Bike maintenance for LADIES

April 20, 2016 at 9:12 am | Posted in advice, cycling | 1 Comment
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girl bike tyreGood morning, and welcome to Bike Maintenance For Ladies, episode 37 in an occasional series. Observe the picture above*. There’s a lot we can learn from this neat demonstration of how to change a bicycle puncture.

First, note that the bicycle has been removed from the road, away from passing traffic, and leant gently up against a rock or tree stump. Do not lie your bicycle on its side, especially with the chainset downwards; you risk scratching the paintwork and damaging your derailleur. NEVER balance your bicycle upside down to effect repairs, as this will scuff the saddle and ruin your handlebar tape.

Protective sheeting has been put down to protect the floor from dirt and debris – although if you keep your bicycle scrupulously clean, as in the picture, you’ll find less maintenance is required overall.

Always carry spares and tools. If, like this rider, you prefer to ride without mudguards, you may feel a seatpack detracts from the clean lines of your machine. Simply use your spare inner tube as a hair scrunchie until required.

The rider has removed the front wheel carefully and propped it against her knee, saving the spindle from potential damage caused by contact with the tarmac. Observe how she lines up the valve on the replacement tube with the hole in the rim. Tyre levers are not always necessary: a good strong set of gel fingernails makes a perfectly acceptable substitute.

There are, however, some points for improvement in this demonstration. Firstly, the rider does not appear to be wearing socks. This is unhygienic, allowing the bacteria naturally present in sweat to propagate unfettered in your trainers. Secondly, road riders should always wear a helmet.


* Thanks to @JEmptyloo on twitter for sharing the picture.

German barbershop phrasebook

March 2, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Posted in barbershop, music, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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I’m off to Munich this weekend, with my lovely fabulous barbershop chorus, the White Rosettes. We’re guests at BinG!, the German barbershop convention, and we’ll be singing on stage three times over two days, then finding as many opportunities as possible to sing in stairwells, in corners of the bar and so on. I used to speak fairly good German, so I thought I’d put together a set of useful phrases that my fellow Rosettes could employ over the weekend. In true barbershop style, I’ve provided teach tracks. Mach’s gut!

At the hotel

Do you have room service? Double egg and chips, please.

Haben Sie Zimmerservice? Zweimal Spiegelei mit Pommes, bitte.

I’m having a disco nap and do not wish to be disturbed

Ich mache Schläfchen und möchte nicht gestört werden.

Please could I book an alarm for nine thirty. No, that’s correct. I am English. That’s early.

Ich möchte einen Alarmruf, bitte, um neun Uhr dreissig. Doch, das stimmt. Ich bin Engländerin. Das ist für mich ganz früh.

Making conversation in the audience

They haven’t got enough blusher on

Sie brauchen noch ein bisschen Rouge.

I liked the choreo but the sequins were distracting

Die Choreographie hat mir gefallen. Ich fand die Pailletten verwirrend.

Is that David Wright over there? I’ll be right back

Ist das der David Wright dort drüben? Ich bin gleich wieder da.

At the afterglow

My doctor has expressly forbidden me to drink beer

Mein Arzt hat mir ausdrücklich verboten, Bier zu trinken.

Three gins, please, and easy on the tonic

Dreimal Gin, bitte, und nicht zu viel Tonic.

Shall we sing a tag? Do you know ‘Clouds On Fire’?

Wollen wir einen Tag singen? Kennen Sie ‘Clouds On Fire’?

Are you going to bed already? It’s only four o’clock!

Gehen Sie schon ins Bett? Es ist aber nur vier Uhr!


And a good old-fashioned blooper reel. In case you thought this stuff was easy.

Race ya

January 12, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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The fifth of January sounded perfectly reasonable when I signed up for a women-only road race skills session a couple of months ago. But Christmas came and went in a blur of port, crisps and Junior Monopoly, and suddenly I was getting up at improbable o’clock in the DARK on a freezing Sunday morning, struggling into sixteen layers of cycling kit and packing sandwiches, snacks, and any other warm clothing I could find into the car. I nearly left without my bidons as (in an uncharacteristic fit of organised-ness) I’d stashed them in the fridge the night before. Off to pick up @VicandLib and @1fishonabike. F-f-f-f-f-f-f.

