Cycling UK » articles Cycling info - advice and tips Tue, 17 Dec 2013 18:15:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tips for beginner road cyclists Mon, 19 Aug 2013 08:26:34 +0000 For those just starting to get into road cycling, these are a few tips from my own experience of riding a bike for past 20 years.

Buying a bike

The first place to start is with buying a road bike. You don’t have to spend a fortune. For an entry level road bike, I would advise selecting a budget and sticking to that. Anything in the range of £500 to £1,200 is a good starting point for an entry level road bike.

specialized allez

  • I have tested a few sub £500 bikes, and they are fairly decent. If you want to get started in road cycling, don’t worry if your budget is only £500. I have bought a Specialized Allez road bike to use when in New York, and it gives a good enough riding experience for my training over in the US.
  • If you can increase your budget to £1,000 you will get a significant improvement in the quality of the bike – lighter, stronger, better components. See: Best bikes under £1,000
  • For £1,200 there are quite a few good choices of full carbon fibre road bikes. This gives a nice riding experience. But, carbon fibre isn’t everything.
  • Over £1,200 you can pay as much as you want to – up to £7,000. But, you will get diminishing marginal returns for your extra money. Many riders wouldn’t really notice a big difference between a £1,500 bike and a £3,000 bike.
  • In terms of bike models, there are many good options. I couldn’t recommend one brand being significantly ‘better’ than another. In reality, there are considerable similarities. For some brands like Bianchi, you might pay a little more. For lesser known brands, like this KTM Strada, it is relatively cheaper for the components you get.

Where to buy a bike?

For a beginner, there is a lot to be said for buying from a good local bike shop. They will be able to advise, and help with set up.

Basics of riding

  • Saddle height is very important. A good starting point is this guide to correct saddle height. Learn your saddle height and keep it constant across different bikes. If you get more into cycling, you might like to do a full bike fit. But, for beginners, the correct saddle height is the most important starting point.
  • Cadence. Many beginners like to churn a big gear (low cadence). Generally, it is good to practise pedalling at a little higher cadence. This helps to prevent muscle fatigue too early. Pedalling a higher cadence can also help to improve your cycling style. (optimal cadence)
  • Good position. Sometimes you might hear a remark ‘that cyclist has a nice style’ Where possible, we want to keep the upper body still, also look at your legs, they should move in straight lines like pistons. If your legs are moving outwards or inwards at funny angles, it can cause knee problems and is inefficient.

Things to carry when riding

For any ride where you’re a good distance from home, it is good to be self-sufficient if you get a puncture. Get a decent saddle bag, and carry

  • Two inner tubes (punctures can be like buses, they have a habit of coming along in twos)
  • Mini pump
  • Tyre levers
  • Multi-tool. (ideally it should have a chain tool). Breaking your chain is very rare, but when it does you’re stuck without a chain tool.
  • Waterproof jacket.


Whatever the event – a 10 mile time trial or a 100 mile sportive. Most riders, at some stage, will set off too fast! and pay for it later.  If a distance is completely new, hold back a little at the start, you can always pick up the pace later.

Other riding tips



The good thing about being a beginner is that as long as you ride the bike, you will see improvements in fitness. It’s only when you are already fit, that it gets progressively harder to keep improving. The best principle is to start off with some basic endurance training – get used to riding the bike at a steady pace. When you  have this base aerobic endurance, you can start doing some speed work, hill climb intervals and improving your top end.

Training for cyclo sportives

Bike Maintenance

This can put quite a few people off. (I was always pretty useless) The only really important skills are:

  1. Learn is how to replace an inner tube. In particular make sure you don’t cause a ‘pinch flat’ – getting the inner tube stuck between tyre and rim.
  2. Check your brakes are working and use an allen key to adjust if necessary

Other tasks like changing chain and cassette, adjusting gears are less important.

Best equipment to buy

A newcomer can be overwhelmed by the amount of equipment you can spend your money on. There is a temptation to think spending money will make you a better cyclist – it won’t. These items are definitely worth buying

  • Small set of lights for winter.
  • Cycle helmet
  • A good pair of road tyres. Even if your bike costs only £500, I’d still recommend spending £60 – 80 on the top of range pair of tyres. They will last longer and be less prone to punctures.
  • A good pair of padded shorts. Many people find sitting on a saddle uncomfortable. A good pair of shorts makes a huge difference. If you are going to be doing 6 hour rides, I really recommend spending £100 on a pair of shorts. If you are doing just 2 hour rides, you don’t have to spend that much, but it is still a good investment.
  • Saddle bag, mini pump and spare inner tubes.
  • Clip on mudguards - easy to fit
  • A good wicking inner base layer
  • Cycle jersey with back pockets for food.
  • Clipless pedals – make it difficult to walk, but improve the cycling experience

Remember cycling doesn’t have to be expensive – Tips for saving money when buying equipment

Road Etiquette

It’s good to get practise riding in a group. Riding with people of similar abilities. If you go out with a local chain gain when you’re not used to riding at those speeds, could end in disaster. Some simple element of road etiquette

  • Don’t use tribars when in a group.
  • Use mudguards during winter.
  • Be careful, point out upcoming obstacles to riders behind.
  • See tips for riding in a group
  • Do observe the Highway code. You will get into less difficulties and dangerous situations.
  • If you want to take road cycling really seriously, you could check out these 101 rules (though I’m not very good at following them)

Nutrition and hydration

The good news is that cycling can burn a lot of calories. Although eating and drinking is common sense, you might be surprised at how much extra calories you need on long rides. You definitely want to avoid the dreaded ‘bonk’ – If you ride all day, forget about the 3 meals a day – you need to be taking in energy as you go.

Things to avoid

  • Don’t feel the necessity of spending a lot of money on ‘lightweight’ expensive components. You can if you want to, but it won’t really make too much difference. (Before spending £1000s See: time saved from weight loss on bike)
  • Being unrealistic in your aims. If you jump into a six hour ride, unprepared, you might be put off for life!

Things to do

  • Just start cycling. A lot of it is common sense you can pick up things along the way. Once you get the cycling bug, you will always find a solution to any problem.
  • Join a cycling club group with similar aims. You will pick a lot of tips from riding with old timers.
  • A bit of core strength exercises are worth doing
  • Enjoy it. You will meet inconsiderate drivers. But, be prepared for worse, and let go of unfortunate incidents (cycling and how to enjoy bike)
  • Do enter a hill climb. No, this really is the best advice I can give to any beginner cyclist. The sooner you learn all about excrutiating pain, the better. It made me the cyclist I am today.
  • Do try to make your position on the bike relatively comfortable. If you are uncomfortable, you won’t want to cycle. See: these tips for making a more comfortable ride
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Why cyclists don’t pay road tax in UK Thu, 15 Aug 2013 08:35:06 +0000 I was interested to read about a recent ‘I Pay Road Tax Campaign‘ (I have talked about this before – Should cyclists pay road tax?) Here are some more thoughts on the issue.

I Pay Road Tax

I Pay Road Tax

The original road tax was abolished in 1937, but the name has stuck around. Most adults with a car have to pay the annual Vehicle Excise Duty (which is often popularly referred to as Road Tax. The Post Office calls it a car tax).

