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Member since Sep 2013 • Last active Dec 2023

Former club secretary and founder member of Islington Cycling Club

British Cycling Level 2 road and time trial coach
Provisional British Cycling Level 3 road and time trial coach
National Standards cycle instructor and instructor trainer

Photo Crater Lake Century Bike Ride 2015, Oregon.
Confession Totally addicted to endorphins and carbohydrates.
Why Sir_Shannonball? Because I am a Knight of Sufferlandria.
Motto Bike riding, bread baking, harp blowing, child raising, friend making, book reading, film seeing, dog walking, ever giving, cool fizzing...
My recent rides

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    Alec in reply to @Sir_Shannonball

    What about a public access pump and tool set?

    That would indeed be handy!

    I put those ideas forward

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    they don’t actually have enough money to dig out the tarmac

    I don't think excavation of the tarmac is in an option because of the utility cables and pipes that run under the hard surface of the carriageway.

    What about a public access pump and tool set?

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    Rather than an alarm it was suggested to me that when approached by thieves, say very loud and clear: Siri, dial 999. Everyone has a phone. Don't know if it would work.

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    04/10/2023 - Falling for the jerk

    When I’m asked why I like to ride my fixed-gear bike, I often reply “to make it harder.” Having one gear that is usually the wrong one, makes for a great challenge when you have to grind uphill or spin like hell going down the other side.

    I applied a similar logic to taking part in Dulwich Paragon’s classic end of season sportive, The Ride of the Falling Leaves. With getting on for 5,000ft of climbing and grades up to 22% and several technical descents, it is absolutely not a tandem-friendly course. However, that is what I/we decided to do “to make it harder.” Ride tandem.

    Former club chair Richard May with current chair Alec James

    RoTFL, as they like to call it, is one of my absolute favourite cycling events in the calendar. An homage to Il Lombardia (AKA The Ride of the Falling Leaves), Paragon stage it on the first Sunday of October. I’ve ridden RoTFL six times over the seven years before the pandemic. It starts with a ¾ lap of the Herne Hill Velodrome, has several challenging climbs, great scenery and good food - coffee and pastries at the start and lunch and a beer at the end – plus it has a great atmosphere.

    The ICC chain gang

    Yours truly and Fiona Garland trackside at Herne Hill

    Pre-Covid there were timing chips and the gold time band meant finishing in under 4 hours, which I achieved twice. Once I missed it by a single minute (that’s what you get for stopping to help a fallen comrade). My only real aim this year was to have fun. Fun being slogging up steep inclines on an unsuitable machine and watching the pilot – poor +RichardM – nervously picking his way on downhills with tricky blinds turns and dodgy surfaces.

    Sleepy looking sheep on a misty morning on the way out of London

    There were about six or so ICC riders out including +Alec +Wai +FionaGarland which was great to see. My riding plan is always the same for this. Take it strong and steady until the first climb at Woldingham at 16 miles, then really try and crack on from mile 20 to 40, where it’s fairly level. Then it starts to get attritional with Toys Hill and Sundridge Lane and several other ramps between you and the finish. Anerly Hill – the last climb of the day - has a longish 10% section which requires a strong push. By the time we reached Anerly, I was still feeling good and able to put out strong power numbers (for me). Richard had a near cramping up moment, but kept chugging away, too.

    Grinding up Toys Hill is anything but child's play

    Jerk chicken - the lunch of champions

    Back at Herne Hill, we were treated to a jerk chicken lunch and an IPA, which were included in the ticket price. By then the sun was out and it was very pleasant sitting on the steps of the Herne Hill building. It did take a while queuing for the food, but boy was it delicious.

    Here's the route if you fancy giving it a bash.


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    28/09/2023 – Two left feet

    This season – and specifically time trial racing season – I can honestly say I’ve been in decent shape with good power numbers. I’ve even lost 8lbs. I race, or should I say test, on the back of a tandem with +RichardM captaining the machine. He has been in pretty decent nick, too this year. And he’s even lost about 8 or 9lbs. The season started well, with a PB in an early race on the F11/10 near Tring. It all boded very well indeed. Or did it?

    This season became something of an annualis horribilis after our first two 10 mile races. The next three were all cancelled by the organisers for various reasons. Then I was ill (but nothing serious), then Richard was injured (but nothing serious). Then we had some holidays, then I had to make an unscheduled trip to the US to visit a dying relative. And when you took account of all our other commitments, it seemed the season was over.

