Thursday, 25 October 2012

Family Cycle Session at Meldrum Academy

Children, mountain bikes, girl's roadsters, wooden balance bikes, bikes with bells, bikes with stablisers and a sprinkling of parents filled the playground at Meldrum Academy on Wednesday 24th October, all eager to take part in the Family Cycle Session.

Arrange the bike bits.

Leading the session gave me a great opportunity to practise what I have learnt over the past couple of years and bring it all together in one session. The age range was wide, from 4yrs - 8yrs and so I used elements of the Ready Steady Bike scheme as well as an adaptation of the off-road obstacle course that I learned during the Trail Cycle Leader training.

Children began by looking at the different parts of a bike and the younger children worked together to complete the bike puzzle while the older ones had a look at the technical names of the bike parts. Then it was the older children's job to label the parts on the jigsaw using chalk. This led nicely to the bike check.

The limbo bar didn't survive.
With the younger children, a bike check is not an easy thing to do. In fact, getting them to stand in one place for 5 minutes is near impossible. This was the part where the parents had the opportunity to work with the children to check that the bike was safe. We did this together and after a little hestation, the parents became more involved.

Once the clothing and the bikes had been deemed safe, we began with our activities, including the braking zone, freewheeling, turning and finally the culmination of the basic skills in the off-road course. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did some children choose to continue practising the basic skills but that also children on balance bikes and even with bikes with stablisers gave the off road course a go and achieved success on particular parts of it.

The session ended with lots of thank-yous and happy children who assured me that they had all learned new skills and felt more confident on their bikes. The feedback from the parents was also good and they even helped me tidy things away. I look forward to doing this again, with more defined age groups and perhaps some longer sessions.

Monday, 8 October 2012

I Passed My Trail Cycle Leader Qualification!

I'd done the two-day training course back in May so as I rolled up to Gartmorn Country Park near Tillicoultry I felt quite apprehensive. It was a cold morning; 8am; -1C. Could I remember everything I'd learnt before? I should have practised leading groups over the Summer but in my defence, I had precious little child-free days with which to dedicate to bike riding. Anyway, the beautiful sight of the mist over Gartmorn Dam suggested that the day was going to be a good one.

The TCL assessment outcomes include having logged 30 mountain bike rides of 1.5hrs or longer, with at least one of 6hrs or more. After that it is down to three main questions; can you ride a bike, can you take the right stuff with you and can you lead a group.

The day began with a star orienteering task which involved estimating the route to the various points around the area and then checking how close you were using your computer. It was supposed to be a confidence-building, low pressure task but I was already a bit nervous and so after a few school boy errors I completed the task. In fairness, I had been asked to speed up after the first one and so I felt that pressure too. I upped my speed from an unrealistically slow 17km/h to a more respectable 22km/h and found the other 3 checkpoints and completed tasks like breaking and re-linking a chain and placing a post-it note on the inside of my rear tyre, wrapped snugly around my inner-tube. I ended up being back much sooner than the others and after realising that some of my estimates were quite far off (>100m) I took myself off to the skills course.

The skills course consists of in/out of bottles, a chicane, an up/down ramp amongst others. That was all easy peasy but my nemesis came in the form of the 3 limbo bars. The first two are fine but the third was about an inch lower than my stem and therefore close to impossible to clear. Strategies like leaning the bike one way with my whole body and legs the other didn't work. Neither did letting the air out of my front tyre! I'm ashamed to say that I left the skills course defeated and broken. However, contrary to what I'd been told during my training, it wasn't necessary to clear that obstacle to pass so I needn't have worried. And neither should the other 6 people who also didn't fit. It will be my mission to clear it in the future. I think it is the height of a wheelie bin. I'll let you know.

After some peer assessment and feedback of the morning's orienteering debarcle, I was a bit deflated. We were told to judge whether or not we'd pass each other. I wouldn't have passed me, even though I had no problem navigating to my destinations, my distances were just too far out. I was therefore relieved to hear that my navigation skills would also be assessed during the afternoon's assessed ride. A second chance for me!

The afternoon's ride was in groups of four with a given loop of about 20k. We had to divide the route into four and each choose a section to lead the group on. That involved writing up a route card with distances, key decision points and durations. I chose a particularly wiggly and varied looking bit with the intention of proving my navigation ability and redeeming myself. It was a good choice as I had many opportunities to show confident and competent leadership skills and clear decision making.

