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?”


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.


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.


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!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Two's company; three's an aspiration! Buying our first tandem.

The auction had sat at about £125 for a couple of days. We hit the 'watch' button.

A couple of hours before the end, someone bid £155. Unless it went for a song, it was too much of a risk. It was obviously going to clear £200 at the end. We had a chat as I got the barbecue out to cook dinner, and decided we'd leave it. 

3 minutes to go and I sneaked another look. No movement. "I'm going in, just in case", I called to Katie. "No more than £200 and it's worth a punt, right?".

"Go on, then. Nothing ventured...", said Katie, sticking her head out of the back door. 

I put in £205, just in case it was close. Don't tell her, will you. My finger hovered over the button for what wouldn't have been the first entirely futile attempt at an auction 'snipe' lately. 

10 seconds. The house WiFi had better hold up, out here in the garden, or this was going to be upsetting.

I think I actually saw '3 seconds' just as I hit the button, and the screen went blank for a what felt like at least a week.

Eventually, it became apparent that yes, we had just bought our first tandem - a Thorn Voyager - for the princely sum of one hundred and eighty-two pounds and thirty-three pence.

Er, ok... now we've got to fetch it! Not so simple when there was no way I would fit on it, we had no idea if any of the five of us would fit on the back without adaptations, and we didn't have a tandem carrier for the car - the latter would have cost more than the bike.

Our brave but possibly foolhardy plan for Katie, under the weather lately, to make a late night trip to a Luton postcode and cycle home, not just on a bike she'd never set eyes on before, but her first ever tandem ride, and do 30+ miles home in the dark, was eventually cast aside (to our mutual disappointment - we like a challenge!) for the more practical solution of stripping out our people carrier, which was in dire need of a litter-pick anyway.

Luckily, our new purchase fits without too much bother, with the wheels off, and I only bent the mudguard stays very slightly, getting it home. In the same way, I only took a bit of paint off the front door getting it in the house, and Katie and I sat on the settee to eat our dinner, watching 'Gray's Anatomy' through the latest addition to the family, still a bit bewildered at what we'd done.

A bit of work since then, and every single member of the family having sat on it in some way, has proved that Katie fits on the front, Thomas Ivor fits on the back, and we ought to have no trouble adding a trailerbike rack on the back (although the scarcity of spare Islabikes racks is once more, a pain in the posterior) so that together they can tow one of the girls.

Our new tandem (as yet awaiting the decision of the naming committee) is no spring chicken. It's old school bike engineering in many ways; a steel frame, lots of chromed bits; solid, heavy-looking cranksets with a Suntour front derailleur (remember them?) and seven gears on the back. We haven't had a grown up bike with V brakes for quite a while! The paint is thin, and there's some rust. But it's a simple, rugged design, and now the manky bar tape is off, we're on our way.

Katie and Thomas Ivor went out for their first ride last night, and didn't die, so whilst it may be a brief dalliance that leads to a different machine in the end, we have a little project on our hands - and I think it's going to be fun. It will be interesting to see how much we can do with the beast, with things we already have in the cupboard... #PimpMyTandem is born!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Five reasons to ride your bikes even when it all goes a bit wrong

I wish I'd screen grabbed the weather forecast I read, late on Friday night, as we were going to bed and hatching a plan for the weekend - so that I could have juxtaposed the natty new BBC weather graphics with what actually arrived. 'Sunshine and 7 degrees all afternoon', it proclaimed. After what turned up, I want a refund.

Or do I?

We spent Saturday morning at the gym. Just for once, Katie and I managed to get Wattbikes next to one another, both with working headsets, seat post clamps, pedals - even bluetooth! The final piece of the jigsaw, being able to see one another on Zwift, remained elusive, but we did an hour or so up the mountain towards our Le Col challenge hours, interspersed with some adult conversation and trips to the water cooler to combat the intense heat (none of which later). It hurled it down with rain so we went and got Rhoda some new trainers to ride in, and nipped to Cafe Ventoux for a bit of an outing and something to eat. Katie took the opportunity to see what she might spend her £50 Le Col voucher on - assuming we got some more time on the bike before the weekend was out.

Sunday came, and the sun shone as we sat in church. A bit better than the forecast, we thought. Excellent! We drove home, choosing to ignore the car's temperature warning beep, and threw ourselves into the task of getting everyone's touring kit out at the same time for the first time since last May.

