We Made It! (Part 1)

Last night, just before the KPS1000 team set off from Bath’s Royal United Hospital, our fund-raising reached its target of £10,000. This is a huge achievement. We’d all like to thank everyone who has played a part in helping us raise a truly transformational amount of money – those who sponsored us online and offline, those who bought raffle tickets, those who donated raffle prizes, the individuals and companies who helped make the fete such a huge success, those who organised the balloon release, the cycling evening at Castle Combe and anyone else who played a part.

This morning, Mark Brearey, the head teacher of Kingswood Prep School, will announce that we’ve reached the £10,000 target before 15 riders set off to play their part in riding to John O’Groats.

And by the way, in case you’re wondering why this is called We Made It Part 1, there should (!) be another blog post entitled We Made It Part 2 in a week’s time, always assuming we make it to John O’Groats.

Moor Hills to Get Home

IMG_0740For seven miles, the cycle path stretched across Dartmoor. Without a car in sight, we could relax and focus on the wild beauty of the moors first thing in the morning.

We were in the heart of Devon, still a county of hills. But by afternoon we would be in Somerset. The Levels beckoned (although Neil still seemed to find a hill to climb, even there).

Before then, we had the beauty of mid-Devon lanes. And the need to cover more mileage than any other day on the whole ride. 121 miles to reach home, in Bath, where we would pick up the other members of KPS1000 for the big push north.

IMG_0750Lunchtime and the temperature had reached 30 degrees. Progress slowed in the heat, and we had to stop to refill water bottles on an hourly basis.

The Somerset Levels gave way to the Mendips. We decided that Cheddar Gorge  was the “statement” climb that the End-to-End deserved. A fitting climb to mark the highest point in the Epilogue ride from Land’s End to Bath. “Epilogue ride” because the four of us had decided to add the Land’s End to Bath stage on to the main KPS1000 ride from Bath to John o’Groats, which was to start the day after tomorrow.

Then downhill all the way home. Awaiting us is a day of R&R – repair and rehydration in this case – as a reward for two days cycling 230 miles in a heatwave. Then on Sunday we’ll resume the LEJoG cycle north with the rest of the KPS1000 team.

Day 2: Okehampton to Bath: 121 miles; 6118 vertical ft ascent

Land’s End to John o’Groats – The Start

At 6am it’s already 19 degrees. The heatwave is making the air crackle even just after dawn. Land’s End is deserted. There’s no reason to be there at this time in the morning. No reason, that is, unless you’ve got 9 days to cycle 1000 miles to reach John o’Groats.

IMG_0700Here’s where it starts for four of us (Lucy, Jonathan, Steve and I). Photos, the iconic signpost, a glance westward towards America, then it’s time to clip in and start pedaling north-east.

The heatwave has meant a change of plan. Up at 4.30am, in time to meet at 6am and get some miles in before the day gets too hot. It means the road to Penzance is utterly deserted. Even in Britain’s most southerly town there’s barely a soul about.

Today is about lanes, rural B-roads, ferries (two, the King Harry and the Bodinnick, to take us over the unbridged estuaries of South Cornwall) and most of all about hills. None too steep, none too long, but unrelenting, incessant hills. Every summit is closely followed by a descent, a bridge and then, inevitably, a climb back up the other side.

IMG_0713By the end of the day we’ve climbed more than 12.000 vertical feet. The constant climbing makes it our toughest day on the whole “End-to-End” ride from Land’s End to John o’Groats. It won’t be the remoteness of Land’s End, the fish and chips lunch in Fowey or the beauty of Dartmoor late in the day that makes this day live long in the memory, it will be the never-ending hills.

Day 1: Land’s End to Okehampton: 109 miles; 12260 vertical ft of ascent

Cycling is the new golf

It’s already a cliche. The New York Times was first to hail cycling as the new golf back in 2005. In the UK, the Guardian newspaper agreed in 2011. Now the authority that is The Economist has started pedalling the same story: “Traditionally, business associates would get to know each other over a round of golf. But road cycling is fast catching up as the preferred way of networking for the modern professional.” So far, not much insight. But the Economist’s article concludes: “Perhaps the most compelling reason why cycling is a good way to network is because, for many professionals, it’s a passion and a way of life.”

