SLJ’s Tips for Winter Riding

I’m not alone within our club in wanting to continue to ride throughout the year, and some of our best and most enjoyable club runs take place against the typical backdrop of winter in the sometimes inhospitable far North East of England – in other words freezing cold, soaking wet and impossibly windy.

There’s something about being out with a smaller, select group of foolhardy mates and battling everything Mother Nature has to throw at you. In one sense, the worse the weather is, the more challenging the ride becomes and the greater the sense of personal achievement. On top of this the difference in form and fitness between those who ride and those who hibernate until the Spring is always quite marked.

Oh and as an added benefit, the queues in the café are generally much, much shorter in winter too.

Winter rides actually give us some of the best the weather has to offer, crisp, clear winter days under sparkling blue skies. There is of course also a fair share of rain, drizzle, sleet, hail and snow, gales and gusts of wind, frost and deadly ice and filthy-dirty, hacky-mucky, muddy-clarty road surfaces, liberally dotted with craters, crevasses, splits and fissures, pools, puddles, swamps and lagoons of freezing cold rainwater.

There’s lots of websites offering tips on winter riding, although I don’t think any of them have ever changed what I do, so I guess a lot of what they purport to teach you is just common sense and a bit of a waste of time.

Anyway, no one ever accused me of originality, so for what it’s worth here’s my one one-hundred-and-twentieth of a pound and hopefully, 1 or 2 tips that actually make it beyond the: “Yeah, so what, tell me something new” filter.

Dress the Part

Make sure your extremities are well covered – feet, fingers and ears are the bits of me that suffer the worst, so they’re the bits I pay most attention to.

Invest in a good pair of socks. Apparently the trick here is not to pile on so many layers that you have to squeeze your feet into your shoes, restricting blood flow and actually making things worse.

My own personal favourites are Prendas Thermolite socks, which I’d heartily recommend, even if I always think Thermolite sounds like some kind of extremely dangerous and volatile explosive.

Thermolite fibres, I’m continually being told, mimic “polar bear fur” and you’ve never seen a polar bear shiver have you? That’s because they wear Thermolite socks their fur is hollow and provides excellent insulation – and so apparently are Thermolite fibres.


polar-bear-socks
“Aha! Excellent – Thermolite socks, my feet are bloody freezing.”

Of course socks actually made of polar bear fur would ultimately be the best, but good luck trying to shear one of those suckers. (Now there’s a challenge for Rapha, and something that might actually justify their elitist pricing policies).

I’ve tried other Thermolite socks (Agu do a relatively cheap pair via Planet X) but haven’t found any that are near as good, but your mileage may vary. The best thing about the Prendas ones are that they retain their warmth even when wet through – something that seemed to be a worrying trend last year as we saw extensive flooding and forged through some impressively deep puddles.

In extremis, a thin pair of over-socks, or Belgian booties worn over your shoes, but under neoprene, waterproof shoe covers can provide an additional bit of insulation. It’s even a simple enough task to make your own Belgian booties from an old pair of socks, just remember to cut a hole in the bottom to accommodate your cleats!

It has the benefit of giving you something else to do with old socks, once you’ve had your fill of sock puppets and if you’re wearing them under overshoes, Auntie Vera will never know her hideous, unwelcome Christmas gifts have been cruelly desecrated to fuel your cycling obsession.

Up top, I find wearing a hat under my helmet a little too warm, so wear a headband that covers my ears, but leaves the rest of my head uncovered for ventilation. Of course I’ll admit the drawback is it makes me look like sad disco diva from the 80’s (I’ll admit I can be a bit of a diva, but disco? Never!) Still, I feel it’s a small price to pay for toasty ears.

In heavy rain, a cycling cap worn under the helmet also works well, the peak will divert a lot of the road spray out of your eyes and it can also be useful to combat a low winter sun.

I have various different weights of glove depending on the temperature outside. Mightiest of all are some “Mr. Krabs” lobster mitts that look utterly ridiculous, but are the warmest I’ve found yet and, again keep their insulating properties even when completely waterlogged.