It was good to be the designated driver, as otherwise I’m almost certain post-Christmas torpor would have set in and I’d have decided I didn’t want to go. I’m extremely happy this didn’t happen, as we had the most excellent time. Heather Bamforth had sent us a comprehensive set of instructions on what to bring (helmet, food, helmet, extra clothes, helmet, bike, don’t forget your helmet) and the structure of the day. We rolled up to see lots of young, athletic-looking chicks getting dropped off by their Dads, and resigned ourselves to representin’ the Old Crox wing [complicated handshake, followed by muttering about arthritis in fingers]. But when we got down on to the circuit, it was clear that the group were a happy mixture of ages, experience and fitness. In a few minutes, Huw Williams was trying to get thirty (thirty!) excitable women to calm down and listen.

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‘AWRIGHT TAMESIDE!’ Huw needs a Madonna mike

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Hastily-grown beards protect us from the cold

Tameside is a purpose-built traffic-free circuit, about a kilometre long, with corners and little inclines and a bit of grass (should you overshoot a corner and find yourself doing some impromptu cyclocross). It’s great fun to zip around. We spent three hours practising all kinds of skills, with Huw, Hannah Walker (from Epic Cycles-Scott Contessa Womens Race Team), Carley Brierley and Heather offering their expert advice. Some highlights:

  1. Riding in little groups and changing position (front rider goes to the back and so on). Avid readers will remember I am incapable of riding on someone’s wheel without grumbling HELPHELPHELPHELPHELP the whole time. I was still doing this to start with, but gradually it got easier, and I learned to look up and through the rider in front, which is a lot less panic-inducing than staring at their back tyre. (It also means you see corners coming, which is useful.)
  2. Cornering. I was hoping I’d be all right at this, having spent the summer practising for ‘cross. YESSS! Can’t tell you how terrific it feels to be good at something, and to get complimented on it (thanks Carley).
  3. Riding around in a big group being paced by Carley at 15mph, then 18mph. This came near the end, and I was thrilled to find myself riding in a bunch at speed, spotting gaps, trying to pick through the crowd, within elbowing distance of everybody. Never thought I’d have the courage to do this, and it felt so utterly PRO I could hardly speak for excitement.
  4. Mini-races (about 15 mins long). Yup, you know it’s serious when I finally take off my zippy cyclocross warmup trousers. Overtaking people on corners! Being overtaken again on the straights (damn)! Shouting ON YOUR RIGHT! Still haven’t really got the working-with-people bit sorted out, but golly, this was fun.
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l-r Carley (foreground), Hannah and Heather dispense #protips

We did a lot of other things, but these are the bits that stick in my head and make me grin to think of them. I made such a lot of progress in three hours. All the same, it was quite a relief to get into the relative warmth of the classroom. Freddie made us all a cuppa (life saver) and Huw did the Science Bit: what we need to know to improve our fitness and prepare for racing. There was LOADS to think about here, particularly as Carley and Heather were giving examples from their own experience of training, coaching and racing. Invaluable stuff, and plenty of lightbulb moments.

I came away keen to have a go. CDNW are organising several races just for 2/3/4 cat women this year, and Heather, with her irresistible enthusiasm, insisted we’re all capable of racing. One thing she said to the group sticks in my mind: ‘If YOU all show up to a race, you ARE the race.’ Of course. How simple. So come on, fellow hopeless people. Show up with me, and we’ll have a go together.

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Grinning is not part of the training but it’s hard to resist

There are two more sessions: Rhyl on 19 Jan 2014 and Blackpool on 02 Feb 2014. They’re filling up fast, but if you’re interested, you can read about them and sign up here.

Pictures by very kind permission of Fred Bamforth.

