the raf across america

raf race across america

a good few weeks back, i featured the four man sharp4prostate team who rode the race across america, but i was seriously remiss in not co-featuring the raf team who undertook the same event at the same time. this was not due to any prejudicial bent, but entirely down to my having lost the e-mail from john crewe and thus bereft of contact details. however, both teams successfully conquered the ride, though the aforementioned john crewe was unfortunate enought to break his collar bone, and his remaining team of three finished the event one man down.

since john has the facility to type with only one hand for the foreseeable future, his wing-man peter mcrory (a little piece of raf humour there), was kind enough to respond to my request for a precis of the trip which i have elected to publish in its entirety. these chaps have managed something that very few of us will ever undertake, and likely even fewer complete, and while they did so for the personal challenge, they also pledged to raise as much money as they could for homes for heroes. so when you get your breath back after reading the following, click over to their donations page and make the whole thing even more worthwhile.

It is difficult to accurately surmise and to describe the emotions, the events, the pain, the sweat, the tears, the setbacks, the highs and the lows of this, the toughest bike race in the world. The Race Across America, or RAAM, is a 3000mile bike race the route of which traverses 14 States and has over 100,000 feet of climbing. It's not for the faint-hearted. And this race is more about the logistics of getting the riders ready and rested, about navigating successfully, than it is about the riding of a bicycle.  That said, the RAAM tests people's resolve to push themselves through agonising pain, sleep deprivation, and heat exhaustion. It is a battle of great magnitude, in which the mind will play tricks and convince you that you have got to stop. The RAAM has been described by a solo finisher as being similar to a gladiator being thrown into a pit of lions.

 raf race across america

We set off from Oceanside on Saturday 12th June and in spite of all our previous discussions about how 'easy' we were going to take the first part of the race, the proverbial hammer went down right from the off! There was an electric atmosphere at the start line, as the teams gathered and wished each other good fortune on the journey ahead. There was lots of friendly banter between ourselves and our American Military colleagues from Team 4Mil, with whom we were competing for the RAAM Military Challenge Cup. We knew that the statistics did not add up in our favour, as the four of us would have little chance of beating an eight-person team. Nevertheless we did our best to suggest to them that we were not going to roll over and accept defeat, rather that we were a serious force to be reckoned with.


All the teams were introduced to the waiting crowds, and at 14:21 local time, we were sent on our way to traverse one of the largest continents in the world, 3005 miles in the shortest possible time. We had no idea how things were going to pan out for us, and we simply focused on success at every turn. The weather was kind at the start; a steady breeze blowing on-shore meant that the first riders on the road would be whistling their way along the Californian valley floor before commencing the lumpy ascent, then the descent of the 'Glass Elevator' to take us into the desert. The following wind picked up through the night, and when taking over my shift, we were averaging 38mph for one 90 minute stretch. We were flying and quickly settled into 3rd position overall.

raf race across america

It was foolhardy of to think that our positioning was secure. This race presents riders and support crew with so many challenges and problems that we were navigationally challenged many times costing us vital minutes. When you put it into perspective, driving along a 3000 mile route and expecting not to take a wrong turn at any point, is perhaps not a realistic aspiration. There was plenty of jostling for positions in the first 24 hours, and dawn brought the realisation that there could be another seven sunrises to get through before the race was complete. Once the adrenalin had dissipated, the role of the riders was superceded by the organisation of the support crew, how they planned to run the show, and arrange to put riders in position so that we could exchange with one another and maintain our pace. This was going to be the challenge for us all, as it transpired. The crew got less sleep than the riders, maintained our morale and made decisions under some intense pressure. The riders meanwhile, were able to focus solely on getting themselves ready for riding.


Our strategy was to split the four-man team into two smaller elements of two riders, only one of which would be on the road at any time. We had practised doing between 15-30min pulls on the road to maintain a high average speed, and to ensure that the riders got plenty of rest. This worked extremely well for the racers, however it took its toll on the support crew who were constantly on the go.