As this good BBC article explains – Is there anything such as Road Tax in the UK?, it could be better described as a pollution tax. The amount of vehicle excise duty you have to pay is dependent on the amount of pollution that a car creates. If your car is in pollution  Band A (up to 100 g/km) you pay £0 tax a year. If you’re vehicle is in the highest pollution band Band M (Over 255 g/km) then the cost is £1,065 for the first year and £490.

What it means is that quite a few car drivers don’t pay this ‘road tax’ or vehicle excise duty as it’s properly called.

Vehicle excise duty goes to the Treasury and is not earmarked for paying for roads.

Cyclists are often criticised for not paying ‘road tax’, and quite a few drivers have the opinion that if you don’t pay road tax that gives you less rights on the road (e.g. cycle in the gutter). It can feel like a losing battle to explain that road tax doesn’t  exist.  It can be frustrating because:

  • Many adult cyclists will be paying a huge range of taxes, including VED.
  • The amount of tax you pay, shouldn’t influence the way people drive on the road. You don’t run over a pedestrian because they haven’t paid as much tax as you.

The Vehicle excise duty is an attempt to make drivers pay some of the external costs of driving (namely pollution). Pollution is an external cost because it effects everyone on society. The tax is an attempt to make the cost of motoring reflect the true social cost.

These external costs of driving include include:

  • - Congestion – estimated to cost the UK economy in the region of £22bn a year. A huge economic cost and also high personal cost of being stuck in traffic jams,
  • - Pollution – For example, CO2 emissions which contribute to global warming. Higher rates of asthma e.t.c
  • - Accidents. Motorised vehicles cost the lives of over 2,200 a year. Typically, cyclists may cause the deaths of 0, 1 or 2 people a year.
  • Wear and tear on roads which increases disproportionately with vehicle weight.

For driving a car the social cost is much higher than the private cost. To get an efficient allocation of resources – to help reduce congestion, pollution and accidents, – the cost of driving should be much higher than the free market price. Petrol tax helps redress the balance, but, it is not enough to reflect the social cost.
External cost of driving

By contrast, cycling doesn’t have the same negative externalities. You could make a strong case to say that cycling can have various external benefits

  • Improved health
  • Reduced congestion
  • Reduced risk of serious accidents.
  • Less impact on roads (less frequent need to repair potholes)

In an ideal world, there is a case for subsidising goods with positive externalities – and if not subsidising, at least not taxing at the same rate as cars which create more pollution and congestion.

In a free market, we get an overconsumption of cars (best illustrated by interminable traffic jams). When deciding to drive people ignore the external costs of driving. When cycling people underestimate the social costs. Therefore we get under-consumption of cycling.

The problem is that people don’t like paying taxes. But, without some attempt to include external costs of congestion and pollution, we get gridlock and poor health.

Vehicle excise duty is partially good in that it is an attempt to discourage cars with higher levels of pollution. There is a clear incentive to buy a car which has a low pollution band. However, pollution is only one of the external costs of driving. That is why we should also be including costs of congestion e.t.c.


BTW: I am a motorist, and do pay £160 a year in VED – but, generally would welcome higher taxes on driving. To make it more politically appealing, it would be good to earmark, these taxes to improve transport – fill in potholes, provide alternatives to congested city centres.

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Cycle deaths / casualties in the UK Fri, 28 Jun 2013 11:21:40 +0000 I find it a bit harder to write about this kind of topic. Part of me is a very keen cycling advocate. Despite the dangers of cycling – I feel the health benefits far outweigh the alternative of a sedentary lifestyle. In life, everything has a risk, including sitting on a sofa and stuffing yourself with crisps. But, the increase in deaths for cyclists is a salutary reminder that there is unfortunately a danger, and sadly many of these deaths are avoidable without too much effort or restriction of freedom.

The past decade has seen a clear divergence between the rate of accidents for cycle users vs other types of users. Overall, road fatalities and casualties are falling, but cycle users are seeing the opposite trend.

Firstly, the number of cycle fatalities increased to 118 in 2012, a 10% increase on 2011 – the highest level since 2007.

Whilst car users have seen a significant fall in casualties and fatalities, cycle users have seen an increase.

Cycle fatalities


  • Between 2002 and 2012, the number of fatalities and serious injuries for cyclists has increased from 2,450 to 3,340 -  a 36% increase
  • By contrast for car occupants fatalities and serious injuries has fallen from 18,728 to 9,033 – roughly a 50% fall
  • Pedestrians casualties has fallen in this decade from 8,631 to 5,979.
  • Source: Reported killed or seriously injured casualties, by road user type, Great Britain, 2002 – 2012. Table RAS30005

The only positive aspect to these statistics is that the increase in accidents and fatalities can be partly attributed to rising cycle use. But, I believe the increase in casualties is greater than the increase in cycle use. According to times casualties are rising five times faster than cycle use (link)

You could attribute falling car fatalities to improved construction of cars, But, this wouldn’t explain why  pedestrians have seen a fall in casualties whilst cyclists haven’t

To put it into context, we have endured years of crazy regulations at airports to minimise risk of terrorist attacks. But, since 2001, over 1,000 cyclists have been killed on the roads. If you really wanted to reduce unnecessary deaths, there are quite a few things society could choose to make roads safer and more pleasant.

All Cycle accidents

all cycle accidents

In context, the relative dangers of cycling vs other modes of transport per km

casualties per bn km

Note, these statistics reflect casualties per km travelled. If you used casualties per individual journey – it would look quite different and cycling would appear more dangerous.

International Comparisons


Unfortunately, international comparisons only show overall road fatalities, it would be interesting to see statistics specifically for cycle use.

Reasons for Fatalities and accidents

A report by Transport for London found  fatal and serious collisions involving cyclists in 2011 showed that 56% were caused by the motorist driving in an ‘unlawful or anti-social’ manner, compared to only 6% caused by cyclists doing the same. (link)

Failed to look properly? was attributed to the car driver in 57% of serious collisions and to the cyclist in 43% of serious collisions at junctions

Risky cycling behaviour? A Department for Transport, found that in 2% of cases where cyclists were seriously injured in collisions with other road users police said that the rider disobeying a stop sign or traffic light was a likely contributing factor. Wearing dark clothing at night was seen as a potential cause in about 2.5% of cases, and failure to use lights was mentioned 2% of the time. (Guardian)

With adult cyclists, police found the driver solely responsible in about 60%-75% of all cases, and riders solely at fault 17%-25% of the time.. But, in the case of children, the police found that it was mostly the young cyclists to blame for failure to take care.

Chris Peck, (CTC cycling organisation) noted: “Government must invest more in cycling infrastructure, implement lower speed limits and increase traffic law enforcement: the number of road traffic police has fallen by 29 per cent in ten years.”

How to reduce fatalities?

  • Effective speed limit reductions in urban and rural environments
  • More proactive road policing – fining (taking away license) for irresponsible behaviour. Not just waiting for accidents to happen.
  • Cycle infrastructure designed to keep cyclists safe.
  • Cycle safety awareness part of driving test
  • Better cycle safety training for children
  • Safety in numbers? The hope is that higher numbers of cyclists contribute to greater overall safety. Though these statistics suggest that increasing numbers is not sufficient to make cycling safer.
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Tour De France Questions Thu, 27 Jun 2013 15:36:11 +0000 tourdefrance

The tour is one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world. No matter how many scandals and tearful confessions on Oprah , we can’t resist the allure of watching the Tour. The tour has everything, beautiful scenery, drama, excitement, raw passion and the opportunity for endless hours of Sean Kelly say ‘erm, well, I don’t think so.’ Summer wouldn’t be the same without getting a birds eye view of France’s finest Chateauxs.

