It’s like having a football pitch in your own backyard

November 6, 2014

Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park on sunny afternoon in October
I’m not sure Jen and I live in London anymore. We have a telephone number that begins “020”, but I spotted a temporary sign near our flat which warned that a leafy road was “closed for toad migration”. That was some time before we moved here in July. Since then, I’ve woken to hear parakeets squawking in the garden and breakfasted to the sound of clopping hooves outside our living room window. We didn’t get those sorts of things when we lived within earshot of two Premier League football clubs. Although we did get a lot of shouting on Saturdays.

I knew this area from years of cycling through it (in fact, I am only a 25-minute bike ride from our old flat) but it didn’t seem quite as pastoral before we began living here. We have moved to the edge of Richmond Park and, as I write this, I am looking at a row of trees which define part of its perimeter. On rainy days like this one, those trees are a forbidding wall, telling me to stay where I am until less inclement cycling weather comes along. During sunnier days, the branches sway in the breeze, beckoning me for a quick three laps. And how can I possibly refuse?

Imagine if you had somehow managed to buy a home that had its own football pitch, tennis court or Olympic-sized swimming pool; as a cyclist, that is how it feels living with the capital’s cycling Mecca on your doorstep. I am a mere seven minutes away from the meeting point of London Dynamo’s ever-popular Parkride (you missed a key selling point there, Zoopla) which enables me to fall out of bed at ten past eight on a Saturday morning and still make the eight-thirty start. I’m usually starving, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. But, hey, I’m there.

Or rather, I’m not. Recently I’ve been knocking out laps much later on a Saturday, the idea being that I can still put in a good workout by trying to finish before the sun sets. It works, but for some reason the sorts of cyclists who frequent the park at that time of day are much less likely to leave you alone. Lone riders chase each other down, form a cluster, and then interpret my gradual easing past them as an attack. Even when I slow down and leave two bike lengths between us, I still get the old elbow flick telling me to come through.

I mean, really. What rudeness. Don’t they realise this is my park now?


I’ve written about Kingston Wheelers in Simpson magazine and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it

July 11, 2014

My habit of tapping out words for this blog has been stymied of late because me and Littlejen have been searching for somewhere to live – but now, with issue five of Simpson magazine landing on the doormat of our lovely new home, I have finally found the time and a good reason to turn my attention back to you, the kind reader who allows me to indulge in this blogular folly.

Simpson issue 5 cover

More specifically, I would like to draw your attention to pages 60-62 of Simpson which feature a piece on Kingston Wheelers cycling club, written by me.

Simpson issue 5 Kingston Wheelers

Basically, I went for a ride with them, had a jolly nice time and then wrote about it. The pictures are great, and the magazine has been getting better and better with every issue. It costs six quid, and you can order a copy from their website.

I’d like to do more of these sorts of breezy articles on club rides because I think more needs to be written about the culture of cycling clubs and the idiosyncrasies of riding with them – that peculiar social dynamic that occurs when riding among good friends and total strangers. So if you’d like me to cover your club, email me at dancehippocleides at mac dot com or tweet me. Let me ride with you and write about you, cycling chums!


A rare sighting of a 1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa in the wild

March 30, 2014

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa profile

Fellow Dynamo Jonathon Stacey was in Richmond Park on Saturday morning proudly showing off a vintage bicycle he has restored to its former glory. My chum Martin Garratt was one of many Parkriders at the Roehampton Gate cafe who were taken by Jonathan’s glistening beauty, and he asked me to take a few snaps to show his brother because he didn’t have his phone on him. Obviously there are many more people who would like to drool over these images, so I thought I may as well stick ’em on here.

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa rear mech

I didn’t know Jonathon and I asked him very little about his pride and joy, so I can’t give you a terrific amount of detail about it. But I do know that it has a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, the pedals are made by Christophe (which later became the Zefal brand) and the frame was originally yellow. Oh, and the whole thing cost him £4,000. Enjoy!

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa badge

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa chainring

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa pedal

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa rear brake

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa shifters

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa seattube badge

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa top tube


‘Beginnerism’? It’s ‘expertism’ that we don’t need

March 28, 2014

Update, April 17: Collyn has now taken her post down, but you can still read it here.