A bit more about the coaches here:

Huw Williams

Heather Bamforth

Carley Brierley

I come over all velodramatic

October 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Posted in cycling | 1 Comment
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I was sad to miss the Ashton Hoyle CSP CX, as we had such a terrific time last year, but a wet Sunday saw me heading off to the nice dry velodrome with @1fishonabike for a British Cycling women-only Rider Development session.

This was my fifth time riding the Hallowed Boards™. I’m not sure why I felt so scared. Absolutely ready to cry, leave, be sick, or possibly all three. Maybe it was getting to reception and realising the session really WAS three hours long, and it wasn’t a misprint as we’d been assuming.

velodrome fear tweet

But we were there, with our kit on and our hire bikes and our silver shoes, and hordes of people a LOT younger than us were whizzing round the boards, so sloping off wasn’t really an option. We fortified ourselves with flapjack and hoped for the best.

Coach appeared, looking like a ginger David Cassidy, and talked us through the afternoon. Our group were sharing the track with another group, so we had 15 mins on the boards, then a break, then another 15 mins, and so on. He had a detailed plan and moved us through a set of activities, building our confidence and skills.


Your coach for today

We warmed up with a few laps and tried to get out of the saddle. (HEEEELP.) (I did it eventually, though*.) The rest was pair work, riding side by side. We practised changing position so the person on the outside was on the inside, and back again; we rode low down on the track then high up; we moved up and down the boards (ride round by the handrail** then SWOOOOP down to the bottom trying to stay next to each other***, then up again); we rode closely behind another pair, changing positions so the front pair was at the back and vice versa. Then at the end, because ‘you’re not looking tired enough’, we rode in pairs up above the blue line and waited for our number to appear on the lap board. When it did, we ZOOMED down to the black line and rode a lap flat out. WHEEEEE.

On the boards

It was great working with Hannah; we encouraged and supported each other through the wobbles. David Cassidy was pleased with our progress, so much that he amended his plan halfway through because we were doing so well. I was struck by how every time he described the next activity, I thought, ‘Oh, no. I’m not sure I can do that.’ And then I managed it, and of course this felt fantastic. Terrific teaching. At the end, he told us we should be proud of ourselves. I think we all were; I can’t speak for anyone else but I came away feeling completely different about track riding. Beforehand, I’d loved it but been terrified the whole time, and grimly aware of my limitations. Afterwards, I felt like anything was possible. We covered a lot of the skills necessary for track accreditation, so working towards this is the next step. I still need to practise riding close behind someone else (in the two-pairs exercise, I spent the whole time going OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD) but if I can do all that other stuff, I must be able to crack that too, right? Right?

There’s another women-only session, on 22 December. I won’t be going, because it’s Heptonstall Charity Fancy Dress Cyclocross day, but I can’t recommend it enough. Sign up. Go on. You know you want to.

women's track session

Happy participants


** eeeeep

*** shouting WOOOHOOO as you do this is not compulsory, but it’s hard to resist

Are you road race ready?

August 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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After I raced and MEDALLED and PODIUMED last weekend, curious readers have inundated* me with requests for advice. If no-hopers like me can race, maybe they can, too! What do they need to know? Do I have any tips? I’ve put together this handy questionnaire, so you can test your understanding of race etiquette and tactics. Consider your answers carefully.

1. What is through and off?

a. Something that happens if you don’t pay attention while you’re knitting
b. Working with other riders in a line, taking turns on the front
c. That thing where you jump your skateboard up and slide along the edge of a bench

2. If someone shouts ‘Get on my wheel!’ what do they mean?

a. Ride closely behind me, to shelter from the wind!
b. Here! You can have a go on the unicycle, now
c. Let me win, and I’ll leave you my fortune!