    No fear. There still was a race in our calendars. The Cambridge CC 25. This is the F2A/25 course where we set our PB last year. We felt we could improve on that and then with PBs at 10 and 25 miles, the season would have been quite reasonable.

    You may guess where this is going. The day before my wife and I spent a longer day than we’d planned with our sons in central London. Arriving back late I took good care to pack my race back and include everything I needed. Just one item missing cab be disastrous. Skinsuit – check, gels – check, computer – check, shoes – check, helmet – check, pedals - check. You get the idea.

    I planned the drive up to Cambourne to give us 2 hours before we set off at 11:02. I picked up Richard and the bike, the roads were clear, got a good parking space, signed in, set up the bike, got into the skin suit, started to put on my shoes for the warm up and…


    I had a left shoe and another left shoe. Two left shoes. It took a little while to sink in. Then it did.


    How did this happen? I have two pairs of black Sidi shoes, one with MTB SPD cleats and one Look cleats. The uppers are identical and clearly was easily confused.

    There wasn’t enough time to drive home and get the other shoe. I’d driven up in a pair of Crocs. At the least I could ride in one road shoe and one Croc. Richard didn’t like that idea at all. I looked for a local bike shop. None were open on a Sunday. I asked around. Nobody would lend me a shoe.

    Regretfully we sidled up to the sign in sheet and wrote “DNS” next to our names. We drove back with steam coming out of our ears. Accepting we’d missed an opportunity and started planning the 2024 season and what races and rides we were going to prioritise. It helped, but only a bit. When I got home, I took my frustration out by rattling around the Fixie Loop. That helped more.

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    30/08/23 Game of stones

    What is the oldest road in the country? Well, it’s The Ridgeway and it’s still in use. This ancient droveway is reckoned to be more than 5,000 years old. Originally it ran from Dorset to Norfolk and was known as The Chalk Way. These days there is an 87-mile National Trail you can enjoy between Ivinghoe Beacon and Avebury. In fact, the Ridgeway trail is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

    Previously, I’ve ridden some of the eastern part of the route and also some of the western leg when I took on the King Alfred’s Way. My recollection of the latter was as one of the best parts of that ride and wanted to revisit it. I grabbed a 100km route from a Trail Breaks event that starts in Chilton, goes out to Avebury and returns to Chilton. The RideWithGPS route shows it as 83% unpaved, so this would be a proper day out.

    There are plenty of great viewing points to take in

    I rode it with +RichardM and within ½ mile we’re climbing a super gravel trail. Within 3 miles we’ve both clipped the sides of those grooves you can get on trails and “enjoyed” a soft landing, plus a few swear words from me, before proceeding. This was going to be a bit more technical than I remembered.

    The weather was half decent, a brief shower later on, maybe, but otherwise the forecast looked good. I was aiming to reach my planned lunch stop by 12 or soon after. This was at the Red Lion pub opposite the standing stones in Avebury. The stones are something else. Unlike Stonehenge, you can go right up to them and not only is there a circle of stones – the Avebury henge - there is also a mile-long avenue of stones.

    An arial view of the stone circle and the avenue (these are professional photos - not mine)

    Lunch at 12 was a fantasy - in the sun, outside the pub, gazing out at the sheep and stones as we ate. Reality was not getting there until after 2pm, a 30-minute wait for food, then a shower that became a downpour that didn’t want to stop.

    Not quite the idyllic al fresco lunch I'd hoped for

    I didn’t want to charge through this ride, I wanted to enjoy it at a reasonable pace. That turned out to be so much slower than I’d imagined. Next time I do one of these rides I’ll have to remember that and lose my well-established optimism bias.

    Given the ongoing downpour (and Richard’s lack of rainwear), we made the sensible decision to return to Chilton by road. We went via Marlborough and Great Shefford. This made it a ride of two distinct flavours, the first part shared with livestock and full of stunning vistas, Iron Age forts and the Uffington White Horse and the second leg (somewhat faster) on tarmac taking in many pretty villages and it was all still pretty darn pretty. Even opting for Plan B, we still ended up with 68 miles and some very tired legs.

    Typical Ridgeway riding (before the downpour)

    Of course, you can explore this part of the Ridgeway any time, but there is Trail Break event coming up soon – The Ridgeway 100: Century to the Stones – on 9 September 2023 if you fancy doing this with support and food stops and so on. Plus you get a medal!


