Thursday, 2 August 2018

A change of pace - Brompton World Championships

This story begins a few months ago, when I was idly reading my email on the train to work.

Junk, junk, junk... then one email stood out - registration was open for the Brompton World Championships.

I checked the date: no issue there - we are free.

I checked the eligibility. Interesting. No qualifying time required - entry is by ballot.

Tom had been saying for some time that he would like to enter a bike race. I was pretty certain he meant a time trial, or a road race. Still, riding a Brompton around central London in office attire is sort of like that, right? And as we do now have two Bromptons...what could go wrong?

Impulsively, I made two entries. One for me, and one for Tom. And then promptly forgot about it, thinking “it’s probably like Wimbledon or the London Marathon, where you wait years to get in”.

A few weeks later, an email arrived in my inbox telling me I had a place. I texted Tom - “do you have any emails today?” 

Tom checked his email. I waited nervously (knowing that this could seriously backfire if I was the only one with a place). Tom also had a place! We paid our entry monies, and that was it. We were going to the Brompton World Championships.

Tom immediately started sending me links to various internet offerings for titanium parts upgrades, and compiled a list of essential adjustments which must be made before the race. (Uh- oh - here we go, Tom’s competitive streak is out already...). New pedals. An upgraded suspension block. And now he’s talking about how much of a penalty the hub dynamo will be.


Anyway, true to form, life with Family ByCycle continued apace (We went to Kielder and the Scottish Borders, Rhoda went viral, we went to East Lothian, work, school etc etc) and suddenly the weekend was upon us.

As longer term readers of our blog will remember, two years ago we celebrated our anniversary with a weekend of canoeing. This year, the plan was to go racing.

The first weekend without the children in 2 years begins by spending several hours depositing the children with the various family members who are looking after them this weekend.
Saturday morning dawns. Bliss - no early wake up call. At around 10.32 am, a kind of important question also dawns. “What are you going to wear?”

Ummm....

We go shopping. A frantic rummage of the M&S sale rail (“it’s non returnable” “Not sure that’s a problem!”) and a guilty trip into Primark, and we have compliant costumes. We each have a jacket with sleeves that we aren’t going to cry over if we get them sweaty and covered in bike grease.

Reading the very strict sounding rules on eyewear, I am not sure whether my glasses will pass the strict admonition to be shatterproof (not that I was intending to test that one out), so I stick my contact lenses in and leave my sunglasses at home. I don’t want to lose them for non-compliance, and we have literally no idea how strictly these things are going to be scrutinised.

12:18: Better check the bikes. Mine has been ridden daily for the commute, so I am certain of what adjustments I need. Tyre pressures topped up to 100psi, a half turn on the seat clamp to stop the seat swivelling and I’m good to go. After all, I am not expecting a place on the podium.

12.26: I am stood by the door, ready to go. Tom is changing pedals, having decided that he doesn’t fancy the journey to and across London in his road shoes. He pauses to ask me how quickly I said he could do it in. “Oh, 25 minutes...”, I say, airily. He does a double take. “Only kidding. I said 35 minutes for you and 40 for me”.

12.42: as we don’t have any guests coming with us who we can leave our stuff with, we decide that we’d better downscale what we pack to only what we can fit into our pockets. Tom is bemoaning the fact that the other upgrades he’d have liked haven’t been done. He is concerned about how much time he will lose by virtue of the extra weight of the rear rack, pump, mudguards and the extra drag caused by the hub dynamo. Those bomb proof Schwalbe Marathons are also apparently not racing gear of choice. I observe that it might be a little late to be making changes now, since our train leaves in about an hour, and we haven’t left the house yet. Tom concedes that he might have to use this year as a “recce” for a future attempt.

13.25: we unload the Bromptons at the station, and decide to have a practice unfolding race. I win by a mile, partly because I do this several times a day, and partly because Tom's cables throw his chain off. Snorting only slightly, I promise him that (as I expect to be starting behind him), if he’s still not unfolded it when I get to him, I will stop and help. Tom is not impressed by this offer; my willingness to sacrifice my own race. I think that it’s the only bit of the race that I stand to 'win', so I am determined to get some mileage out of it.

13.55: we are on a London bound train with no luggage racks, the two Bromptons stowed in an empty row of seats. Winning.

