Thursday, 17 October 2013

Toothpaste Training

Well, the transition from my 40s to 50s was a bit of a damp squib. On my last run as a forty-something, I got a left groin strain at the start of a strides session, and then on the same session the very next week, I pulled a right hamstring, probably as a result of subconsciously favouring the crocked left one.  And to add insult to the injury, the charts are looking shite.  I’m referring of course to the plot of athletic performance vs age which can be gleaned from the World masters Athletics (WMA) tables.  At about 35, it looks like the broad shoulder of a Borders hill but then quickly changes to an Alpine black ski run through the 40s and 50s before launching off a cliff into freefall in later decades. 

The last time I was what I would consider reasonably fit (at least in this century) was in 2005, which only seems like yesterday but these damned charts are telling me that now, even if I train bloody hard, at best I’ve slowed 6% in the blink of an eye.  Looking for positives, at least my athletic ability and mental age are once again compatible (that of a 14 year old!) – but then if I really was 14, I’m sure I’d have got through that strides session in one piece!  OK, perhaps a black ski run analogy is a bit pessimistic but it’s certainly a down escalator.  Maybe the training goal now is to try and slow that descent by running up and maybe gaining a step or two, at least for a while?  Come to think of it, running up the down escalators was also something I did as a 14 year-old…

It’s not all gloom though; having started jogging in June, following 2 years of cycling as my only exercise, I’m now fit enough to incorporate running in my human-powered commute.  That’s given me the running bug again and one of the things that I always do when this happens is pore over all my old running books and articles in the quest for that magic schedule which will lead to a triumphant come-back.  Well, I can dream…   
I don’t suppose there’s any magic bullet but one approach I’m really interested in is that of the late, great, John “Hadd” Walsh.  I came across his training ideas about 10 years ago on but I was doing a different schedule at the time, so I never got round to trying it.  Hadd believed that there were huge performance improvements to be gained by thorough aerobic preparation and the best way to achieve this was to maximise the lactate threshold before any faster running.  But rather than diving in with a diet of HM-pace threshold runs, Hadd training involves maximising your pace at much lower intensities first (with runs conducted at accurately determined proportions of your maximum heart rate) and then progressing to training at gradually increased intensities. Hadd believed that this was the best way of improving the mitochondria of all muscle fibre types.

His metaphor was a tube of toothpaste. Extracting every drop of ability (toothpaste) from the tube requires carefully squeezing very gradually from the bottom up.  Squeezing from higher up (faster paces) too early will initially yield toothpaste but will likely end up with some being left in the tube.  The original Hadd threads on ran to hundreds of posts but one Haddist has kindly provided a summary HERE.  PeteQ2 also has a useful discussion HERE.  I don’t know  if Hadd’s approach is physiologically “correct” or not but it seems logical, it’s progressive and plenty of folk have reported good results, so I’m going to give it a bash.

I’m in a pre-Hadd phase at the moment and I want to get a few more weeks of consistent jogging in before starting properly.  So once I’m ready to start, the next step will be to accurately determine HR max (which is pretty low, I think around 170 bpm) and then embark on the steady LT improvement. A heart rate monitor is something I’ve had for ages but it’s only recently that I’ve started using it consistently. I’m quite enjoying it at the moment - I’ve found it quite liberating to just run by HR and not have the pressure of worrying about time or pace. The heart rate dictates the effort required and the pace is just whatever it is.  

So where will all this lead?  Well, if things go to plan and I get through all the Hadd phases, in a few months I should be fit for a longish race.  I’d like to get some shorter stuff in too (my last 10k was over 10 years ago!), so I may use the training as a base for going on to faster VO2 work. More importantly though, it might just get me a few steps up that down escalator. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Monday, 5 August 2013

One One Refurb

Hoka One Ones - the trendiest clown boots in town
I’ve been making my own running shoes since 2003 and I’ve been virtually mass market-free since 2004. But now I’m about to post about a commercially available trainer.  Not only that - but the ‘clown shoe’ of shop-bought trainers at that. So what’s going on? Well, the shoe in question is a Hoka.  These have been a huge success in recent years, particularly amongst ultra runners and a significant number of races are being won in them.  Hoka’s philosophy appears to be to slap as much EVA as possible between the runner’s foot and terrra firma, thus providing a pillow-like ride over all the rough stuff and getting the wearer to the finish line, perhaps a day later, in better condition than with conventional shoes.  Porty’s Ben Kemp wore a pair in his successful attempt at this year’s West Highland Way Race.  I made an innocent comment on Yak Hunter’s blog (it wasn’t a hint, honest!) about wanting to have a close-up look at a pair to see what all the fuss was about and within 24 hours, Peter Buchanan had offered me a pair of Stinson Evo Lows which he was about to chuck out because of a rip in the upper. So how could I refuse?