For less extreme days I choose the gloves to suit, often paired with a thin pair of silk glove liners that can be worn for added warmth, or quickly pulled off and tucked away in a back pocket. The glove liners were only a couple of quid on eBay and well worth the price. They were however dispatched from China seemingly by an over-worked, under-nourished, asthmatic carrier pigeon, so are probably best ordered before July if you want to wear them through the winter months.

A few club-mates have taken to carrying a spare pair of gloves so they can swap them out if the originals get soaked through. This certainly beats the singed-wool and wet-dog smell of gloves steaming on the fireplace at the café, or the utter horror and impossibility of trying to pull cold, wet gloves back on after they’ve been abandoned in a sodden, muddy heap on the floor.

A buff or tube scarf is another useful, inexpensive article – (I’ve seen it referred to as a neck gaiter in some quarters – please don’t use this term I always read it as goitre and it makes me feel very queasy.) Anyway, this is supremely practical to plug the gap between collar and neck, or it can be worn as a head covering, or pulled up to cover your chin, mouth, nose or lower face (if you’re feeling particularly bad ass and gangsta).


neck
Neck gaiter, good … neck goitre bad

It’s also supremely useful just to wipe sweat, dirt and accumulated crud from your face, hands, specs, or even your bike.

In direct contravention of Velominati Rule # 34, I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter bike. The recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

For example, just last year we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood when a felled tree blocked the road and a ride which ended in a snowstorm saw me pushing the bike uphill on the pavement as the only way to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road shoes with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

Of course there’s a bit more expense involved if you need to buy both MTB shoes and road shoes, but decent MTB shoes are relatively cheap, last forever and save you destroying your best, carbon-soled racing slippers by riding them throughout the winter.

A few riders in our club use dedicated, waterproof winter boots rather than overshoes. This also might seem like an expensive option, until you consider the fact that overshoes tend not to last much beyond a year and are in almost constant need of replacing. I would imagine the investment in a dedicated pair of winter boots would not only keep your feet warmer and drier, but pay for themselves in the long run. Hopefully I’ll soon find out, I’ve added a pair to my Christmas list.

Of course, if any water does get in to these boots, it tends to stay there, which is what happened to Crazy Legs on one of the more extreme, rain-swept Wooler Wheel sportive rides. He eventually had to stop to take his boots off and pour out all the accumulated water, which I guess was a better option than a developing a severe case of trench foot.

I also use a range of good base layers of varying thickness and insulating properties and have even been known to wear two at a time. For the extreme cold a thick merino version has yet to be bettered.

My go to winter jacket is my Galibier Mistral, which is at least water-resistant if not downright waterproof. If it’s looking like a lot of rain, I usually put a waterproof over the top of this jacket. I’ve just bought a heavier Santini “Rain” jacket for just this purpose, and I’m reasonably confident I’ll get a chance to field test it very soon.

On the legs, tights or legwarmers made of that Roubaix fabric with the brushed back always seem a reliable choice. I quite like tights without a pad so they can be worn over shorts. This provides a bit more protection to the thighs through the double layer of shorts and tights. It’s also useful because I have half a dozen or more pairs of shorts, but only 3 or 4 pairs of tights. I can wear the same leggings for all my weekly rides by simply changing the shorts underneath for a clean pair everyday.

Some people suggest tights with a bib can serve better to keep your lower torso a little more protected and warm, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever noticed that much of a difference, although they do as a rule seem more comfortable for longer rides.

I use a pair of “waterproof” tights for commuting, but haven’t found them particularly effective and faced with a downpour I’m more likely to take a spare pair of shorts in my backpack so I have something dry for the ride home, even if the tights have become soaked through and don’t dry off in time.

The Ride

Winter means winter bikes for those that can afford them, or more precisely those who’ve been riding long enough to have bought a better bike and consigned their original steed to winter hack duties.

In some ways a true winter bike is more interesting, unique, more colourful and will have more character and more anecdotes attached to it than your more refined, “best bike.” Many will have long and varied back-story and an uncertain pedigree and provenance.

The incomparable, always entertaining Doc Hutch, writing in Cycling Weekly suggests, “a true winter bike is the one that just coalesces in a corner of the garage. Long forgotten and usually deeply-flawed components quietly gather themselves together until one day you find there are enough to build a bike. It’ll be a bike like no one else’s.”