London was busy with bikes. We arrived on the Mall as the London Free Ride was finishing, and headed to the Brompton registration desk, where there were two race packs with our names on them. We spent the next 15 minutes attaching various stickers, pins, cable ties and paraphernalia to the Bromptons and to ourselves, and then knowing we had everything we needed, we could relax and enjoy the afternoon.

We watched the Women’s pro teams contest the ‘Classique’, thundering past unperturbed by the odd huge gust of wind that swirls leaves, dust and debris across their path. I began to regret the decision to leave my sunglasses at home. We used our food vouchers and sampled sausage rolls with salad and sweet potato fries from the food vendors.

We exchanged drinks vouchers for cans of San Pellegrino, which were decanted into single use plastic cups. I try to stop the vendor: “No thank you - the can is fine”. She looks puzzled. I try again - “I’d prefer not to have my drink served in a single use plastic cup.” Apparently, it’s the rules. No one at the bar can articulate what this rule is about, but I can’t have the drink at all unless it is first poured for me into a plastic cup. If I have my own plastic cup, I can re-use that. I am told it is to do with litter, and it is non-negotiable. No single use plastic, no drink. Since the panic over not being able to race with a bag on the front, or to leave our stuff since we are both racing, and the rules about bidons having to be deformable if ridden over, we haven’t brought our own bottles or drinks, so I am stuck and forced to accept that if I want a drink at all any time in the next four hours, I have to live with the rule.

The vibe at the BWC is really relaxed. There’s also plenty of bike porn, if lusting after larger chain rings and titanium bike parts is your thing. I was frankly astonished (as a utility Brompton-er) at how much time, effort and money goes into the custom Brompton market. We met a chap with a custom sprayed Bianchi and Campagnolo themed Brompton, which had had all sorts of bells and whistles fitted to it. It had clearly been a labour of love, and made me ashamed of the not-all-that-regular wash and oil and quick top up of the tyres that my own steed receives.


The demographic is also properly mixed - this is genuinely an event for all ages and genders and all countries. We enjoyed spotting the national flags on the shoulder stickers of the various national champions who were in London to contest the World Championships. We spotted riders from as far afield as Japan - a crazy distance to come for 8 laps up and down the Mall and Bird Cage walk!

As well as the bikes having had more attention than ours, it’s also fair to say that the range of costumes also properly put our last minute bargain rail scavenge to shame. There were bespoke tweed suits, a bespoke rainbow suit, a chap in a suit (with bespoke shorts) with fish print all over it (he turned out to be pretty nippy!). The ladies didn’t let the side down either, with a fair number of decorated helmets and dresses and jackets made in cycling themed fabrics. Maybe something to aspire to another year.


Before we knew it, it was time to line up for the start. Tom and I had been allocated to different starting 'waves' - Tom in Wave C and me later in Wave D. I lined up in a group of 10 women riders at the start of Wave D, one of whom was surprised to learn that she had to run across the track and unfold the bike as part of the race. The waves set off at 10 second intervals, so we got the spectacle of looking up the mall towards the other waves as they were set off, charging over and doing some pretty speedy unfurling of their bikes.

Wave C, where Tom was, got a bit over excited, and half of them set off during Wave B. The stewards had to try to get them back in the 5 remaining seconds before their wave was set off anyway! Last in the line, Wave D were away, and I was soon pedalling past a still-stationary Tom. That win in the car park wasn’t a one off! I didn’t have to stop though, as he was about to climb aboard as I sailed past him, gaining pace. That right there was enough of a moral victory, but I meant to make it as difficult as possible for him to make the inevitable overtake.

Sure enough, during that first lap, he had caught me up, telling me that his chain had come off not once, but twice, as he came roaring past, irritated.

I have never really done any bike racing, and the notable thing from the race for me was the HUGE speed and skill differential between the lead riders and the rest of the field. There were plenty of people for me to overtake, but it wasn’t really a race with them. They were there for the experience, and not really racing at all, which made them mobile obstacles for everyone else to deal with, wandering and wobbling across the course, waving at the crowds and paying no attention to what was happening around them. Inevitably therefore, with lots of jostling for position and pretty big speed differences, I witnessed several crashes!