The touring bikes came up from the basement - a feat in itself. Katie's had air in the rear hydraulic brake line. Again.

Ruth's winter cycling jacket was missing. The girls had been sharing one for weeks, which was fine until we wanted them to ride together.

EVERYTHING needed oiling.

Ruth's jacket was still not in evidence.

Rhoda's bottle cage had been robbed from her trailerbike when Thomas Ivor put his foot through one during cyclocross training. Thomas Ivor hadn't tightened the bolts back into the frame, and one was missing on the basement stairs.

Ruth's jacket wasn't in the car. It wasn't anywhere in the pile of coats by the front door. It wasn't in the washing basket, or the cupboard. It wasn't in the girls' bedroom, or their chest of drawers. Running out of places to look.

We had a shortage of serviceable rear lights. About four of them have had the switches fail in wet weather recently. It was looking decidedly dull outside.

Ruth's jacket was not in our bedroom, either. It was not under the settee, nor in the bag we took to her last cyclocross race. It was not in the front garden, or the flippin' fridge. The hunt was becoming desperate and tempers were fraying.

In the end, since all the jacket-searching had cost us so much time we were all 'hangry', we jumped in the car, all each one of us (except Ruth's top half) in full lycra, and went to a well known burger joint which euphemistically calls itself a 'restaurant' but is careful to enhance the eating experience by never bringing to your table everything you ordered. As we arrived there, we were treated to a hailstorm. Words were possibly had with the Almighty, who had apparently hogged the promised nice weather, for the part of the day we had spent indoors, worshipping Him.

I think the children thought that was it, and we were going to go home, take off our cycling kit, put a fire in the grate and spend the rest of the day looking for Ruth's jacket, but somehow, (perhaps that £50 Le Col voucher had something to do with it) Katie and I steeled ourselves to the prospect of cutting back our ambitions for the day's riding, but restoring some honour by being able to say we had ridden, after all. Here's what I think we learned, as we set out under grey skies, which proceeded to dump on us from a great height...

1. There will be 'can't be bothered' days on the road, too. They may of themselves have no particular reward at all - but they facilitate the 'other days' - and you have to do them to reach your goal.

When you reach the end of a tour, you will remember the really tough bits. The stinking great hills. The equipment failures. You'll remember the amazing bits - the natural wonders, a tasty meal, road angels you met. What you're unlikely to remember so readily is the miles and miles you spent just plodding on. The days when getting on the road again was a drag. A nagging headwind. Rain that stops as soon as you've put your wet weather gear on. Even in lovely places, there are boring bits.

The fact is, going the distance is very much about being able to keep on going when the motivation is low and excuse factor is high. If you hadn't done a few hours at 10mph feeling uninspired, here and there, you might be hundreds of miles short of your objective. Sticking with a plan to throw your leg over the bike, even when at the time, it would be much easier not to, is good discipline for days where caving in could kill off your big aspirations.

2. If you don't find the kit you need today, you won't have it for next time, and you'll lose another ride. If one plan goes for a Burton, try and respond in a way that prevents recurrence.

We covered less than half the distance we had hoped, in the end, but if we had used 'we can't find everything in a hurry' as an excuse, we'd not have gone out at all - and we'd have left ourselves the same excuse for next time, too. In the end, we figured that if we only rode up our street and back, to have done that before the day was out would be a sign that we were able to get moving more quickly, and fully equipped, next time. Today's ride became a facilitator for the next one! (See point 5, below)

Repurpose a ride that isn't going to hit all the original targets. Roll with the blows and do something purposeful with it - even if that's short of, or different to, what you'd hoped. It might mean next time goes more smoothly.

3. What doesn't kill them makes them stronger - children get used to what they've experienced safely, and will be calmer next time. Use incentives.

What is training for, if not a bit of conditioning?! A small dose of hail in the faces, endured by choice and survived, makes for better endurance next time it comes and can't be avoided. Use mitigations (being able to turn round and put the wind at your backs, and doing that before things get ugly) and rewards (hot chocolate and a warm bath at home afterwards) while you have them. If we encounter a full-on hailstorm again, in the middle of nowhere, the children know what to do, and that it will be ok. They won't die. It will still be a good adventure. We were well impressed with the girls' willingness to endure a burst of rough weather and keep going; Thomas Ivor was able to get used to the 'new' sensory input of cold stuff hitting his face whilst riding a road he knows well, and could process his response at his own pace.