Collyn Ahart, the Siobhan Sharpe of women’s cycling, wrote a blogpost that has been doing the rounds recently, and there is a great deal I find odd about it. In case you are one of the few people who hasn’t come across her promotional spiel masquerading as a feminist cri-de-coeur, her key observation is this: brands and the media tend to address women cyclists as if they are all beginners, which comes across as patronising and diverts everyone’s attention away from the higher end of the spectrum. She calls this state of affairs “beginnerism” and it’s the reason why her nascent company won’t be making cycling clothing.

I would’ve thought any aspiring businessperson, if they really had spotted how badly other companies are serving their customers, would consider this an opportunity rather than a reason to retreat before they have even begun. It’s as if Collyn has come up with an elaborate, face-saving excuse because she doesn’t want to enter a crowded market and fail. Or this could be a setup for a self-regarding return to the fray at some point in the future (Hey girls! I couldn’t turn my back on you! I shall be your saviour from patronising pink lycra! And I’ll do it in, like, a totally non-patronising way!). Whatever the reason, it seems clear from Collyn’s tone – apparently “everyone” is surprised by her announcement – that we are meant to consider this a decision of great moment and import. You can decide for yourself whether or not this is the case.

Targeting entry-level riders is probably a useful strategy from a business perspective. Far fewer women than men ride bicycles, but their number is increasing as cycling generally becomes more popular, so it seems sensible that manufacturers and magazine editors would focus on what appears to be a growing part of the market. And contrary to what Collyn suggests, wasn’t targeting newcomers how her exemplar Rapha started out? As I recall, it was initially the post-Armstrong crowd who rode around with ‘PEYRESOURDE’ and ‘VENTOUX’ emblazoned in bold type beneath their manboobs, not the fanatics who had been following cycling since the days of downtube shifters and Phil Liggett’s voice crackling over a dodgy phone line. Get them when they first venture into cycling, at the very point when they’re at their most enthusiastically receptive, and you’ve got yourself a loyal customer base who will tell their mates how great you are – which in Rapha’s case helped them widen their appeal to all kinds of road cyclists, thus generating a revenue of £28million last year alone.

But instead of following the money, Collyn is following the writing of Jacques Derrida – although I think the quote she used, “the success of feminism will be its demise”, may be incorrect. I wonder if she meant, “The risk of failure of women’s studies is the risk of its very own success,” which means something else entirely. In any case, I doubt whether any successful CEO has wandered down the path of postmodern philosophy to reach a business decision, so perhaps we should wish her the best of luck with that one.

More importantly, what are we to make of her key assertion – and it is just that: an assertion, offered without any evidence at all – that focusing on beginners has a detrimental effect on encouraging women to “reach up to the next level”? I think the competitive female cyclists I’ve known over the years are smart enough and determined enough to be unaffected by what companies in the cycling industry may or may not think they ought to wear or enjoy. Moreover, it’s a bizarre statement to make so soon after the successful launch of the South East Women’s Time Trial Series, Lizzie Armitstead winning the biggest race of her career and the UCI commencing the broadcast of women’s world cup races. Of course women’s cycling needs more success to breed future inspirational successes like these, but the enemy here is lack of money and investment, not a preponderance of fuchsia jerseys in Evans and too many magazines recycling lists of 10 Top Cycling Tips For Gals.

Collyn’s major clanger, which she hastily amended, was including Jeannie Longo in her list of inspirational women, apparently not realising that the Frenchwoman has been linked to a string of doping allegations. And in what might charitably be called a brave move, she has a pop at a women’s clothing brand. It’s done in a way that makes me wonder where professional opinion ends and passive-aggressive point-scoring begins. I’m not going to get into whether their apparel is appealing or not – that’s for each woman to decide, and as Collyn mentions in her addendum, “women are hard to please,” which I think is putting it mildly. But I would say two things. Firstly, I reiterate my earlier point: if an established company really is getting things wrong, then a newcomer should show them how to do it right and reap the rewards. (Incidentally, I can’t recall Simon Mottram having a dig at, say, Endura or any other specific sportswear brand when Rapha started out, and Collyn may like to reflect why this was the case.) Secondly, I think it’s a bit rich for Collyn to write: “This ‘girl power’ thing is all a bit too much protestation. Empowered people don’t have to tell people they’re empowered.” Surely, for any company, spelling out your philosophy in broad terms to your potential customers is just part and parcel of the language of marketing. Those who are outsiders and brave, for example, don’t need to say they are brave and outsiders either, yet those are the words which are plastered over the website for Collyn’s yet-to-be-launched clothing brand.