Our second day took us through Arizona and into Utah, cycling through Monument Valley in the middle of the night, all the while gaining elevation as the Rockies approached. We as riders became accustomed to spending up to and in excess of six hours in the saddle each day, and most of the riding was in the big ring. The big climbs of the Rockies were particularly challenging; the temperature at night would plummet to 3-4deg C and the long descents required us to be appropriately dressed to cope with the cold. The highest recorded speed was 56mph during a night time descent. These were 20-30 mile ups and downs, the like of which some of us had never experienced before.

raf race across america

The lush green pastures and beautiful hills of Colorado gave way to the flats of Kansas. We spent hundreds of miles on long straight roads in the soaring heat, and it seemed that the most significant landmarks were the grain silos which popped up every 20 miles or so. We were fortunate with the winds in Kansas; one of our fears had been whether we would be battling into a howling head wind for days on end.


Kansas came and went, and the heat and humidity increased as we neared Missouri and Illinois. The quantity of wildlife also increased. There were plagues of frogs on the roads, and the night sky was alight with Lightning bugs, making the scenery look more like a Christmas card scene with twinkling lights in the trees. Fluid intake became a big issue. I can recall losing so much fluid, that I was soaked in sweat from head to toe after only five minutes on the bike. The humidity made life uncomfortable in the Winnebago, where sleeping was a challenge; the mosquitoes bit at every opportunity, and the bike did not generate any cooling airflow effect either, meaning it was impossible to escape the heat.


The crew and riders were holding up reasonably well and we were destined for a six day finish as we reached Illinois. The RAAM has a knack of testing a team's resolve to the limit, and none more so than when resting at a time station. We received a call to say that John Crewe had collided with Mat Stephenson, that JC had landed heavily, and damaged his collar bone. We were devastated to hear that news, and as JC was taken to the nearest hospital we were left to re-assess how and if we would continue with the race. The RAAM clock does not stop. Steve and I put our heads together to figure out how our riding strategy would change with only three riders remaining. We opted for a three hour rotation for each rider, allowing six hours of recovery. Our riding style also changed from a pretty aggressive, to one where we conserved energy as best as possible. The Appalachians were still a day away, and we had been warned that they were leg breakers.

 raf race across america

The support crew rallied round, re-organising themselves to work with the three-rider rotation. They did a marvellous job, and given that they were getting less sleep than the riders, their resolve and tenacity was noteworthy. With 48 hours or so to the finish we now focused on finishing within the seven day target. It was going to be tough; the support crew were literally on their last legs due to sleep deprivation.

During the race we were in frequent contact with a two-man team from Denmark. The Biking Vikings were super strong riders, and we set our sights on beating them to the finish line. This raised the tempo somewhat and inspired the whole team to work even harder than before.


So let's put things into perspective. Most people would class a three hour ride as a good training session, after which they would take the day off to recover. Such is the nature of the RAAM, we were having to ride for nine hours each, when we were down to only three racers. A real feat in anyone's book for sure. Approaching the Appalachians, the weather got hotter, the humidity rose, and the gradients steepened. The RAAM book mentions the steepest hill, describing it as one where most people get off their bikes and walk. What were we in for? I went out for a night time session, with a 39/27 gear, and was quickly working hard as the first of three five-mile climbs kicked in. Thankfully one of the Vikings came up to me but did not have the legs to pull away, so we turned the gears and chatted as best we could, given our hypoxic state! That was a great way to take your mind off the task at hand.

 raf race across america

As I came off my shift on the last night. I was really starting to tire. Steve said he felt good in the hills and Mat went flat out, and buried himself. By the time I came back on shift to take over from Mat, he was down to a walking pace, and he looked exhausted. We were racing both clock and Vikings now, and the terrain had drained us of all energy. Nevertheless we re-fuelled and hit the road again. Our final morning and the end was in sight. The Vikings pulled away, and we couldn't keep up.

