a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday, 26 January 2020

DIY custom ... it's a W.R.A.P.

I am going to be racing on a disc road bike this year which is a first for me, a Giant Propel Advanced Disc to be precise, not my first Propel though and definitely not my first GIANT. I have had quite a few over the years including three TCR's and a Defy and I currently have a Giant Revolt gravel bike and a Giant XTC 29er MTB. As much as I really like GIANT bikes for this year I wanted to pimp my ride up a bit to promote the blog without too much hassle and without spending too much doing it.

A custom paint job is obviously the optimum way to customise and I had a look around at a few custom painters and soon realised that it can be quite expensive depending on the design and the best painters tend to have long waiting lists (several months for some) plus the bike needs to be stripped down to the frame and re-built which if you are mechanically challenged like me is a further cost. Another option is wrapping which is a little less expensive, with no restrictions on design but again to do a proper job the wrap would have to be done on the frame only. So, as I only really wanted to put the blog name on the down tube I decided to have a go myself, I mean, how difficult can it be ?
I actually really like the existing Giant branding on the Propel frame so it's a bit of a shame to cover it up but at least by doing a wrap if I don't like it or want to revert to the original I can easily peel it off.
STEP 1 - I took some accurate measurements of the frame and the existing colour scheme and transferred the size and shape to some trusty brown paper.
STEP 2 - I then decided on a suitable font from the website. The one I chose is called 'He's dead Jim' - ?  bit of a weird name, Star Trek inspired I guess, but it was the font that best matched the existing Giant lettering some of which was still going to be visible.
STEP 3 - After deciding on the font I roughly marked the template to make sure the spacing of 'He's dead Jim' worked OK for theraceforthecafe just to make sure I didn't have a 'beam me up Scotty' moment (see what I did there ?) Please note the Allen key in the above picture just to prove that I managed to remove the bottle cage myself !
STEP 4 - Next I checked and double checked and trimmed the template for size and fit. I tried to mimic the existing paint job on the frame so that the wrapping would blend in as much as possible and not look too much like it was just stuck on ... which it's going to be obviously !
STEP 5 - A quick google of vehicle graphics/signage companies and I found several locally so just went with the nearest to me, a company called Colour Screen This turned out to be a good move as a couple of the guys who work there are cyclists and were keen to help, order placed Wednesday collected Friday, happy days.
STEP 6 - This is the slightly tricky bit. There is not much margin for error in terms of positioning the wrap even when applying it to mostly flat and straight areas. It's worth having a hair dryer handy for this stage just to warm the wrap slightly on any curved areas or corners. The wrap went on remarkably easily with just a couple of tiny blemishes but no air bubbles, so no issues really.
FINAL STEP - Position bike strategically in the kitchen to take pics for Instagram. 
NOTE: Obviously I was home alone at this point, wouldn't have tried to get these shots if            
Mrs theraceforthecafe had been in, that would have been madness !

A quick thank you to Andy at GIANT SHEFFIELD who supplied the bike. Not my local bike shop by any means but as I specifically wanted this colour and as it's a 2019 model there were very few left in the UK so I was happy to make the 200 mile round trip to Sheffield to pick it up.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet Andy and his team and the customer service really was first class. I was introduced to everyone, made to feel very welcome and treated as though I was in there buying stuff every week rather than just paying them a one off visit, I wish Sheffield was a bit closer to be honest, I'm pretty sure I would be in there every week.
One of the reasons why I wanted this specific colour was that I will be racing in matching kit this season designed and supplied by the nice folks over at RACESKIN in Huddersfield. Colin and his crew have sorted me out with enough top quality kit to last the whole season which I am extremely grateful for. If you are after custom kit for your team or club check RACESKIN out. My 2020 kit is exactly what I had in mind, I am delighted with the fit and quality and it matches the new race whip perfectly.
                                                                     Pimped -Total cost £30.00 !
Finally, another thank you, this time to everyone for reading. This week the blog hit the significant milestone of 500,000 page views which I am 'over the moon' about. 
I distinctly remember a few months after starting the blog being delighted when it hit 25K page views, so to be now at at the dizzy heights of over half a million is absolutely incredible - thanks for your support, I really appreciate it. 