I suppose if you are prone to coining Siobhan Sharpe-style catchwords, you could call this mixture of cluelessness and assertiveness ‘expertism’ – a sort of evidence-free, self-promoting, faux-expertise. Women will think what they like, but I find it draining and cynical. Give me the imperfect idealism of beginners any day.


Where’s Danilo?

March 26, 2014

Since getting a life ban and moaning that everyone was at it, why is everyone picking on me, it’s not fair waaah waaah etc etc, former Giro d’Italia champion Danilo Di Luca appears to have gone to ground. But I think I’ve spotted him.

Add a ‘tache…

Danilo di Luca with a tache

and a fedora…

Inspector De Luca

…and voila! He is Inspector De Luca, the bicycle-riding detective of BBC4’s latest Saturday night foreign crime drama.

Mystery solved.

Presumably his next case will be to uncover the 90 per cent of Giro riders who were juiced up. Or maybe not.


Is cycling rock or pop? (Answer: it’s pop.)

March 14, 2014

I like pop. Big pop. Enormopop. The type of pop it’s usually not OK to like – the synthetic, bright, ebullient kind which sounds as if it could’ve been assembled on the sort of machine you are reading these words from, because it usually is. I like voices – typically, women’s voices – that sound as if they have rocketed across oceans to reach your heart, and in an age where a song could have been recorded anywhere, they probably did. I like Sia, Robyn, Scherzinger, Gaga, the Aloud, that sort of thing. And as a committed bicycleperson, that puts me in a very small minority. Possibly a minority of one.

One of the shortest conversations I had in the Rouleur office was about the 2009 Eurovision song contest, even though I was raving about the spiralling, doomed romanticism of Patricia Kaas’s Et S’il Fallait Le Faire, which I thought would be right up their rue. A few years later at a Dynamo Christmas do, a fellow member asked me, in a manner which suggested he wanted reassuring that this was the case, if my frequent tweets about the X Factor were meant ironically (they weren’t). I can understand his concern: cycling, at least the type of cycling I enjoy, has more in common with the appreciation of rock, which hardly makes it the ideal environment for a TV-talent-show-loving nincompoop like myself. There’s an old belief, the lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs recently noted, that you’re not in a bona fide band until you’ve gone “up the M1 500 times”; similarly, there are those who believe that you’re not a proper cyclist until you’ve got a few thousand miles in your legs (which, of course, have to be hard miles, up hills and mountains). Road cycling is about paying your dues and observing tradition: drop handlebars, 700c wheels and a diamond-shaped frame are its guitar, bass and drums. Cycling wears a serious face in monochrome, often amid a remote, enveloping natural landscape, like Joshua Tree-era U2 (a sullen aesthetic which, Raphaistas should note, even the world’s most ludicrously earnest band eventually had to abandon). The message, as crushing as a powerchord, is clear: cycling has a deep, inscrutable meaning; cycling is tough; cycling is 4 Real.

Or is it? Throughout my musical life, I’ve often felt excluded from the seriousness of being a rock fan – its various modes of rebellion, the accumulation of arcane knowledge, the penetration of the obligatory veil of mystery. The world of club cycling, on the other hand, I’ve found to be welcoming and jolly, despite – or maybe to mitigate – the physical pain you have to endure to be any good at it. And whereas rock can often feel like an exclusive club in which its members are obliged to venerate the ‘right’ artists and the ‘right’ albums, cycling won’t show you the door if you can’t tell your Coppi from your Bartoli, although it might point you in the direction of a detailed, hardback tome.

Watching a key moment in a race, such as Froome attacking Quintana on Mont Ventoux, gives me the same rush I get from pop. How could it not? Because, at its very core, cycling has a throbbing pop heart.