3. When you’ve taken a turn on the front, you should swing off. What does this mean?

a. Do a little slalom through the dotted lines, to demonstrate your bike handling skillz
b. Throw a punch at the nearest spectator
c. Move to the side to let the next person come to the front


4. When riding into the wind, you should adopt an aero position. What does this mean?

a. Sit up straight, so you can eat your chocolate without choking
b. Get right down over the handlebars so there’s less of you in the wind
c. Ride along with your arms sticking out going NNEEEAAAOOOW

5. In long races, you may need to refuel. Does this mean:

a. Ride no-hands and boss your gel like a PRO
b. Get someone to hand you up a Subway every three laps
c. Pick up a couple of bags of charcoal for the post-race barbie

6. Before racing, you should make sure you are adequately hydrated. Does this mean:

a. Take on isotonic fluids in small but regular quantities
b. Have a couple of shandies, and a Berocca chaser for the vitamins
c. Get someone to tip a bucket of water over your head

Beret Baguette_39

7. In sprints, you should always hold your line. What does this mean?

a. Don’t let go of the bungee attaching you to that fast guy
b. Mid-race coke-snorting is inadvisable, and best left for the after-party
c. Don’t veer all over the road

8. If you win, which is the correct podium arrangement?

a. 1st puts two arms up, 2nd puts right arm up, 3rd puts left arm up
b. All jump up and down waving excitedly, kissing medals etc.
c. 1st looks ecstatic, 2nd looks murderous, 3rd looks confused

9. If you win, which is the best podium speech?

a. I’d like to thank God, my agent, my mother, my mechanic, my tyre sponsor, my hairdresser and that person who comes to all my races but never says hello
b. You like me [sob]. You really like me!
c. Mum! MUM! Press the button on the top! No, the big button! The other one! Did it make a noise? No, that’s just it focusing. Press it harder! Did I have my eyes closed?

10. If you lose, which is the best excuse?

a. The sun was in my eyes
b. Knew I should have run tubs instead of clinchers
c. Oh! Were we racing?

podium cake 3

* One person asked me, anyway

‘Cross diary 28: I pump up my tyres and I oil my chain

June 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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So, you know me. I’m the one who likes getting muddy, and toiling up slopes with my bike on my shoulder, and falling off on singletrack. I do a bit of running. I ride on the road when I have to, mainly to try and get a bit fitter for ‘cross.

But something weird is happening to me. I’m turning into a ROADIE. I find myself idly browsing forums, looking for views on Look vs. Time pedals. Someone goes past on a Dual and I think, that’s the one with the mudguard eyes. I wonder whether I need different handlebars. I still can’t do anything useful, like adjust my gears, but I nod sagely as the boyf tells me that clunk-down-two-gears-at-once-and-have-to-go-up-a-gear-again is a common Campy problem. I start to refer to Campagnolo as ‘Campy’.

Campagnolo Support Van From 1976

Of course, there’s a simple reason for this. Avid readers will remember me buying a new road bike. A part of me still feels embarrassedly ‘all the gear, no idea’ when I’m getting ready to go out on it. Everyone’s pointing and laughing at the slow chick on the cool bike, right? But this evaporates as soon as I am riding it, because the FUN takes up all of my brain.

Nevertheless, it strikes me I lack skillz. I mostly go out on my own, and the tricks of group riding are mysterious to me. (Until recently, I thought ‘through and off’ was when you wobble up the inside of a line of stationary traffic, then topple over at the lights because all your library books are in one pannier.) So when @sparkieturner volunteers to run some women-only skills sessions at Seedhill athletics track*, I know this has my name on it.

We have all sorts of laughs. Mark sets out the cones and we wobble in between them. (Well, I wobble; Lucy manages to nip in and out of them without knocking over a single one.) I practise. Mark moves the cones nearer to each other. It’s like the Matrix. I am Neo. Suddenly, I start to believe that the back wheel will follow the front one. I do it perfectly, raise both hands from the bars in jubilation, and don’t fall off. No-hands riding, too, then. There is no spoon.