    Here's the event route:

    And here's the full trail:

    And this is a route that emulates the Great Chalk Way:

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    31/07/2023 - Southern comfort

    I wanted to get away from it all and take on a gravel bike challenge. Just me and the countryside. Me and no worries. Me and the bike. Maybe I should have been more careful about what I wished for. I had the South Downs Way in mind. 100 miles of walking and cycling trail that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne. Those 100 off-road miles have more than 12,000 feet of climbing, it’s not for the faint hearted.

    I took the train to Winchester and set out just after 9am. A mile outside the town you hit the trail, an innocuously looking flat section starts you off. It’s rarely flat again and there’s barely any tarmac until you reach Eastbourne. As I begin, I pass a chap walking his dog and it all seems quite mellow.

    The deceptively flat beginning

    I’m committed to pacing myself and enjoying the famous views atop the Downs. I know there’s a lot of climbing, so I’ve packed as light I can bear to. I have strong tendency to overpack, so this is against my better nature. Not long into the ride it starts. Up and down, up and down. It’s slow going. Aside from the obvious physical effort, climbing on rough and rocky slopes covered in large pebbles takes real mental focus. So much for switching off for a couple of days.

    This is a light as I could bear to pack for an overnighter

    You are quickly and almost constantly rewarded with gorgeous views. Travelling eastwards, these are inland to the left, and out towards the sea to the right. Inland you have the Surrey hills and even North Downs, while seawards the hills drop away to the English Channels and many coastal towns.

    I had lunch at the café in Queen Elizabeth Country Park, just after descending Butser Hill. There are a few little MTB obstacle courses in the park that looked fun. I was very tempted to have a play on my gravel bike, but my pace so far was pretty slow, so I chose to press on.

    The chalk escarpment that follows the ridges of the Downs

    Did I say I was going slow? I certainly was. I had planned to split the ride 60/40 miles between the two days and stay at a hotel in Bramber, near Steyning (60/40 was more like 70/50 when you add in getting to and from the train stations). It took quite a while getting to Bramber. I staggered into the hotel reception at about 7.30pm having walked out of my front door at 7am. This was big day at the office, as they say.

    When I say hotel, I mean it was a pub inn, The Castle Inn and I got myself refuelled, downed a pint and put myself to bed. It’s decent value there. £77 for bed and breakfast and I noshed my way through £27 of food and drink at dinner. I took a stroll around Bramber after breakfast and it is quite a sweet historic village with its own Norman Castle - hence the Castle Inn – and several interesting old buildings.

    Cherry Tree Cottage, Bramber

    Day Two did not warm me up gently. Not in the slightest. The first 6 miles features 1,200ft of elevation gain. I have no shame in saying several of the climbs were too hard or simply impossible to ride up. When they get up towards 20% and are full of loose stones, there is no traction to be had. My frugal packing was irrelevant, the rear wheel span and I did some hike-a-bike. On the first of these on the second day, while I was on foot an e-MTB rider rode screaming past me. It seemed so incredibly unfair. I hated him and I was at the same time deeply jealous.

    This guy is not even breathing hard

    I saw a few other e-bike riders, including a septuagenarian that I got chatting with near the ice-cream van stationed at Ditchling Beacon. He’d been a lifelong cyclist and using an e-bike was the only way he could now work with his knees issues and keep cycling. I got some good intel about local roads, his home town, Brighton, and the frustrating building project he was escaping for a few hours on the bike.

    I pressed on towards Lewes. I couldn’t really locate a good lunch spot, so I planned to pick up some food at the service station on the A27 near the University of Sussex campus. I found a decent looking baguette strapped to my handlebars I ploughed on to a fabulous viewing spot at Swanborough Hill. The town of Lewes was before me to the left and way over to the right the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. It was quite warm my now and quite a vista to kick back and soak up.

    Baguette on bars courtesy of Restrap, er, straps

    From here I made it to the village of Southease and then had a bad moment. A truly awful stomach pain and feeling of physical weakness. It was bad enough that I checked the train times back to London. There should be a train in 30 mins, but owing to industrial action, the next was in 3 hours. I couldn’t wait around that long, may as well see if I can make some progress.