The maths told us we needed to average 13mph for the last 100miles, not a problem to anyone with fresh legs on the Lincolnshire flatlands we thought. The terrain, however, was still rolling and a cheeky headwind had picked up. We re-grouped and rotated every five miles due to fatigue, ensuring that our average speed stayed fairly high. I'm not sure what it was, perhaps the adrenalin of seeing that finish line, but we were averaging 20mph! A slight miscommunication at the last time station cost us a few vital seconds, so we then decided to put three riders on the road for the last 40 miles. We were flying! The end was in sight, and we were scheduled to finish well within the seven days. We cruised at a steady 22mph, not bad given that we had just cycled 2950miles without stopping. The crew sent one vehicle ahead to guide us in and make sure the navigation was accurate, while the other vehicle protected us from the busy roads of Maryland.

  raf race across america

With 200 metres to go, I saw two random riders come onto the road and start weaving themselves in amongst us. I shouted for them to take care and give us room, but then recognised them as Roy Collins from the US Team4Mil gang with his son. What a delight to see him. Roy and his eight-person team DNF'd at Durango after their Winnebago rolled off the road. Thankfully no one was seriously injured but their RAAM ended in the Rockies. Roy escorted us to the finish line three miles away from the pier in Annapolis. We celebrated with our support crew; lots of hugs and a few tears. The relief of finishing the World's Toughest Bike Race was incredible. As we awaited our official Race Escort to parade us through the streets of Annapolis to the Atlantic finishing point, we looked at each other in sheer disbelief. What had we just done? We also thought of John Crewe. He was instrumental in making this project a success, dedicating a lot of time, effort and money and unfortunately his race ended prematurely.

I can safely say that I felt an overwhelming sense of pride to have been part of a team that was so successful in the face of continued adversity. The support crew were outstanding, and their 'can-do' attitude ensured we were able to keep going for the whole race. We finished the 3000mile Race Across America in under seven days and we had won the inaugural RAAM Military Challenge Cup. That is what we came for.

Truly outstanding! | donate here


posted thursday 24 june 2010

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physics degree optional


the bicycle has been around for over one hundred years, and has sort of settled down into a considered shape, not entirely without a modicum of nudging from the uci; we like to to refer to this as the double diamond in the road world, though the mountain bike world seems keener to investigate the more industrial variations. despite the latter being under the jurisdiction of the very same governing body, a larger degree of leeway seems to have been granted to those on knobblies, and chunky welds, more tubes than is right and proper and a plethora of springy bits has free reign amongst the dudes.

as i have iterated on a few previous occasions, i generally avoid issues relating to the offroad fraternity for two very good reasons: firstly, i do not own or ride a mountain bike, thus disqualifying me, i feel, from any relevant comments thereof. and secondly, there are far more resourceful and comprehensive websites dealing with this particular sector, and nobody needs me adding my uneducated ten cents worth here. however, both are subsets of the ever growing world of bicycles, and it has to be accepted that there will be some sort of a crossover. where do you think the outboard bearings and oversized bottom brackets came from; where did the 1.125" headtube spring from, and from whence did the threadless steerer appear?

a rhetorical question.

once absorbed from one t'other, some of these innovations take on a life of their own, no longer dependent on variations or developments at source, though definitely paying attention where necessary. thus the aheadset which started at 1", has now burgeoned to the not insubstantial and dubious 1.5", even if only on the lower race, though i can find no earthly reason as to why this is necessary on a road bike, paris-roubaix notwithstanding.

but development, as it is undoubtedly referred to, continues apace, despite things being quite happy the way they are/were. some folks within the cycle industry are inveterate tinkerers.

have you the faintest notion as to the frame angles on your bicycle? i'm a cycling obsessive, but i have to confess that i have no earthly as to how far from the straight and narrow are my headtube and seat tube. and i'm willing to bet that the majority of you are similarly uninformed. let's face it, that's the builder's and designer's job, based on a whole lot more information and learning than either of us have at our fingertips. a bicycle either rides well and offers an appropriate degree of comfort for its chosen task, or it doesn't. that's sort of why i review bicycles, and hopefully why you would like to test any prospective purchase prior to parting with cash. few are the cyclists who can check the frame angles from the manufacturer's brochure and decide on the most suitable option, though i'm willing to accept that there will be some amongst us who either can, or think they can.