Sunday, 15 December 2019

Introducing a man and his van with links to a past life.

In the last few weeks have been putting plans in place to make some improvements to the blog in 2020, some techy type changes including transferring over to the Wordpress platform, no idea how to do that but hopefully I can work it out. I am also partnering up with a some relevant cycling brands to help me take things to the next level, more on this later. To make the most of these changes I also wanted to collaborate with a professional photographer, Iphone pics have served me quite well so far but if I want the blog to look 'posher' improving the image quality isn't going to hurt. Just as I started to think about this what do you know I get an Instagram message from a professional photographer called Jamie Tyerman (@jtyerman21 on Instagram) someone I have know for probably 15 years, and who has just established his own photography business JTyremanPhoto

We already have a couple of exciting projects in mind for next year utilising Jamie's fully equipped mobile photo studio. The picture van (above) is probably the only one in the north of England and provides the unique option of being able to combine location and studio shooting on the same day. Jamie is a very talented photographer and below just as a very brief introduction to his work  are three of his favourite images described in his own words. 
"I really like this one is because of the connection with Alistair Brownlee it's just before the start of the Ironman 70.3 world Champs in Nice. It captures how relaxed and confident he is feeling before the start of the race (he finished second) with Alistair appearing to connect with me by looking straight down the lens"
"An old one but still one of my favourites, this is just outside Harrogate when the Tour de France came to Yorkshire in 2014. I like it because for me it sums up cycling in a way, like minded people waiting on a normally quiet country lane for 'Le Tour' the biggest bike race in the world to come flying past"
"One of my favourite triathlon shots which is also happens to be of one of my favourite athletes, British pro Lucy Charles-Barclay. When I was looking to catch this image I spotted a row of trees on the course and I hoped that if I timed it right it would give the effect of a spotlight on Lucy - which worked quite well"

Apart from the quality of his photos working with Jamie feels like a really good fit and at this point I am going to digress or possibly regress ? with a few relevant links that explain why. When I say links I don't mean the annoying (but necessary) ones that are often scattered through this blog, I am talking about the sort of links that pull a post together as a story, a lot of the enjoyment I get from writing comes from the story telling element of it, stories that are usually built around pictures and it's an added bonus to be able to tell stories featuring people that I know. 

Here is a link from way back in the distant past when I was one of those triathlete types, back then Ironman was everything to me and despite now knowing (with the benefit of hindsight) that I made some serious mistakes in my approach to training, I thoroughly enjoyed the twenty eight seasons that I spent in the sport.
Above Lake Worthesee, Klagenfurt the day before Ironman Austria 2006 me centre (pre-beard obviously) along and two good friends and three random Austrian tourists. On my right my long time training partner and one of my best mates Darren Moody and to my left another really good friend, multi Ironman finisher and now ultra distance racer Graham Tyreman, yep Jamie,s Dad who I trained and raced with a lot back in the day - now you must admit that's a good link.

Another link in-coming as Jamie is also a long course triathlete and here he is pictured with some Chef bloke just after completing his first Ironman 70.3 in Staffordshire in June 2015.
If you have visited this blog before or checked out my Instagram you will definitely see the link here, bit of a clue ? (Ribble-Weldite Procycling) Jamie is definitely not messing about next season when he takes on the Ironman 70.3 distance again in August, this time at Vichy in the French Alps, here he is earlier this month picking up his new Ribble Ultra tri race whip from Ribble HQ, his bike leg should be quick in Vichy that's for sure.
The links are getting a bit tenuous now but while searching through my archive for triathlon pictures I came across this one of my last triathlon race bike and a cutting edge set up it was too (for 2009). Notice that names on frames were already a thing then but that we were still taking pics of our bikes with cameras. Bike computers have moved on a bit too, no GPS or Strava then, although we did have a bit of wire wrapped around our brake cable to get a signal from the magnet attached to a spoke yes cutting edge alright. 