We do partner work, passing each other bottles while going along, or giving each other a friendly push. We learn that elbows-out riding is just like that bit in Dirty Dancing. We try to learn to trackstand, to impress our kids.

josh tall bike trackstand

Most funly, we try to go FAST. I’m scared of this on the road. OK, I’ve been doing my TT-for-one, creaking up to Todmorden and back, trying to break 33 minutes for 10 miles. But I don’t dare go for it properly, as buses have a habit of suddenly appearing in front of me. Indecisive sheep loom out of the fog. Potholes materialise like gateways to Hades. Whizzing round a running track turns out to be the answer. The bike wants to go fast, and now I can let it try, safe in its artificial world, where the only thing holding us back is the indignant screaming of my quads and the howling headwind in the back straight. We do through and off in a little group. I’m so excited I keep forgetting to yell CLEAR! and the person behind has to do it for me. We push the pace up and SPRINT for the line, each lap. I’m right down as far as I can get, chin on the bars, pretending I am Cav (the boyf remarks later, ‘You’re just a 12 year old boy.’) I notice that I can wind the sprint up a bit and catch Lucy for the line, even when she starts ahead of me. This feels so utterly PRO I can hardly breathe for glee.

 Blue Blur Route

There’s a lot to learn. I’m still scared to get on someone’s wheel (though I’m getting used to the slightly unsettling feeling of staring at the bum in front of me). I have no idea how to position myself coming into the sprint, and I push far too big a gear, ‘cos I can’t think about changing up in the middle of it. I STILL can’t get my left foot into the DAMN pedal. But, astonishingly, I’m not terrible at this. And that makes me too happy for words.

* You’ll remember Mark from the terrific cyclocross skills sessions last winter. There are still a couple of weeks to go on the women-only road skills course: Fridays, 7-9pm, Seedhill Athletics Track, Nelson, BB9 7TY. Just show up with your bike. £5 a session.

‘Cross diary 22: I ride with some PEOPLE

January 15, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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OK. You remember last time? I vowed to go out and ride with other people. My first opportunity was Friday night, at an informal CX skills session in Todmorden park. Riding over there just before 7pm, I was thinking, ‘God, I’m tired. I mean, I’m REALLY tired. What am I doing this for? It’s cold, it’s dark. I’ll have to wash my bike afterwards. Gah.’ And to be honest, if I’d been on my own, I would have turned round and gone home again. But the thought of seeing the #CXChix* kept me going.

Todmorden Park

When I got there, the Chix were already riding round and round the kiddies’ mini road layout (good cornering practice. And hilarious). We charged over to the other side of the park to find somewhere to practise dismounts & remounts. Hopelessly overexcited, I immediately toppled over. (I did turn my pratfall seamlessly into a TJ Hooker-style somersault; all that falling-off practice I did last year finally paid off.) Sweetly, the Chix managed not to laugh. We set out my orange mini-cones and did a little circuit, jumping on and off and leaping over imaginary barriers. We tried (not very expertly) to teach @CorinneKielty to do it. Then we rode up and down steep banks in the pitch black, which was BRILLIANT, and much easier than doing it when you can see (I’m just going to close my eyes in races from now on). We looked unsuccessfully for some steps to run up, and did some cornering between the bowling greens. We laughed and shared tips and supported and learnt from each other. It was almost tear-jerkingly lovely.

Deuce and Adam

The next morning, I was up early for my second #RidingWithPeople experience in as many days! So keen! Ali (@millsphysio) wanted to ride a bit of the CLIF’cross route which Emma (@waterrat77) had been speccing out. It was bright, clear and C-C-C-COLD as we trundled off from the Co-op and immediately turned up an impossible hill. We were still on-road, and I was walking… Hmm. Onto the bridleway, back into the saddle, and Ali reassured me she was just happy to be out, no pressure, no need to ride for hours, etc. I relaxed. A bit. The off-road riding was HARD for MTB-deniers like myself: lots of rocks and cobbly bits, holes and loosely packed rubble. Add in the gradient and my general lack of conviction, and I got off the bike quite a lot in the next couple of hours. Pushing didn’t feel like failure though, as it was almost as hard as riding. And we were having such a jolly time! It didn’t seem to matter. At the Top Of The World™ we grinned at the 360° view, then screeched down a long descent to Gorple reservoir and rode along past the water in delight.