Children today are often shielded more than is helpful to them, from the weather. Properly equipped, with careful management (both important caveats!), they can endure more than they think - and if you are willing to do it close to home, out of season, that unexpected storm on your next tour will be far less of a curved ball. Which brings us to the next point...

4. Train hard, fight easy - test your contingencies and ability to deal with problems when you can choose to, rather than when you have no choice! 

Last year, we were privileged to go to visit Islabikes in Shropshire. In preparation for a staff outing, a weekend's off-road touring through Wales, founder Isla Rowntree presided over (and participated in, and won) a competition in which every participant had to change their rear inner tube against the clock, unaided, using only their own equipment for the trip, fully packed up as it would be on the day.  I won't say who found they'd packed a 26" tube on their 29er, but several of the participants encountered trouble they'd not foreseen, and a few doubtless tweaked their preparations subsequently! As Isla pointed out, they'd be glad of the frustration now, if they had a puncture out on open moorland in a freezing cold deluge the following week.

Solving problems you hope you will never have, with a safety net, might lead to packing new or different things (or knowledge!) that improve your chances on tour, when things go wrong. If the things you fear most on tour, you've already tried and found a response for, you have rather less to fear. In our case this time, it wasn't so much equipment based but a test of 'can we ride on in these conditions', in a situation where we could bail out at any time -  and the answer was "yes - and Rhoda needs the peak of her hat adjusting for her when it happens". If that's the worst of it, we won't be so worried next time the BBC forecast turns out to be so lamentably inaccurate!

There is a general level of satisfaction to be had from having 'done it anyway', and if children bank positive experiences of dealing with situations you'd prefer not to deal with, but might have to, everyone stresses less. Even if unbeknown to them, you dialled things back a bit having satisfied yourself it was ok, everyone gets a feeling that nothing can stop you next time. Some days, when you're digging deep, that's what you need upon which to draw.

5. Evaluation is the mother of preparedness - a.k.a. 'Always look in the toy box'.

We got home, got warm, got the girls some hot chocolate and a bath, and Katie set to, continuing the hunt for the lost jersey, finding a number of other things we didn't know we'd lost, along the way, and filling two bags for the charity shop, largely of toys that the girls didn't need any more. At the bottom of one of the toy boxes, patiently waiting all along to be discovered, was a Size 1 HUP cycling jacket.

We made a list, from which the missing jersey was cheerfully removed, of other things that had come to light during the afternoon. Ruth's trailerbike seat needs to go up. Rhoda's gloves are getting tight and she is probably ready for the larger crankset her sister uses. We have a new 11-34t cassette that needs fitting to Katie's tourer, along with bleeding those pesky brakes again. I ended up recording Ruth's heart rate, not my own (although that was instructive, during the ride!). I've got a loose front lamp bracket. We need to sort out some more rear lights, or fix the ones we have. These are all things we can try to fix before our next full team ride, rather than consigning ourselves to repeating them - and whilst it's been decided that the girls are to have special bags to put their cycling clothes and accoutrements in, we will be sure to check the toy box, next time something's gone astray...

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Magic Moments - Rhoda's Rolling!

I don't know whether it's because it's not a natural skill - we are not inherently programmed as humans to ride a bicycle - but the moment your child finally, without really meaning to, sure that you can't possibly let go, motors away from you, finally letting you stand up straight and have your arms back, is a special one for me. There is something seminal in the life-milestone laid as your little one goes off on their own - even if they do go on to ditch the bike ten yards away.

Despite her formidable progress in many areas, including her tolerance and stamina for riding her trailerbike from Vatersay to Lewis last summer, Rhoda has been a bit behind Ruth's curve when it came to pedalling her own bike. Balance biking was no problem for her - indeed she was doing it younger than her siblings - and she learned how to work her brakes very quickly indeed, but where Ruth was pedalling at two (though unable to use her brakes to stop!), Rhoda could slow the bike to a stand nicely, but was in danger of turning four before completing her first lap of the bandstand unaided.

Over the past few months we've been biding our time, just having a little go once in a while to see if she was ready without labouring it, trying both the Cnoc 14 and the 16, the latter rolling and arguably fitting Rhoda better now, but being trickier for her to swing a leg over. A growth spurt having fixed that, something possessed me to give her another whirl on Friday. Mummy was working from home, and gave Rhoda the incentive that she could have chocolate buttons delivered to her at the bandstand - only if Daddy called to say there was cycling to be seen!