I mentioned earlier that I made some mistakes in my approach to Ironman racing, I'm talking over training here or if not over training then almost certainly under-recovering, due to rigidly sticking to a 'more is always better' approach. Although to be fair I did eventually learn that there are far better ways to train, and it only took me thirty years ! Another thing that I did wrong was to not ride my TT bike often enough, I spent way too little time actually riding in the position that I was going to race in, such a basic error which I won't be repeating when I make my Ironman come back ... only kidding, I can barely swim a length now and would struggle to run for a bus, just relieved I can still pedal a bit. 
Although a triathlon comeback may not be on the cards for me here is another nice link - next year I will be supported by leading UK custom triathlon and cycling clothing brand Raceskin who have generously created some custom kit for me for my 2020 race season. 
The design has been agreed, samples tried on for size and the order has been placed, motivated for next season ? oh just a bit !
How else to finish the blog this week other than with links to a couple of previous Ironman posts. The first explains the origins of the event Ironman - how it began  and the second one which is based on some academic research I did when I was still competing explains why people are attracted to the event  Ironman - why do they do it ? 
Next time I will be announcing the rest of my 2020 partners and revealing my new race bike, fully customised using brown paper and sticky back plastic - I kid you not. 

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

A revelation: E bikes give you really great legs ... FACT ! In collaboration with The Bike Rack, Yarm.

I have wanted to write something on E bikes for a while but the fact that I had never actually ridden one presented a bit of a snag. Problem solved during a casual chat about the current cycling market with my good friends at my favourite local bike shop The Bike Rack, Yarm and an offer to take one of their Giant E bikes on loan ... I couldn't say yes quickly enough.

My original plan was to do a simple comparison between a pedal assisted E MTB and my own MTB over the same circuit including a favourite gravel climb that I have tackled many times, simply to find out how much easier and quicker I could get up it on an E Bike. I will come clean at this point and confess that I also chose this segment to see if I could take the Strava KOM currently held by my son and coach Jack (@ensocycling on Instagram) and as an added bonus the second and third fastest times were owned by two old friends and training partners Shaun and Chris, so just a bit of fun that I thought the lads would enjoy ... or maybe not ?

That was my original plan and I did the comparison (results later in the blog) but riding the E bike was such a brilliant, eye-opening experience that it caused me to think a lot more broadly about the implications for cycling in the not too distant future. So please bare with me while I share a few thoughts that came to me during and after my first E bike experience.

Although I only rode the Giant Fathom E+ 3 for a couple of hours I realised almost immediately that the fun in E bike riding is off the scale, especially if you consider some of the best things about cycling, freedom, escape, exploration ... the cafe ! On an E bike you don't have to be concerned abut hills which means you can ride for longer without getting fatigued and it also means you can go where you want, when you want and work as hard as you want and as a result you can cover the miles without noticing.

Regular blog readers will know that I like to race and to be able to do that I train quite hard (My Strava) but I have also come to realise that not every ride can be or has to be about PRs and accumulating maximum TSS no matter what age you are. (Training Stress Score - explained in a blog post HERE Training Peaks)  Have a ride on an E bike and you will smile I guarantee it, that's because they are absolutely brilliant fun and even if you are a 'serious cyclists' as I consider myself to be not every ride has to be a pure athletic performance.

Above (top) my Giant TCX carbon twentyniner, not new by any means but still a great ride. Below the Giant Fathom E+ 3 from The Bike Rack, Yarm lightweight AlUXX SL frame with a SyncDrive Sport motor. The Fathom is currently priced at £1899 which when you consider that you can easily pay three or even four times that for a conventional MTB is a real bargain. I did the 'test' on a Strava segment that I have ridden over ninety times and although the rides were two days apart conditions were almost identical, very little wind, very wet and very cold. The climb is about half an hours ride from The Bike Rack in Yarm and by the time I got there I felt like I was already used to the E bike.

The Fulthorpe/Grindon climb is 1.2 miles long with an average gradient of 2.3% although the first third is considerably steeper with the middle third (above) probably around 4% and the final third flat/undulating, the surface is loose gravel throughout. During the Giant Fathom E bike effort I didn't have any rear wheel slip on the climb and I always felt in control of the front end, on the short descending bits it felt really planted and stable, probably because of the extra weight. I have virtually zero experience of motorbikes or mopeds so I came to the E bike with an open mind as to what riding it compared to and I was delighted to find that rather than feeling like you are hanging on to a self propelled machine it just feels like you have suddenly developed really good legs which is an awesome sensation !