The British knowledge of the Tour de France has vastly increased in recent years. (I no longer get asked why don’t I do it. (it’s not quite the LOndon Marathon where you can turn up in a diver’s suit and raise a bit of cash for charity)

But, if you’ve ever wondered at the range of seemingly strange tour vocab, hopefully, this will explain the mysteries of echelons, bidons and the white jersey with red polka dots.

Note to mother and anyone flatmate. You don’t ask any questions after the 1km banner.

How Long is the Tour?

Modern versions are roughly about 3,600 kilometres (2,200 mi) spread out over three weeks. Early Tours were longer. In 1926, riders had to cover 5,745 km over 17 stages.

How Fast do the Riders Go?

In 1926, the tour winner averaged 24Kmph over the whole 5,745Km. By comparison in 2010, the average speed was just under 40Kmph for the 3,642Km

What Does the  Yellow Jersey Mean?

The yellow jersey is worn by rider at the top of the overall classification. (the quickest time over combined stages so far).

The yellow jersey was introduced in 1919 several years after the Tour started. It was chosen it was felt the yellow jersey would help identify the  leader to spectators on the road. Yellow was chosen because the newspaper L’Equipe which sponsored the Tour was printed on yellow paper. The first yellow jersey wearer was Eugène Christophe in 1919. (see: birth of yellow jersey) Some riders said they were offered a yellow jersey in previous years but they didn’t want to wear it.

What is the King of the Mountains Competition?

A separate competition within the Tour. Riders are given points for being the highest placed rider over the summit of mountains. The best climber was first recognised in 1933, and the distinctive white and red polka jot jersey was introduced in 1975 to show person with most points in the King of the Mountains.

For example, on the most difficult climb (hors category) e.g. Alpe d’Huez a rider is given 20 points for being 1st and 16 points for being second. For smaller and easier climbs less points are available.

What is the Green Jersey for?

Another points competition. Points are awarded for placings in stages. e.g. in a flat stage finish 1st place gets 45 points, second place gets 35. You can also pick up points during intermediary sprints during a stage. The green jersey ignores overall time and just the number of points you pick up at end of stages.

What is the White Jersey for?

For the young rider (under 26) who has the highest placing on overall classification. Winners of the white jersey who went onto win overall include:

  • Laurent Fignon 1983 (FRA) (also won Overall that year)
  • Greg LeMond 1983 (USA)
  • Marco Pantani 1994, 1995 (ITA)
  • Jan Ullrich 1996 (GER)
  • Alberto Contador 2007 (ESP) (also won Overall that year)
Why do the riders spend most of the time in the Peleton (big bunch?)

Riding behind another rider saves unto 25-30% of your energy. In some cases, right in the middle, it is estimated you can save upto 50%. If you ride ahead of bunch you will need much more energy. Therefore it is very difficult to ride off on your own away from the bunch. However, some riders will try to win the stage and get into a break ‘a group of a few riders’ trying to get to finish before peleton.

What is the Autobus?

Riders have to finish within a certain time frame, otherwise they get eliminated. This is calculated by a % slower than winners time (e.g. 40 minutes on big mountain stage). On tough mountainous stages, riders may join together to try and make sure they are not eliminated. The autobus is usually the last big group on the road. Also by being in a big autobus, riders hope that on really hard stages, even if they finish outside the time limit the Tour organisers won’t dare eliminate half the field. In exceptional circumstance the organisers can increase time limit to make sure they don’t eliminate the whole autobus.

Why don’t they do every Stage as a Time Trial?

A time trial or contre-la-montre, (“against the clock”, or literally against the watch) means riders rely solely on their own efforts. There is no chance of race tactics or hiding in bunch. Arguably, this is truer sporting test as the strongest rider wins. However, it is not the most spectator friendly event. The race tactics and speed of bunch sprint is much more exciting than repeated time trials. Therefore, they are usually limited to one or two.

What is a Domestique?

Most riders in the tour have no chance or expectations of winning. Therefore they act as ‘servants’ or ‘support riders’ for their team leader. They will drop back to pick up water bottles ‘bidons’ from their team car and then bring them back to their leader. If a break needs chasing down, ‘domestiques’ will work on the front enabling the team leader to save his energy for later. In some circumstances they will be expected to give up their wheel or even their bike to save their leader time. It is hard to win the Tour without a very committed team of domestiques willing to sacrifice themselves for their team leader. It is said Lance Armstrong’s dominance was built around a team with unflinching loyalty (though that loyalty didn’t extend to belated doping allegations).

Also, there are domestiques and there are super-domestiques. It sometimes happens that the domestique turns out to be stronger than the team leader (Hinault and LeMond in 1985). Froome v Wiggins 2012. This can be embarassing all round. The moment of greatest interest in the 2012 tour was when the loyal Froome – dog wanted to let go of his leash and started ‘attacking’ Wiggins. Wiggins was said to be in near tears at the end. Though in the time trials, Wiggins was able to dish out his power and show Froome who was the boss.


What is an Echelon?

Usually, you want to ride behind another rider to save energy. However, in a very strong side wind you want to ride by their side. Therefore in a strong side wind, everyone tries to ride to the side of another, leading to these diagonal looking ‘echelons’. This can be dangerous for leading contenders because the peleton is split up into different groups and they can drift away from main pack.

What is the Lantern Rouge?

The last rider overall on general classification. For a time the lantern rouge would carry a little red light under their saddle. It became paradoxically a cool thing to be. Lantern Rouge’s would gain more fame than person second to last. For a few years in the 1940s,  organisers experimented with sending the last rider (lantern rouge) home to try and discourage this unofficial competition to be the lantern rouge.

Even now some riders really don’t mind being lantern rouge as they are domestiques and it means at least they are still in the race. There can even be a little light competition to get lantern rouge.

Kenny Van Hummel gained fame after being lantern rouge by a huge margin during 1999 tour (cycling news)

As David Duffield once said:

De las Cuevas is so far down on GC you could time him in with a calendar!

Why is Mark Cavendish not in the lead despite winning so many stages?

The overall leader of the Tour is based on time. In many stages that Mark Cavendish wins, he gets the same time as all the other riders. He is just the fastest sprinter. However, in mountain stages, he may finish 30 minutes behind the leader of the tour because although good at sprinting he doesn’t have a good build for climbing. The winner of the tour will have to be good at time trials and climbing.

Why does Mark Cavendish not Get the Green Jersey despite winning the most stages.

In 2009, Mark Cavendish won 6 stages but still didn’t win Green jersey. This is because the Green jersey competition rewards most consistent finisher. You can win Green jersey just by finishing high up in stages and sprinting for intermediate stages. He would probably have won green jersey if he hadn’t been disqualified during one sprint, which saw him relegated to back of bunch

Can you Win the Tour De France Without Winning A Stage?

Yes, this has happened 6 times, including Alberto Contador in 2010. The overall is just fastest time.

Who Was the Greatest Tour de France rider of all time?

Cue endless debate on cycling forums. You can really take your pick from any of the riders who won more than five times

  • Jacques Anquetil in 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964;
  • Eddy Merckx in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974;
  • Bernard Hinault in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985;
  • Miguel Indurain in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 (the first to do so in five consecutive years).

