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Member since Sep 2013 • Last active Jun 2022

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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    An eBay steel - 16/06/2022

    All three of my bikes are now quite nice. Too nice to leave on the street. It's a good problem to have, as they say. Coming back from hybrid working, I've started commuting again, albeit once or twice a week. We have a bike room at work, so I can ride a nice bike to the office, but I fear the paintwork getting ruined by other cyclists moving their bikes in and out. I must admit, I've started to pack some pipe lagging in my back to protect my tubes. That's when I knew I had to do something. I also want to be able to cycle to a meeting or go out in the evening on my bike and be able to leave it on the street without fear.

    So, I gave myself a brief to find a bike that I wouldn't have a breakdown if it got jacked, but was still fun to ride. And success - I managed to pick up this old steel Peugeot racer from eBay for £60. Not so very much wrong with it. I guess it's from the Eighties, without the decals I can't say which model. It's 7-speed and has eyelets for mudguards. Where the decals had been removed, there was loads of sticky residue left on the frame. A good tip for sticker glue removal is to spray with WD-40 and wipe off.

    The biggest issue for this bike - and probably why I got it for £60 - was that the cranks had been cross-threaded, so it was either repair or replace them. Someone had really gone to town trying to put a pedal in the wrong way and the hole was seriously widened. So, I opted for the latter solution as it was a chance to reduce the 52/42 chainrings to compact (50/36) and soften up the 13-23 cassette for commuting.

    I got a new chainset from SJS Cycles for £40 and added some Deda bar tape for £8. There really wasn't that much to do on it. The tyres, brake pads, bottom bracket are all good, cables good and chain not stretched, nor the cassette worn. The wheel bearings are good, just a very slight kink in the rear wheel, which I can address later. I had a spare Brooks Cambrian saddle and a frame pump hanging about in my bike shed to finish it off.

    Thanks and praise to the ever-useful The Bike Book from Haynes, which I am always referring back to for various jobs on the bike. I especially look for things I don't do that often, such as the crank removal I've just done, bottom bracket and front mech readjustment.

    Now, I must remember not to get too attached this bike (or upgrade it further) and remind myself its purpose is to be left on the street and not worried about...

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    14/06/2022 – Lemon to a knife fight

    At the start line of the Surrey Hills Bike & BBQ I say to the starter (before he manually scans my race QR code), that “I’ve brought a lemon to a knife fight.” He doesn’t get it. Maybe he’s not a Wombats fan, but I’m on my Mason Bokeh gravel bike at a mountain bike event. Having taken an early train from Waterloo to Guildford, myself and +RichardM arrive at the HQ moments before a mass of MTB riders funnel through the start gate, including another ICC rider, +AlexSzomboti. Most appear to be starting bang on 9am, so they are clearly very, very keen. Everyone seems to be on a mountain bike, aside from me, Richard and Alex. Hence my referencing the Wombats. I feel like I’m going to get sliced, either by those who are more suitably equipped and have proper skills or by the course, which promises to be reasonably challenging or should I say gnarly.


    I got lured in to entering by (1) the thought of taking on a more technical riding challenge, (2) seeing a truly beautiful part of the country and, of course, (3) the after-ride BBQ (specifically the chilli). It’s only 30 miles, I reflect, how bad can it get? The first two miles are on tarmac and lull you into a false sense of security. Then you hit a rough-as-feck cobbled farm track that would give Paris-Roubaix a run for its money, whilst passing a genteel game of village cricket. It begins… the next mile throws a great quantity of sand and consequently exposed tree roots at you, whilst you manoeuvre on single track. Oh-oh, 30 miles of this?

    Well, not 30 miles of sand, but we did return to the sandy trails in the last couple of miles. Along the way there were some tough sectors of various kinds and some more mellow ones. One part with “baby head stones” sticks in the mind. They were hard enough going up, but harder going down. Talking about descending, there were a few V-shaped channels (not sure you can call them trails) we went down. I was super cautious on these, but the MTB folk screamed down with their fancy suspension and fancy bike-handling skills, riding high up the banks of the V on the bends. I got suckered into trying this and almost spilt, then got sensible and slowed down, then got caught in two minds about how to proceed and came off. Lucky for me, I was going very slowly at the time and it was more of a gentle unseating than anything spectacular.

    The Surrey Hills Bike & BBQ is organised by Trail Break and they did a great job of marking out the route with arrowed signs and ribbons tied to shrubbery, both in matching orange. These were so frequent you felt really reassured you were literally on the right path and I hardly had to look at the GPS on my bars. Trail Break runs a variety of off-road events that range from MTB to gravel. Their South Downs 100 on 2 July looks awesome, as does the Ridgeway 100 on 11 September. Both of these are more of an emphasis on gravel rather than MTB, but, as with this ride, the MTB rides are just fine on a gravel bike.