For a start, cycling, like pop, is a bastard form. Pop is a magpie nicking ideas – sounds, melodies, riffs, looks – from whatever genre it can find and repurposing them in a new form. Cycling did this when it pinched the downhill tuck from skiing and came up with the aerobar. The manufacturing know-how that produces many of the groupsets in the peloton came from golf and fishing equipment. Some of the training principles that put the current champion of the Tour de France on the top of the podium in Paris originated in swimming. Pop is manufactured, and so to is the constantly-evolving object at the core of cycling, the bicycle. There is no room for a blues-like purity in such a modern, inquisitive sport.

On an immediate, visual level, cycling is also identifiably pop. The rush of colours that constitute the pro peloton has an unabashed, gaudy, Roy Lichtenstein look about it. From a less artistic standpoint, the Tour’s post-stage shows became the inspiration for the Radio 1 Roadshow after station controller Johnny Beerling stumbled across them while on holiday in France. And, fundamentally, cycling shares pop’s commercial instincts: even though a race can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it nevertheless exists primarily as a sponsors’ billboard.

Pop’s message, if it has one, is that the most thrilling place to be is the present. And is that not the feeling you experience when you’re completely immersed in a race – any race? Whenever I come across enthusiasm for a relatively obscure non-European event, I’m struck by how the more committed type of cycling fan exists at an emotional frequency as high as their pop counterparts. Compare this to football, where pre-season friendlies – the equivalent of the tour of Oman or Dubai – are considered so uninteresting that the great Danny Baker recently suggested that they should be held behind closed doors.

So let’s abandon the mythologising, tradition-heavy, rock-like paradigm we use to frame our perception of cycling. Pop is unhip. Pop requires no chin-stroking expert’s permission to exist. And those, to me, are the qualities that are at the very root of why we love cycling.


The Ride journal back issues are available to download

January 31, 2014

ride issue 5 illustrationI wrote a piece for the excellent Ride journal a while ago. The issue in which it appeared, like all the others, has since sold out, but the Diprose brothers have now kindly put it online along with four others. The article I wrote is set in Richmond Park, and it’s about the relationship between riding and words, and the weird dynamic that occurs between you and strangers who happen to share your peculiar hobby. It’s in issue five, on pages 102 and 103. The issue also includes pieces by some guys called Michael Barry, David Millar and Graeme Obree. The downloads are free, and you can get them here.


The centenary that’s not quite a centenary

January 24, 2014

I had a gander at Guy Andrews’ Twitter last week and found a baffling response to Road.cc’s review of his company’s latest venture, the Rouleur Centenary Tour De France. To bring you up to speed: a photographer by the name of Dan Kenyon considered the writing “lacklustre” and the photography “poor”, pointing out that the £40 book only contains one picture of the race’s winner – and a partially obscured one at that. “It’s putting the art before the sport,” he concludes. In response, a few photographers – including, oddly, one he actually praised – have tetchily pointed out that Dan got some of the technical aspects of their craft incorrect, which I suppose reveals one of the great hidden truths of publishing: the only group more sensitive than writers are the snappers.

Being one of the former tribe, as well as once being responsible for ensuring Guy’s magazine contained reasonably comprehensible English, there was one line in Dan’s review that leapt out at me: “Someone at Rouleur doesn’t know the difference between a hundredth edition and a 100-year anniversary.” This was a reference to the book’s title: the centenary of the Tour de France – it’s 100th anniversary – was in 2003, not 2013; last year’s race was the 100th edition, the two world wars accounting for the total of 10 years’ absence.

I should point out Rouleur is not the only journal of record to refer to the 2013 Tour as the centenary. And actually, Dan isn’t entirely correct: Chambers, the dictionary I’ve used for most of my professional life, including my stint at Rouleur, defines “centenary” as “a hundred” or “a hundredth anniversary”.

chambers definition of centenary

But 2003 was referred to as the centenary in the Tour’s own branding, and there was even a book about the ’03 race that had “centenary” in the title. So I think it is a mistake for Rouleur to name their book the Centenary Tour De France, simply because it confuses two editions of the race.

Guy’s response was to tweet the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of centenary, which is “the hundredth anniversary of an event”. Which, of course, is the point Dan was making in his review. Now, I would like to think that Guy could have been waving the white flag here, but I doubt it: having spent a good deal of time in his company, I know that the word “surrender” is not in his vocabulary. Maybe “centenary” isn’t either. Did he misunderstand Dan’s point? Or does the editor of “the world’s finest cycle racing reportage” erroneously believe that the Tour began in 1913? As I say, it is an odd reaction whichever way you look at it.