He goes on to suggest, “It will be uncomfortable and it will rattle, but it will be yours in a way your summer carbon wonder-bike never will be. You will hate it, of course you will. But you’ll love it too.”

And here I think is the nub of the issue. The more you hate your winter bike, the less likely you are to ride it and given our long winters and poor weather is likely to last at least a quarter of the year, that’s a whole lot of riding to miss out on.

Even Taffy Steve can just about tolerate his thrice-cursed winter bike, although maybe he just tolerates it in order to keep his titanium love-child safe from harm and to build the anticipation of returning to it once the weather improves.

At worst then, I feel you need to lavish enough care, attention and unfortunately money on your winter bike to at least make it a neutral if not total pleasurable riding experience, even if it’s too unlovely to fully embrace.

The bare essentials I would insist on are a decent, tried and tested, comfortable saddle, full mudguards and winter specific tyres.

A few personal pointers:

Valve caps. You know those useless, little bits of plastic that the Velominati rules declare as useless and never to be used? How unseemly an impact do they have on how your bike looks? How much additional weight and drag do they add? How much quicker can you repair a flat without having to remove them? The answer to all these questions should of course contain the word “negligible” and you’ll find they’re actually a very valuable and useful asset in winter.

Without them the valves can become encrusted in salt and mud and crud, and almost impossible to open without resorting to mole grips or pliers, or in desperation teeth. Not a good place to be if you need to add (or remove) a little air from your tyres.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to drop your wheels out of the bike regularly when cleaning, just to check your quick release or wheel bolts haven’t seized solid. Bad enough to give your own personal spanner-monkey fits at home, but an absolute nightmare if you puncture in the middle of nowhere and can’t get the wheel out to change the tyre.

Our Glorious Leader even suggests that you occasionally remove, lube and replace your brake callipers, as he’s finding more and more bikes coming into his workshop with the brake fittings seized into the frame.

It’s worth buying spare brake pads so you have a set “in stock” ready at any time. The winter seems particularly harsh, chewing through them with great relish, often accompanied by that awful, gritty, grinding noise, that seems to signify your rims being ground to fine aluminium space dust before your eyes.

Your braking is likely to be compromised anyway by the fact that you’re on a heavier bike, with less effective equipment and often in wet and slippery conditions. That’s bad enough to contend with before you throw badly worn brake blocks into the mix.

Mudguards are often seen to be more trouble than they’re worth, ruining the aesthetic look of your bike and constantly and irritatingly rubbing and squeaking. But they’re worth putting up with for the benefits they can bring, most especially to anyone else you’re riding with.

Again, Doc Hutch through the auspices of Cycling Weekly suggests, “anyone whose winter bike doesn’t feature mudguards is both a fool and a blackguard.”

He adds that, “the carefree joy of guard-free riding is further enhanced while riding in a group, where the pressure hose of crap coming off the back wheel of the rider in front means you can pass the subsequent winter evening in front of the fire gently exfoliating your eyeballs every time you blink.”

As with all things winter bike related, I think the trick is to actually embrace them, rather than fit them grudgingly. Then again, once you’ve experienced the difference mudguards can make to your posterior, feet, bike, laundry and the disposition of your fellow riders after a wet, chilly ride, you’ll never go back. An asssaver might look hardcore, but it’s ridiculously ineffective in comparison to full length mudguards.

Really there’s no excuse for not using guards, given the wide variety of choice and fitting systems available – there must surely be a solution for every bike out there. My own advice would be:

Make them as wide as your frame will allow so you have the option for wider winter tyres and there’s less chance of them rubbing and driving you slowly crazy.

If they do start to rub, don’t try and adjust them on the fly. I tried to do this riding up a hill and caught my hand in the front wheel, getting a vicious, stinging slap for my stupidity, and very bruised, lacerated, bent and sore fingers too. It was a minor miracle I didn’t fall off to fully compound my idiocy.

Make your mudguards as long as possible. I recently laughed at Son of G-Dawg for wearing a full-facial mud pack which I was convinced wouldn’t help his complexion in the slightest. I was surprised when he told me it was the result of riding behind me, despite my standard issue long mudguards. I’ve since added additional mud flaps and have people squabbling to get on my back wheel now, knowing they’re going to be well shielded from spray and crud.

