Monthly Archives: April 2012

A bit of A and B (and you get some C)

I’d like to redirect my attention on here and take this post in a different direction. The last few posts have had a definite feel for the wheels and pedals as of late (which I love), but instead and for the next several posts I’m taking it back, back to the beginning.

The reasons I found myself coming back onto WordPress and setting up this blog were three-fold (because I like things that come in threes). And those were my cycling, my career and what I experience as my path. When I think about it, three makes total sense: two feels like too few, and four (or more) lacks that punch that items in triplicate can deliver.

It’s a classical rhetorical device as well, in both speech and writing, called the power of threes; I should know (and so does the rest of Google apparently) as I studied Rhetoric & the Communications at the University of Winnipeg in the earlier half of our first decade in the 21st century. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about right now.

Over the last two years, something has been quietly rumbling inside me, new possibilities (untapped, unexplored and quite frankly under-developed). Like a snoozing giant, I’m now slowly waking-up. It hasn’t come without its struggles, or its pain and there most definitely has been some sadness and a letting go of a lot of old ways of thinking. But what counts the most is the support I’ve found through the new friendships I’ve made on my path. I’m learning a lot about myself, picking up developing new tools and integrating them into my existing kit of inter-relatedness. And I’m noticing more and more that what I receive in honest truth, clear communication and feeling safe in sharing my vulnerabilities, the more I grow and become the man I imagine myself to be. And the more I trust those that are willing (or are already there) with me.

Take my friend Mark for instance. He’s a cool dude, he has (and still does) live a life that some of us could only dream of. He’s got a growing business, providing a new take on leadership training, that uses embodiment techniques in the workplace. I’ve met him a handful of times, and those times I’ve had, we have a lot of fun in the space. Just to be clear, I’ve not been on any of Mark’s courses so this isn’t a sales pitch of any kind.

It just so happened that this past weekend, Mark and I met up in Oxford (his first visit even inspired this post), however this time, we found ourselves diving into each others worlds  a bit more. And it felt really good, his level of insight and experience really served me. And what I noticed most was that I wasn’t really after anything in particular but his openness, candor and curiosity created a vibe of trust shared between the two of us. And over the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to figure out how my life could reflect one of two different extremes, but that was until the option of a third way came into view: Option C.

What would “option C” look like? Good question. If “option A” was my old way of playing small, never saying “No” to anyone for the sake of just bumping along, and placing the needs of others over my own, this all feels a bit like a life I don’t want to be living. So the opposite (the extreme opposite) of that is “option B”, insomuch that I say no all the time (whatever the reason), get my needs met and carry around inside me a sense of “f*** you all” mentality. That too is definitely not a way I want to be. So is there a way I can amalgamate these two feelings together? Sure there is a balance, another way to have my needs met, at the same time as meeting others needs and being able to say no some of the time. Option C lies somewhere in there. And Mark helped me open this up further.

I want to recalibrate my inner-guidance system. Become more aware of the self-imposed rules that are guiding me, which I then mentally beat myself up over when I don’t stick to them (like cutting out the junk food, or saying no to the booze, etc., etc.)

Mixed with humor, good food and quite a bit of walking around Oxford, I got to know more about Mark as much as I learned about myself, and it was beyond the social networks (where we tango online) and I’m really grateful for that.

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White Horse Challenge (Ride Report)

So this time I did finish!

And with the legs having been shaved in trepidation, and the groupset installed and collected from the LBS in the nick of time. The combination of these factors must mean only one thing: the start of my cycling season!

If there’s a better way to christen the new SRAM Rival groupset than by taking on the White Horse Challenge, a 90-mile sportive, do let me know. Otherwise, the Wiltshire and Oxfordshire countryside were challenging enough! I can’t remember the exact moment in time when I decided to sign up for this sufferfest, nor would I have anticipated the climbs, headwinds and solo-riding efforts  that came with getting dropped, so I am taking away a few lessons from the ride:

i) more hill training required. I am not a “climber” and not yet a “sprinter”, even if my thighs project the idea of power (it’s a work in progress);
ii) the lack of training in the winter wouldn’t have prepared me for the climbs I faced – there is no shame in having to get off and walk; and
iii) spending 60 percent of the ride with nothing but my own thoughts and the push of the pedals can present their own internal battles.

That’s not to say I didn’t have fun. I certainly did – you can see for yourself at Garmin Connect.

With only one short 20-mile ride before the sportive to get to grips with my new Rival set-up and the “double-tap” shifting that comes with it, I knew there would be challenges on the ride. But when the morning of the race came, I rolled through the gazebo and onto the road with my fellow Zappi CC club members at just before 8:30am in Shrivenham. We started off at a strong pace, similar to our weekly medium-fast paced club rides, zipping past several groups, larger than our own. I have to say we looked impressive in our matching club kit and our 13-strong pack of riders managed to pick up a few hangers-on, droppoing them almost as quickly, and that was until the first hill.