In terms of number of victories Lance Armstrong (7) stands out 1999-2006. Though Lance also has the record for the most number of Tour de France victories stripped away from him. It leaves his official career palmeres with as little as Fleche Wallone (1995) and San Sebastian.

Lance Armstrong’s 7 consecutive victories stand out as most impressive, though recent ongoing drug allegations have tarnished his reputation somewhat.

How many winner in the past 20 years can you believe won the tour ridding clean?

Of winners in the past generation, David Walsh said he only had faith in Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans, and Greg LeMond. I would agree with that. Perhaps also Carlos Sastre, I don’t know.

Who Was Least Well Known Rider to Win the Tour?

In modern times Óscar Pereiro was undoubtedly a surprise in 2006. He befitted from Flloyd Landis’ disqualification. His only other major win was a stage in the Tour of Switzerland, and 10th overall in the Tour de France in 2005 and 2004.

Who was the Greatest Tour de France rider never to win?

Perhaps an easier one to answer. Most people would give Raymond Poulidor or ‘Pou Pou’. His nickname was also the ‘eternal second’ Despite an 18 year old career which involved winning 189 races he could never win the Tour. He finished second or third a combination of eight times. Perhaps he just had the bad luck to be riding in same generation as Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. To make it even better he was an attacking rider, good in the mountains. In many ways we prefer a plucker loser to a ‘boring’ winner. ‘Pou Pou’ probably gained greater love than Jacques Anquetil or Miguel Indurain who ground out wins by dominating in time trials.

The closest Tour de France?

Everyone remembers the 1989 Tour. The American Greg Le Mond v the bespectacled Frenchmen, Laurent Fignon. On the last stage, a Time Trial on the Champs Elysees, Greg Le Mond managed to overturn a 50 second deficit and wins overall by a mere 8 seconds. Greg Le Mond made use of new technology – triathlon style time trial bars, leavin Laurent Fignon distraught at the side of the road.

Most Popular Towns for Stages?
  • Paris – 135 (most recent finish: 2010) (has finished on Champs Elysees on every year since 1975
  • Bordeaux 80 (most recent: 2010)
  • Pau 62 (most recent: 2010)
The Most Scandalous Tour de France?

It would be a mistake to think that scandal and drug taking are a modern phenomenon of the Tour. On the early tours, riders were specifically told they had to bring their own stimulants. Early tours were full of intrigue like riders being disqualified for taking the train or riders facing roads full of tacks to give their rivals an advantage.

It was only in the 1960s when drug testing came in, and even then it was sporadic and by all accounts quite easy to dodge.

However, for the sheer scale of scandal and upheaval it’s hard to forget the Festina Scandal of 1998.

During the tour, Willy Voet  a soigneur for the French team Festina, was found with a car full of doping products. The Festina team were sent home, and amidst drug raids by the authorities on other teams, the riders began to protest on mass. Only half the field finally made it to Paris, where Marco Pantani’s win was overshadowed by the massive drug controversy. (Pantani himself was later to tragically die young from drug related problems)

The biggest scandal was the downfall of Armstrong

Don’t they all just Dope – How Can anyone ride the tour without?

I would say emphatically that you can ride and people do ride the tour without taking any illegal stimulants. Yes, the tour is difficult but it is feasible for professional athletes. Doping products just enable you to ride it at a faster average speed.

Is the Tour Cleaner than Before?

Perhaps subjective, but I would say it is cleaner and there is less doping. In the 1990s and 2000s, by all accounts doping was  rife.  However, regular doping tests and biological passports have made it more difficult to take drugs. I feel more teams are now sincere when they say they want to ride clean.

Who has died whilst riding the Tour de France?
  • Adolphe Heliére, France. Drowned while swimming during a rest day of the 1910 Tour de France.
  • Francisco Cepeda, Spain, Tour de France, 1935. Died after crashing on the descent of the Galibier
  • Tom Simpson, July 13, 1967 (combination of heat exhaustion, overuse of stimulants) amphetamines found in his back pocket)
  • Fabio Casartelli,  Italy, Tour de France, July 19, 1995. Casartelli was the reigning Olympic Champion at the time of his crash and subsequent death
Most Bizarre Regulations in the Tour?

In 1925 Herni Desgrange’s planned that riders should all eat exactly the same amount of food each day. Riders striked in protest and it was later dropped.

In early editions of the tour, riders had to do their own mechanical repairs. In 1913, Eugène Christophe was on course to win when his fork broke on a mountain descent. He went to local forge and tried to repair his fork himself. As well as losing time, he was also fined 3 minutes, because a 7 year old boy helped push the bellows.

What happens when a rider wants to answer a call of nature during a long six hour stage?

Sometimes riders stop at the side of the road and many others will join them. There is an unofficial rule not to attack when riders are answering call of nature. Sometimes when racing is hoting up, riders will not stop but urinate on the move. A task not too easy. They are not allowed to do it in built up areas and preferably not when cameras are on.

How Much Do they Eat during a stage?

A Tour de France rider may consume something in the region of 6,000-8,000 calories (daily recommended is 2,000). If you think it’s difficult to consume 8,000 calories try doing it on a vegan diet like D.Zabirskie (Independent)

When Are you Going To Ride the Tour de France?

Tell a non-cyclist I’ve won a local club time trial against a collection of other amateurs, and the next question is often – so when are you going to ride the Tour de France? I guess it’s not quite like the London marathon where you can turn up with good intentions and promise to raise some money for charity. Only the  top 20 pro teams will get invited to the Tour, and they will pick their best 9 riders. This means the field is limited to about 180 riders (which still many consider too many). But, there are huge commercial benefits to being in the tour, so there is always the pressure to allow some teams (mainly French) a wildcard position.

What’s the Most Bizarre TV Commentary you heard whilst listening to the Tour de France?

Let’s be honest, the tour is mostly dull, only watching the breakaway time come slowly down. Fortunately, we have commentators like David Duffield who can manage to get excited by the most trivial of incidents.

“I am sitting here with my chin on the counter, my mouth open like a great big whale scooping up plankton. I am gobsmacked!”

“This is like Wimbledon., Ascot and Silverstone all wrapped in together and plonked in the middle of Paris: amazing!

But, to be fair, it’s a hard job commentating on cycling.
Stephen Roche: What are they doing there, Dave? – David Duffield: They’re riding their bicycles! (more quotes)
Why is there always a devil raising a trident by side of road?

I’ve really have no-idea. You could always ask the devil himself but he seems to enjoy himself.


The Devil at the Tour de France – from Loving Photography

Famous Quotes from the Tour de France

“You’re assassins! All of you!”

- Octave Lapize to Tour officials whilst half way up the Col d’Aubisque in the 1910 tour. In the days before tarmac roads, gears and heavy steel bikes.

Tour Glossary

  • Bidon – bottle
  • Combativité – Most aggressive rider, person who goes out on long breakaways
  • Drafting – riding behind another rider to save aero drag
  • Flamme rouge – Red kit showing 1Km to go
  • Grand Départ – First Stage
  • le parcours – route, course
  • le peloton – The big bunch of riders on the tour
  • l’équipe – team
  • le coureur- rider
  • le sprinteur – sprinter
  • le grimpeur – climber
  • la tête de course – race or course leader
  • les domestiques – ‘servants’, riders who protect their leader
  • l’étape – stage
  • l’étape de plaine – flat stage
  • l’étape de montagne – mountain, climbing stage
  • l’étape contre la montre – Time Trial
  • les classements – standings, rider positions after each stage
  • le maillot jaune – yellow jersey – for the leader
  • le maillot vert – green jersey – for the best sprinter
  • le maillot à pois – polka-dot jersey – for the best climber
  • le maillot blanc – white jersey – best young rider
  • Musette – bag of food
  • Prologue – First time trial stage


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10 Reasons to Take Up Cycling Sat, 08 Jun 2013 10:05:29 +0000 young girl old man

If your reading this, chances are you already cycle or have an interest in cycling. But, nevertheless since it is National Bike week here in the UK, these are 10 powerful reasons to take up cycling.