You can of course make your own mud flaps and I particularly like those homemade ones where you can still see the provenance of the plastic used – bright blue with a big label reading Domestos or the like.


mudflaps
Either one will work, but I particularly like the mudflap made from a bottle of honey as featured on Sheldon Brown’s website

For the lazy and cack-handed (like me) however there are store bought solutions readily available. I bought a front and back set from RAW that were a doddle to fit and I’m hugely pleased with. As well as adding additional protection for riders behind, I’m surprised how much drier the front one keeps my feet.

RAW also do mudflaps in a whole host of different colours and designs. These not so humble flaps can even be customised with your club colours and logo, although I’m already on record as declaring such frivolities as exceedingly gauche.

A few of my clubmates switch to fixies or single-gear when the weather gets really brutal, with the obvious benefits that there’s so much less to clean and maintain and fewer things that can go wrong. There’s also an appealing simplicity to riding a bike without gears.

I haven’t tried a club run on my single-speed yet, but perhaps with some heavier tyres I might give it a go, although I suggest it’ll probably be the end of me.

It’s worth investing in a decent set of winter tyres, even if it means more weight and rolling resistance. Fixing a filthy tyre in the freezing rain has no known positives, so the more you can do to avoid this scenario the better.

As far as tyres go, fatter seem to be better, offering more grip and a more comfortable ride at lower pressures. I’ve ridden Continental Gatorskins in the past but switched to Schwalbe Durano Plus to try and find a bit more grip without sacrificing too much puncture resistance. Others swear by Continental Four Seasons or Schwalbe Marathon’s.

I’m semi-tempted to try Schwalbe Marathon tyres once my current ones are past their shelf-life, although I’m somewhat leery of them too, as they are notoriously difficult to mount and I have the upper body strength of an anorexic, prepubescent girl, coupled to a grip akin to what your Grandad’s aged and massive Y-fronts exert through their perished elastic.

I’m also a little put-off by the fact that their advocates constantly refer to them through the much over-used term “bombproof” – a phrase evidently employed by people much given to hyperbole and possessing a very poor understanding of the destructive powers of explosive ordnance.

Some winter hazards to watch out for:

Cross winds and unexpected gaps in hedges – the two simply don’t mix. Beware the sudden gust that can scatter a group of well-organised cyclists like a bowling ball smacking the king pin full force.

Ice, ice baby. Ice is about the only thing that will keep large numbers of our group indoors, turning grip and traction into a lottery. Crazy Legs has a patented pre-ride ice test involving running out into the street in his slippers and taking a running jump into the nearest puddle. If he lands with a momentous splash and drenches himself in frigid water, all well and good. If he skids across the surface of the puddle and falls on his arse, it’s probably too cold to ride.

If you do think the roads are likely to be icy, its best to try and stick to main, bus routes which have a greater chance of being gritted. You should also be particularly wary of ice lingering in the shadows at the side of the road, even on the brightest of winter days. It goes without saying that any hazards when wet – white lines, fallen leaves, gratings and manhole covers, are likely to be even more hazardous when icy.

Experience has also taught us that, if you stop to help push a car out of a ditch after it’s skidded across the road on black ice, it’s probably best to assume that the road will be equally as unforgiving to cyclists (and most especially to Dabman’s brittle bones) and it’s probably best to turn around and find a different route.

Thorns. Farmers seem to take great delight in hacking back their hedges at this time of the year and liberally scattering the roads with their cuttings and numerous unavoidable, steel-tipped, mega-thorns. These are probably the cause of more punctures in our group than all the glass, flints and pinch flats combined. I haven’t yet found a tyre they can’t defeat and can’t see how they can be avoided. The best you can do is be aware and be prepared for the worst.

Finally, beware assorted toffs, often found milling aimlessly around in the middle of the road in winter – often in tweed and silly hats, occasionally carrying firearms and invariably accompanied by packs of barely-trained quadrupeds. They’re generally very jolly, but it’s best not to startle them too much, or get in their way.

So, there you have it all the encouragement and advice needed to keep you riding though the winter and the worst of the weather, it beats another torture session on the turbo every time.

Electraglide in Beige

Dragging my tired and sorry ass  up the Heinous Hill on my commute home yesterday, I was effortlessly overtaken by a middle-aged woman on an e-bike – a sort of electraglide in beige.

