduce you to two friends of mine in today's post, Richard Jones and Lauren Watson, a proper authentic cycling couple. One of the perks of blogging is that you can feature your cycling mates and I have done a few times in the past, but there has to be a reason (or two) and in the case of Rich and Lauren it's because they both made important contributions when first I started the blog
I am often asked where the name of the blog came from, slight exaggeration it's only actually happened twice but I'm sure people sometimes wonder ...  anyway, the name came from the title of my PhD thesis, keep reading though, I'm not going to start rambling on about it (not much anyway). So the next obvious question has to be where did the name of my thesis come from ? Let me explain.
I am pretty sure Richard who incidentally is the man behind the hugely successful Tyrekey doesn't realise it but he is responsible for the blog name. My PhD research focused on a group of local racing cyclists called the Teesside Train Gang and at the time Richard, was one of the members of the group who would often organise the training rides. Rich is also one of the 148 racing cyclists, who I interviewed for my PhD. The title of my thesis (and the blog) came directly from a comment made by Richard on a Facebook status in 2015, which read.

"9.45 Blue Bell tomorrow, bank holiday bash! All welcome for a 3-4hr brisk ride including some hills and concluding with the inevitable race for the cafe"
A light bulb moment for me and my thesis had a title. As part of my research I made 'field notes' and took loads of pictures of the group because photographs capture details that even the most comprehensive notes would miss. The process of taking the pictures became such a habit that it eventually led me into the Instagram addiction from which I still suffer (you can monitor the current state my addiction on the top right of the page). Above - One of my research pictures of  some of the Teesside Train Gang boys meeting at the Blue Bell winter 2014, back when group rides were still a regular thing. (Rich, 4th from the right in shorts with his back to the camera).
The front cover of my thesis, 350 pages and 98,000 words of sociological waffle ... with pictures.

My PhD was mostly concerned with the impact of technology on this group of racing cyclists, Strava and social media primarily. Sadly group rides don't seem to happen on as regular a basis as they once did (in Teesside anyway) and that in part is due to the fact that it was around this time that another technological development started to have an influence as power meters became increasingly popular. Members of the TTG soon realised that riding in a group spending a lot of time sitting in the wheels had a big effect on their normalised power numbers and wasn't necessarily the best way to train. It was this development along with the loss of a few key members that eventually led to the decline of group riding in the area.
Anyway I digress - below is Rich in February this year racing at the Tour of Saudi Arabia for Ribble Weldite fulfilling a dream and doing it in some style.
Stage 5 of the Saudi Tour and Rich made it in to break of four who were unlucky not to stay away getting caught with just 5K to go. While resting between stages at the tour Rich did an interview for Cycling Weekly - Ribble Weldite in Saudi in which he described how his career has developed.

"I realised quite a long time ago that I'm probably never going to be in the World Tour tearing up the Tour de France but my career has been a gradual progression" 

"I came to racing quite late compared to a lot of guys, but it's just kind of every year you find yourself stepping up and it's only when you look back at where you were 10 years ago that doing races like this feels insane. Sort of without realising you've ended up at a point where you're in the mix with guys you watch on TV"

Rich certainly 'stepped up' in Saudi and although it was the Asia Tour rather than the World Tour he was still 'tearing it up' with some of the best riders in the world. In the pic above is Rich a lot closer to home winning the Velo 29 Redcar Beach Race in December last year. Clearly with good form he dominated the field on the sand that day, probably shouldn't have been too much of a surprise that he went so well in the desert.  
In the summer of 2016 and as I was finally getting to the end of the PhD process I started the blog to share some of my findings with the people who had helped with my research. I wanted to write in a lighter style than the dull academic writing required for a sociology PhD. I had a name for the blog thanks to Rich but I needed an identity for it. I contacted a Teesside University colleague to see if any of his graphic design students needed a project and he did - enter Lauren. 
We had a couple of chats over coffee in the Uni library before I realised Lauren and Rich were a couple, cycling really is a small world. Lauren did a lot of work on the project and came up with some great design ideas including one for kit (above) which I had made up. I still use Lauren's logo both on the blog and and on the current version of the kit, generously supplied for me this season by Yorkshire based Raceskin.
Racing in January at the Velo29 Croft Winter series wearing this year's Raceskin raceforthecafe kit which still carries Laurens logo. The weather was 'challenging' at every round of the series but I'm so glad I started my season early, little did we know then that it was going to be all over in March !
Same corner at Croft circuit Lauren also wearing new kit for the 2020 season after being signed up by Team Both pictures captured by great supporter of north east cycling and friend of the blog Darran Moore
If Richard's career has been a slow progression Lauren's has been the complete opposite, in fact it's been nothing short of meteoric. Remember earlier when I said I first met Lauren at Teesside University ? at our first meeting I remember her telling me that she knew nothing at all about cycling, that she didn't ride and had no desire to and that she was totally unfit. Well things have changed a bit since then that's for sure ! 
In just over three years Lauren has gone from unfit, disinterested non-cyclist to clocking up big training miles in the harsh environment of the North Yorkshire Moors, attending training camps in Majorca and Calpe and winning races riding for one of the best teams in the country, truly remarkable progress and hugely impressive.
Above Lauren getting her debut Boompods season under way in the best way possible by taking the top step and winners cheque at round two of the Croft Winter Series.  
Due to our current circumstances I may have to settle for wearing my new Raceskin skin-suit for my daily bout of exercise as it looks like the race season could be over for all of us, but I'm absolutely certain that Rich and Lauren will be back and raring to go in 2021. 

Thanks for reading. 

Note: If you are interested in training with power but not sure if it's for you I have previously posted on my experience of using a power meter here: No soft tapping, here A Peek at Training Peaks and here Racing with power and for anybody who has difficulty sleeping at the moment you can read some bits of my PhD research here: - Strava - here Kudos explained  and here Who has the (social) power ? .

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