While I was washing the Fathom before returning it to The Bike Rack I was wondering why E bikes are frowned upon in certain quarters. It may be because E bikes have been around in Europe for a lot longer than they have been available here and have been primarily used by older people who were dependant on bikes as a form of transport (think the Netherlands) As a result E bikes extended cycling participation for many more years for a lot of people so this is perhaps why E bikes picked up the unfortunate reputation of being for the older generation, thankfully this is now changing.

Looking to the future the impact of E bikes will be huge as they are increasingly adopted as energy efficient, emission free transport transport with health and physical well being benefits thrown in. E bikes in the future will replace a lot of short car journeys and they have the potential to transform  transport more generally as they are likely to be the first major shift towards electrically powered low cost mass transportation.
The weight of E bikes will come down rapidly as motor and battery technology advances and bike design will be revolutionised. The E bikes of the not too distant future will be packed with technology which will be totally integrated, Bluetooth connectivity, GPS and mapping will all be standard features and the motors will be automatically linked to both the riders heart rate and the bikes suspension inputs to ensure a super smooth ride experience.

So much for the future but now the bit you really want to know, did I get the KOM and by how much ? well the answer is YES ... and NO !

My Strava PB for the FULL climb was 5 min 30 secs - set in August 2016, probably on a CX bike, probably with a tail wind.

Friday 1st Nov 2019 - My Strava effort on the Fathom E + 3 was 4 min 25 secs a PB by over a minute and just 15 secs short of Jack's KOM

Monday 4th Nov 2019 - My Strava effort on my carbon Giant XTC 29er was a 'slow' 7 min 41 secs  although I was definitely trying hard but I had also done two decent rides over the weekend that I could feel in my legs.

So over the full climb in virtually identical conditions just two days apart I was over three minutes quicker on the Fathom which really surprised me, especially when you take in to account that the pedal assist probably only helped for half the climb. 

Up the steep first section of the climb I posted 2 min 08 secs on the Fathom setting a new KOM by a whopping 2 seconds - RESULT ! and a 56 sec improvement on my PR set way back in December 2014.

As I said earlier the climb has three distinct sections of varying gradient and taking the KOM from Jack by 2 secs for the first short but steep section may not sound much of an improvement but bear in mind he set the KOM on a feather light carbon gravel bike, probably in dry conditions and he is an Elite rider after all. The pedal assist on the Fathom (and all UK E bikes) only operates below 15 mph so the steeper the incline the greater the benefit. Unfortunately as the climb got flatter toward the top up to date technology ceased to be a benefit and of date legs held me back and Jack retained his KOM for the full climb.

Just to clarify and in case anybody from the 'Strava Police' is reading this I know I could and should have uploaded my Strava ride on the Fathom as an E Bike ride but where's the fun in that ! I have however now made the ride private so it no longer appears on any leader boards and I am back in my rightful place a little bit further down the local 'pecking order'. 
If you use Strava and are interested in some of the sociology behind it's use here are some links to some of my previous posts based on the research I did for my PhD on the Technological Fetishism of Strava that affects us all, Strava Prison is all about surveillance and KUDOS Explained answers the question is it a gift or a bribe?

Thanks to Simon at the The Bike Rack for the loan of the Fathom and Mark @thebikerackyarm the man I rely on to look after all of my bikes and who knows everything there is to know about E bikes ... and the future of cycling. 
As for me, an E bike is definitely in my future 100% !


Sunday, 10 November 2019

Cycling sea to sea and other epic endeavours with @tompkyschallenges

So if you decided that you wanted to do some sort of physical challenge to raise money for a really good cause like Great Ormond Street Hospital, what would you do ? Maybe a sponsored walk ? a half or even a full marathon ? something on two wheels ? what about a sportive ride ? they can be quite tough. All good ideas and worthy of sponsorship but not quite enough for James Tompkinson (below) James decided that a one off challenge was not going to be any where near tough enough for him ... not even close, so he decided to embark on a year of physical challenges, one each month for the whole of 2019 and so far he has a completion rate of 100% yes it's 10/10 so far for @tompkyschallenges (Note: you can make a donation to Great Ormond Street by following any of the links in today's blog)