Ah – there’s that passion word again. It’s what Signalyard was founded on – passion-centric marketing. And it’s on passion that I do agree wholeheartedly with the Economist. Personally, I don’t buy cycling being the new golf any more than I bought golf being the old golf. Golf remains a sport that some people (myself not amongst them) are passionately engaged by. And engaging people through their passions, whether on the golf course, the cycle track or out on a ride, usually proves highly effective.

“Google, Yahoo, all the tech companies, they’ve now got executives who are mad keen cyclists. They love cycling’s metrics, all the measurements that are available, from heart rate to power; they love the ‘toys’, carbon road bikes are beautiful pieces of technical equipment; and they love the community angle, cyclists sticking together. They also love the fact cycling is so conducive to travel and exploration. The top tech guys in America love travelling to Europe and often take their bikes.” So says exercise physiologist and former pro triathlete Matt Dixon, who now coaches athletes and serious amateurs, including a number of Silicon Valley’s top executives.

LSE_Cycling_Economy1One of the great pleasures of using cycling, running and skiing as a way to engage broader audiences is that I get to talk to people who are passionate about those sports. At Signalyard, I can turn up to meetings in lycra without raising an eyebrow. Whether the meeting is with an insurance company or a car manufacturer, because we’re talking about engaging people through the universal language of cycling we find it easy to engage clients in the same way.

Of course cycling is itself a major business sector (with over 3.7 million bikes sold each year in the UK) delivering wider socio-economic benefits to the UK (worth £2.9 billion a year to the UK economy according to the LSE’s Gross Cycling Product report). But using cycling as a way to engage people has the potential to grow each of those figures faster still. It’s a way in which we can make cycling even more an everyday part of how people connect, making the simple, universal pleasure of riding a bike in the open air be even more a normal part of life. It’s a way we can get more people onto more bikes. And it’s a way in which we can boost the effectiveness of marketing. Cycling may well be the new golf. But that’s only the beginning.

Is that six sugars or eight in your training cup?

“We are a nation of lazy porkers”, I was reminded on switching on the radio this morning, which is leading to an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in ever younger people. As a society we are addicted to sugar. And it’s getting worse.

Well not me, I thought smugly. Me and my cycling, running, skiing friends are about as far away from “lazy porkers” as you can get.  But does that mean that we don’t have a sugar problem?

When I leave the house to go for a longer ride on Sunday morning I will have stuffed my jersey with three energy bars, as well as a banana. I’ll have an isotonic drink with me.  Between them I have just counted not far short of 30 teaspoons of sugar.

Of course I’m convinced I am burning it all off again in a 100-mile hilly ride. I am no porker, I think to myself. I have the lean frame of a road cyclist.

But maybe I am missing the point. I remember a pro cycling coach telling me last year that a single piece of chocolate cake could undo the benefits of half a day’s training for his elite athletes. He was arguing for me to drop the pre-made isotonic drinks and stick with water/hydration tablets and fruit juice. Even milk was pretty good after a hard training session.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency says we should eat no more than 60g (about 15 teaspoons) of sugar a day, but the UK average is already 20 teaspoons and climbing fast. The problem for many (I include myself) is not realising how much sugar is in the foods they don’t think of as sweet – it is added to bread, ready meals, pasta sauces and breakfast cereals.

Even when, as an endurance athlete, you’re burning it off again, that doesn’t mean the sugar isn’t doing you harm. A constant intake of sugar forces your pancreas to work overtime, possibly increasing your likelihood of type-2 diabetes in later life. And it can play havoc with your cholesterol levels, raising the risk for heart disease. And most worrying of all, a Swedish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests drinking two or more sugary drinks a day can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by 90 per cent.

Research in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports found when a runner consumes high-glycemic (Gl) foods, like white bread, ice cream, or high-sugar energy bars an hour before a run, he or she may become fatigued more quickly. In the research, athletes performed significantly better 45 minutes after eating a low-Gl meal (like an apple with peanut butter and oats) than a high-GI meal. Eating the high-Gl foods an hour before a run was causing athletes to experience a sugar crash, while the low-GI foods were carrying the runners farther and faster into the run.