so why the concern over what sort of sizes and diameters of headset inhabit the road world, and what has this to do with frame angles? well, the frame angles bit is only partly a red herring; as many may have already conjectured, having brought headsets into the limelight (again), the only angle that has my full attention, is that of the headtube.

now make no mistake, this new development is currently aimed only at the offroad folks, though i have found nothing that leads me to believe that cane creek's new angleset could not just as easily be pressed into any road frame that comes to hand. in fact, it would not surprise me in the least if this has already been done. the angleset, as its name alludes, allows the rider to personally change the front angle of the bike by up to plus or minus 1.5 degrees. the simplicity of the technology is impressive, and i don't doubt that many a cane creek designer and technician has burnt the midnight oil to bring such technology to market. but, since i am of an enquiring disposition, i think it only right and proper to vent my misgivings.


have those of the offroad persuasion been crying out for just such adjustability? am i to believe that, as a baggy shorted and full-face helmeted rider thunders down a rocky ravine, hanging onto those rubber grips for grim death at a more than respectable velocity, he/she has it suddenly brought to their attention that the head tube angle really ought to be 72.5 degrees rather than the 72 possessed at point of purchase (or any variation thereof)? i remain to be convinced.

however, since the bicycle manufacturers and subsequently those purchasing same were, in my opinion, hoodwinked over the benefits of the aheadset in the first place (ever tried adjusting the height of your aheadstem without shuffling spacers?) there's every likelihood that this will be seen as the greatest thing since cartridge bearings, and the ability to change the angle at which the fork runs away or towards the rider will become the next bb30; a standard that is not a standard.

hopefully in this case, as in several other, i am so wide of the mark, that there are legions of you out there in sensible land who are re-enacting the the oft-used initals at the end of text messages or e-mails: rotfl. however, if this turns out to become reality, i trust you will remember just who pointed out such doom and gloom and all save up to buy me a nice birthday present in honour of my perspicacity.

the cane creek angleset will be available internationally from september this year.

cane creek


posted wednesday 23 june 2010

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the hills are alive

i love cols

this year's giro d'italia was a veritable smorgasbord of mountains, and not just any mountains, but at the risk of being cliched, iconic ascents. the gavia pass which forever will be difficult to mention without the name hampsten being uttered in the same breath; marco's favourite, the stelvio; and the other one that always reminds me of a box of sweets for some reason, the monte zoncolan. the fact that the race was one of the most exciting in recent years was likely not down to the inclusion of those mountains, since, if i'm brutally honest, nobody did much on any of those bumps. but oh the atmosphere, the history, the snow.

but may has gone the way of the past; the giro is behind us, and all eyes are now pointed towards the tour de france. if you're in the habit of raiding the newsagent shelves for the cycling monthlies, you will now have more guides to the forthcoming race than is healthy for anyone. there's only so many prognostications from folks with no more idea than you or i over who's likely to reach paris in yellow, that a body can take. and i'm not that bothered anyway; in similar fashion to the daily weather, we're going to get what we're going to get. i would rather watch the race each day to see what happens. still, that's just me; maybe the rest of you lap up all this fizz and fervour in undiminished fashion.

however, what we are likely all agreed on is that the only place to be, if you're actually going to the tour, is on the slopes of a mountain. preferably, if truth be told, an iconic mountain. in previous years it's been a toss-up between alpe d'huez or the ventoux, but both are missing from this year's edition, though the former provided some fabulous racing on the penultimate stage of the dauphine libere. one can't help thinking that larry and bertie met secretly in a cafe earlier this year to compare notes and avoid both riding the same race until the tour prologue arrived on eurosport. it's just too coincidental that their race programmes haven't seriously coincided up till july 3rd. i suspect collusion.

i love cols

however, come three weeks in july, there is nowhere to hide, and though both will likely race with one eye on the other, others may have different ideas than to let either occupy a podium place. to be honest, that's probably why they call it a race. but the race can be limitlessly enhanced by taking into consideration the terrain over which it is staged. if you need to narrow that down even further, let's have a quick nudge at stage seventeen.