Upper tear - a mere flesh wound in the life of this pair
That was a few weeks ago but it was only yesterday that I finally managed to set aside some time and get to grips with the repair.  The right upper had a large rip in the outside forefoot area, a part of the shoe subject to a fair bit of lateral stress I suppose, but apart from that, the shoes were in pretty good nick and I agreed with Peter’s assessment that if they could be repaired, they’d be good for another 1000 miles.  For the repair solution, I reckoned that a patch from inside would work as well as anything.  Normally, my uppers are made from woven polypropylene (typically Ikea bags or builders ‘1 tonne’ bags) but this stuff doesn’t stick very well, so that was out for this application.  I needed something exceptionally tough, which would stick well with contact adhesive and which would sew easily.  
Old denims - shoe repair bounty
Denim seemed to tick all of those boxes and so an old pair of jeans was brought into service to provide the patches.  I noticed that the left shoe was showing signs of wear at the same location so I decided to do a pre-emptive repair on this one too, before it ripped.

View from inside
The photos show the repair sequence.  The denim patch was glued then folded over on itself to form a double layer.  This was glued to the midsole inside the shoe, then round the corner on to the ripped upper.  The midsole area is under heavy compression, so I have no worries that this part of the repair will stay-put.  Where the patch is glued to the upper however, there will be all sorts of differential movement and peeling forces going on, so I reinforced this area by sewing the patch and upper together using ultra-strong thread (in this case braided kite string).
Double-layer denim patch

Patch glued in place
Completed repair with insole back in place
Glad I didn't try plastic surgery as a career choice

Belt and braces - a dab a of superglue secures the knots 
Black marker over the thread and a new pair of 
matching Poundland laces for the finishing touch - job done.
As I worked on the shoes, I noticed a couple of messages on the midsole proclaiming their tech-worthiness; “Zero-gravity technology” (Newton would have been interested in that one) and “adaptive tuning”. Yes, shoe marketing bullshit puts even estate agents to shame!

Hoka one One vs HillBilly Trotter Trail
In my first ultra, the 2008 Round Rotherham 50, I used an overly minimalist shoe with about ½ inch thick EVA midsole.  I got away with it but my feet were a bit bruised and tender afterwards.  Subsequently, and for rougher trails, I’ve bumped this up to 23mm and found this thickness to be great for everything up to and including the West Highland Way Race. The Hokas really do have a humungus amount of EVA, although as this wraps around the upper a little, the midsole thickness appears to be a bit more than it actually is.  My own shoes have a totally flat midsole and my view is that it’s what is under your forefoot that’s important (where I land and take off, and where the greatest impact forces are experienced), so I was keen to do a rough comparison in this area between the Hokas and my HillBilly Trotter Trail shoes. I’ve had this particular pair for 7 years.  As  you can see, they look ridiculous but are so now so comfy that I just keep patching them up as and when required.  They’ve had the equivalent of 2 uppers and 3 midsoles but they’re still the same old pair!  

The arrow shows the top level of the EVA midsole in the HBTTs (the wide whitish band is an external polyester strip, deeper than the midsole itself). From the second pic, the Hoka midsole looks significantly thicker but the top yellow band is a wrap-around onto the upper, so the actual midsole surface inside the shoe is at the top of the grey band.  That gives about 25mm for the Hokas vs 23mm for the HBTTs - a bit thicker but not significantly so.  Conventional trainers and trail shoes typically have about half this thickness under the forefoot.

If they were about ¾ the size, the Stinsons would be a very attractive looking trainer.  But when first on your feet, they look huge! - not helped by these being ½ size larger than my normal.  Still, I managed to adjust the lacing to get the fit snug enough and round the house, they felt very plush - more so than a pair of Crocs even. I was due to run to work on Monday morning, so that was the time for the Hoka road test. This would be a circa 15 mile run/walk effort (25 mins running/5 mins walking “reps” - owing to my general lack of running fitness, the need for me to be able to cycle home this evening and also train again tomorrow! Plenty of opportunity though, to put the shoes through their paces.

I have to say that when I set off, although they gave a comfy enough ride, the Hokas felt a bit awkward and clunky.  One of my self-checks that I do regarding form is to listen to my feet - if they’re silent then I’m running correctly.  I just couldn’t run quietly in these at first.  I’m not used to having a big heel wedge and I suspect that its presence was resulting in heel contact sooner than normal, hence the noisy progress.  After about 4 miles however, my brain seemed to understand the shoe a bit better. Things thankfully quietened down a bit and the shoes felt fine from then on. 

Serenity along the 'Nolly.
Oh FFS, I've started Buchananing on my runs!
My route took me up and over Winchburgh shale bing and if you’ve tried one of these, you’ll realise that going straight up is NOT an option! - it required a furious on all-fours zig-zag scramble to make it up. All of which gave the shoe repair a good sideways workout and I was relieved to find that all held good.