Gorple to Colden Water (88)

UP and OVER and DOWN and UP and DOWN via Widdop reservoir to Hurstwood, where we were pretty sure we saw @GreatRock’s back (he says this is his best angle). We turned into the icy wind here and, although the track was easily rideable, I creaked almost to a stop. Hoo. TIRED. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t freak out. I’d eaten enough, and I knew I just needed to keep going. I can’t emphasise enough how COMPLETELY out of character this is for me. Normally I just cry. Maybe ‘cross is teaching me something after all… Ali’s happy attitude really helped, too. I knew I wasn’t being judged. We stopped for a ‘We Were Here’ photo, then turned on to the road for the return leg.

Riding straight into the freezing headwind, being buzzed by motorbikes, I realised how tired my legs had got. 8 fairly hilly miles to go, and nothing left at all. Ali was freewheeling uphill to give me a chance to catch up. Her: You OK? Gonna make it? Me: Yes. What’s the alternative? Her: Good attitude… We chose the offroad route back down from Blackshaw Head, mercifully out of the wind. Mirages of hot baths and cups of tea floated before me. I could smell home.

We took nearly three and a half hours to do 21 miles, which tells you something about the terrain**. It’s the longest ride I’ve done since having kids. We were IMMENSELY proud of ourselves.

So, the tentative verdict on #RidingWithPeople is: GOOD. Key for me have been a happy atmosphere, lots of chat and laughter, challenging riding but a complete absence of competitiveness. It IS possible…

* present: @waterrat77, @millsphysio, @makepiece and @CorinneKielty. Apologies: @bexrimmington, @trio25, @nosila107 and @sparkieturner (honorary chick).

**or maybe about my lack of leg strength and terror of going uphill and downhill

‘Cross diary 19: It’s training again

November 14, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Posted in cycling | 1 Comment
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Well. I’d been off work (and the bike) all week with sinusitis, and in a MASSIVE sulk as Sunday approached and I didn’t seem to be getting any better. But then on Saturday afternoon my fairy godmother appeared in the kitchen in a puff of WD40, dressed head to toe in Planet X kit. She waved a track pump at me and declared ‘You SHALL go to CX training with @sparkieturner and @crossjunkie!’ And miraculously, my head cleared, and I grinned like an idiot.

Sunday dawned beautiful, bright, and dry. I hefted my bike onto the car with the minimum of swearing, changed three times (longs? shorts & legwarmers? 3/4s?), and threw the rest of my cycling wardrobe into the back of the car (just in case). The boys hugged me distractedly, one eye on Charlie & Lola at all times.

Mark and Alan are keen to get women into ‘cross, and they’d rustled up a number of bright-eyed girls from Cycle Sport Pendle (CSP) for this session. Then there was @trio25, and me, and @waterrat77 and @millsphysio, who’d (impressively) got hold of CX bikes the week before and immediately entered Cyclists V. Harriers.

A bit of discussion about tyre pressure – and a mass letting-out of air – and we were off to practise remounts. Getting my leg over the saddle at slow speeds still eludes me, so I cheated and went straight to jog ‘n’ hop, which works, even if it’s not elegant. We then combined this with dismounting; everyone made a lot of progress very quickly, much to my dismay (avid readers will remember how many HOURS I spent falling off while practising this).

@crossjunkie got the sticks out and constructed a barrier, then videoed us all trying to coast up to it, dismount smoothly, hoik the bike up and over and leap back on without losing momentum. Here is @millsphysio, a complete newbie, doing it perfectly. I’m not jealous. Not at all.

We practised hoisting bikes onto shoulders without whacking fellow competitors in the face (my secret weapon, according to a video @spandelles took of me at Keighley), and running with them through the dog poo. There followed a discussion about shoulder bruises and the acceptability of sewing Joan Collins-style pads into your jersey. @crossjunkie said this was fine (it’s good enough for Rapha, anyhow) but if any of us put pipe lagging round the top tube he would disown us.