prior to this, the laughing group will have had its opportunity to scrabble over the green jersey, heading into formula one territory, elbows at the ready, trying very hard not to examine tarmac on a molecular basis. but stage seventeen will suit the grupetto not one whit. starting with the col de marie blanque at 1035m, this is succeeded by the col du soulor at 1474m, and history is paid due honour by the inclusion of the col du tourmalet topping out at 2115m, a summit already visited on the previous day's stage to bagneres de luchon.

though you can't tell from the pixels, i had to have a five minute break after typing that.

the tourmalet should, by rights, be the most famous and iconic climb in the tour, having been included in the tour more times than any other mountain. and it has history: the first rider across its summit was octave lapize in 1910, while the all but apocryphal tale of how eugene christophe broke his fork, repaired it himself at a local blacksmiths and was then docked time because he was deemed to have received outside aid from the blacksmith's boy who operated the bellows, all happened on the tourmalet. watching on-site or, for the more leisurely, in the comfort of that leather armchair, it would seem a necessity to dress appropriately, that all wandering past that motorhome, or serving an espresso and baguette with brie on the coffee table in front of the telly have no doubts as to where your enthusiasms lie. urbanhunter are now offering the very shirt, in either white or grey, in small, medium, large or xl for only £22.95. it's not a decision you'd have to spend too much time on; the link's below and the plastic must be somewhere close by.

i love cols.

urban hunter


posted tuesday 22 june 2010

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sharp4prostate team

it gives me great pleasure to report that the members of the four man sharp4prostate race across america team reached safe haven on the american east coast on sunday, and in third place. not so happily, john crewe of an raf team attempting the same event, crashed out after 2200 miles, and my last communication from the poor chap placed him in a hospital in the middle of nowhere with his collar bone broken in three places, waiting to be repatriated to the uk.

pain and suffering.

since both crews undertook this mammoth and somewhat loopy task in order to raise money for charity, the best testament that can be paid would be for you to click through to their respective websites and donate to their worthy causes. after all, what did you do last week?

raf team

raf race across america | sharp4prostate


posted monday 21 june 2010

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i know it makes sense

gear cable

'playing to the gallery' has pretty much the same definition as 'preaching to the converted'; both refer to the act of playing or preaching information to a converted gallery already pre-disposed to such garrulous offerings. it may well be that those within concerted earshot, aside from their level of acolyteness, might learn something in the passing, but that likely comes under the heading of fringe benefits if noticed at all. in the case of the washingmachinepost, i have a feeling that the foregoing is the case.

not for one minute would any of us step out the back door with shed key in hand without benefit of a spare inner tube comfortably ensconced in a back pocket. and, since an inner tube is as much use as a chocolate fireguard without either a tyre lever or pump, those have already been taken care of either in one of the other back pockets or, as in my own rapha continental emulation, a frame fit pump.

would we?

i have, on occasion, been in the company of riders of a sunday, bereft of either tube, levers or pump, confident in the speciality of others, that someone will not only have the necessary, but indeed the goodwill to remove and repair while they stand by helpless. happily those are in the minority, and i'm sure we all know someone who fits that description. it's not a satisfactory state of affairs, but one that only comes to light when the idiots get a puncture. but, as i have already attested, i feel sure that i am preaching to the converted, and that's sort of the problem. in much the same way as the cycle leaflet i produced on behalf of argyll and bute council, pointing out the dos and dont's of cycling on islay and jura, there's every likelihood that those who would never dream of obstructing others or cycling inconsiderately, are the very folks that would read the thing top to bottom. the very flouters at whom it is aimed either can't read, or think themselves above such platitudes.


and so it is that the very time of season about to dawn (an apposite thought, on the eve of the summer solstice) will bring the same lack of forethought that has been in evidence since before larry started winning tours. and before you think me previous in my castigations, those inadvertancies, as i would generously like to think they are, have already started.