Historically, the sportive maps an area that is home to nearly 24 naturally carved white horses, so it only make sense that such a ride would take place in an area used heavily by actual horses. It was a close call (and something I’ve not seen happen before), but a large stud and his rider were properly spooked by the whizzing of wheels gears that it reared up on the opposite side of the road. You can’t anticipate what a horse might do when spooked, so a prompt squeeze of the brakes was made, which resulted in my fish-tailing across a slick patch on the road. I managed to keep control of the bike and carry on but it certainly got the heart pumping! Further ahead (around laps 10 and 11), the pace dropped by about 5mph -the first hill approached –  and the gradient shot up to 10% then 15% (and possibly higher that I stopped looking at the readout).

The Rival was responsive as I dropped it into the small ring and pushed the rear cassette up as high as it could go on its 11 x 28 set up and settled into a steady rhythm. I didn’t fancy getting up out of the saddle yet, because I knew I had two more big climbs ahead. I would find out by the end of the ride that decision was going to cost me. I watched my fellow riders push themselves up the hill and re-form, but that wasn’t meant to be for me. Being dropped is never fun and the impulse to work double-hard to chase was there, but no such luck. Fortunately I wasn’t alone for too long, managing to catch four other club members before we approached Hackpen Hill, a bit of a best with several upward bends to the summit.

Having now reached the second-feed station of the sportive, the end was in sight! I only wish I could say the same about the supplies at the station (as I was craving a bacon sandwich!), but settled for gels, Fig Newtons and crisps.

Next up: the final climb and “the King of the Hill” that was the Uffington White Horse, the largest (and oldest) chalk horse design in England – dating back nearly 3,000 years. I wondered whether or not its original designers ever thought of the struggle that is pedalling up the hillside. Probably not, but in just under 8min I made the climb up the hill (not the swiftest, but at that point every moment out of the saddle, my thighs were screaming!) These events and key points of the ride are always well covered by photographers, so it gave me the desire to finish the climb with a flourish – tongue-sticking out in Tommy Voeckler style! Have a search for rider 478, if you like 🙂

At the end of it all, I finished in 5 hours and 50 minutes (nearly an hour later than the quickest club member), but never once did I think “am I done yet?!” or “are we there yet?!”. These are the rides to enjoy and that’s all down to the organisation of the route, coming together with other club members (and other clubs), and in this instance passing some pretty awesome looking carvings.

I have yet to decide whether or not I’ll do it again!

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A realistic end (#30DaysofBiking)

Well, it’s come to this. The end. The finish made before the finish line seen. A goal set, but not met.

The DNF. The Did Not Finish.

It’s with mixed-feelings that I write about not being able to see the full 30DaysofBiking challenge until the end, unfortunately I wasn’t able to maintain the challenge I set for myself of riding my bike for 30 days in a row, when in “normal circumstances” I would have been very much able to do so.

So here is the difference: I’m getting a new groupset installed!!! That kind of news, while disappointing is ultimately rewarding because not only will I have my bike back in full (better) working order than it was before, but I’ll have upgraded my existing Shimano Tiagra set-up to the new SRAM Rival.

This has been a long time coming, over 8 weeks coming, to be precise.

The Background

England is normally a pretty temperate island, it doesn’t often see snow, maybe the odd bit of sleet in the large amount of rain that falls during the dark months of January, February and March, but snow and ice throws up a bit of a mixed bag in places like Oxfordshire. This is an interesting timeline from the 21st century (and even further back in time). That hasn’t been the case for at least the last two years. No doubt you will have seen footage of “impassable roads” and airports shutting down in response to a “light dusting” by this Canadian’s measuring stick.

Be that as it may, on one particularly icy morning in mid-January, I hit the deck less than 50 meters from my home on a slick corner of black ice and bent the rear hanger of my Tiagra groupset. I knew it wasn’t completely impossible to by-pass the mech’s cogs and convert my 9-speed compact to a single gear, but a fix attempted isn’t always a fix made. What did end up happening was a trip to the LBS (local bike shop) – photo by Kate Pugh – where Matt, the mechanic, was able to give me 4 usable gears in the big ring, and about 7 in the small ring. Going any higher up the rear cassette, because the chain had to be shortened, would have brought the mech to a halt. Which I found out the hard way a couple of times.

So after about 8 weeks of “conscious shifting” and a lot of patience I’ve now been able to gather the necessary funds, weighed up my options and gone for the SRAM Rival.