“Hey!” I shouted, “That’s cheating.”

“You still have to pedal.” She laughed. I would have joined in, but I was much too short of breath.

It transpired she had asthma and couldn’t ride a normal bike, but the e-bike was ideal for her and allowed her to zip up the worst climbs without even breaking sweat.

I have to say being passed by an e-bike is a lot more pleasant and a lot less stressful than jockeying for road space with any other kind of motorised vehicle.  If an e-bike is suitable for an asthmatic, middle-aged woman on a fairly arduous climb, then it seems like just about anyone could use one, just about anywhere.

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if even just a tiny fraction of car journeys were made by e-bike instead?

I’ve seen the future and it looks electric – even if it means being shamed by grannies who can climb like a super-charged Lance.


 

Random Rambles and Esoteric Observations # 4 – Planet X vs. Rapha – The Throwdown


A very personal viewpoint…

Trying to find some clever way of segmenting buying behaviour within the cycling market for a colleague developing a new business concept, I half-jokingly suggested we could measure attitudes to spending on a scale where one end was represented by Rapha and the other end Planet X.

Then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that perhaps my mad idea held more than a grain of truth, and the two brands do in fact occupy completely opposite ends of the price spectrum.


pxvr


Rapha is a brand that so desperately wants to be seen as niche and elitist that it almost hurts, and I suspect the overblown prices are very much part of its appeal to a certain type of customer. While I don’t doubt its products are high quality, well-designed and built to last, I do have trouble believing they are 7 or 8 times better than the competition, which is what some of the pricing implies.

Planet X on the other hand trumpets no nonsense prices and its website and stores are replete with some astonishing deals. In fact they first came to my attention through one of their clearance sales, when I picked up a pair of my favourite Vittoria Corsa tyres for £9.99 each instead of the rrp of £49.99. Everyone loves a bargain, right?

But it’s not just the product and price positioning that sets Rapha and Planet X apart, they also seem fundamentally different on many other levels.

Take the brand names for a start: Rapha sounds like a somewhat louche, semi-successful, minor British film star. One of those slightly posh, thespian gentlemen with limited acting ability, who carefully manage to just about play themselves for most roles and manage to retain celebrity B-list status only by dint of constant tabloid headlines earned for all the wrong reasons.

On the other hand, where do you begin with Planet X? It’s a corny, half-baked, creaky, black and white Sci-Fi movie that wants to achieve “so bad it’s good” cult status and cool, but is just ultimately cheesy and unremittingly nerdy.


Whenever I see the Planet X logo I automatically make this unfortunate association...
Whenever I see the Planet X logo I automatically make this unfortunate association…

Rapha borrows heavily (some would say steals cynically and unashamedly) from the iconic heritage of vintage, continental cycling, the epic pain and suffering of cycling’s classic races and hardmen racers, all shot in black and white: straining bodies, serious faces and nary a smile to be seen. It’s such an overly-serious, po-faced approach – where’s the fun and the joy that’s so inherent to cycling?

This is a mythological version of cycling as it never was, all suffering and gladiatorial combat – and to me it’s so obviously a parody and fake in its own right that I’m surprised it’s still being parodied by others – and all without even the slightest whiff of irony.

Planet X on the other hand is all gruff, straight talking, down to earth stuff. A spade will always be a spade, never a lovingly hand-crafted, ergonomically designed earth shearing, turning and excavation tool, forged from high impact, low carbon tensile steel with a close-grained, oiled and carefully pollarded English yew shaft that’s been lovingly nurtured to maturity in the ancient and Royal Forest of Dean. Phew! And breathe. Planet X is the Ronseal of the cycling world – doing exactly what it says on the tin.

Rapha colours are unremittingly flat and dull, relying heavily on over liberal and much imitated use of black (as the new white, brown, grey, orange, black etc. – just delete as appropriate). They are minimalist to the point of bland. Their signature; the single, contrasting coloured band on the sleeve, leg or whatever, no longer looks clever to me (was it ever?) – just strangely unimaginative and rather tired looking. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Planet X designs on the other hand have none of the studied cool of Rapha and tend toward the garish and over-the-top – check out their Carnac team kit and bikes as a prime example.