Then we were off for a ‘bimble’ (@sparkieturner’s word; it makes it sound so jolly and effortless, doesn’t it) through the woods. Towneley Park really is lovely, and even when your shoes are full of muddy water it’s a terrific place to ride your bike around. We picked up some pro tips on riding in the mud (weight back; stand up slightly; pull on the bars; pedal smoothly; be confident), judging lines (try going round the outside of churned up bits; standing water probably means there’s a hard bit underneath, so a good place to ride) and keeping your momentum up (when to get off and run; when to shoulder your bike, and when to push). We finished up with a bit of downhilling (the short sharp shock variety). Next time, we’re going to ride @crossjunkie’s CX loop, which has ‘everything’, apparently. Can’t wait.

Many thanks to Mark and Alan for this session, which was friendly, fun, unintimidating and packed with useful stuff. Everyone had made visible progress by the end, and we all left with grins on our faces. Brilliant.

  • CSP are running a women-only race as part of their CX event at Waddow Hall on 15 December. It would be brilliant to have as many women as possible entering, to support the event and show the demand for this kind of racing, so please circulate the details far and wide!
  • Thanks very much to Alan (@crossjunkie) for the photos and the video.
  • And here is @trio25‘s take on the training session.

‘Cross diary 14: I race. Again!

September 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Well. I’ve had a full summer of denial, happily avoiding thinking about how I still can’t ride up or down banks, corner, get any speed up on grass, remount, or get my feet back into the pedals. No matter! The Yorkshire Points round is underway, so on a beautiful Sunday morning we filled the car with bicycles, tools, sandwiches, sun cream and children, and went off In Search Of Cross.

We found it at Oakbank School. The youth race was in full swing as we wandered up to look for the loo. Women from @sparkieturner’s CX training session accosted us delightedly, in between cheering on their boys. Primo was off at 11:30 in the under-10s; I signed up at the same time, fourth on the women/ vets list, briefly entertaining fantasies of riding round with only three rivals.

The under-10s rode round and round the playing field, parents chasing them on bikes yelling GO ON HAVE HIM! Hat tip to the mother who sprinted round the field twice at full tilt in flowered sundress and ballerinas. Primo did a brilliant job, charging up hills and grinding over grass with relentless energy and enthusiasm.

When he’d finished (‘I want a cross bike!’), I went off to recce the course. Ooh. A water crossing? Hmm… LOTS of mud and off-cambers and steep banks, then some zigzags with MORE mud, and more off-cambers, and a sheer descent with a turn at the bottom, and pavement and STEPS (hooray!) and downhill zigzags (help!) and more steep banks and more corners and then a bit of tearing across the grass. I’m exhausted just remembering it all.

I rode around feeling desperate for a while, then went back to the car for snacks. The woman parked next door was jolly: we rode down to the start together, laughing and comparing CX weaknesses, before she let slip she was Masters Downhill Mountain Bike World Champion (1999). We joked amiably with the other women on the start line, who were comparing tan lines and telling unconvincing tales of CX ineptitude.

They sent us off round the field first, to string us out before the woods. To be honest, the rest is a bit of a blur. The sun beat down. It was HOT. The first two laps were ghastly, but then I got into it, though I ran about a third of each lap, too scared to go uphill/ downhill/ round corners/ through mud/ you name it. Oof. I did two passable remounts, then my technique disintegrated and I spent the rest of the time stopping to climb back on. Bah.

At least I’m cooler about being lapped, now; I barely even wobble. One chap muttered ‘What the fook are you DOING?’ when I foot-dabbed on a corner, but everyone else was lovely. One guy said ‘Go on buddy!’ as he steamed past. A knot of riders zipped through, a woman shouting ‘You’re doing brilliantly! And even if you’re not, you look BEAUTIFUL!’ Someone yelled DIG IN! The boys rang their cowbells. People tried to take photographs round me. I could hear spectators talking about lunch as I staggered past. It would have been Zen-like, if I hadn’t been about to keel over.