At the end of lap 2, the lead riders, headed by a motorbike, came past. I looked across and saw former pro-rider turned GCN presented Emma Pooley leading out the group of mainly much larger men, and I have never seen such a tiny person working it so hard. No doubt about it - the lady is fierce! This is probably the first and only ride I will ever compete in alongside the likes of Emma Pooley, so I was determined to make the most of it, even if forced almost to a stand as the group passed me where the course narrowed for a bend.

I got passed again in Lap 4, as the lead group were heading into their penultimate lap. If I upped the pace, could I make it over the line to complete 6 laps before the leaders made it to the finish? The next person to lap me, unfortunately, was Tom. So engrossed was he in the group he was chasing that he didn’t even notice that he was passing me.

I am told (but sadly I didn’t get to see it) Tom attempted a “bike throw” to gain a place at the finish, to the bemusement of the chap he was fighting for position. In the queue at the end, it appeared that Tom had finished having only just caught a very dashing gentleman attired in a tweed suit and smoking a pipe. Yes, that’s right folks, I felt fit to collapse and some dude had just crossed the line with Tom (who had himself overtaken me) clad in tweed whilst smoking a pipe. And you know what, it’s just that sort of race.


We chatted to Emma Pooley in the crowd (now Brompton World Ladies Champion), and she was kind enough to record a short message of encouragement to Rhoda to carry on riding after her recent crash. The children love the GCN show, so Rhoda was really pleased to see the video.

Tom and I had a happy and chatty ride back across London to catch the train home. The verdict - Tom is already making notes on how he will improve his performance for next year’s race (starting with  unfolding the bike without dropping the chain!).


On Sunday morning, I was woken early. I was a bit disgruntled to be honest, because this was the bit of the weekend where I was supposed to get a lie in, because the children aren’t at home. I should have known though that in this respect, Tom is still quite the child. He just had to know! Where did we come?

Drumroll please...

Mrs ByCycle placed 53rd out of 91 in the ladies race, having completed 6 laps, and Mr ByCycle placed 175th in the men’s race with a respectable 7 laps to his name. So plenty of room for improvement for next year - if we get through that ballot again...

Friday, 6 July 2018

Three key things you need to do to survive on a family cycle tour

It’s gone a bit quiet on here lately - though not on Twitter (do you follow us on Twitter yet?) since Rhoda’s surprise rise to fame, which has abated now but continues to keep us busy with spinoff projects and requests to use the film! We’ve got all sorts of things lined up over the next couple of months but it’s robbed us of time to write so much about them. Indeed, the rest of the footage from our Borders training camp has yet to be edited, and has only just been viewed for the first time!


Anyway, in a brief lull at forest school today, I was talking with a couple of the other parents about the read-across between what we do as a cycle-touring family, and other family activities which may not necessarily include bikes! It got me thinking about the three things you need for a succesful bike tour - two of which apply in many respects to any family adventure in the outdoors. 

Round-the-World record holder Mark Beaumont taught us in his films that the three key ingredients are...
  1. You need to eat and drink
  2. You need to sleep
  3. You need to do the miles
Eat, sleep, cycle, repeat. So much more in that than a T-shirt slogan, especially with children. Let's have a look at those three elements, what they mean for us, and how the knowledge and kit we've accrued can be applied to things other than cycle touring! We're going to explore each of the three in a separate post in the coming days, in more detail.

Eat


I've lost count of the number of times I've been for a petrol station lunch whilst on my bike (food of champions, often consumed in the cyclist's dining room, the humble bus shelter!) and upon dumping a pile of overpriced packets often amounting to a 'what not to eat' of cycling nutrition on the counter, I've been asked "any fuel?" - "yes," I say, pointing to the crisps, jelly babies, and Thomas Ivor's usual scotch egg - "this is it!".


Eating is a major part of riding your bike for long distances, day after day. It's something that we have to get right for the adults, and the children, sometimes with different strategies - or, more often than not, we sort the children out and supplement that as the grownups find necessary. You wouldn't set out for an expedition in the car without fuelling it first (ok, we've all tried...) but the human body, particularly in child form, needs careful and adequate fuelling in order to perform.

In order to do that we need to choose and source the fuel, but we also need to store it, carry it, prepare and perhaps cook it, we need something to eat it off, and to dispose of the remains afterwards.