Carnac Team Kit
Carnac team kit – you can’t say it’s not distinctive.

Once stalwarts of the British pro scene via the RaphaCondor outfit, Rapha have moved up to the big time and are now the kit providers of choice to the elite of the elite pro teams, the one with allegedly the biggest budget in the peloton, and a team that is perhaps as divisive as the Rapha brand itself.

You don’t have to stray too far into the troll infested backwoods of the Internet to find that Sky are unremittingly seen as the bad guys, sucking the soul out of cycling through (shock! horror!) meticulous planning, innovative methods, spending as much budget as they can prise out of sponsors hands, employing the most talented riders, structured training, organisation, attention to detail and riding to their strengths, (all ladled with lashings of dark, innuendo about cheating and drug-taking.)

Rapha themselves have managed to take one of the duller team kits in the pro ranks and somehow make it even more boring and bland, (or understated, cool and minimalist, depending on your own point of view.) Oh, and then they’ve added those shudderingly hideous national flags to the sleeve cuffs for good measure … well, only one sleeve cuff, obviously.


There may be people out there who like this - but I'm not one of them.
There may be people out there who like this – but I’m not one of them.

Planet X on the other hand are unheralded sponsors of a host of domestic, young, up-and-coming, teams and individuals, kids, men and women, all flying pretty much under the radar, all in real need of support. They appear to do this with the sole intent of nurturing the grass-roots of the sport, although, if they’re really clever, perhaps they might be able to squeeze some small marketing return out of their investment.

Rapha are the perfect, text book example of how to build a premium, niche brand and as a marketing man I should be much, much more appreciative of their tight control over product and image and how they’ve created a brand with a real and enduring cachet. Their heritage may be at best overstated and at worst manufactured – but it’s obviously working for them and their target market.

There’s a lot to admire about Rapha – they are a relatively young, dynamically growing, internationally recognised and highly successful British brand that is seen as world leading and is much loved and valued by the only people who actually matter – their customers. I’m sure on many levels their devotees (Raphalites in my jargon) enjoy the scorn of their detractors as much as the product and brand image they are actually buying into.

From the outside Planet X sometimes appear a bit disorganised and all over the shop, willing to jump at any opportunity and conveying the wiles and opportunism of a wheeler-dealer market trader, a Del Boy made good? They appear content to be seen as bumbling along with no particular destination in mind and without any kind of blueprint for world domination.


vans


It’s difficult to imagine anyone actually coveting a Planet X product, and if they do the value for money pricing means it’s an itch that’s fairly easily scratched. Many, many people however will be more than happy to buy and use and endorse their products wholeheartedly.

Both companies have owners who profess a love of cycling, but for Simon Mottram of Rapha it’s the pure and unalloyed love of road racing. His avowed aim is to promote the sport he loves, and he wants it to be as big as football. It’s an interesting point of view, but I’m not sure it’s remotely attainable, or more importantly, even the least bit desirable.


“I think road cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and the toughest sport in the world, and I think it should be the biggest sport in the world. I think more people should do cycling than watch football.”
“I think road cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and the toughest sport in the world, and I think it should be the biggest sport in the world. I think more people should do cycling than watch football.” (Photo from Cycling Weekly)

I also struggle to forgive him his man-crush on Marco Pantani, who Mottram sees as a tragic icon of style(!) and the epitome of cool, while I just think of him as a fragile, ungainly, rocket-fuelled cheat, deserving as much approbation as a certain gentleman from Texas.

On the other side of the coin, Planet X is owned and run by Dave Loughran. A bit of a mongrel in terms of cycling background, first and foremost a triathlete, and then a mountain biker who has dabbled in dirt bikes, mountain bikes, fixies, or anything else that’ll turn a profit. By all accounts Loughran is an abrasive, hard-nosed, salesman and a bit of a wheeler-dealer who admires Mike Ashley of all people.

This is a man with (judging purely from what I’ve read, you understand) so many traits I don’t admire that I can’t say I have an interest in meeting him and I certainly can’t imagine myself ever working for him. Despite this he’s made a good impression on me (ironically in an excellent article written by Jack Thurston in Rapha’s “corporate” magazine Rouleur) and I’m really interested in seeing what he does next. It was while being interviewed for this article that, almost in an aside about business growth really stuck and resonated with me.