Like last time, I didn’t know I’d finished. Above a certain HR, my brain just stops working. @spandelles congratulated me, and told me my dismount was terrific; my boys ate their sandwiches, unconcerned that Mummy had just nearly EXPIRED out there what with all the trying hard and everything.

So. In the best tradition of games of two halves, the round up.

Better than last time:

  • Tried A Bit Harder (@spandelles said I looked like I was actually racing this time, rather than just riding around)
  • Cornering
  • Dismounting
  • Getting lapped without shouting ‘Hoo!’
  • Didn’t fall off ONCE

Still v. poor:

  • Need to Try Much Harder
  • Combinations of things e.g. going up banks plus cornering
  • Riding in mud, or on pretty much any kind of terrain
  • Eating enough beforehand
  • Getting Back On (oh dear…)

We got a bit of intel on the next couple of fixtures. One is quite MTB-y, with woods and singletrack and stuff. Mmm. Should be fine then. Ha ha ha! The other is ‘basically haring around on the grass. They all go really fast, it’s terrifying.’ Sounds ideal…

See you next week. Hup hup!

[Proper British Cycling race report and preliminary results here. I’m in the pictures, too. Cake to anyone who can spot me.]

Massive THANK YOU to @spandelles who was pit crew, soigneur, childminder, moral support, satnav wrangler and chief-adjudicator-of-arguments-over-cowbells. You are brilliant.

‘Cross diary 11: I do a skills audit

May 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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Well. One thing about this rotten weather we’ve been having: it’s perfect for ‘cross. After a false start where I somehow managed to put my trainers on and go running instead, and another where I cycled straight past the park and went for a road ride (avid readers will realise just what this means about the scale of The Fear, that I’d go on a road ride as a displacement activity), not to mention being called a big Jessie by several people on Twitter, I FINALLY got myself and my bike out of the house and down to the park.

Todmorden Park 3

Of course, as soon as I was tearing across the soggy grass in the rain, breaking my legs up those stiff little climbs and getting sprayed with mud again, I couldn’t understand why I’d stayed away. At the end I swung my leg over the saddle a couple of times and was astonished to find I could still jump off. Maybe it really is like riding a bike.

The next time, I found a flat bit of grass and nervously tried remounting again. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that ‘remounting’ and ‘nervously’ don’t go too well together. But still. I managed to get back on while going along a couple of times, even if I was double dabbing (@crossjunkie is shaking his head, sadly). It’s got to be faster than stopping. The tyre tracks and mud ruts from Wednesday’s TodCross were still there, so I charged round after them, jumping on and off randomly. I didn’t fall off! And I only got my shorts caught on the back of the saddle once! Delighted, I practised cornering, riding round and round the war memorial. I toiled up the big hill at the back a couple of times, spitting expletives and scaring wagtails. At the hairpin turn onto the Infamous Cobbled Climb™, I got off. I could barely run up it, pushing the bike, my cleats skittering on the setts. Beyond belief.


So. Work to do; but progress, too. I decided to do a CX skills audit:

Dismount: Not too bad

Remount: Almost functional

Riding on different surfaces

  • Grass: Fine
  • Mud: OK-ish
  • Gravel: Hmm
  • Sand: No opportunity to practise, so no doubt hopeless
  • Cobbles: Ha ha ha!

Going up steep banks: Not very good

Going down steep banks: Ditto


  • To the right: OK
  • To the left: Hopeless

Combinations of any of the above: Forget it

Braking with hands on hoods: You may laugh, but I couldn’t do this last year. Extremely proud that I can do it now

Shouldering bike: Very good (Really. I know. I’m as surprised as anyone.)

Bike wash: Even @spandelles approves, so must be doing something right

There’s a race coming up: 6 June, in Huddersfield. Come along, if you’re around, and heckle me. DOUBLE DAB! AMATEUR!

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