it's been many a long year since i regarded myself as a touring cyclist; in fact, until the chris king cielo came along, i literally was not in possession of a bicycle that could fulfil such a function. carbon fibre and panniers are not a stylish match nor, come to that, a particularly practical one. and if i'm perfectly honest, my touring travails were hardly of an explorative nature. many's the cyclist, such as mark beaumont, who have cycled round the world or across continents not only to glorify the bicycle, but to prove just what man is physically capable of. for me, it was but a thirty mile jaunt across kintyre and arran to visit my parents, and perchance cover a few surrounding roadways.

but even through such modest forays into the outer crust of western scotland, i had learned from the mavic car. i taped three spokes of correct length to the non-drive side chainstay, i carried two spare gear cables, a rear brake cable with the unnecessary cable end removed and at very least, two suitably sized inner tubes. couple that with a cassette lockring remover, and a short length of chain, allowing removal of the sprockets should it be necessary to replace a spoke, and a spoke key. for obvious reasons, there is an upper limit on the number of tools that can be carried, especially if the principal purpose of the trip is pleasurable cycling. but to be brutally honest, if any other eventualities befall en route, then either the bike was not roadworthy prior to departure, or an unavoidable accident was unavoidable.

this morning i sold an inner tube to a friendly chap who had suffered more punctures than he had spares, but the inference was that the spare had amounted to only one. at least one too few for a trip down (or up) the west coast. and later that same day, i had to delay my vegetarian curry with uncle ben's mushroom rice, to replace a front gear cable on a scott mountain bike. its owner, also a cheery, happy sort of fellow, said that he'd been riding for many a long year, and had not experienced a gear cable break before. was this a common occurrence? i was tempted to reply that it generally only happened to those travelling without spares, but i have never been too convincing when it comes to cruel retorts. he asked me if the same thing ever happened to brake cables? you will already have inferred that he was carrying no spares.

so, at the risk of continuing to play to the gallery, might i advise those of you with touring aspirations this coming summer, that aside from those inner tubes, levers and pump, a few spare cables wouldn't go amiss.

oh, and a pair of cable cutters; some of those cables are really long.


posted monday 21 june 2010

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l'incroyable monsieur obree

graeme obree

the friday evening ferry arrives at port askaig around 8pm, having left kennacraig at six. friday is the only eve on which the boat uses the northern port for the evening run, a favour normally bestowed upon port ellen in the south, a trip which endures about twenty minutes longer due to the extra sea distance. bowmore is pretty much central from a ferry point of view; it's ten miles from here to port ellen, and eleven to port askaig.

saturday 19th june saw the start of the uk's national bike week, an interruption about which i'm sure i have already made my opinions clear, but also the appointed date for the ardbeg committee tenth anniversary gourmet bike ride. distilleries, including all those on islay, make several thousands of gallons of malt whisky, a product that they have great experience in marketing to an eager but perhaps uninformed public, and their marketing departments employ a variety of methods to achieve this. however, the common denominator has taken its lead from laphroaig's friends of laphroaig, a means of acquiring as many interested names and e-mail addresses as possible to which information and special offers can be despatched at strategic intervals.

ardbeg created their committee at the start of the century; it's free to join, with benefits including special offers, first dibs on new bottlings, and regular copies of the minutes usually detailing unusual and eccentric happenings both on islay and at the distillery. earlier this year, i attended the distillery to hold a meeting with manager mickey heads, and jackie thomson, the visitor centre manager, to finalise details for the gourmet bike ride. my visit co-incided with the release of ardbeg's rollercoaster bottling; at the appointed hour (9am), so many committee members tried to access the webserver, that it effectively fell over (metaphorically speaking) taking it out for the day, and forcing eager prospective purchasers to resort to telephoning the distillery on their one public telephone line. not a good day for a meeting.

graeme obree

current membership of the committee is around 53,000.