    I had 15 miles to go and gritted my teeth and pedalled on, but in just a couple of hundred metres I came to a youth hostel with a cafe. Sanctuary! I had a rest and a chat with a couple of the clientele - another cyclist and a runner - and made a new plan. The YHA was on the A26 and terra firma or rather terra tarmac. I logged on to the wi-fi and drew a new route on road to Eastbourne. I limped my way to Seaford on the A26 and then to Eastbourne on the A259 over the Seven Sisters. More climbing, but at least it was on smooth roads. I made it and parked myself on the next train completely drained.

    As far as views are concerned, the South Downs Way just keeps giving

    The South Downs Way is a magnificent route which is both beautiful and brutal. If you’re after a challenge that is almost completely off road, this is a good one to try. If you have a mountain bike, I’d use that. I rode a gravel bike with 45mm tyres, which coped well, but there no harm in having bigger rubber and suspension on a route like this one. Two days felt about right, but I know some take it on in one day. Kudos to them. And it’s also a great multi-day walking route, if you fancy a change from cycling.


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    10/05/2023 - Sign of the times

    Forget about the race itself, just getting to the start line can be quite a task. Some of my favourites include setting pm rather than am on my wake-up alarm, missing some vital bit of kit and getting lost between the HQ and the start. This is all assuming that the event in question isn’t cancelled in the first place...

    The London and Home Counties Veterans Time Trial Association (VTTA) 10-mile time trial on 7 May was not meant to be the first race of the season for me and tandem race partner Richard May. It was meant to kick off a month earlier on 10 April with the ECCA 25 Championship, but that was cancelled because of hazardous potholes. Then the Charlotteville CC 25 on 23 April had a mix up with categories and would not allow Richard and myself to race on a tandem (it was pouring that day, so we didn’t miss much). Then another ECCA 25 on 30 April was also mysteriously cancelled at the last minute. This was all something of a wind up.

    The VTTA race was on the F11/10 course. It’s an out-and-back, that features a nice long drop off that you don’t have to do uphill on the return leg. In short, it’s widely regarded as a fast course and as such drew 150 riders in the solo category and three in the tandem category.

    This season Cycling Time Trials, the National Governing Body for time trials in England, Scotland and Wales, have created a road bike category for all races. Of course, you could always enter any time trial on a road bike before, but now if you choose to ride a road bike, you are not competing with time trial bikes. This is a really positive move.

    Six years ago, I helped organise a training day with Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching. Matt was a legendary amateur racer and we hired him and his team for a day’s workshop, looking at how to plan your training to reach your goals, FTPs, diet, rest, mental strength and will finish with a panel session. There are videos of the day on the forum.

    One young chap on Matt’s staff was George Fox. Spin forward 6 years and George now has his own coaching business and was aiming for a record or two in the new road bike category at the VTTA 10. Well, he did it! George set a time of 18:41, beating Colin Sturgess’ record which has stood since 1988. His time was the second fastest of any rider that day, Richard Oakes being the fastest at 18.12 on a time trial machine. GCN fans would have spotted Ollie Bridgewood placing 5th overall (19:09) on a time trial machine.

    George Fox on his Argon road bike

    The Calfee Design Dragonfly tandem in its new livery

    I’m getting distracted here. I was/we were racing that day, too, in the tandem time trial machine category. The machine itself has had something of a wash and brush up since last season with a lively new orange paint job. We were up against national champions Elliott and Greenstreet and a racing couple, Chris and Joanne York, who also looked rapid. With 150+ entrants the car park was full and we found ourselves setting up the turbo trainer for our warm up on a local street (which isn’t weird at all). Richard’s power meter is malfunctioning and he stepped out of the warm up for a while. He makes up for it by pushing hard when we head off for the race. “I’ll do it on heart rate or feel,” he mutters.

    We get to the start OK ahead of the Yorks, who were off before us. Tandems go in 2-minute gaps rather than the usual single minute between solo riders. Typically, Elliott and Greenstreet arrive moments before we set off, which I always find impressive, but my innate sense of punctuality would never allow me to do.

    We’re off reasonably well and averaging 26.5mph when we hit the sharp descent, which is roughly at the 4-mile point. This drop off is at least 1.5 miles and it is glorious. We touch 44.5mph and our average is above 30mph by the time we hit the bottom. Then it’s four flat miles to the finish. I’m not tracking my HR while we race (power and average speed), but I later see I hit my maximum heart rate as we sprint to the finish. And it was a sprint, kind of. We can see the Yorks up ahead heading for the line and do our best to catch them. We very almost do, but find ourselves overtaken by Elliott and Greenstreet meters before the finish. I wish someone had caught that on camera. We did later catch up with the Yorks and check out their very lovely Mercian machine. You can see that there is a lot of love poured into what is a simply stunning build.