James dressed for the weather (2 deg C and raining) and looking slightly apprehensive at the start of challenge 10/12 a 130 mile, two day ride from Whitehaven in the west to Sunderland in the east, with 9000 feet of climbing en-route including crossing the inhospitable North Pennines. You may know some one who has ridden the coast to coast, most likely with a group, most likely during the summer months, but not many none cyclists do it solo, at the end of October, on a 35 year old bike, having only done one 20 mile training ride in the previous 6 months. Loves a challenge does James Tompkinson.
                                             Even map reading can be a bit of a challenge on top of the North Pennines in October

Back to January and its challenge No 1 of 12 - The 'Fan Dance'. If potential SAS recruits find the Fan Dance particularly challenging in the winter then it was bound to appeal to Tompky.

For 5/12 it was a case of not one but three physical challenges in 24 hours but not a solo effort this time as James enlisted six 'willing' volunteers to take it on with him. The Three Peaks is also a testing logistical challenge and Mum Anne (centre) and Dad Gerard (right) were on hand to support, transport and feed the team.

Planning twelve significant challenges in a year is actually quite a challenge in itself, especially when you work full time and have other sporting and family commitments. So when James realised he had a cousin's wedding to attend in Greece in June his only option was to find a Greek challenge - running from Athens to Sparta it was then for 6/12, just a small matter of 150 miles in 30 deg plus temperatures.

James above exhausted and maybe just a little emotional at 1.40 AM at the statue of Leonidas a warrior king of Sparta, having completed his Greek odyssey in 68.5 hours with 34.5 hours 'moving time'

Challenge 9/12 - Medal and finisher tee shirt at the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin marathon is regarded as a really fast/flat course so James was hoping for a good time. Unusually James doesn't wear a watch for his runs as he prefers to go on 'feel'. His strategy must suit him because despite some nutrition issues in the second half of the race he ran a 6 min PB to finish in 3 hours 32 mins and posted 10k, 10 mile, 15k and 20 K PBs too.

2019 @tompkyschallenges completed so far

January - The Fan Dance a 15 mile SAS selection test in the Brecon Beacons. finishing 12th despite his boots falling apart after 2 miles.
February - The Isle of Wight run, a 75 mile full lap of the island, nice weather expected, he got sub zero temps and a covering of snow.
March - London to Paris - 240 miles in 3 days with his best friend of 25 years, James actually did a bit of cycling before this one.
April - London Marathon - an 'easy' weekend in the big city a guest at the  Great Ormond Street after party and a 3hrs 39min finish.
May - The Three Peaks: Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis in 24 hours (23.32) with six lunatic friends and Mam and Dad support crew.
June - Athens to Sparta run, 35 degrees, and huge blisters, again with family support and @elliereess feet up for James at the wedding.
July - Cleveland Way run, closer to home, but equally tough, 110 miles of North Yorkshire coast over a scorching holiday weekend.
August - Race to the Stones - 62 mile run along the Ridgeway, England's oldest path in 12hrs 9mins finishing 86th out of 3000.
September - Berlin marathon, another family affair running with brother Chris and brother in law Sam, James claiming the honours.
October - C to C cycling, I witnessed this one, was impressed, even amazed, but also slightly peeved that he made it look so easy.

And this month's challenge your probably wondering ? well James has found a nice steep hill and worked out that if he runs up it 31 times it will be the same altitude gain as an ascent of Everest ... so that's what he is going to do !

Surprisingly James is not really an endurance athlete, although he is obviously extremely fit and physically very robust, but he is primarily a field sport athlete, hockey, football and cricket are his favoured sports and although he trains really hard it's probably not in a way that is ideally suited to any of the challenges that he has undertaken.

So how does he do it ? The answer is simple, he is incredibly motivated to help a fantastic cause and has an iron will to succeed. Strength of mind is not something that is necessarily linked with athleticism, nor is it a function of natural ability or physical fitness. In the end it comes down to sheer determination and stubbornness, manifested in an absolute refusal to ever give up. This is an extremely rare attribute and if you are not born with it you can never acquire it ... ever.

Chapeau James Tompkinson.