my very definition of a gourmet bike ride, an idea brazenly pinched from chris king's in portland, oregon, entailed finishing off the day with dinner in the distillery, after having departed in the morning following breakfast in ardbeg's old kiln cafe. lunch was delivered to ballygrant hall in classy ardbeg black paper gift bags prior to our arrival. to seal the exclusivity of the day, the notion to import an after dinner speaker seemed a good one, and that speaker would almost certainly have to come from the world of cycling. through the auspices of cyclevox, i was able to secure the services of unwitting washingmachinepost progenitor, hour record holder and 4,000m pursuit world champion, graeme obree.

the start of an incredible day's cycling and food commenced with graeme's willingness not only to address us after a fine repast, but to join in the day's ride; surely above and beyond the call of duty? thus, i cycled from bowmore on a fabulous, sunny and cloudless friday evening to meet graeme off the calmac ferry on its arrival at port askaig, outlined against the imposing backdrop of the paps of jura, clearly and impressively visible on our neighbouring isle. graeme had opted to cycle from his domicile in saltcoats, ayrshire, to the ferry terminal in neighbouring ardrossan, taking the boat to arran and cycling across the north of the isle with bob trailer in tow to take the smaller ferry to kintyre, on to kennacraig and ultimately islay.

graeme obree and debbie

graeme was riding a self-built steel machine with a substantial length top tube, miniscule stem, and a very heavy red bag stowed in the trailer, and joining two others over for the very same ride, we headed south towards port ellen and their islay accommodation. i had no luggage to speak of, yet it was all i could do at points to keep graeme's back wheel within panting distance of my front. likely why graeme holds cycling records and i don't.

saturday's ride verged on the indescribable, but i'll do my best. hardly anyone comes to islay for the weather, but the 19th bore a cloudless sky all day with just enough of a cooling breeze (non-residents called it a headwind) to prevent it becoming stifling. after a light breakfast at ardbeg, we were joined for the first 9km by mickey heads, il presidenti of velo club d'ardbeg, as we embarked upon our 100km. a gentle rolling pace was made all the more attractive by graeme's willingness to chat to all and sundry about anything and everything, as if we'd all known each other since we were kids. sex, lies and handlebar tape and two wheels on my wagon author, paul howard was over with a circe tandem on review and a stoker to help him ride it. a reasonably paced, mobile conversation.

the ride was punctuated, twice, by the hapless mighty dave t suffering rear wheel punctures, something that has afflicted neither of us for a number of years, and would have to happen on a ride such as this, after having fitted a new rear tyre for the occasion. after our packed lunch, we headed out to the island's atlantic coast on a day so clear, that had the earth's curvature not intervened, we'd easily have seen canada's east coast. as we headed to this impossible view, graeme's rear tyre exhaled its air in sympathy with the now departed might dave, rounding out the bad things always happen in threes prophesy. this circular road around loch gorm leads but to one favoured establishment at which we all stopped for a variety of coffees and perchance a piece of very welcome chocolate cake. paul persuaded graeme to ride stoker on the tandem, and we were treated to back seat no hands on the road twixt debbie's and loch indaal. still the sun shone, and still the sky was cloudless.

ardbeg dessert

the ride almost over, it remained simply to return to our various homesteads or accommodation to shower, change and ready for the evening's face stuffing.

ardbeg may be world famous for its whisky, but the menu and food presented for our delectation in the old kiln cafe was, by common consent, some of the finest seen anywhere in the world, let alone at a malt whisky distillery in a very small village on islay. major brownie points are due to chef kevin hanlon for culinary delights that more than replenished the calories spent during the day. as the evening wound down and we all nursed full stomachs and in some cases ever lightening heads, graeme recounted tales and anecdotes from his championship and record breaking years with a humility and complete lack of affectation that had even the cycling agnostic mrs washingmachinepost, spellbound, wrapt and laughing throughout. a true hero and deserving of every congratulatory testimonial he received from those in attendance.

if amongst those reading there are any responsible for the organisation of cycle club dinners and the like, i suggest you immediately contact matt ward at cyclevox and engage the incredible mr obree for your next gig. the mighty dave t, whose word is not to be taken lightly, was still buzzing this morning, and declared it to be the finest day's cycling and evening celebration he has been fortunate to attend; and dave has attended many such engagements.