The answer for most cyclists and runners will not to be to embark suddenly on a crash no-sugar diet. But it is probably time to pay more attention to how much sugar and what kinds of sugar you do eat. It’s about realizing that even when you cycle 100 miles or run 20 miles this weekend, there’s still a reason to read the ingredients list on the wrapper you’re about to eat in one gulp to keep you going.

Cobbles, cycling and the Hell of the North

Cobbles of BelgiumSunday was a day for cyclists to dig deep, to bounce through the endless, jarring cobbles. Stay light in the saddle, I was warned. Take some pressure out of the tyres. Go for a higher gear. Get ready to feel every tooth rattling in your skull.

Sunday was of course the greatest of the one-day classics, l’enfer du nord (the hell of the north), the Paris-Roubaix race covering 27 ‘sectors’ on bone-shaking pavé, or cobblestones. So in our own little homage to one of the great cycle races, ride organiser Pip of Le Sportif managed to find the only cobbles in Bristol to finish our Sunday morning training. A lap of Queen’s Square was quite enough to leave my teeth chattering and my admiration soaring for those that ride for hours on cobbles that probably make ours look like gravel.

Then we adjourned to Bristol’s Mud Dock to watch the race unfold on the big screen. The duel between Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke lasted until the final yards of the 254 km race. Cancellara covered that distance to win in five hours 45 minutes and 33 seconds – about the same time it had taken me to do just half the distance in training that day – and my ride comprised just 200 yards of cobbles.

A Tale of Two Tunnels

This weekend saw the opening of another first for Bath – seven years after the idea was first proposed, the ribbon was cut on the longest cycling tunnel in the UK.

The Two Tunnels project brought two former railway tunnels back to life nearly 50 years after they were closed. There’s now a flat route from central Bath south out to the beautiful Midford Valley – made perfect for cyclists, walkers and for the bats that live in the tunnel too. The lighting has been hung low and kept dim to keep the top of the tunnel arch dark to accommodate the rare bats that have lived there for years.

There were none of those to be seen on Saturday however, as I was one of more than 2,000 people to ride through the tunnels on the day of the opening ceremony. The experience of riding from the glorious spring sunshine (that appeared bang on cue for the festival of cycling that marked the opening) into the low-level lighting of the tunnels was unique. Any other cycling tunnel I have been through, you can always see light at the end. Here the second of the two tunnels runs underground for 1.8kms so it takes a while to let your eyes become accustomed to the low-level lighting.

Pic by Neil MorrisEven in the crowds using the tunnel on its first day, there were still moments of peace that you rarely get cycling anywhere in the UK, made even more memorable as you cycle past the interactive sound installations placed at intervals through the tunnels. The tunnels themselves have needed very little work to open up again. Structurally they’re much the same now as they were when steam trains ran through them – a real testament to the 19th century engineers who built them.

Then you emerge, blinking, into the spring sunshine of the beautiful Midford Valley – straight onto the restored Tucking Mill viaduct and then into Midford village, where you can look back towards Bath up the steep Midford Hill and realise you don’t have to cycle up that to get home!

The traffic-free cycle route continues to Wellow and even on via Radstock to Frome via the Collier’s Way, albeit with quite a few breaks in what was once the Somerset & Dorset railway line where further work is needed to make the cycle path more or less unbroken. And there’s now a pretty flat and almost entirely traffic-free circular route from Bath out to Dundas Aquaduct and then back on the canal towpath

The Two Tunnels project is a testament to what a few committed individuals can achieve. It’s taken the involvement of the fantastic Sustrans, £4m of funding (£200,000 of that raised through the brilliant King Bladud’s Pigs project auctioning artistic pigs) and a great deal of hard work from volunteers. But what has been achieved is another great boost for cycling in Bath and a UK-wide attraction. And looking at the beaming smile from my nine-year-old son when he had ridden through the tunnels with me on Saturday, it’s already proving successful in inspiring the next generation onto two wheels too.

New New Kit for Cyclists

Let’s face it. Plenty of us cyclists love a new piece of kit. It seems half the people I ride with start most sentences with “have you see the new …”.