I can remember way back in my university days trying to write a Marketing Communications assignment and weave into it the universal truths of Nietzche’s writings and the startling insight of W B Yeats poetry, wrapped around a lengthy discourse on the largely unreported hijacking, total control and manipulation of the free press by the military during the American invasion of Grenada. (Pretentious. Moi? Look there’s only so much you can write about J.K. Galbraith, Drucker or Kotler without becoming deathly boring to yourself and, surely your tutors too…)

Around this time I unerringly stumbled across a lecture by E.P. Thompson which either coloured my thinking, or simply gave life to already ingrained beliefs. Thompson argued that the establishment controls the frame of reference in which all the political discourse takes place and stifles true debate so that, for example, it becomes a very narrow argument about which political party can best deliver economic growth and never an exploration of whether the blind pursuit of growth is actually necessary, or in the best interests of the country and its populace.

He likened this to a car, “bumming down the motorway with an accelerator pedal, but no steering … we rush on, faster or slower, but can’t take exits, go somewhere else, or even stop and turnaround.”

In 30 years of working for and on behalf of dozens, if not hundreds of businesses, both massive and micro, corporate conglomerates to Mom & Pop family-run affairs, I’ve seen the same single-minded, determined obsession with growth and never yet encountered an organisation that strayed far from the strategy of making as much money and profit as humanly (and occasionally inhumanely) possible.

Every business and many other types of organisation too, seem to have a default setting that says they have to measure themselves purely on financial performance. Year on year they set themselves bigger and bigger growth targets, regardless of whether this is necessary or actually in their best interests, regardless of the mental and physical well-being of the workers and the management and ignoring if this will actually improve what they deliver to their customers.

Now, many, many years later I’ve actually found a successful business man with a different view and judging from the articles, growth for growth’s sake also seems to be a bit of a bugbear for Loughran too.

He’s quoted talking about the plans to sell off his company, “All I’ve had for the last three years is ‘what’s our growth plan’: growth, growth, growth, how are we striving for growth? Growth became a number. We grew phenomenally in the last year and it became a pressure cooker of: ‘How do we build 300 bikes a week, how do we build 350, how do we build 400?’ It was all because my management team was driving for a buy-out and they had to show to all the vulture capitalists a £10, £15, £20, £25 million success story”.

And then he capped it all with this piece of what sounded like very heartfelt, hard-won wisdom. “We can build 300 bikes a week now and everyone can have a great life and the mechanics don’t have any pressure and we can have good availability. If we strove for 500 bikes a week we wouldn’t have the supply chain, everybody would hate each other, it wouldn’t be a nice company.” (My emphasis).

He then went on to talk about setting up an employee share ownership system that will eventually mean the company is co-owned by staff and an independent trust set up to safeguard the workforce. Sounds great – I’ll be watching.

And there you have it, a very rambling discourse on why I’m more interested in what Mr. Loughran does next, rather than Mr. Mottram’s next step toward world-domination. It’s also one reason why I’m more X-traterrestrial than a Raphalite – you see it isn’t just because I’m as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter.


Random Rambles and Esoteric Observations # 3 – MAMILS Go Mainstream


I was somewhat bemused on my regular commute to be confronted by a poster advertising the new Vauxhall Mokka as being “M.A.M.I.L. Ready.”


M.A.M.I.L. Ready?
M.A.M.I.L. Ready?

Since when did cycling become so popular that we’re now a legitimate, and by implication lucrative, sub-market in our own right? Then again, surely I’m not the only, ahem, MAMIL who finds the ad just a tad patronising?

Having had my interest piqued I tracked down some blarney about the ad from the creative agency and Vauxhall, which seemed to suggest that wearing cycling kit has grown to such an extent that it’s as common as kids peeing by the roadside, or husbands surreptitiously slipping away to avoid familial strife (two of the random scenarios in an ad that the developers grandiosely assert is: “a saunter through everyday eccentric British family life.”)

I was particularly intrigued by a section which promised to illuminate “in a light-hearted and humerous way, the perils of the M.A.M.I.L.”