More to the point, does any of this matter? Rapha once put the Hungarian flag on its Italian jersey and the Dutch flag on its French one, but those gaffes don’t seem to have affected the company’s fortunes. It’s the great contradiction of road cycling: its fans set their own pernickity rules and seethe when they are broken, yet don’t seem to care when the more conspicuous and useful ones are disregarded.


Three Spanish cyclists and the mystery of the third person

January 20, 2014

Three cyclists, three quotes, one common factor.

Here is the final line of a news report on last year’s world championships in Florence:

“Clearly this is Purito’s destiny [...] To lose the Giro by a whisker, then the Vuelta and now the Worlds.”

This is from the pages of Procycling magazine in 2012:

“Carlos Sastre was there for him; and when he had someone who could make his dreams come true, Carlos Sastre was in the second line.”

And this is how one rider assessed his previous season last week:

“I was often in the top five in races that mattered but that’s not good enough for Alberto Contador.”

In all three cases, the quote comes from the rider himself. Joaquim Rodriguez, Sastre and Contador are all talking about themselves in the third person.

I’m reliably informed by two people who, unlike me, can actually speak Spanish that this isn’t a quirk of the language: referring to yourself in the third person is unusual and just as likely to make you look pompous among Spaniards as it is among English-speakers. So I wonder if this is self-aggrandisement as a form of defence, because in all three cases the riders are trying to come to terms with a significant disappointment: Purito narrowly losing the world champs, Sastre constantly being Bjarne Riis’s second choice, and Contador winning only one race in 2013.

Cycling is a cruel sport with many big egos. Which makes it a bit of a mystery why we don’t see riders of all nationalities talking like this when the chips are down.


Joining a cycling club is the best thing you can do in 2014

December 31, 2013

London Dynamo celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2013. We had a big dinner at Smollensky’s, took advantage of the free bar, and watched a short film about the club which was put together by the inestimable Stuart Spies. I have included it at the top of this blogpost for your enjoyment. Also, if you spot two photographs of me, then you could win a special prize! (Although I doubt it, because I’m not handing out any prizes. But you’re already a winner, aren’t you, because you’ve chosen to read this blog. Yes, you are. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)

Apart from giving The DYNAMITE! Files a sizable plug, what I like about Stuey’s film is that it captures the larky enthusiasm and love of speed that have made Dynamo such an enjoyable club to be a part of. We didn’t set out to be bigger than clubs that have been around for generations – it just sort of happened. Part of the reason is that we are the only club to have a year-round ride in Richmond Park, and with so many unaffiliated riders sharing the seven-mile loop on Saturday mornings, our Parkride has become an advert for Dynamo and a means of attracting new members. Another reason is the pleasing look of the jersey, designed by founding member Russell Short. But the main reason for the success of London Dynamo is that the barmy blue-and-black army is whatever you want it to be. It’s a racing club. It’s a series of social events, both on and off the bike. It’s a means of testing your fitness and your abilities against others. It’s for the fastest, the slowest and everything in between. It’s a living, breathing internet: networks of friends – actual real-life friends – who support, listen, ride together and often rib each other. And it amazes me that we arrived at this wonderful state of affairs with barely any planning whatsoever.

Of course, you don’t have to join Dynamo. You might not live in London, and if you do, there are plenty of other large clubs around. But joining one extends your horizons: you have a pool of advice, information and ideas to draw upon, and you could try out another discipline such as track racing or mountain biking.

Ultimately, though, it’s the value-for-money argument that should clinch it for you. In the ever-costly world of cycling, what can you get for £40 these days? For that price, I can get access to an organisation that hosts four weekly rides, provides spin classes and core conditioning classes during the winter, and takes the hassle out of putting together a trip abroad for a sportive. Alternatively, for a similar price, you could buy a cycling podcast (that’s two people giving their opinions on news items you’ve probably already read), purchase a lavish book of photographs about last year’s Tour de France (that apparently has only one picture of the winner), or get yourself a large saddlebag (which you really shouldn’t need because, y’know, your jersey has these things called pockets). I know which one I’ll choose.


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