    I’d go a little further and say there were many sections where being on a gravel bike was better than a mountain bike. Most climbs (on or off-road), I was able to move past MTB riders and on every single bit of tarmac I screamed by the MTBs up, down or flat. However, on the tarmac many roadies climbed past me at pace. This was especially so on Combe Lane. If you don’t know it, this is a really great climb that features in the 100 Great Climbs books. It’s about 0.9 miles long and towards the top it there’s a blind left-hander that reveals a 18% section. Nice. The route, although only 30 miles, is close to the so-called golden ratio (1,000ft of elevation gain per 10 miles), so there are plenty of other rises to test your climbing legs.

    There was a healthy field of 176 and, aside from the three ICC riders (all of us on gravel bikes), I only saw one other entrant on a gravel bike. There should/could be a lot more, as this ride is a lot of fun on a gravel bike - plus there’s a BBQ at the end! Like a sportive there are gold, silver and bronze time bands*. Richard and Alex (2hr 27min!) managed gold, while I was 6 mins outside of the gold cut off and made a "strong silver." This was 8th in my age group, so I’ll take that on an MTB course. Not bad for a lemon.

    *Update with background from Martin Harrison at Trail Break: The Gold, Silver, Bronze system actually came from mountain biking; specifically from our rides! We have been running this format of Trail Rides since the early 1990s and came up with the Gold, Silver, Bronze bands when we started, as a less formal adaptation of the reliability ride format, to provide a legal way of timing a ride on public rights of way (we used to have category called “Pub” below Bronze too!). When we launched the first of our road sportives in 2006, we carried over the same system to keep the rides legal on public roads. None of the few early sportives that existed in the country at the time used anything like that, but others subsequently started to adopt it and it eventually evolved into a standard for the sportive format.

    Things learned:

    • Gravel bikes can handle a lot more than you think (and my off-road skills less than I think)
    • It's worth trying to do something a bit different
    • Some Sunday train services have no toilet. I hear that it can be handy to have a takeaway coffee cup handy, especially when it's a 50-minute journey...
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    The only way is Essex - addendum

    The official RideLondon times show that although Richard crossed the finish line before me in 4:57:13, I was actually the faster rider on the day with an official time of 4:57:12. This is not the first time this has happened when we've ridden a tandem. I have "beaten" Mr May on some Strava segment or other, also by a full second. No bragging to be done, but very a curious phenomena.

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    06/06/2022 - The only way is Essex - Part 2

    What about the new RideLondon 100 as an event? In truth, I am a little underwhelmed. I’m a big fan and have ridden the Surrey RideLondon a few times, so I absolutely don’t want to rubbish it. I think some of the issues are to do with it being the first one for three years and having been planned in a pandemic. I’m very sympathetic to the organisers in that respect and grateful they got it on. OK, that’s my disclaimer out of the way.

    Let’s start at the beginning a very good place to start. Now that the nonsense of the speed limited safety car (or fun sponge, as GCN put it), had been canned, I showed up wondering where and how 25,000 cyclists were going to be accommodated and supported pre ride. I’m not sure they were. You just funnelled through to the start line, passing some porta potties on the way. Nothing like the mini festival at Queen Elizabeth Park in previous editions. We edged to the start line and the start was so low key, I missed it. We were cruising along and I hadn’t pressed start on my bike computer! “Have we started?” “Yes.” Oops. Now my Strava ride would not be 100 miles, but 99 point something.

    Having built a route around Essex for The Great Escape with Laura Perret and Richard May, I was interested to see what the organisers had come up with. Without blowing my own horn too much, let’s just say that TGE is a far prettier route and more enjoyable. The RL100 route is somewhat dull in comparison. I even indulged in some closed eyes cycling at one point (please don’t try this at home, unless you’re at the rear end of a tandem). Flat it certainly was, but I felt this route really missed the three climbs that its Surrey predecessor had (Newlands Corner, Leith Hill and Box Hill). They are events along the way. You remember them. This is one of the reasons for putting a farm track in TGE. A little off roading is quite an audax tradition. It breaks things up, wakes you up and I guarantee, every rider will remember that track.