Surprisingly this did not feature cyclists bodily hurling themselves into hedges and ditches to avoid homicidally driven, over-sized, petrol-guzzling, and speeding 4 x 4 behemoths, such as the Mokka itself. That’s certainly one of my most common experiences with this type of car, which a higher than average percentage of the RIM’s (Random Indignant Motorists) I have run-ins with seem to favour.

The perils of the M.A.M.I.L. actually features two middle-aged cyclists trailing doggedly on foot up the very first, gentle slopes of the approach to Honister Pass, already reduced to pushing their bikes by the “pig of a hill”. Thankfully, they are saved from further embarrassment when the incredibly perky daughter of one of them drives up (in her shiny new Mokka obviously) and offers them a lift home.


This hill’s a pig – or The Perils of a M.A.M.I.L.

There you have it then in one gloriously overblown cinematic sweep, MAMILS are completely delusional, un-fit, under-prepared quitters and figures of fun to boot. Nice.


Random Ephemera Part#1 – in celebration of the wit & wisdom of the online cycling fraternity

When Keats proposed his epitaph should be, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water” he was perhaps prescient in seeing an age where electronic media would prove to be even more transient than the printed page.

While trawling this interweb-thing I’ll often stumble across some pithy put-down, well-crafted description, or just plain-evil, barbed comment that will have me spluttering coffee across my keyboard in delight.

This is my poor attempt to extend the life of this ephemera just a gnat’s breath longer. Here are some of my favourites.

[By the way, if anyone can help I’m still searching for a review I once saw of a reassuringly expensive Rapha wallet, illustrated with a suitable grainy photo of said item spilling open to reveal credit cards, keys, an iPhone and a pristine £10 note. In the comments section some wag had pondered whether the tenner was there for emergencies in case the Raphalite had to soil his fingers replacing a slipped chain and needed something to wipe them clean on.]

A marvellously low-brow interview with Victoria Pendleton in FHM (what else would you expect from FHM?) included the line: “Some of the girls I race against are quite masculine and have very low voices and facial hair…”

To which one message board wit quipped, “That’s odd. Some of the guys I race against are quite feminine, have squeaky voices and no hair anywhere. That’s the topsy-turvy world of cycling for you.”

Then there’s this classic from the Master himself, Doc Hutch in a piece from Cycling Weekly. “In the same era, the British time triallist would lighten his bike with a Black and Decker, drilling holes in bars, stems, frames, brakes, chainsets, and all the rest. He could thus remove two per cent of the weight and 99 per cent of the structural integrity. At full race pace his machine would whistle like a recorder concerto and flex like a wet dishcloth.”


The Rapha Pro Team Cross jersey. Decide for yourself.
The Rapha Pro Team Cross jersey. Decide for yourself.

Finally, GavinT posted a simple question under a review of the Rapha Pro Team Cross Jersey: “Do they do one in men’s colours?”


Random Rambles and Esoteric Observations, Part#1


I have to admit to being a bit of a cycling dandy – as my teenage daughter might say, “he loves him some cycling jersey” – although if she saw I’d just written that she would instantly, and quite rightly, disown me (inheritance be damned!)

Anyway, an unfortunate and unexpected change of bike last year has opened up a radically new colour palette and gear rethink as, like any rational cyclist, I attempt to perfectly blend and co-ordinate man with machine like some Borg-infested Gok Wan. Resistance is futile, girlfriend?

I now have the perfect excuse to add to my bulging drawers (sorry, that not only carried all the wrong connotations, but a rather unpleasant mental image), ahem, to add to my ever growing collection of cycling jerseys. With this in mind I recently sent off to the sweatshops of the Far East for a jersey reportedly inspired by the Bundisliga. Yes, we’re talking football, and German football at that. I still don’t quite understand the connection or thinking here, but the colours perfectly match my new bike, so it works for me.

Not only was the jersey well-made, a good fit and excellent value for money, but according to the tag it had quite startling features beyond my wildest imaginings, promising “high elasticity Lycra” to “cultivate one’s morality version of joint human body.” Even Rapha or Assos don’t give you that.

eighteen
By the way, I’m by no means the worst offender when it comes to bike styling – I once caught a club mate changing his usual drink from blackcurrant to orange so the faint blush of colour through the plastic of his bidon* would complement his new bar tape.


* faux posh for water bottle