When it comes to learning style, Thomas Ivor is mostly 'stick' but with specific 'carrots' (he is best motivated on the bike by anger, sometimes!); Ruth is mainly 'carrot' and a bit of 'stick' when we get to a 'mind-over-matter' sticking point. Rhoda is all about the carrots. Especially if the metaphorical carrots are actual chocolate buttons.

Our approach to teaching children to ride has developed over time. Thomas Ivor had stabilisers and a heavy bike. We've learned a lot since then! 

Rhoda's pedalling technique was something of a headache, because she'd developed a penchant for doing it backwards, but that remedied itself in its own time, part way through our Hebridean trip last summer. Now, it was time to meld that with the balancing she'd been doing for so long. Early signs weren't promising - her initial enthusiasm turned to frustration when things didn't work first time, and I sent Mummy a text warning her not to hold her breath...

In common with many children, Rhoda had a fixation with the risk, in her mind, of me no longer holding on and preventing her from falling. Interestingly, I discovered she was far less concerned about hurting herself than hurting the bike! The answer to this is to maintain contact with the child, under the armpits, so they can feel your touch, whilst you know they are actually taking over the balance of the bike from you. Ultimately, you reach the point where they are so busy riding the bike that they don't notice your touch becoming intermittent, and then before you know it, you are running ahead to give them a target to ride towards. When you are 6'8" tall and stiff as a board, this moment can't come soon enough!

Mummy was duly summoned to the bandstand, and joined in the game!

It is rather easier with two of you, not least because your little cyclist has a tendency to ride inexorably towards whatever holds their attention (often what they least want to hit, in this case the bandstand itself!) and so by having someone behind them, and someone to ride towards, their fixation becomes on the parent they're being encouraged to ride to, not the parent acting as 'catcher'. Avoiding falls at this point is very helpful, if you can pull it off; luckily, Rhoda's bike handling and braking were already pretty good.

At this point, 'little and often' is the key, to embed the child's learning and cement their confidence. Otherwise, you end up teaching them more than once!

From being unable to do it properly on Friday morning, Rhoda was chasing her big sister (who felt very very grown up, offering to ride in her lowest gear to be helpful, and testing our her new heart rate monitor) round the bandstand on the Sunday afternoon.
It's a bit strange, looking back, having that feeling as Rhoda pedalled away that she might be the last child (certainly of mine!) that I get the privilege to share that special moment with, and yet I am also reminded of the torture, by comparison, of teaching Thomas Ivor, who had used evil stabilisers and a heavy, heavy bike. Either way, on we go! Three years ago, Thomas Ivor was re-learning to ride from scratch, on his first Islabike; Ruth was making her first tentative steps waddling along with the balance bike and Rhoda was asleep in the trailer. Now, we have Thomas Ivor doing 100km runs on Zwift, Ruth racing cyclocross and Rhoda, well, there's no stopping her, now! It's a good job, because we have big plans for the team this year...

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Losing the 'shop around the corner'

We had a slight lie-in on Saturday. Thomas Ivor was recovering from his charity triathlon the day before, and the girls had gone to their grandparents for the weekend, so we could get on with some DIY, and thus, unusually by recent standards, I didn't make the Saturday morning 'club ride' from our local shop, Wellingborough Cycles.

By lunchtime, we decided to go out for some fresh air and food (a morning's paint stripping had left us needing both, rather badly) and at the last moment I elected to stop by the bike shop to pick up my new saddle, which was my Christmas present and which I'd been meaning to fetch for about a week.

We passed the shop and it looked busy - the ride must have not long got back, we figured - and so we went for lunch first, before dropping in for my saddle. As I walked in, something didn't feel quite as normal, and turning round, I saw fewer bikes than usual against the wall, and a sign on one saying 'Closing Down Sale'.

'That's another bike brand no longer worth trying to retail on the high street' I thought to myself, dismissing any notion that it was more than that - but at the counter, proprietor Darren's face was ashen. They'd met the accountants during the week, decided it was impossible to continue trading, and announced the shop's closure to the group ride earlier that Saturday morning.