We got through our respective sections with relative ease and all felt confident in each others abilities, only occasionally having to raise eyebrows or remove the tickle in our throat when a moment of hesitation took the leader.

Safely back in the car park we debriefed and readied ourselves for our feedback. I went first as I had a two hour drive home as well as a sense of impending doom after the morning but, and rightly so in my opinion, I passed. I'm now really excited about adding the Go Mountainbike accreditation to deliver it in schools as well as starting a fortnightly/once a month day taking families around Stonehaven and encouraging off-road riding. My only obstacle is that before I can receive my certificate and begin leading I must have my outdoor first-aid certificate. I'll have that in the bag before the weather gets better and then I'll be off!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Mates Race For Life

At the top of the Old Fort across the road from Wolftrax Trails (photo: Chris Feltham)

Recently I've not been particularly good at updating blogs but after having a couple of lazy days to recover, I'm eager to share what was perhaps my best weekend of riding, ever!

Fetching pink plates (photo: Douglas Glen)
What made it so good was not only the amount of riding that was squeezed in but mainly the brilliant people who set the challenges and motivated me into really pushing myself to the limit of my own ability. I came away from the weekend with a sense of achievement as far as my riding was concerned and also a sense of pride having been part of an event that brought the fundraising effort for Cancer Research to over £4000! The whole event was organised by friends Craig and Janine in honour of the groups' biking friend Julia who passed away a year ago.

The Upper Red
Having never ridden any of Laggan Wolftrax, I was somewhat apprehensive about the race element of this. We were starting right from the top, at the start of the upper red and the black trail. I'm quite confident in my own riding ability and I know my limits but I'm also aware that I tend to chicken out of things until I am familiar with them. I think that's an important part of my own self-preservation!

The timing system was simple enough. Someone at the bottom with a stopwatch and someone at the top keeping an exact gap between riders setting off. That way, when the split times were gathered, the results could be calculated by subtracting the time taken to start at the top. Simple... mostly!
At the top of upper red

The start line had been roughly scratched into the trail at the top and we all lined up, one at a time, ready to be told to go. My nerves had turned into eager excitement and, in a large part, silliness. That could maybe explain why I set off erratically and at full speed, hitting the first few corners with little control before coming up to a drop far to fast, braking hard and coming to an abrupt halt with my front tyre resting against a rock. Time to relax a little. The following few minutes saw more of a flow though I chose the 'chicken run' past most obstacles and took it easy on anything steep or sketchy.

The air was further taken from my sails when I then picked up a pinch flat in the front tyre. The adrenaline was pumping so I changed the tube in record time and carried on to a finishing time of 14+ minutes on a track that should take 7 minutes.

Somebody then had the bright idea of a race back up the fire-road and down the fun park to the cafe. I thought that this could be my chance for a winning time since I have been feeling quite fit recently. So with saddle up and eyes on the top of the climb, I began to pace myself. It didn't help. While I was in the competition to a certain extent, I still suffered as I got to the top and still had to lower my seat for the fun park. No podium place but I'd like to think I made a fair effort!

The Lower Red
Janine on lower red
Tea and cakes later, we completed the climb to the lower red. We stopped a little way down to cut out a slower section and ensure that the descent was as fast and competitive as possible. It was and I really found the flow. Taking it much easier, I bounced my way down the first part, over the rock gardens as fast as I could pedal before the track became much more fast and flowy and I found myself leaning this way and that, zipping between trees. I finished that trail with both tyres and tubes intact and with a much more respectable time!

The Fun Park
With my spirits high and confidence boosted we hit the fun park again for the timed event. Having already ridden this I knew how fast I could hit the jumps and how I could keep my height down. It was pretty windy and the last thing I wanted was to be caught by a gust of wind in mid air. My air-born skills can't cope with any unexpected interference when gritting my teeth and hoping to hit the ground the right way up!

By this time I think most of us were ready for another cup of tea and the security of knowing where we were to be sleeping the night.

Sleeping Arrangements
cosy accomodation
Laggan Village Hall wasn't the easiest to find as it doesn't really look like a hall, more a small block of flats. However, it wasn't that difficult to find amongst the half a dozen buildings in the village so we had soon terrorised the local farmer's field with our convoy of white vans before being asked to park on the road! Then, after being let into the hall, we surveyed our accommodation.