graeme obree

graeme obree, we salute you.

major thanks to mickey heads, jackie thomson, hamish torrie, staff at ardbeg distillery, mark unsworth at islay studios, matt ward at cyclevox, rachel and alistair at glenegedale house, debbie, nick and oliver, stuart doyle and john woodrow, and all those who took part in the ride. a day to remember.

and graeme, if you're reading, time to start writing that training manual

flickr pics


posted sunday 20 june 2010

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the forgotten pleasures

touring cyclists

the sun having arrived, at least at this little atlantic enclave, the joys of self-sufficient cycling beckon, and seemingly beckon quite hard. as described by many a cyclist of various ilk, the bicycle is as much a tool for escapism as it is for getting somewhere very fast in lycra, or dispensing with the services of public transport on a daily basis. to combine such escapism with dastardly fine weather would appear to be the equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. though it does sometimes make a sticky mess of the handlebars. caledonian macbrayne ferries have the cyclist's best interests at heart when it comes to travelling west, for there is no charge for the bicycle on board any of their various boats, thus the do i, or don't i? question has probably only one answer.

like many, i have become used to the minimalistic stance when cycling; occasionally a musette or a backpack, but generally if it doesn't fit in those three back pockets, then a committee meeting requires to be held to debate the necessity of becoming a haulage contractor. it's a part of the weekend warrior's psyche, driven by watching too many race finishes where the riders dispense with bottles into eager crowds at the roadside. surely the only thing missing is that following team car, for the status of honed athlete should surely remain unsullied?

yet, if the need for speed and the whoosh of carbon can be diluted or removed entirely, there is another world to be seen from the saddle of a bike. foregoing pin sharp manoeuvrability, for rather more rail-like stability, the addition of at least one set of panniers immediately equips one for endless kilometres in the sun, with only the need to find a suitable spot at day's end, either for a bed and breakfast or, with the addition of two more panniers and a bar bag, an appropriate place to spot the tent. i know not whether to be surprised or dismayed that a sizeable portion of those who cheerfully eat their stems into a headwind, see cycle touring as the ultimate descent into proletarianism. i can see the attraction of lycra, sportwool and swoopy carbon, but ultimately, for the majority, it serves little purpose other than ego massage.

the relaxed geometry of a steel or aluminium steed with mudguard eyes and rack mounts must, to many, seem the equivalent of hitching a caravan to a lamborghini, something that almost inhabits the world of practicality, yet somehow seems so inherently wrong. standing on the other side of the looking glass however, dressed in baggy shorts, arran sweater, woolly hat and open sandals, the need for speed must seem just as bizarre. the folks who gain most benefit are likely those inhabiting the areas where the venn diagram intersects.

touring cyclists

i appreciate that i have been somewhat supercilious with regard to the attire of the modern touring cyclist, though the occasional guardian reader does pop up from time to time; many are clad in the red, blue or fluorescent seemingly beloved of practicality, and they would be quite within their rights to ask why not? the weekend warrior usually has the luxury of reaching home at day's end, when more regular civilian life can be resumed; those on tour are at the mercy of the elements often for days on end, unsure if the promised facilities at that campsite will be fulfilled.

precautionary cycling.

as the bicycle becomes, hopefully, more ubiquitous in daily life, the strands it weaves could conceivably provide more crossover between the often distinct disciplines, mostly imaginary, but judging by the sectarian approach to waving, often religiously defended. at one time in the recent past, such unified cycling was the norm. time trialling and racing could be actively enjoyed, with no distinction made when cycling into the countryside en masse of a weekend, intent on enjoying the freedom that the bicycle provided. and, indeed, still provides.

those of you in bibs and short sleeves, hunkered down on the drops and keen to emulate brad or cav, remember to say hello or wave to those on more relaxed angles, weighed down with the necessities of touring; those so encumbered should return the salutations with a smile.

we're all cyclists after all.


posted friday 18 june 2010

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