    Of course riding on closed roads is a great privilege and makes for a different kind of ride. I don’t know if it was just me, but I’ve never seen so many marshals out on this kind of event. They were everywhere. Even on the entrances to farms, where vehicles might come out once or twice a day. Many appeared to be quite bored, on their phones or distracting each other. I think this was a contributing factor to two issues I witnessed. One was a car that got on the course. We were behind this vehicle for a while. It must have gone a mile (and passed several marshals) before a police officer leapt up and charged after it on foot, to try to control things. I have never seen a car on a closed road event before. The other issue was a dozy so-and-so who wandered onto the course past three or four (equally dozy) marshals. This was somewhere in East London on quite a fast stretch of the course with a ton of cyclist screaming by and could have been quite nasty.

    What about the finish? Again I wondered what they’d do here. Southwark Park is really near Tower Bridge, but instead of using this (or something similar) as Hyde Park was used previously, we crossed Tower Bridge to a quick fanfare and cheer and then were told to dismount. We all shuffled off to the right on a back street and a quarter of a mile later were handed a medal. You could get water and a power bar or make use of a porta potty. That was it. Shuffle along another quarter of a mile and then goodbye. I think of all the missing elements, this was to most profound. Nowhere for riders to set down and recover, meet up with riding mates, meet up with supporters, refuel, be entertained. No big celebration. For people who had come take part from outside London, there was not even a baggage drop. We headed off the Look Mum No Hands for lunch and that was that.

    I hope that there will be more for riders at the start and finish next year. Maybe with Covid fading a little more, it will be easier to plan a proper celebration into proceedings. The event deserves this, as do all the finishers, many who have ridden a 100 miles for the first time.

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    05/06/2022 - The only way is Essex - Part 1

    I’ve been trying to avoid writing this one. I’m writing about the return of RideLondon 100, and both my own participation and the set-up of the event were a bit of a mixed bag. OK, let’s dive in…

    First, let’s look at me and my ride. I’ve done three RideLondon 100s, my tandem partner +RichardM none, so the return after a three-year hiatus of the country’s largest closed road event seemed a good time to get his feet wet. Together, we have done three Great Escapes on his Calfee Design tandem, but that machine has now been converted to a time trial bike. So, his new Bingham Built gravel tandem was pressed into service, shod with 32mm tyres, rather than the 42mm gravel tyres it’s been sporting.

    As we know from the Essex adventures we’ve had on our club's 200km ride, The Great Escape, this part of the country is pretty darn flat and consequently very tandem friendly. Steep climbs and tandems don’t mix. For the watts watchers out there, I had put this down as a C event. One that you do for fun, an extended training ride, if you will. Joe Friel’s Power Meter Handbook recommends 75% of FTP for a 100-mile ride and that was my target. If this was an A ride, I’d set aside all targets, go hell for leather from the off and do everything I could to keep with the fastest groups I could hang with. Taking that approach on a ride like this you can’t get too upset if you lose a group, as like London buses, another is along in a minute or two. You surf the groups, hoping not to burn out completely. That approach was not for me this time, 75% of FTP, flat roads, don’t worry about the fastest groups. A bit of a cruise. Enjoy.

    Pilot plan: “I think we should be a bit cagey before Woodford.”
    Stoker plan: “I’m keeping it at 75% from the off and if I feel stronger later I’ll up the effort”

    Pilot reality: Went off a bit hard and put out strong numbers for two and a half hours. Followed by, while not exactly cramp, certainly discomfort and a power reduction.
    Stoker reality: Kept to the target for two and a half hours, then power slowly reduced. And reduced. And reduced…

    Did it matter? No. Just a training ride, albeit a 100-mile one. I hadn’t ridden 100 miles since May 2019. Many metric centuries, though. You always have to respect a century ride, I mean the Imperial kind. Whether you ride it easy or hard, it is usually a big deal for the body. Rest, nutrition, recovery, bike prep, what you pack (and later recovery), you have to take it all reasonably seriously.

    For fuel, I’m pretty much set in my ways – a bar after 1 hour, then a gel 30 mins later, then a bar 30 mins later, then a gel after 30 mins and repeat. Recently I switched to gel after 30 mins, then bar after 30 mins and repeat. This works for me, especially if I’m starting off quite hard. I know what bars I like, I know what gels I like. Tickety-boo. But for some strange reason I threw something new into the mix – Lucho Dillitos Bocadillo energy bars. This is something I never do. I hadn’t even tried one of these squares wrapped in leaves before RL100. Actually, it was no problem, because it turns out they are pretty much squares of sugar. At least they were to my palate. And they are perfect for instant energy hit!