So, two things to sort out - what you're eating, and what you're eating it with/off/cooked by. Is this so much different for us on a non-cycling day out? Not really - except sometimes for portion control! We'll have a look at what we fuel with on the road, and in a separate post, how we carry it, cook it, eat it and dispose of it.


Sleep

A day trip isn't a bike tour any more than a trip that doesn't involve visiting an island isn't a holiday. That latter bit may just apply to our family, in fairness. You get my point, though? A tour is only a tour if you actually go somewhere, and then on to somewhere else another day - unless you're Peter Kay.

Sleeping whilst travelling light as a family has some issues specific to cycle touring, when it comes to packing, but whether in a bivvy bag, a tent, a bothy or a hotel, staying out overnight as a family poses challenges most commonly peculiar to the children, rather than the bikes. You might have a baby who’s still up in the night. Toddlers who refuse to accept it’s night time at all. Perhaps your children are a little older and it’s time for them to sleep in their own room - or move out and leave you to it - after all, Mummy and Daddy are on holiday, too!

Getting the sleep you need, for the whole tribe, is critical to the success of your adventure. It can be a major source of expense and stress in inverse proportion, or at worst, both together! Some people thrive on getting up in the morning and having no idea where they’ll sleep that night; others cannot function without everything being booked weeks in advance. We’ll have a look at different planning and sleeping options - particularly our criteria for family tents you don’t need a car to carry. Sleeping bags and mats. How, where, when and with whom to sleep, with or without a tent. When to bail out and use a Premier Inn, and a bit about the kindness of strangers.

Do the miles


If you’ve eaten and slept well, it’s time to get on with the adventure you wanted to have in the first place! That food, and sleeping kit, is going to want putting somewhere while you do it. We’ve adapted our packing for cycling, hillwalking, canoeing, and even the occasional trip, heaven forfend, with the car! The common theme is finding and using kit you can trust, packing it efficiently and adapting the outfit as your family (and the adventure) changes.

There we go, then. A little series that will be of particular relevance as we get nearer to our big summer challenge for this year - and inspiration for you, our readers, too, we trust! There’s your planning mantra to get started. Apply it to all your ideas to test them…How will we nail down each part?

Eat. Sleep. Ride...  Repeat.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The day that Rhoda went viral

Well, that was a bit of a surprise. We got back from our training trip to Northumberland and popped up a video clip, and 24 hours later over half a million people have watched the clip on twitter. Rhoda has been retweeted by Chris Boardman, Susan Calman, Jeremy Vine, police forces up and down the country and seemingly the majority of the cycling community in the UK. The BBC, ITV and Road.CC all got in touch to ask if they could run a feature of the video. 

The internet appears to have been ready for a cycling good news story, and we are more than happy to oblige - you see, cycling IS a good news story. Cycling with our children allows us to share with them something that we and they love. 

 Cycling with our children teaches them good habits and makes exercise and the outdoors normal and enjoyable. Children are designed to move. They need to move to develop properly. 

Cycling shows us the world in a different way to other modes of travel and has taken us to places we wouldn’t otherwise go. 

 We need to be seeing children in all our public spaces, including our roads, and not just travelling in private cars. The roads are public space, for everyone to use. If they are going to cycle on roads themselves in the future, they need to be taken on the roads and to learn how to cycle with consideration and how to keep themselves safe. 

At the end of a long, wet ride, we encountered a lorry driver whose consideration and care in passing our family impressed us. The clip on the internet doesn’t do justice to the patience shown - the lorry was sat behind not only Rhoda and Daddy but also Mummy and Ruth, and sheltered us as we laboured up a climb, crossed a bridge and negotiated the busy stretch back into town. The lorry followed at a decent distance from our back wheels to make it clear to us that he was willing to wait and give us the space to negotiate that stretch of road safely. 

 In a world where everyone is in a hurry and those passing us are often closer than they need to be, all four of us were grateful. It stood out. 

We are raising our children to be thankful for kindness shown to them, and to show appreciation, so both Ruth and Rhoda gave a cheery wave and a thank you to the driver, so that he/she would know that we had noticed the care taken and that it meant something. 