1. Freedom.

Cycling gives a sense of freedom that sitting in a car can never give. Descending a hill on a bike is exhilarating, something you never feel in a car. Cycling also gives greater freedom about where to go. Many towns are encouraging pedestrian only areas. With a bike you can go down narrow lanes, on canal paths and often cut corners that you cannot do in a car.

2. Quicker Travelling.


In many congested towns, a bike can offer the quickest method of transport. For example, in London average speeds on roads amounts to a paltry 9mph (this is actually lower than 100 years ago!) Even a moderately fit cyclist will have no trouble in beating cars, buses and the underground. Also with a bike, you don’t have to spend time driving around looking for parking. You can park usually exactly where you want to end up.

3. Saves Money.

A good bike costs £200; a reasonable car will cost £5,000. With oil prices rising through the roof, cycling can also save significantly on petrol costs. The majority of car journeys are for distances less than 5 miles. These distances are easily cycleable. These short journeys also have the relatively highest petrol costs because cars are most inefficient at low speeds. It is estimated that leaving the car in the garage for the average commuter could save an estimate £74.14 ($150) per week (source: Cycling Weekly June 19th). See: Comparative costs of cycling and motoring

4. Lose Weight

Cycling is a low impact aerobic exercise and is an excellent way of losing weight. Cycling can also be combined with shopping and commuting therefore, enabling very busy people to find time for exercise. It is also a lot cheaper than gaining membership to the gym. With obesity becoming an endemic problem in western society, cycling can play a key role in helping to keep the population in shape.

5. Health Benefits.

Cycling is good for the heart and can help reduce incidence of heart disease, one of the biggest killers amongst developed countries. Sedentary lifestyles also contribute to other ‘silent killers’ such as diabetes and high blood pressure. See: Health benefits of cycling

6. Relieve Stress.

If you work in an office or have a stressful job, exercise such as cycling can be a powerful way to help reduce stress and take your mind off many problems. Exercise releases chemicals such as serontin. Serontin is known to promote a feeling of well being. But, also vigorous exercise is an effective way to take your mind off trifling problems. Often coming back from a bike ride, you can see problems in a new perspective

7. It’s Egalitarian


Everyone cycles, it is the great social leveller. Rich or poor, Oxford don or little kid, everyone can enjoy cycling.

8. Reduce Global Warming

Cycling creates no pollution or Carbon dioxide emission. It provides a powerful way to help make a meaningful contribution to reducing pollution and preventing future global warming.

9. Less Accidents.

Unlike Cars, bikes are not lethal machines. In the UK, over 3,000 people a year die on the roads due to car accidents. An accident involving bikes may cause injury, but, very rarely will a bike be the cause of a fatal accident. If more people cycled it would definitely help reduce the death rate on our roads.

10. It’s Fun.


The bike has repeatedly been voted the most popular invention of the past 200 years. Cycling is simply great fun.

Picture by Tejvan, Oxford city centre


Book Cover

The Beautiful Machine by Graeme Fife – A Life in Cycling, from Tour De France to Cinder Hill. Fife is a great cycling journalist and this really makes you want to take up cycling.

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Cycling doesn’t have to be expensive Wed, 05 Jun 2013 08:58:07 +0000 Cycling can seem an expensive hobby. Only last week I reviewed a time trial helmet which cost just shy of £300, with an extra visor, a feintly ridiculous £80. Whatever branch of cycling you take up, it seems there is no limit to the amount of money you can spend. However, here’s a short reminder that it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby.

1. Homemade mudguard flap


50 years of mudguard flaps. The perfect size for a mudguard flap. A touch of class. On the theme of homemade improvements, it’s surprising how much a bit of super-glue and reusable plastic ties can do for your bike.

2. Make do with one bike!

24 hour record holder (541 miles) Andy Wilkinson is a true legend of long distance time-trialling. He deserves more recognition than he gets. How does he do such impressive distances? Well, for a start he only has one bike – a basic steel frame; on this one bike he does his commuting, training and racing. He says that only having one bike enables him to really get to know his bike, perfect his position and enables him to do better races. For those of us who work on the principle that the optimum number of bikes is N+1 – this is truly shocking and radical, (and we have to admit makes very good sense.)

3. Homemade energy drink.

If you want to avoid paying £1.30 for every sachet of energy drink, why not make your own. Get some maltodextrin powder, fructose powder, a touch of salt, some orange juice and you have. Alternatively, you can just use ordinary table sugar. One simple recipe for a homemade energy drink. For 1 litre of energy drink, add:

  • 60-80 grams of sugar
  • No added sugar cordial
  • half a teaspoon of salt
  • topping up with water

It’s the same with energy bars, often you can get same performance from much cheaper non-branded energy bars. You could always go down the Obree route of marmalade sandwiches. You don’t have to spend a fortune on energy bars to break the world hour record.

4. Buy the complete bike

It is amazing the equipment you can get on a £500 bike. If you spend £500 on a hybrid bike, you can get really quite good quality. if you bought the parts separately, it would cost you roughly double. Therefore, always try to buy the best bike you can and resist temptation to add expensive parts which only marginally add to performance.

4. Avoid the fashion labels

You can spend a fortune on Rapha clothing and the like. It looks good but comparatively expensive

5. Buy from non-cycling shops.

Often the cheapest place to buy cycling undergarments e.t.c is from non-cycling shops. Thermal underwear and wicking layers tends to be cheaper from clothes shops and other outlets

6. Get aerodynamics for free.

If you really want to go faster, then the secret is to make yourself more aerodynamic. At 40kmph, 90% of resistance against a bike is air resistance. If you look at some pictures of time triallists, you will see how they can reduce their frontal area. The secret to reducing frontal area is not spending £3,000 on a time trial frame, but, getting the body into most efficient tuck. Even a cheap pair of aerobars for £20, will make a huge difference to reducing wind resistance and give you a good bang for your buck. You can spend a fortune on aerodynamic aids, but many of the key improvements can be made with very little cost. Tips for aerodynamics.

7. Do you really need it?

So often I’ve bought something because it was well marketed and looks nice, but I don’t really need it. There are some accessories you need like a lock and lights. But, for some reason, I’m always gullable for the latest light, which is brighter than the last. So I have a whole shed of different lights and components.

8. Ditch low weight carbon fibre

Unless you’re racing up hills with very big prize money, having a bike 1-2kg heavier will not make a hug difference. You can end up spending an awful lot of money for very little.

9. Go down a groupset.

The main difference between Shimano Ultegra and Shimano Dura Ace is about £500. I don’t really notice the difference in quality of shifting, I do notice the difference in the price of the good.

10. Do your own repairs

Rather than taking it down bike shop, and getting someone to do it for you, you can save a fortune. Though with my experience is an amateur bike mechanic, this may prove a false economy.