At £6 per person, our digs were fit for kings. Albeit very muddy ones! We had heat, space, showers, toilets a games room and lots of space to run around in. Fantastic, now all we needed was food. Unfortunately the local hotel wasn't serving food and so we drove into Newtonmore and were invited into the Braeriach Hotel with open arms, five minutes after the kitchen was due to close. The arms were slightly less open once the other 13 or so people turned up. But they fed us just the same and the service was as warm as the lovely fire that greeted us. A steak pie and chips later and I was drinking beer, sulking at my lack of raffle-luck and getting ready for a kip. I hit the sack early as I planned to get up and ride even if the others were still in bed nursing hangovers. To my surprise and delight, everyone started rising at about 8.30am and we were in the Laggan Wolftrax cafe at the back of 10, eating bacon butties.

All Over Again
heading down from Old Fort (photo: Douglas Glen)
Sunday's riding was varied and much more relaxed. We had a little explore over the other side of the road from Wolftrax and found some good, natural riding including the infamous Brown Run. The brown run led down from the old fort and wound it's way to the bottom via slippy, off-camber natural features picking off it's unsuspecting victims as it went. We all got to the bottom eventually and made our way back to the cafe.

With the 3 hour drive home hanging over us, we decided to do one last run... of EVERYTHING! In an hour and a half we had sprinted up the climbs to the top of the upper red and I cleared a downward time of 7.24 with no punctures. This would have put me 7th or 8th the day before. Then came the whole lower red including the formidable drop, Ayres Rock and then back down the lovely, fast and woody trail to the bottom half of the fun park. After some pumping, jumping and my repeatedly forgetting that some of the landings lead off to the left/right unexpectedly, we arrived back at the car park, truly ready for home, a beer and a hot bath.

the exploded tyre
I was really impressed with the hardtail Cotic Bfe. Other than the puncture, it had survived a real beating and held it's own against the bouncier, full sus bikes. I was just considering how well it had held up when there was a loud bang and the unmistakable smell of fish from the back of the van. Buckley the dog acted accordingly and we pulled over to find that my rear tyre had given in. A large tear was now where a small hole had been in the wall of the tyre and the pressure of the tube had finally been too much. I imagine this really is the bike equivalent of the clown car that gets put through its paces before all the doors fall off amongst a cloud of radiator steam. We all let out a sigh of relief and headed home, already planning the next adventure.

The Results

Race 1 Upper Red

10th Charlie 14.51.21 puncture :-(
9th Lyndsay 11.22.34
8th Janine 08.19.93 
7th Summers 07.24.09
6th Dougie 07.22.09
5th Ewan 07.06.27
4th Jon 07.01.43
3rd Craig 06.57.65
2nd Beansie 06.46.77
1st Anton 06.33.65
Impromptu Race from bottom of upper red thru fun park to cafe :-

1st Ewan
2nd Anton
3rd Dougie
Race 2 Upper Red

11th Lyndsay 06.43.40
10th Janine 04.22.85
9th Dave 04.13.36
8th Dougie 03.46.77
7th Ewan 03.34.14
6th Charlie 03.31.00
5th Craig 03.23.
4th Jon 03.18.63
3rd Summers 03.16.03
2nd Beansie 03.08.09
1st Anton 03.01.10
Race 3 Fun Park
11th Lyndsay 05.13.80
10th Janine 04.00.90
9th Dave 03.41.80
8th Dougie 03.24.40
7th Jon 03.21.30
6th Charlie 03.16.30
5th Summers 03.16.08
4th Ewan 03.15.00
3rd Craig 03.08.60
2nd Beansie 03.06.20
1st Anton 03.02.00

Monday, 17 September 2012

ABZ Mates Race - The Last Of The Year

Sporting number 19 on a fetching polka dot paper plate.

When the details of the final ABZ Mates Race landed in my in-box I had the same feeling of eager excitement before the usual feeling of disappointment as I realised I wouldn't be able to make it. But no! Unlike the previous four races, I could make this one and I certainly wouldn't let anything spoil it this time! (Up until now, the closest I had come was event three but cross-threading the bottom bracket into the frame the day before ended the race before it had begun.)