The thing is, it's hard to tell when your local bike shop is in dire straits, because most local bike shops are up against it all the time, these days. Friends in the distribution side of the trade speak of German warehouses mail-ordering products to the UK for less than the 'trade' price, never mind retail. 

Two tragedies hit us, as with considerable reluctance we picked up a few final purchases to help the guys clear the decks.

Firstly, the human perspective. Darren and his team had built something special. They had lovely premises, well cared for, smartly turned out, and unlike certain of their competitors they always took the greatest of care with our bikes in the workshop, most of which had visited them at some time or another. They were a friendly bunch, and again, unlike other shops, never treated us dismissively, disdainfully or like our children were about to explode and kill all the other customers, when we came in the shop as a team. Thomas Ivor, Ruth and Rhoda had grown accustomed to chatting with Darren about their cycling exploits over a sweetie, or a biscuit, and we really appreciated that. It was heartbreaking seeing the personal cost of over a decade's hard work; peoples' livelihoods, being taken away. 

We appreciated our local bike shop because we knew that a trustworthy, keen, specialist shop close to our home was a luxury these days, and losing that is a tragedy, for us and our community. Of the bike shops in our area, this was the one which had earned our loyalty - it was one we would have travelled to even if it hadn't been the closest. We often contented ourselves with ordering things through them, even if they could be obtained faster and cheaper online, because we saw the value in supporting, in deliberately investing our spending in a business which supported and took an interest in us. At a stroke, it's gone, and it's strangely numbing. My road bike was about to go in for a service, and I have no idea what I will do with it now.

I passed the shop yesterday, to go to the butcher's. The shutters were down and, reminiscent of Meg Ryan's character's shop in 'You've got mail', I looked in sadly at the empty shelves, the counter, the window into the workshop where Darren would usually be found working on someone's steed when you arrived - and yet I was reminded of the old lady in the film, the one who'd worked there all her life, saying "Closing the store is the brave thing to do" - and that's certainly true in the face of the odds; sometimes there is no sense in trying to trade your way out of trouble. In this case, the bike trade seems set on destroying award-winning local businesses who supported and nurtured both individual cyclists and cycling culture in our communities - and we won't know what we had, 'til we lose it. 

Budgets are tight for all of us but we can vote with what we spend. If you still have a 'shop around the corner', look after them. If enough of you do, hopefully they'll still be able to look after you, for some time to come.

Amongst our final purchases was a Wellingborough Cycles race jersey, size 'XXS'. It's a shade big on the lad for now, but Thomas Ivor will wear it with pride and it will remind us to hold in our thoughts the people whose labours and friendship we valued, as they move on to new chapters in their lives. In the case of two of the guys, Tom and James, it's a new way of doing business, because we are pleased to hear that the bike fitting and coaching they offered will be continuing as VĂ©lo Elite, along with ongoing support for our town's de facto cycling club. 

We thank them for all they have done for us, congratulate them on the memorable things they achieved over the years, of which they should be proud, and wish all of them the very best for the future.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Thomas Ivor's Triathlon Triumph - #7kFor700k

On Friday, I did a 3x7km triathlon to raise money for the National Autistic Society's '7k for 700k' appeal, to highlight the 700,000 people in the UK who have Autism, like me.

I had a few difficulties to overcome. The day before the event, we had to survey a new route because someone decided that I wouldn't be able to use the gym for the cycle and run as we'd hoped. They also said they thought the challenge was too much at my age, and that they wouldn't have let their own children do it. This made me a bit cross, but actually it spurred me on and I was even more determined to prove that I could do it! We decided that I would do the cycle and run on a traffic free path by the A45. My NAS collecting tin had also got delayed in the post, but luckily that was waiting on our doorstep when we got home. Later, I got my first pair of running shoes, because Daddy said my trainers were looking a bit tired. I collected up all the things I was going to need, and put my batteries on charge.

Next morning, I woke up and had tons of butterflies in my stomach, so I filled it with porridge. After breakfast I started to get my stuff together; I needed so much kit! I packed one bag for each discipline to help with the transitions.

As soon as I said that I was starting at 10 o’clock that day, people started retweeting me and donating online, which motivated me even more.

Before you know it I was ready in the water to start my first ever triathlon.

Daddy set the watch going it went “Three, Two”, I felt like Kevin McAllister: "This is it - don’t get scared now" "one, GO!".