You can read more about James and his challenging year and also donate over at his blog:


Sunday, 27 October 2019

End of season silliness with Muckle CC

Last Sunday I spent the morning at a hill climb in Northumberland, I didn't ride it obviously, I am in all honesty fairly stupid but no not that stupid. I was there to support my friend, training partner and talented hill climber Hannah Farran of Team Boompods at the final race of her season ... and to get some blog content obviously.

Hill climbing for those who are not familiar with the event is a niche activity in a niche sport and is a cycling event unique to the UK and is quite simply a time trial up a hill. Chris Boardman sums up the hill climb well in the introduction to the excellent book: A Corinthian Endeavour: The story of the National Hill Climb Championship by Paul Jones.

'The hill climb is a wonderfully social, spectator-friendly event providing a seasonal focal point and transition in to the off season. I think they will always be enjoyed primarily by a passionate minority, but they are part of our cycling heritage and I hope they continue to be so for years to come. Not everything has to be about winning and beating the rest of the world; some things can and simply should be enjoyed for their own sake and perhaps the hill climb should be cherished in this category, something more or less unique to us.' 

Hanna going through her structured warm up on the turbo, Prospect Hill near Corbridge in Northumberland is approximately a mile long and very steep and with a series of corners, the road is narrow and as a good proportion of the hill is under tree cover is covered in leaves in places. With the road surface getting rougher the nearer you get to the top it's a tough challenge for sure, one that Hannah expected to complete in just over 5 minutes.
Hannah on the line on her HC prepared Cervelo and ready for the pain to begin, she was bang on target with a 5.12 but had to settle for second place on the day after a flying Grace Inglis of the host club rode a suberb 5.08 to take the win, while top spot in the men's category went to David Huck of Barrow Central Wheelers.

First competitor to take to the start line looked like he had travelled down to Northumberland from north of the border, I didn't catch his name but someone thought it was Wallace ... William I think ? brave though, lot of heart.

What particularly impressed me about this competitor was his meticulous attention to colour co-ordination from his head band right down to his Velotoze !
In the Fixie/MTB/Fancy Dress category where anything goes as long as its not a road, cyclo-cross or gravel bike the guy above was seriously quick. Up to the first corner (visible in the picture below) he looked to be as fast as any of the previous starters, really impressive, not sure what happened after he went out of sight, but if there had been a prize for the fastest first 300 metres the Fat Bike Guy would have definitely been in with a shout.

Comparing painful moments afterwards, above is Hannah chatting to Alex Ingham of the AIMS Cycling team, by his own admission Alex is not a hill climb specialist by any means, so why bother ? Well Alex is also the MD of MI Supplies and Muckle CC had recently ordered their club leisure wear from his company so he thought the right thing to do was to turn up and support their hill climb, even though it meant 120 mile round trip, for a 5 minute event, nice gesture that I thought.

Someone else who travelled a fair distance to be at the hill climb was top cycling shooter and great friend of north east cycling Darran Moore, if you want too see some great action pictures from the day check him out on Facebook Darran Moore Photography or on Instagarm @darran_moore_photography. Darran is an ever present at races in the north east all through the season and the time and effort he puts in along with the quality images he gives away without charge is hugely appreciated by everyone in the region and rightly so.

There was great atmosphere in the HQ as the results were calculated and it seemed like everyone and their supporters had stayed around for the prize giving, although the fantastic free buffet may have also had something to do with that. Muckle CC are a club that have only been around since 2015 but they are an enthusiastic bunch who have quickly established a reputation for putting on great events that are a little bit different from the norm. The club regularly have a strong presence in the regions road races and criteriums and are a great an example of what a cycling club with good ideas and an up to date outlook can achieve.

Winner of the over 82kg category above Lewis Wake of Team Kirkley Cycles looking very happy with his prize ... a meat pie obviously, did I mention that the boys and girls at Muckle CC like to things a bit differently ?

Final pic of today and an acknowledgement and a thanks to some new partners who will be supporting both the blog and my racing next season. I will be training and racing in custom kit designed and supplied by Yorkshire based Raceskin and wearing helmets and eye wear from R2 - Ride your race I am also looking forward to a productive collaboration using wheels from CES Sport. I feel really fortunate to be working with these enthusiastic partners in 2020, exciting times ahead.
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