Cycling can be a very cheap method of transport. It is only in recent years, that we have been increasingly enticed to spend more on bicycles and bike components. However, I’m the worst culprit. I just like spending money on bicycles. Many times, I don’t really need to spend the money, but what else are you going to spend it on which will give as much joy? The only thing is if you’re on a tight budget, just remember the 24 hour record holder – a relatively cheap old steel frame. At the end of the day, it’s the human engine and not the size of your wallet, which makes a cycling champion.

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Changing attitudes to road fatalities. Tue, 28 May 2013 11:15:28 +0000 Reading a book – the History of Time trialling by Peter Whitfield I was struck by some statistics about the level of road fatalities, during the 1930s and 1940s.

killed on british roads

Despite road traffic being only 10% of today’s levels. Road deaths reached nearly 10,000 a year. There were up to 1,000 road fatalities a year of children under 10.

Yet, despite these shocking statistics, there was a widespread acceptance of these deaths. Nearly all road fatalities were put down as ‘accidents’. It is quite a shock to learn that during the Second World War – 50,000 people were killed on British roads (Source: Time, Speed and Truth, P.Whitfield)  – This was a greater number of fatalities than the blitz (where 40,000 civilians were killed in air raids)

Reasons for high death rate

  • Blackout during the second world war – cars not allowed to use headlights. In September 1939, there were 1,130 deaths in that month alone, 148 who were cyclists. This was not helped by court judgements during the second world war, which stated if cyclists were hit during a blackout, there were responsible because they failed to look behind them!
  • No driving test. The driving test was only introduced in 1935, but even then if you were already driving, you didn’t have to take a test.
  • Very few road markings. No white lines, or cateyes.
  • A general acceptance these fatalities were just accidents. It’s strange that a train accident will make front page news, but car accidents (perhaps because they are so common, never make big news)
  • No real attempts to do anything about.
  • Motorists were very rarely held accountable. In rare cases which did come to court, judges would often dismiss the challenge. The court often asked the motorist if they beeped their horn. If they beeped the horn then all the blame must be on pedestrian / cyclist for failing to get out of the way.

Interesting Facts

In 1925, Temple Press published a ‘Safety hints for motorists’ which amongst other gems of wisdom, they advised

early safety hints

safety hints from 1924

  • Always keep your eyes open
  • It’s considered discourteous to take a corner on the wrong side of the road

(although painfully obvious, still good advice today!)

Implications of these attitudes

  • There was a strong feeling that roads were for cars, and other road users were just a nuisance. In 1924 the Metropolitan Police Commissioner advised cyclists to avoid London, on the grounds that 150 cyclists were killed cycling in London every year. There was no attempt to make driving safer or look at infrastructure to help cyclists. The simplest solution was just to discourage cycling. Is it any wonder, cycling in London fell so dramatically? Nearly 100 years later, we’re still trying to change these attitudes that it would all be easier without cyclists.
  • Road deaths fell from the 1930s, but it was also at the cost of making many roads – virtual no go areas for pedestrians and cyclists. In the 1930s, it would have been common for children to play in the road, cycle to school. That is rare now.
  • Blame was rarely apportioned. It’s a strange human psychology. But, if people die in a train accident or plane accident, someone is blamed and we are not satisfied until stringent steps have been taken to make train travel, aeroplane travel safer. However, when there is a fatality on the road, we tend to just shrug our shoulders and say an accident. If a train crash is caused by excess speed, you can guarantee the next day, speed limits are in place. If there is a fatality on the roads due to excess speed, you can guarantee the next day, nothing will have changed.
  • These were extreme attitudes of laissez faire attitude to road safety. Things have changed for the better. The number of road deaths has steadily fallen – whilst the number of cars on the roads increase. But, road fatalities are still one of biggest causes of deaths of young people. In 100 years time, will we look back and say ‘Why did we tolerate 2,500 deaths a year.’ Why did we tolerate so much excess speed and dangerous driving in city centres. I hope so!


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Cycling C to B with Jon Schubert Thu, 02 May 2013 11:06:47 +0000 about_image

At local time trials, I’ve raced quite a few times against Jon Schubert of High Wycombe CC. Earlier this year I was intrigued to hear him talking about an expedition to cycle 13,000 miles across Europe and Asia to raise money for charity and to have the experience of a lifetime. It sounds a great project from both a cycling touring perspective and also the wider hope to support good charities. I really like the sound of world bicycle relief and charity water, so it’s a good charity to support.

Before Jon sets off on this epic challenge, he kindly answered a few quick questions, which I’ll post here.

Q. What is cycling C2B?

A. Calais to beyond… Two best friends from the UK aim to push their bodies to the limits to raise funds and awareness for both World Bicycle Relief and Charity Water. The pair will attempt to pedal over 13,000 miles, through eight time zones and twenty three countries, as they make their way, unsupported and solely on two wheels, across the width of the Eurasian land mass from their start point in France, to their final destination in Singapore.



Q. What inspired you to try and cycle to the East coast of China?

A. In 2010 I undertook an incredible 1,300 mile cycle tour of the UK. Upon reaching the conclusion of the trip at Scotland’s most northerly point, I looked out across the sea to the Shetland Islands and Norway and wondered what if? What if I were to just keep going?

In search of a bigger and better challenge, my travelling partner, Imran and I concocted a plan to tackle the biggest land mass crossing physically possible. The width of Eurasia! The journey has been three years in planning but during this intermission, Imran undertook his greatest challenge to date. This entailed a 48 day solo cycle expedition along America’s famous “mother road”, better known as Route 66. Beginning in Chicago, the journey of discovery allowed him and his followers to chronologically unravel much of America’s early history and meet a selection of its residents as he traced the route for 3600 miles into the sweltering temperatures of the west and on to its conclusion in Los Angeles before finishing in San Francisco. This incredible journey helped him raise £5,000 for the Imran Khan Cancer Appeal and has amassed a large group of online followers for our coming expedition.

With a wealth of experience, a growing cohort of followers and our lives ready, we are fully prepared for the journey of a lifetime, that will not only enhance our own lives, but those of individuals in impoverished third world countries.

Q. What do you hope to achieve and experience over the next 6 months?

A. A major aim of the journey will be to raise awareness and funds for our chosen charities, but we have no doubt that the challenge we have set ourselves will test us to the limits of our physical and mental capabilities and ultimately shape us as people.

We are hugely excited by the prospect of experiencing and learning about the myriad of cultures, people and topography we will encounter as we travel. We hope to redefine the concepts of distance, the barriers it creates, the capacity of the human body and human spirit, enrich lives and ultimately inspire others to live their dreams.



Q. How did you prepare?

A. I was advised by an accomplished world traveller that there are two options available when trying to fund an extensive cycle touring trip. Either you give up work to whole heartedly spend your time and efforts pursuing sponsors to support your journey, or you spend the same time working and earning the money to finance your trip. I chose the latter of the two options. This has made life hard, as finding any spare time to prepare for the trip whilst holding down a full time job has been difficult to say the least. After resigning I have spent a very busy, invaluable, month accumulating any outstanding equipment, vaccinations, travel insurance, producing social media sites and the list goes on…

Although I have been riding a few time trials to keep fit this season, the demands placed on the body are very different from the repeated eight hour days in the saddle we aim to be comfortably repeating. We hope to develop the fitness for this though gradual overload and recovery throughout the first few weeks of the journey.
Q. Could you tell us a little about the charities you choose, and how people may donate?