We didn’t see the video of Rhoda until we got home and downloaded our memory cards, and we had to say thank you to the driver. We had no concept of how far it would go. We hope it triggers more good passing and more thumbs up and thank yous on the road - what’s not to like about that?! 

What did Rhoda make of “going viral” - well, not a lot, to be honest! It’s all a bit abstract when you’re 4! She was VERY excited that Susan Calman had retweeted her. She’s a big fan of Susan’s, particularly her Strictly Come Dancing appearances. And she was VERY excited to speak to the lovely chap from D&W Agri who called us last night, equally astonished at the scale of response to the video, and rightly proud of his driver, whom we look forward to meeting again, to thank him properly and reflect on a truly remarkable couple of days!

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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Another day, another tandem...

Last night I took the children for a swim, and after a text from Katie about an eBay listing, came home via Cambridgeshire, with a whopper of a tandem on the roof!


Now we've got one that fits Katie on the front and Thomas Ivor on the back, and one that fits me on the front and Katie on the back, pending the addition of some Kiddy Cranks which would open the way for me to have one of the girls on the back, and tow the other on one of our trailerbikes.

The new one has pedigree - the original owners rode it to Turkey, and it's already got a number of touring accoutrements. Looks like the fleet plans have just changed, again - and if it already knows the way to Turkey, that's one less thing to worry about if we decided to take off round the world, right?

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

'Pimp my Tandem' Update - Nearly roadworthy again!

Two steps backwards, one step forward, has been the way of things so far with the tandem project. For every two things I remove, I successfully replace or reinstate one. This has so far resulted in a 'decluttering' of the bike such as to cause it no longer to be rideable - but I'm not done yet!

Katie and Thomas Ivor's first ride on the bike showed up a few immediate deficiencies - notably that the handlebars were too low and were particularly uncomfortable. Katie, like me, also hates grip-shifters. The front derailleur's spring is so strong, they spent the whole ride in the little ring, because of fears the shifter would break if put under enough force to move the derailleur! Brakes were a bit uneven, the stoker bars were really scabby and poked the captain up the bum when getting on and off. Otherwise, though, the fit was not all that bad, and we are reassured that the bike can be a useful member of our fleet, if not necessarily in the capacity we were anticipating when we first started looking at multi-seat bikes on eBay!

The list of jobs ran something like this, we felt:

Tranche 1 - Make it rideable for minimal cost!

  • Get rid of the stoker's bar tape - just make it stop!
  • Clean everything else.
  • Remove the rear rack, clean out all the bosses and put new stainless screws in (we already have a stash)
  • Swap out the handlebars and shifters for spares we already own; swap V brake arms while we're at it
  • Raise the handlebars as far as we can
  • Swap the saddles for spares which may be more comfortable in the short term
  • Try a really long seat post to see if Daddy could ever ride it without being impaled or crippled
  • Assuming the above are successful, fit handlebar bag bracket, front lamp bracket, some old bottle cages and order some spare inner tubes for initial rides out.
  • Do some homework on drivetrain options, including replacing worn-out components and fitting kiddy cranks.

Tranche 2a - Drivetrain and Stoker Refurbishment (budget dependent on whether we are going to do 2b in the longer term!)

  • New chainrings, cassette and chains (need to consider possible upgrade to 8 speed or more)
  • New front and rear derailleurs (front is stiff; rear is broken!)
  • Consider fitting kiddy cranks
  • New stoker bars and possibly stems

Tranche 2b - Wheelset replacement

  • Two nice, shiny new 26", 48 hole wheels. Mummy has already requested a dynamo hub, if we go this far!
Tranche 3+ - Icing on the cake if we are totally invested in the thing!

  • A frame and fork respray
  • Custom frame bags (tent pole carriers!)
Tranche X - Nice-to-haves which we can use on other bikes anyway, not time critical.
  • Nicer water bottles
  • Speed and cadence sensor
  • Front and rear racks

I've got a few bits to tinker with today, at which, hopefully, a first proper ride (and some pictures being taken in daylight) can take place at the weekend, and I can start totting up the costs so far, which should be decidedly modest. For once, I am making that a particular challenge!

World Autism Awareness Week - The Final Cut!

Thomas Ivor raised over £450 for the National Autistic Society - and made it into their 'Thank You' video!