So I shouldn’t be surprised when my post earlier this week about Cycling Innovation got quite a few responses talking about other favourite improvements on bike accessories. So here’s an update on some more cool stuff to spend your money on:

The Blaze bike light, from Britain, featured in my last post. Well cool new bike lights are clearly hot to work on at the moment. Revolights, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, have come up with a brilliant idea – two narrow rings of 12 LEDs clipped directly onto each side of the wheel, white LEDs on the front wheel and red at the back (picture above). A small, fork-mounted magnet and an integrated accelerometer provide speed and orientation data to the rings. So only LEDs on the part of the ring facing forward (at the front) or backwards (at the back) actually light up.

This gives the lights the appearance of a pair of brackets that stay in the same position even as the bike moves forwards. The idea is both to ensure 360deg visibility of the bike, but also for the front light to cast a better light onto the road ahead by being closer to the road itself than handlebar-mounted lights.

Like many good innovations, simplicity underpins the idea behind the Koala Bottle, also from the USA. Simply by putting a magnetic ring around a cycling water bottle. it does away with the need to get the bottle in and out of a normal cage. You don’t have to take your eyes off the road to put the bottle back in – it firmly attaches using a magnet.

My last favourite (for today) is from Graham Hill, founder of TreeHugger.com. Graham has , teamed up with bike manufacturer Schindelhauer bikes, to develop the ThinBike as a solution for those who need to leave their bike in the hall at home or in a corridor at the office. The width required to store the full-sized urban bike goes down from 21 inches to 6 inches as the handlebars fold in line with the frame, and the pedals fold up.

 

 

Cycling innovation

Kickstarter was the original crowd-funding platform. It brought consumers, funding and publicity to thousands of tech projects in its early days. So it’s hardly surprising that some brilliant (and some pretty left-field) cycling innovations are now finding their way onto the market thanks to the spotlight and funding Kickstarter has brought to creative new ideas.

Top of my list of Kickstarter cycling favourites is a London start-up, Full Windsor, and the beautifully-named The Nutter. Like all good innovation, they’ve taken something complex (the toolset you need with you on the bike) and made it simple, awesomely simple. With over three weeks still to go on their fund-raising, they’ve already raised more than £23,000 on Kickstarter (against a target of £8,000).

The Nutter manages to squeeze a multi-tool, spanner, and tyre lever (and even found room for a bottle opener) into a small pouch, made partly of recycled inner tube, which will fit under the saddle. Beautifully designed, well thought through.

Another favourite of mine is the Blaze bike light. Blaze closed their Kickstarter call for funding at Christmas, having raised £55,000 – more than double their target.

Their innovation was to build in to a powerful front light a projector that casts a bright green neon image of a cyclist about 5 metres ahead of the bike. Lorries, cars and buses turning out of a side street or failing to see a cyclist in the blind spot of their mirror, each now see the green neon image. Blaze is also from London (I’m not trying to favour the British here, I just think both of these are great).

Next up is the ONDA cycle . Is it a stunt tricycle? Is it a recumbent? They argue it’s “Not a bike or board. Redefining the way you move. 3 Wheels, 2 Pedals, and YOU. The most daring machine you’ll ever ride. Guaranteed.”

I am not going to argue it’s not innovative, but I won’t be trading in my road bike any day soon. Some clearly love it – ONDA has already raised half of its target of $30,000, with 17 days still to go to get to the minimum funding figure. And nearly 50 people have pledged the $350 or so for one of the first models produced.

 

Not all the ideas on Kickstarter are so successful. The Road Bug Bicycle Engine Kit – a motor to attach to the luggage grid to get you up hills, gained less than 25% of the $20,000 funding it needed to go into production.

Other ideas range from the functional – the Badger 360 degree LED jacket does what you’d expect from the title by embedding hi-vis LEDs into a hi-vis jacket – to the fun – Pushing Pedal Pops is a “gourmet popsicle bike cart” designed to bring healthy treats to the citizens of Richmond, Virginia. And there are dozens more ideas looking for cycling fans’ support.

Kickstarter is enjoying huge growth at the moment. After funding projects to the tune of $80 million on 2011, that figure rose to $274 million in 2012. Whilst not every project seeking funding could be classed as genuine innovation, it’s great to see good ideas being brought to market in this way.