So, after a week commuting to work, I finished teaching on the Friday afternoon and skipped joyfully out of the building with the bike already in the car and a pile of kit waiting in the kitchen, alongside my hearty carb and protein rich dinner. There was little time to check the bike over, let alone wash it and so I finally arrived at the forest car park at Scotly, Banchory, with some bike, some tools, some clothing and some beer all loaded into the boot.

I had no idea what to expect. The race was described as somewhere between XC and DH and this was to be the enduro one. I had made the decision that what I lacked in speed going down, I'd make up for on the climbs. (I'm feeling pretty fit at the moment.) I quickly lubed and checked the bike and changed to the SPD pedals. Sorted my seat height and made sure my computer was working. The race was to be self-timed.

Bad choice!

I am here, at the back somewhere! Start of night stage 1
The event was really well organised and began fiercely sharp at 18:30 hours prompt. It was here I learnt that the pedal up to the top was not timed and so we could take it easy. Not really what I wanted to hear as I was all set to race up like a greyhound out of the cage... well, a slightly bigger and heavier greyhound! There was little point in wasting all that pent up energy and so I took the opportunity to chat to the other riders, most of whom had been attending the races from the start and some had even been trail building for it.

I arrived at the start of stage one and as I waited in line to go, I felt a little like a child at the top of the steepest flume at the swimming pool; trying to act like I'm not over excited or bricking it with nerves. After all, it's just a mates race. I was both excited and bricking it. I was also now regretting my decision to clip in to the pedals!

So, saddle down, timer started and I was off. The trail was a combination of steep, grassy, pine forest singletrack with sections that had obviously been dug down, steepened with boulders and rocks added for fun. Every drop or jump was complete with a technical, rooty landing with a sprinkling of boulders just to finish a rider off if maiming by tree stump wasn't enough. It certainly had me focusing very hard on what I wanted to hit and what I wanted to avoid!

Stage 2 was worse with a couple of bails and a saddle that turned and twisted as a stick got caught in the chainrings causing the chain to slip badly. To make matters worse there was the ever familiar metallic 'ting' from the back wheel. With no branch poking out of the back wheel, I could only assume a broken spoke.

Luckily I made it to the bottom and furthermore my bike was not broken as I had feared. I sorted the seat, removed the 'bike salad' from the rear mech and checked the spokes. All intact. It was time for burger, beer and interaction with fellow bikers. We also had to wait for darkness so that we could do the whole thing again, in the dark!

I found that although eversoslightly slower, my runs in the dark were much smoother. Perhaps because I was not distracted by every scary obstacle coming my way but also because I had resigned myself to taking it easy for self preservation rather than bloody-minded competitiveness. I found the flow, chilled out and had a pretty good ride.

All in all it was a fantastic night with a good bunch of people who were just up for riding and having fun. There was no geeky bike comparisons, no showy bike fashions. Just a mix of people all having a laugh. After everyone had contributed to the prize pile, the winners were announced. I wasn't first! I did still get a prize. I think I was third last and got a handy map measurer as a souvenir of the evening.

I really hope that the folks organising it with polka-dot number boards from the back of their van do it again next year. I loved it. The racing. The feeling of being slightly out of my depth. And the fact that I could just bowl up by myself and be accepted and encouraged like everyone else. Happy days.

Series winner with trophy

Thursday, 2 August 2012

New Frame

After an eventful and pretty unsuccessful race at Muckmedden this year I decided to do away with the full suspension frame and go for something requiring less maintenance. So, after selling the frame and RP23 shock, I invested in a steel Cotic Bfe. I haven't had so much fun since they set the ferrets loose in the clown trouser shop's changing room!

It's light enough to get up the climbs, nimble enough to get over any technical, rocky and rooty bits but it really comes into it's own on the descents. Having not really ridden a hardtail much before, I was blown away by the change in riding style and how much I needed to be focused on line choice and riding position. It is more unforgiving than the full suss and therefore puts the adrenaline back into the ride that have become a little tired over the years.