The Road Ahead

I’m looking forward to the unique set-up of SRAM’s groupset. The bloc-shifting and double-tap shifter set-up may take some getting used to, but the timing couldn’t be better as I’ve got my first Sportive scheduled: The White Horse Challenge. A solid 90 miles of varying gradients (some a lot bigger than others!)

Graph of elevation and distance of cycle sportive

So the new groupset is going to have quite a baptism, as will I because I haven’t trained as I normally would!

But in the spirit of 30DaysofBiking, I’m just going to get on and ride! And I wonder if this effort gets me off the hook…?

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Monday muck fest (The miles that matter)

Such is the rarest of chances that I get to ride during the week with my fellow club members. Having to save the big miles and loops around Oxfordshire to the weekend, the Bank Holiday Monday yesterday gave me the opportunity to buck that trend and hit the road for a late-afternoon push with five others from the club.

The day was threatening rain all day long, the wind was making itself know all too well, and we had started off rather well – picking up other riders along the way. Staying dry was the aim, but that was never going to be the outcome. But even the chance to just get out was all the reason I needed to do just that. I get rather envious of the how it would seem a number of my fellow club rides are able create these windows of time for them to hit the road together. Tapping out a steady 50-60 mile session – be it hill training, a chain gang or a steady session. I notice how much I want that in my own week-in-week-out, 9-to-5 existence, but I honestly can’t see a way for that to work…unless of course I was my own boss!

Yours truly after 55-miles in the wind and rain

Regardless of whether or not I ever make that employment choice, I still got a ride in and it did (as most rides do) made my day, bringing with it a very satisfying conclusion to the Easter Holiday. Not to mention the high winds and nearly horizontal rain along with it! Managing to keep up at a steady 18+ miles-per-hour (into a head wind), my riding partner at the time shouted towards me something that stuck with me for the entire ride:

These are the miles that matter, and make all those summer rides much easier…

He was right too because I haven’t made the time to do any set level of training for a while, but when I’m flying down the road, thinking to myself how easy this all feels, I will think back and wonder how exactly I got to this point sometime in the future. And it will click:

These muck fest rides, where you’re chewing the wheel ahead of yours’ grit, you will know that these are the miles that count.

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The Velodrome (My New Spiritual Home)

Two dernys in the sunToday, while the Christian world spends their time in quiet contemplation, recognizing the events that lead up to their Saviour’s passing (and resurrection), there was a different kind of gathering taking place in South London, at a not too dissimilar spiritual realm, the Herne Hill Velodrome. For if sport was ever a reflection of someone’s beliefs then cycling ranks right up there with the likes of football, cricket and rugby.

This was my first visit to the only remaining facility still in use when the Olympics last visited London in 1948. And at 64 years of age, the velodrome still knows how to draw a crowd.

Having undergone a massive refurbishment, the track itself having been re-sealed, the public interest in track (and cycling as a whole in the UK) has noticeably increased as we head towards London 2012. Thinking that the facility very nearly went the way of the dodo was a real threat for the surrounding community in 2011. But a campaign called, Save the Herne Hill Velodrome brought it back into working order (and is in need of continual support). It only takes the purchase of smart cycling cap to show you care!

With the Good Friday Meet already underway, I arrived at around 1pm on my bike, having cycled through London from Paddington Station – just in time for the second-half of the day’s events. I love cycling through the streets of the big city, and while you have to have your wits about you at all times, the experience of riding around Hyde Park and Marble Arch on a bright, spring day is something not to be passed up. Consider what you’re missing when you head below ground to take the subway next time – there’s quite a lot to be seen!

The sight that greeted me as I walked through the archways had me feel at home in a heartbeat. Bikes, of all shapes and sizes, fixies, single-speeds and geared varieties, were all around me (I even saw Ned Boulting, struggling unlock his kid’s bike, at the end of the day!) And for good reason too because finding a place to lock up was a challenge. But as one spectator said while helping me hold my own bike to the railing above me, “there’s little risk of anything getting knicked here today,” I knew I had arrived!

Track cyclists in a bunch Now I’m not too familiar with the variety and format of many of the races, but I am learning the difference between such events like the ‘Devil takes the Hindmost’, the Scratch races and the Kierin. The Sprint events are my favourite, and so are the Devil endurance runs because each take as much brains to ride as they do physical strength.

Neovite Super Kierin Race WinnerThe meet itself was a smoothly run-affair, the commentary was spot on and the atmosphere was fantastic. With jumble sales of vintage tops and old race programmes, DVDs and books to browse through you could easily forget that there was racing to watch! But what’s even better than that is when you can spend it in the sun with friends and fellow gear-heads.

Now that’s a great #30DaysofBiking Day!

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Grind it out (#30daysofbiking)

It’s no secret that I am “mad for bikes”. As this blog grows and develops (aiming for eventual world domination) cycling will factor increasingly more into my posts.