A. Choosing an appropriate charity for this journey was not easy. World Bicycle Relief is an organization that provides bicycles and field mechanics who maintain these vehicles to some of the most impoverished parts of Africa, ultimately changing lives by providing people with access to health care, education and new job opportunities. For me, this charity managed to tick all of the boxes I was concerned about a charity fulfilling: I can see where even small amounts of money I am raising are going and be assured that it is having a hugely positive impact on people’s lives. As a teacher I am naturally inspired by the fact that the provision of bicycles indirectly improves children’s access and success in education. As avid cyclists who are relying on bicycles to carry us around the world, we couldn’t think of a more relevant charity to help share our love and passion for this life changing mode of transport.

Imran has chosen to support Charity Water through this journey, a charity which also does a great deal of invaluable work in parts of the third world. You can read more about our charities and donate if you wish by clicking on the links from our home page
Q. Will you miss racing up and down dual carriageways whilst cycling through Russian and Iranian mountains?

A. Cycling is a label that covers a broad array of activities made possible with the aid of a bicycle. Cycle touring has always been my true passion and only through this do I make the most of the fitness it develops, consequently entering races. I achieved far more than I could have dreamed of last season, particularly with my 294 mile 12 hour TT and 4th place in the BBAR, so I have no burning goals remaining unaccomplished, leaving me ready for a well-earned sabbatical from this side of this sport.
Q. Any sponsors you would like to mention?

We have been very privileged to have acquired the support of KeepGo, a company who provide their customers with local and global data SIM cards, smartphones and internet devices for global travel, helping people avoid expensive 3G roaming fees and enabling them to enjoy unlimited internet everywhere.

Keepgo will enable us to regularly upload YouTube videos from our trip, keep us in touch with our social media following and enable others to experience our great adventure vicariously.

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The Rules of Cycling – Velominati Review Wed, 01 May 2013 09:41:50 +0000 rules of cyclingI haven’t reviewed many  products this year, but I was pleased to receive through the post an advanced copy of ‘The Rules – The way of the cycling disciple‘ by Velominati. It gave me a lot of food for thought. I enjoyed reading it, and I also enjoyed critiquing it.  The problem is that a part of me definitely aspires to join this elite group of cycling cool, but there are too many rules, where I am, alas, an abject failure. It leaves me only good for riding my time trial bike on a lone furlough, shamelessly exposing an ill fitting undergarment because I can’t get any arm warmers long enough to fit my stick like arms. I want to be in the club, but I’m a rebel without a cause.  I do like the aesthetics of a bike, but I can’t quite bring myself to schedule a 500ml water stop at a petrol station, just because 500ml water bottles look cooler than 750ml water bottles. Do they really look better?

Yet, even in my critiques there is a nagging suspicion they are correct, and only if I was a better person, I would aspire to all 91 rules.


Cycling is more than just a sport and means of transport, it can be a way of life, a club with rules of aesthetics, class and elegance. Two people can go out on a bike with different results; how do you approach the bicycle, how do you treat it? Is it a means to an end or is it an end in itself? The rules of cycling remind me, in a curious way of the Japanese tea ceremony. Anyone can drink tea, but to drink tea in the proper way with great awareness, dignity and elegance elevates a mundane experience into an opportunity for the joy of perfection.

The big problem I had with the book is that it immediately got me off on the wrong foot.

Rule # 9. If you’re out cycling in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

‘Badass. Period’ Those two words alone are more painful than seeing a triathlete break up a chain gang by riding with tribars. My immediate reaction to those two words is to through away the book in Shakespearian disgust. Whatever happened to the rules of the English language?  Cycling terms are cool if they are in a European language. If they had translated ‘badass’ into Flanderian, I could have accepted it. But, if you want to speak American hip hop, take up a sport like Basketball, not cycling. American-Australian-English will never be the language of procycling, that’s my rule. If you have to speak in English, British English is good. Respect Shakespeare and Orwell.

(As a tangent – Despite inventing the Dunlop tyre and many of the other key cycling inventions, Britain lost the way with cycling, when we banned mass-start races (apparently motorists complained at the furious cycle racing). It left us with a curious set of rules about dressing up in black,  turning up to races early in the morning and setting off at one minute intervals (so riders could claim they were not racing). This created the whole sub-culture of UK time trials, with it’s own set of curious rules. But, as much as I love the sport of time trials, I have to admit that British time trialling on dual carriageways is not the spiritual essence of cycling. No matter how many Tours Wiggins and Frome win, Pro-cycling will always be European. The classics of Belgium and Italy are the heart of cycling. Velominati get it right in promoting this European approach, but, it would be better without the American-English.

Rule # 5. Harden the F*** up.

You know you’re middle aged when you do all your clothes shopping at Marks & Spencers, so you can’t expect me to have much awareness or sympathy for the language of young and cool folk. I even have a sneaking admiration for the stiff upper lip of the Victorians. The good old Victorians would have ridden 200km on a Penny Farthing with nothing more than a ‘Well, I say old chap, that was a jolly caper.

As a disclaimer, I should add at my tutorial college, I was the only tutor who would fine students 10p every time they swore. I once raised £20 from the son of  a rich Russian Oligarch in the matter of one week, which all made it worthwhile. Rather than swearing, you could always Try a better class of insult.

A random look at some other rules

Rule # 12 The correct number of bikes is n+1. Very good, but it might be a bit more complicated – my formula for optimum number of bikes

Rule # 13. If you draw race number 13, turn it upside down. If I could choose a number, I would always ask for 13, and I would never turn it upside down. You can call it my lucky number.

Rule #24 Speeds and distances shall be measure in km not miles. I definitely support this. But, again, here I’m a sad failure. The chance of the UK Cycling Time Trials replacing the 10 mile time trial with 16.05 km time trial is close to non-existence. We like our standard distances here in the UK. It leaves us in limbo, my speedometers and cycling logs are an unwelcome mismash of km and miles. I’ve never been able to satisfactorily settle on one or the other.

Rule  #65 maintain and respect your machine. The more I cycle, the more I try to follow this rule. It does make a difference going out with a bike in clean and working order. I even like the little attention to details like the rules on tyres and wheel levers. This is something to aspire to. It also pains me when beautiful bikes are besmirched with mud, stickers and lack of attention. Though if you do maintain an immaculate bike, don’t forget to ride it.

Rule #58 Support your local bike shop. Definitely good. Meeting real people who care about cycling and not the soulless internet. This is the cycling culture to encourage.


If I may summarise the gist of other rules. Cycle training involves four hours plus, no food, one water bottle, Never get out of the big ring, It’s good to be cold, take the minimum of equipment, saddles bags definitely out. Long Slow hard miles. Old school rules!

Unmentioned rules

Rule #101 Don’t mention the drugs! Omerta rules! Riders who took drugs are cool, so long as they didn’t try to get everyone to wear a silly armband for their cancer charity.


I’m all rather biased. I’ve spent the last 20 years tyring to find armwarmers which fit properly. Yet, no matter which brand I buy, my arms are too thin and the armwarmers fall down, leaving that exposed skin between jersey and armwarmer, thus breaking some cardinal rule. On the plus side, being built like a stick insect makes you a good climber, on the bad side, you can’t quite fit into those who deeply care about aesthetics. At the end of the day, I suppose I’d rather be a good climber.