So, unless I break it, this is going to be my off-road steed for the next little while. I just feel that I have to relearn how to ride and get out of some bad habits.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Banchory Scouts Jumble Sale

Today was the long-awaited Scouts' Jumble Sale in Banchory. This is the 40th year it has run and the second I have been. Last year we picked up the 'family bike' for £20. After spending almost a hundred pounds on new tyres, tubes, cables, lock and basket, the bike has been a workhorse. So, this year we had waited eagerly for the sale to come as there are always loads of bikes. Having got there early, I hovered around a lovely old gents racer with faded, original painted decals; loads of character. Unfortunately I hesitated for too long and it was snapped up quickly. Having another look around I found this lovely looking Carlton with an unusual frame shape. It was offered for £30, I tried to haggle to £25 to no avail. I asked someone else later who offered it for £50 so I decided to go back to the original sales-scout for the original offer of £30. Upon research the ladies frame style is known as a Mixte. So, this is the latest in a line of unfinished projects. According to the frame number and the initial Internet research, it seems that the prefix T stamped on the rear drop-out suggests it is 1966 though if it is then it's in great condition. The pedals and chrome forks are still gleaming. I don't thing this will take much work to look lovely. I'm also looking forward to investigating the rear wheel which seems to have space for free-wheel cogs on both sides.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The New Bike

Here is the new Raleigh. With some initial research I think it may be 60s or 70s but haven't had much joy with the frame number. The condition of the pantwork is poor but I was pleased to see that it too has been repainted at some point as the head tube doesn't match and the paintwork is poor around that area. That means I can repaint it without feeling like I've ruined a classic!

On the face of it, this bike is almost ready to go. With a new set of tyres (I've ordered some old raleigh sport tyres with amber walls) and inner tubes, and with some care given to the chainset I will be taking this bike out on it's maiden voyage to work and back. The headset is a little rough so I will see about replacing the bearings.

Eventually, I think this bike will be a lovely racing green with a bit of tan here and there. Lets see how it pans out. 

Friday, 9 March 2012

A Rudge Update

I was out with the sandpaper tonight. It's slow going but satisfying nonetheless. I'm almost there but I just need to get the cranks off and get the bottom bracket out. Having said that, the bottom bracket spins very smoothly with no give at all. I could spin the pedals, go and have a cup of tea and they'd still be going when I got back. I still need to get them off though.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

What I like about 'The Bike'

I've always loved bikes. When I was 18 I seemed to forget this but luckily I remembered in my mid 20s. In that time it seems that bikes have changed immensely.

But bikes are bikes and they really haven't changed that much at all. What fascinates me is that they represent a massively diverse segment of our lives and histories. To children they are toys, to Victorians they were interesting new modes of transport, to Edwardians they were industry, to Elizabethans they were tools of the police, the midwife, the butcher and the working class man.

Bianchi folding bike from early 1900s

This picture made me smile. Nowadays we have bikes that have automatic gear systems, internal hub gears and bikes that fold in half. But STOP! Look at this, people have had these ideas for a hundred years and the basic structure of the bike hasn't changed. The bike was just a good, solid invention that has been tinkered with and improved through the development of new materials. What a fantastic thing it is, The Bike.

My hobby branches out!

I haven't posted on my blog for a while partly because I just haven't had time and partly because I just haven't felt particularly inspired lately. Don't get me wrong, I still love my bike and have had some good rides with some good people recently including my first ride of Glentress, one of the 7 Stanes.

However, this post is really about how I have found a new aspect of bikes which has engulfed my free time. This new obsession has arisen from my lack of cash and my need to finance my cycling hobby. So, recently I bid on several bikes on Ebay with the intention of cleaning them up and selling them on in order to build a decent Paypal balance.

Above is the Rudge Roadster. Judging from the frame number, this bike was built around the late 1950s or early 1960s. Even though Rudge was one of the many British bike builders bought by Raleigh after WWII, this bike may still carry some of the features seen in the 1940s like the white bottom part of the rear mudguard and the rod brakes.

As you can see from the photos, there's a lot of work to be done but even before the it has really begun, I have the feeling of attachment that is going to make selling them on the hardest part of the process.

This bike has been painted black but upon scraping the top coat off it appears that the original paintwork can be seen underneath. Raleigh made bikes of this era in 3 colours; black, dark metallic green and 'coffee', a metallic brown which it looks like this bike was.

  I also now own a Elswick-Hopper child's bike and a 1960s  Tr-Raleigh racing bike. These bikes will take much less work to restore and I already think that the Raleigh might be my commuter to work and back over the Summer. I have no qualms in the changing of it's colour and modernisation of some components so it may end up as British Racing Green with brown grip tape to match the fetching Brooks saddle.

So watch this space. If I don't update for a while it may be because I have made absolutely no money, kept all the bikes, spent my savings on them and have now had my internet connection cut off due to non payment!