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Our new, old bike - Just how green are we cyclists?

I spent another evening last night, after the children had gone to bed and before Mummy ByCycle came home from the office, tinkering with our new tandem.

I say ‘new’, but it’s anything but, in truth. I think the Suntour 3040 front mech dates it to about 1989, in fact, making our 'new bike' the oldest in the family, by a reasonable margin.

The question, as usual with an old bike, becomes ‘how far do you go?' We’ve ridden the bike, it works, it goes and stops, but the handlebar grips and twist shifters are ergonomically heretical, the chainrings look like a circulating shiver of sharks, and the ‘it’s knackered, change everything’ 0.75mm chain wear gauge flaps around in the links of both chains like a drunkard's wotsit in a pub toilet. The rear cassette lock ring is stuck fast, resisting all attempts to budge it, and the rims are, well, a bit concave. The frame seems sturdy enough and all the welds are sound, but the paint job is badly chipped, there are signs of surface rust, and several of the chromed bits, aren’t very chrome-y. The seats are new, but uncomfortable for Katie and too big for Thomas Ivor; the rear rack is severely wonky; it doesn't have any bottle cages.

The thing is, none of this can’t be fixed. It comes down to what’s economical. Chain rings, five of them, two chains (one of them a big ‘un), new jockey wheels, cassette and realistically front derailleur, new bar grips and shifters, and I’m on the way to £500 including buying the bike. Having done that, you’d end up needing to replace the rims to put serious miles on it, so that’s two rims and a double wheel build, even if you recycle the hubs, which will undoubtedly deserve new bearings if you’re going that far. With all that new stuff on it, you’d want to paint the frame, by some means, just to protect it structurally. Is that uneconomic mission creep, the result of getting too invested in a tired basket case of a bike which would be better melted down, or is it a symptom of a throwaway society in which some cyclists, for all their green creds, too willingly throw away serviceable equipment because manufacturing labour remains cheap and raw materials (for now, at least) relatively plentiful?

By this point you’ve caught yourself saying ‘I could have a nice new one for two grand’ in your head, but:
  • this was meant to be a low budget exercise;
  •  done properly, the bike may still look its age at a superficial level but the components that matter will all be new, should function perfectly, and it will be the spec we have chosen, in the details. Crank length. Saddle choice. Compatible with our lights, luggage and phone mounts. It could even be in our own paint job;
  • we don't have to spend all the money in one go. Some things have to be done together, but by no means all;
  • taking things apart to see why they work, and then struggling with 'reassembly is the reverse of removal', is therapeutic. Sometimes.
  • Even I will struggle to get the budget beyond half the cost of a new one.
The other option, I guess, is to give it a thorough clean, spend nothing on it and just have fun riding it into the ground, like some people do with old cars - but at that, one day something will fail, possibly a relatively simple component, that will put it out of action - perhaps a long way from home. You see so many bikes like that, lined up by the scrap bin at the council tip.

When I bought my first bike, a Raleigh from Halfords for the princely sum of about £130, it came with a lifetime warranty on the frame. Truth be told, the frame is the only original bit that’s aged remotely well, but it’s as solid as ever. As for the components, well, a lot of them got changed over the years. I was seduced by upgrading to 7 speed, and the Shimano 'mega-range' freewheel. The bars rusted so I replaced them, and got some bar ends while I was at it (they were still socially acceptable back then). I changed the pedals, seat post and saddle (my glow-in-the-dark, 'this will preserve your ability to have kids' scaremongering seat has not aged well, I'll admit).

When I took the 'Yellow Peril' to our local bike shop for the headset and bottom bracket bearings to be done, thinking I would rebuild it, the chap convinced me that for what I wanted to do with it (touring with children) I was best off buying a new bike. And I did; it was the right choice in the circumstances - but a good proportion of the components of that old bike have now made it out of the plastic tub in the basement and back onto the girls' trailer bikes, with others now earmarked for the tandem.

This being so, I'm going to take the Tandem (which we really must name now) not only as a foray into a strange new world of not being able to buy so much as a brake cable in Halfords in an emergency, but also a step back. I'm going to see how much I can do to the bike using, as far as possible, only things I already have in the house; see how far that takes it, see how much we love riding it, and then we can think about an investment strategy. Watch this space!