I would recommend buying the book. It’s a good read.

There are times, when you wonder whether they are actually being serious or it’s all some strange sense of humour. On the one hand, I’m being more careful about how I tighten up my wheels, I do want it to be correct. Also, I hope many people will read this book and improve their cycling aesthetics. It is nice to see a rider really taking care of his bike, clothes and machine. It faintly annoys me when amateurs simultaneously wear World Champion jerseys, yellow wristbands, and the number from their past 50km cyclo sportive.

But, on the other hand, I’d love to tag along the back of their Velominati group ride then try to drop them on a headwind climb helped with a set of tribars.

I just can’t decide whether to be a disciple of the rules or make up my own. One thing I would say is that it’s very good if other people follow all these rules (not least because I’d have a better chance of winning cycle races if my competitors training involves  4 slow hours without any food). But, I fail on over 50% of the rules. It’s just one club I can’t be in.

Finally, I love the magic and allure of European pro-cycling, but, at the same time I hate the perverted morality of the peleton which created and maintained the omerta. It makes you want to break a few rules just to annoy them.  Wear number 13 the right way up, that’s a start.

The Rules – The way of the cycling disciple at Amazon published June 2013


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Watching the Classics on Eurosport Tue, 23 Apr 2013 09:41:21 +0000 As a Yorkshireman, I have an inbuilt resistance to paying an extra £7 a month, just to get one paltry tv channel. For years I’ve resisted on principle. But, this year, I finally spent £7 a month to upgrade my BT package to include Eurosport. Actually, I didn’t just get Eurosport, but about 30 other useless channels so If I  ever have to spend a month off the bike, I can at least spend 24 hours a day watching documentaries about ancient Egypt, Atlantis, and an exotic mix of shopping channels.


My main motivation for buying Eurosport was to watch professional cycling. I’ve never watched the classic season before, and so far I’ve really enjoyed watching the big classics.

Paris Roubaix

Paris Roubaix Jack 999

Firstly, I really love the names of the great classics. Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo. They are wonderfully evocative and capture the imagination of every bike enthusiast. When I ride over a cobbled road, like a mantra ‘Paris-Roubaix’ often comes into my mind. Liege-Bastogne-Liege could sound like a subplot from a Second World War movie. It’s that part of the world which has endlessly been fought over, now this area is fought over by 220 lycra clad cyclists barging their way up the Redoute, Mur de Huy, Oude Kwaremont, and the Paterberg.

tour of flanders

Tour of Flanders Photo Brendan 2010

There is a real class about the names of the race, steeped in history.

- Liege Bastogne Liege or the F.A. Cup brought to you by Budweiser – which sounds the better name for a classic sporting event?  The only exception to this rule, is the E3 Harelbeke in Belgium. How can the land of Eddy Merckx make such a schoolboy error as to name a classic cycle race after a motorway? Even if the E3 was 200 years old, and won by every great cycle rider, it wouldn’t be on the same pedestal as Milan San Remo because how can you get excited about a motorway? If you really have to name a race after a motorway, they might, at least, have copied the Cycling Time Trials and given it a proper course code like the E3/175b – now that would have been really cool.


tour-flanders photo Brendan

Britain is often accused of being an insular country, nothing gets Mr White Van Driver’s back up more than EU directives about British sausages and bendy bananas. But, when it comes to cycling, European is unashamedly cool. If we can slip French cycling terms into our conversation, it is on a par, to turning up to a ride with shaved legs and a new Cervelo P3. Europe is cool, but especially, Flanders, Italy, the Ardennes, Holland and France. True, Britain is catching up in procycling, but the Leeds classic, the Milk Race, the Surrey Classic, will never have the ring or history of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. At best we can hope to join the European club.

Anyway, the name alone doesn’t make a sporting occasion. What about the racing? Firstly, the racing is much more exciting and interesting than a stage in the Tour de France. If you’ve only ever watched the Tour de France, you might think cycling is dominated by a strong team of nine, pulling at the front to set up a sprinter or put their team leader in yellow. Rarely do the best cyclists in the Tour actually show themselves at the front. The beauty of the classics is that, although team tactics play a huge role, at the end of the day, if you want to win you have to get over the finish line first. You have to have tactical nous and strength over the whole 270km. You can win the Tour without winning a stage. In the classics, defensive tactics aren’t enough.

The agony of the classics, Bosan Hagen dropped by the leaders. Classics are so tough, riders finish in small groups, no bunch sprint like in the Tour.

The agony of the classics, Bosan Hagen dropped by the leaders. Classics are so tough, riders finish in small groups, no bunch sprint like in the Tour. Photo Brendan

Classics are much tougher than a stage. It is rarely dominated by one team (at least so long as Gewiss isn’t being prepared by Michele Ferrari) The nature of the race means it’s often hard for the favourite to win. The winner could come from many different sources. Though if you have an engine like Cancellara, it does put you in a good position. But, even his win in Paris-Roubaix was pretty exciting. And if two fellow escapees hadn’t been knocked off by spectators, he may well not have won.

That’s one thing about the classics – there is great unpredictability. Can you imagine Manchester United on course to win the Premier League only to fall in the last game of the season, because Wayne Rooney gets knocked over by a spectator wandering onto the pitch. (and to think Premier league managers get annoyed for implementation of offside rules) Classics must be really tough for the riders, a mistime puncture or crash and it’s all over.

In particular, I keep a look out for Sky riders. I really enjoyed seeing Ian Stannard attack in Milan San Remo, he ended up finishing 6th, but it seemed a very honourable 6th place. In sport, they often say it’s first or nothing, but in the classics I’m sure it’s not like that. Even just finishing must be a great achievement. Sky are very professional team, but have struggled in the classics. Even a great stage racer can’t necessarily win the classics.

Cancellara Tour of Flanders

Cancellara in Tour of Flanders. 

Photo Brendan

I caught the Tour of Flanders at the best moment. Cancellara attacked, only Sagan could respond. Then, Cancellara attacked again, and Sagan couldn’t quite match the pace. The action may all happen towards the end, but it’s gripping stuff. All or nothing.

My biggest disappointment of the classic season was recording Liege Bastogne Liege on Sunday when I was out racing. I watched 2.5 hours from km 100 to 3km to go. A break of 5-6 riders was flying up the cote du Saint-Nicolas, then the recording stopped 5 mins before the finish! The race had gone over time, and I missed the last 3km. So much for paying £7 a month to Eurosport!


The Five ‘monuments’ – biggest classics.

  1. Milan – San Remo (Italy) – the first true Classic of the year, its Italian name is La Primavera (the spring), this race is held in late March. First run in 1907.
  2. Tour of Flanders (Belgium) – also known as the Tour of Flanders, the first of the ‘Spring Classics’, is raced in early April. First held in 1913.
  3. Paris–Roubaix (France) – the “Queen of the Classics” or l’Enfer du Nord (“Hell of the North”) is traditionally one week after the Tour of Flanders, and was first raced in 1896.
  4. Liège–Bastogne–Liège (Belgium) – late April. La Doyenne, the oldest Classic, was first held in 1892 as an amateur event; a professional edition following in 1894.
  5. Giro di Lombardia (Italy) – also known as the “Race of the Falling Leaves”, was held in October. Initially called the Milano–Milano in 1905, it became the Giro di Lombardia in 1907 and Il Lombardia in 2012 along with a new, earlier date at the end of September.
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