    The Yorks' spiffing Mercian tandem

    Then it was tea and a slice of almond and apple cake back and the HQ as we awaited our official time. It was 20:48. This is a PB for us by a massive 1:03. Pretty exciting. I can’t say we blew the roof off the village hall, but in the “whirlwind” I did grab an extra bit of cake. It’s also an ICC club record for tandems at 10 miles.

    Tea and cake never seem to go out of fashion

    On the drive home – happy and tired – +RichardM gets a call from an unrecognised number. “Hello?” It was Rachael Elliott. We had forgotten to sign back in. Unless we did, we would be disqualified and our time voided. “Would you like me to sign you both in by proxy?” the national champion kindly offered. “Er, yes. That would be very kind. Thank you.” And there you have it. It’s not all about getting to the start line or even the finish line. You have to sign on the dotted line.

    VTTA report

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    30/04/23 - From Groovy to Gravy

    Having ridden the 100km of Rapha’s A Day in Hell last week, I felt confident taking on the mere 37 miles of Spoke Cycling’s inaugural Groovy Gravel ride. Roughly half the length, you still get beer and frites at the finish. This was going to be easy, right? Actually, you also got an orange Spoke mug, but more of that later.

    Spoke have been running gravel rides on Wednesday evenings spring to autumn from their Codicote cafe. Groovy Gravel was a natural extension of this vibe for owners Alex and Jonathan. I took the train up to Welwyn Garden City with Richard May and we grabbed a coffee and a race card (oddly there was no number on it). Like last week at A Day in Hell I had knobby 42mm tyres, as did Richard. But looking around there were quite a few mountain bikes. Did they know something we didn’t?

    Lucky that I cleaned my bike in advance...

    They did. It rained a fair bit that week, but the key thing was the route. It was quite intense. Almost entirely off road and with many muddy, flooded areas and unrideable sections. Hike-a-bike is not really Richard’s style and he headed off to work up a sweat on more solid surfaces around the halfway mark.

    This was a total hike-a-bike part of the route

    It was quite a challenge to stay upright. This can be fun. Without a little slip and slide going on, it isn’t quite a gravel ride. The first steep gradient we hit and everyone was walking. It was just too sloppy to have enough traction. Even the MTBs. We had quickly gone from groovy to gravy. From gravy, we hit some seriously flooded trails. I do like this kind of dirty ride.

    This is me on one of the "more sensible" sections

    I fell in with a rider called Ash. He was struggling a bit, so we stuck together. We both managed slow-mo spills and both suffered horrendous “glue mud.” I don’t know what else to call it. It is like fast drying concrete and clogs up everything. There is one field between Tewin and Bramfield that is full of this evil stuff. Just two wheel rotations and your bike is buggered. If you have a front mech, it will be stuck. Front wheel, stuck with a clogged up fork. Back wheel, stuck with a clogged rear bridge. And the chain… Seriously, the chain had glue mud between every link. Both of our bikes had this and the chain would not sit on the chain ring. We had to grab handfuls of water from puddles and work this filth out. That took 20 minutes, no word of a lie.

    Ash, some mud and a snack

    My bike with residual glue-mud having spent 20 minutes unclogging it

    Clearly I had put my foot (feet) in it

    We limped back to Spoke running on fumes. 37 miles had felt like 137. Most people seemed to have done the shorter 20 mile route on a MTB and who could blame them? The beer and frites and sense of camaraderie were great, the route (although super challenging, was really well marked out with orange ribbons. And as well as the beer and frites, you got an orange Spoke mug as a gift. I couldn’t fit it into my pockets, so I zip tied it to my bars. Brilliant, eh? Except when I got home, I cut the tie and forgot to grab the mug. It smashed!

    My smashing way to carry a mug

    I think Alex and Jonathan should take great credit for getting this event on. They are going to have several road rides, too, to build on their Ride of the Falling Leaves from 2022. My only gripe (which I made loud and clear) was that it should have more road sections. Half the pleasure of a gravel bike is that it is capable and quick on and off road. A bit more on and I think this ride would be even more groovy.

    Frites and beer included

    Here’s the route, just take a detour around that field near Tewin.