I can’t quite pinpoint the time or place cycling first took hold of me when I was little, growing up on the Prairies of Canada, but it definitely took hold of me for good (again) two (coming up three) summers ago. It was something like a re-awakening. Besides, I had always wondered why on Earth I rode a heavy mountain bike on the straight, deadpan flat roads in the Prairies…

In 2010, I had completed a long-distance walk from London-to-Oxford, with friends, navigating the route by following the River Thames. Walking against the flow of the current felt quite apt, seeing as I trained and suffered, and got myself into the best shape I have ever been in (in recent memory), so I was grateful to be going against the flow. I blogged along the route (with the help of my iPhone) , if you’re interested. My fellow Publishing Men Together comrades and I smashed our fundraising target for a book charity that helped support literacy skills in young boys. It was after this event I bought my very first road bike.

A 2010 Specialized Allez Elite, colour red…

It was a thing of beauty, moved quick, felt light and had me feeling more and more confident in myself the more I rode the 15-miles between my workplace and home. As my time on the saddle increased and the miles in my legs grew, the bike and I became inseparable. I even gave it a nick name – The Big Red Express, and would refer to it constantly on Twitter. It still serves me well, albeit it in a slightly different form (after I got knocked by a car last Fall), but Big Red still remains and you would be hard pressed to find me without it in some way.

Which leads me nicely into the current challenge I’ve taken on: 30 Days of Biking Challenge.

Bike somewhere every day for 30 days—around the block, 20 miles to work, whatever suits you—then share your adventures online…

It’s pretty straight-forward, spend every day for the month of April, ride your bike. It doesn’t matter for how long or to where, just get out and ride!!! Cycling is beautiful in its simplicity and this challenge, created by Patrick Stephenson and Zachariah Schaap takes that mantra and lives it to the fullest extent possible.

So far, so good 3 days in. Here’s brief recap of what my first three days of my challenge looked like

Day 1 – A Local Time Trail

I couldn’t believe my luck or the weather we had this past Sunday. Having found out about a local TT taking placing and knowing a fellow member of my club was taking part, I couldn’t just sit idle and not watch. I’ve not done a TT before, but they look excruciating, and as any rider (pro or amateur) knows when it’s just you against the clock, you will dig deep and dig hard.

With a prompt start at 9am, the riders left in 1-minute intervals racing the “Long Hanborough Hilly“. 23.7 miles in total, and three laps of the circuit. With 21 riders, of all shapes and sizes I considered doing it myself but not having dressed appropriately, I decided to ride the course backwards, picking out good spots to watch the riders bend around the curves and “grind it out” up the hillsides. It certainly gave me the taste for TTs in the future, so with the idea of shedding more weight, a new bike (or two…a time trial bike would be great) and improved technique I may just be on the starting line by the end of this season!

What ended up did taking place was a lot of shouting and cheering on my part, at times I was the only spectator because at 9am in the morning, with a chilly start to boot, you won’t find many spectators (save the volunteer Marshalls) standing on the roadside. But each rider had a smile on their face as they zipped by. If that isn’t a masking of pain, I don’t know what is, but with a reverse circuit under my belt and a few pictures snapped that brought Day 1 to a close.

Zappi cyclist climbing up White Hill


Rider bends into Coombe Corner

Day 2 – Not your average ride

Yesterday (Monday) was a dress-up day on my bike instead of the usual dressing into my regular cycling kit. I still managed to strap on my cycling shoes, but because I had a pretty important meeting to keep I wanted to be ready as best I could (and not arrive to the meeting tired and sweaty). Stuffing my trousers into my socks I made quite the sight as I cycled the 3.5mi to my local train station to catch my train into the city so that I could make my appointment. Again, it doesn’t matter the distance you covered, or what you wear, so long as you are on your bike it’s a win for you. A win for the planted and just maybe someone else will decide cycling is for them after seeing such a ridiculous sight.

Cycling shoes, smart suit and purple socks

Day 3 – Bike by Bus

Today (Tuesday), I had to collect Big Red Express after a late night in Oxford watching a local theatre company’s production of The Odyssey. In an effort to minimize the weight of my packed bag, I zipped up and pulled on the bib shorts and rode the bus to the train to collect my bike. Funny looks galore, which are always entertaining. I love to wonder how people may be thinking of me dressed up in my garb, or potentially judging me for doing so. It’s entertaining because I don’t really care and like to have fun with it at all costs.

The way I see it, I’ll do whatever I can to get on my bike and ride. Stay tuned for further updates over the next month, I can’t promise one a day, but I’ll do my best!

Meanwhile, as Luka Bloom says “get up on yer’ bike (and pedal on!)

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