The first stint was 1¼ hours, which was quite easy, so then I went for a brief break while AQUA ZUMBA was happening, because ¾ of an hour of loud cheesy pop music often offends, and they make the water very choppy. I had done 100 lengths, or so I thought. We swapped my Swimtag for another one so I didn't get a flat battery and lose my data.

I had a break in the changing room before going back in the water. The second 'third' was incredibly hard, but my swimming teacher Glenn came to swim with me. Also, to spur me on, Daddy kept me posted on the kind people who were donating to the NAS on my fundraising page. One lady had been swimming in the next lane to me! People were also donating using the collecting tin, which I had put on reception. I had a sign next to me in the pool telling people what I was doing, and why.

After another 90 lengths, I got out for some lunch. I had a tuna sandwich, some blue 'super juice' and more bananas. We swapped my Swimtag again but it was taking ages to appear on the app, which meant that I didn't know for certain how many lengths I had left to do.

The last leg was very dull and boring just looking at the same things over and over again (mostly tiles) and the sun was in my eyes, going one way up the pool. I was also getting tired. It got worse when Daddy came and told me that the Swimtag had uploaded 7 lengths less than I thought I'd done, so I was going to have to do some extra to make sure I did 7km. Daddy then made me do 20 more lengths, just to make sure that I had definitely done it!

It was a good job he did because when we got the final download I'd only gone four lengths over!

I touched the wall for the last time and I was out. My legs were like trifle. Time for the cycle!

I was soon changed and Daddy put some air in my tyres. I tried start Strava but I’d already put my gloves on and could not work the screen! Unfortunately, there was a problem with the bluetooth and my sensors wouldn't work, which always seems to happen on important days!

The path was not the best surfaced of all the paths I’ve ever been on but it was very flat. I went past a lot of geese, swans, blackbirds and squirrels. On the way back though I went the wrong way and had to cross all the roads on the retail park again, which took a long time.

Soon in the distance I saw a man who looked like a man from ‘Ikea’ up by McDonalds, it was Daddy in his blue coat and yellow trousers, who had come to watch me across the roundabout safely. “You’ve gone the wrong way son, that's further!” He laughed.  I had a quick chat with him and got on my way again.

I got to the end of the path and waited for the team to arrive. My sister Rhoda was asleep in the back of the car by now! Daddy gave me a banana in exchange for my bike.

The cycle was my recovery for the triathlon. Now it was time for the pain!

Phone - check
Shoes - check
Gloves - check
Let's go!

The first few strides were awful but I found my rhythm. I felt soon very grumpy and tired, though.
It was dark and all the nice things that I saw on the bike were nowhere to be seen. Eventually, at the end of the path, I saw Daddy’s bright yellow trousers in the distance; I made my way towards him feeling tired.

I told him about what had happened on the run so far, ran towards him again for a bit of filming, then said farewell once more, turned round and went back on my way.

Some autistic people need music to help them concentrate on the task at hand and on the run back to the gym, I tried to listen to some music on the phone, but to my disgust the only piece of music I had was the Second movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto number 2, which I think is too sad to run to; it sounds like funeral music!

I needed some encouragement but the path was empty; all you could hear was the ‘zoom zoom’ of the cars, so I tried to cheer myself on but I seemed to go slower than I was before. Eventually I came down the hill for the very last time of the triathlon, going the right way this time!

Daddy and Rhoda were waiting for me with my NAS banner for the finish; soon I was crashing through the banner and reached the end of my triathlon. It had taken me seven hours and twenty three minutes including breaks, made up of:
  • Swimming  -7.1km, 3 hours, 8 minutes, 30 seconds
  • Bike - 9.57km, 32 minutes, 33 seconds
  • Run - 8.45km, 1 hour, 3 minutes, 53 seconds
My total time spent moving was 4 hours, 44 minutes and 56 seconds.

Afterwards I felt very tired, happy and thankful that I could now rest but not for long as I have more adventures planned! I raised more than double my original target of £210 on my JustGiving page, which was incredible.

The next day I felt quite achey and tired. Oh, and hungry! I was back in the pool for my swimming lesson tonight, though.

I would like to say thank you to my family @FamilyByCycle, and also to all my supporters who have put their time and money into supporting me and other people with autism. I even want to thank the people who said I couldn’t do it, because then I was determined to show them that it is possible, for a 9 year old to take on something big and succeed!