    What about the bike? We were on the Bingham tandem. There was one mechanical issue that Richard had alluded to a week or so before the event, but he didn’t mention it again. It’s really good he didn’t, because I would have been more than a little nervous. After the ride, he did share that one of the nuts in one of the bosses, had scored the carbon steerer. Gulp. Since losing control of my front wheel and having a near collision a time trial, problems with cockpit of a thing of my nightmares. Bing is super comfy, but the set up is very much for gravel. There were bottle cages on the forks for. goodness sakes! In particular, the single chain ring for the drive chain (“one by” or “1x” as it’s known) did not have a high enough gear for us to take advantage of both the tandem and our personal strength – gravity. We were definitely starting to spin out at 26-28mph. I should probably look on the bright side and consider that we were getting some useful rest/freewheeling in, but I think two or three groups went away from us because they had regulation road gearing.

    Things learned:

    • Check helmet in mirror at start, 100 miles is a long way to ride with a skew-whiff lid on
    • 100 miles is a long way, however you ride it
    • My sugar cubes were a (useful) kind of South American Kendal Mint Cake
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    25/05/2022 - 2-4-6-8 Motorway

    I was quite excited about last Sunday’s time trial. The course for the High Wycombe CC 25 looks very fast, so not only was a PB in the offing for myself and +RichardM, but there was no tandem course record listed on the Cycling Time Trials (CTT) website for the H25/2 course. Time Trials, in case you didn’t know, have code number. There is a brief explanation of these designations on the CTT site.

    Although in our last race we achieved a PB and club record for 10 miles, there were a few mechanical issues. First, the front wheel had a broken spoke, which turned out to be a loose spoke. Second, the rear tyre was rubbing slightly on the frame. Simple solution was swap the 28mm tyre rear tyre for the 25mm front one. Lastly, and more worryingly, the bike seems to drop down to the small chain ring at random moments. Look Mum No Hands! owner and mechanical maestro Sam, identified an unexpected cause – the chainring’s teeth were worn away. Like, really worn away, such that it could not hold the chain. We’d been using an oval carbon set of time trial rings with 56T (T = teeth), but clearly the carbon could not take our combined power, even though we are both of modest club level power. This is one of the ongoing engineering challenges of tandem cycling. These machines are always work in progress in this respect. Sam installed a Specialities T.A. aluminium chainring (this time 58T - see photo below) and that, as they say, should be that. Without a cheese-like chainring or wheel rub and with a properly round front wheel, we should be faster, right?

    And the course was encouraging, too. If you look at the course profile of the H25/2 you will see that the first two miles are all, quite profoundly, downhill. This is a freebie "power up," but let me rewind a little before I get to the exciting moment of setting off down this ski ramp-like start…

    Time trialling is, to some extent, a question of logistics. Get to the HQ with enough time to register, don your race number, set your bike up, warm up and the find the start line in advance of your start time (but not too soon, as you may cool down from your warm up). How did we do on the logistics front? Not bad, but a few small things stack up. Things like an extra trip to the loo, someone else on the loo for a weirdly long time, chatting to another competitor, your head unit updating automatically and deleting your downloaded maps, lending a multitool to another rider, an unexpectedly slow/uphill ride to the start. All these little things stacked up and we arrived at the start 30 seconds before our start time. That might sound pretty pro, but it was pretty stressful for us. As a result, we did not have the course route on either head unit (given the title of this blog, you can see where I’m going).

    OK, we got the countdown 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go! And despite everything, we were away on time. Wow, what a fast start it was. With the freebie speed from the early descent, we were averaging almost 35mph at the 3-mile point. We were flying. I settled into a groove at my target power, maybe a little higher, and saw we were also above our average speed target at 2, 4, 6, 8 miles. Then, suddenly, disaster. At 8.8 miles we hit traffic lights at a big junction. Traffic lights are something you never get on time trials course. It could only mean one thing, we had missed a turn and so promptly called a halt. It turns out we’d been riding on the A404(M), a motorway. Oops. A zillion questions pop up, the chief one being “where was the marshal?” Time trials are usually made idiot proof by having at least one marshal at each turn or junction to point you in the right direction. Neither of us saw one, we were just enjoying being rapid.

    With more than a little tooth grinding, we set off in the opposite direction from this mahoosive roundabout and made for the HQ. Of course, we passed what should have been our turning. This slip road had no marshal, but there was an arrowed sign, albeit somewhat behind a bush. Hmm. A few miles later we cruised to a halt at the finish line and questioned the officials. Apparently, that slip road is too dangerous to deploy a marshal and they are not really allowed to have signs. Clearly, the be fully idiot proof you need more in place. Load the GPS route, learn the route by heart of have a list of distances and turns on your top tube were simple solutions we quickly came up with to get us out of the idiot camp. DNF. Did. Not. Finish. If you don’t make any mistakes, you don’t learn anything. I can safely say we learned a few things that day.

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    Almost, eh?