The rest of the run went fine and the only ill effect from the shoes was a blister on my right arch; probably not surprising, as my own shoes don’t have arch supports, so as to allow my arches to flatten out as the foot pronates inward as nature intended.
A view I never tire of. Proper engineering, Victorian style.
Shame my pic doesn't do it justice

My overall verdict:  I found the Stinsons to be a nice comfy shoe but I’m not a great fan of heel wedges, so I won’t be throwing away my HillBilly Trotters any time soon. They're a pretty good shoe though and I'll continue to use them on suitable terrain but again due to the heel wedge, I’d be a bit wary of their use over the really rough stuff.  Not that they’re actually any wedgier than typical trainers. They are fairly wide at the heel which is enough to give good stability under normal conditions, but your heel is higher off the ground than in most shoes, so if you did turn an ankle, it would likely be a bad ‘un. But hey, if Hokas allow a lot of folk to complete ultras with reduced ill effects, or allow people to toe the start line who would otherwise be crocked (and they evidently do) then that’s great. I suspect though that with long-term use, the pillow-like cosseting they give your feet could be such that users would find it difficult to revert back to anything else.  Peter posted a photo-montage of his dream trail shoe in his last blog post - a grippy Innov8 with thick but flat-ish midsole.  Maybe that could be the next mod for this particular pair?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Multi-modal commute

I’ve had a lot of fun in the last couple of years building and modding bikes, both upright and recumbents, trying to work out what goes fast and what doesn’t.  During that time however, my running has been sadly neglected. That needs to change, so in the last 2 months I’ve been trying to ease back into it.  Coming from a base of only cycling, that’s easier said than done.  Cycling may give a reasonable level of lung fitness but the body has evolved to that of a different species; one with hunched shoulders, curved spine, leg muscles in the wrong places and no resistance to stress from impact forces.  All of which means that it’s going to be a slow process to transform back into a normal human.
Not that I’ll be giving up cycling, as it’s still the best commuting option for the 30-mile round trip.  And I’ve only ever been fit when incorporating training into my commute, so that’s here to stay.  One thing I’ve never tried, but am curious to find out, is how beneficial or otherwise a combination of cycling and running might be for running fitness.  The old fashioned view was that the two don’t really mix but triathletes like the Brownlee bro’s are capable of international-class running and hill runners like Rob Jebb are at the top of the tree in cyclocross also.
My feeling is that as long as you do enough running to make the necessary adaptations to allow you to run efficiently, then a combination of the two disciplines will be beneficial, particularly for old gits who may struggle to keep up a reasonable mix of volume and quality running.  But I suspect that the quality part of training would need to focus on running rather than cycling.
So how does cycling mileage equate to running mileage?  In terms of energy expenditure, it’s probably about 3 to 1, so I’ve stuck my finger in the air and come up with the scientific formula of 5 km cycling equals 1 mile running.  Historically, I’ve needed about 60 miles running per week to get reasonably fit, so if I cycle commute 3 days (90 miles), that gives just under 30 miles running equivalent, so running the other two days and say once at the weekend should make that volume achievable.
I find that a 12-week moving average mileage gives a reasonable indicator of basic fitness.  I had a lazy first half of the year but training’s been bumped up in the last month and at the moment, based on the above formula, I’m currently at about 34 mpw running equivalent.  It’s been quite varied too; a fortnight ago, I had a hilly week in Sheffield where, even just running about the streets, 20% gradients are common.  Last week I had the contrast of the pancake-flat Yangtze delta.  I went there full of good intentions training-wise but I chose the hottest week in Shanghai since records began and with temperatures in excess of 400C, the only option was to try and get up at 5 a.m (which I managed once!) and brave the relative chill of 300C.  Bizarrely, at that time Century Park in Pudong was hoaching with oldies performing their daily Tai-chi workouts.  No sign of Chinese youth though. There’s no hope for them - they’re all too busy trying to make a quick buck and becoming fat Americans as fast as possible.  
Now, if I was Peter Buchanan, there would already be a dozen pristine pics in this post (I was wondering how the guy is so fast for a demi-centurion, as all that photography during training must leave precious little time for actual running.  Then I realised that’s why he’s so fast.  Three minutes to get the perfect background and exposure for that lesser-spotted natterjack, then a 5 minute mile is needed to catch up with Mary again.  That's it - all his runs are just one big interval session!).  But I digress and I’m not, so the best I could come up with was a spot of spontaneous line dancing on Nanjing Road.  And a bit of Engrish I spotted on the way to work.  

Hotel Thing Confluence - think I'll give the buffet a miss....
Sadly, Engrish is becoming less common in China these days - perhaps as the quality of translation improves.  Even the subway’s “attention, pinching hand!” (the scourge of busy undergrounds everywhere) has now been replaced with the mundane “beware of the doors”.
It’s 2 years to the day since I started working in Rosyth.  At the time, I was fully intending to run home a couple of times per week but that never happened and it was easier just to get on the bike.  Well, I now have a couple of longish runs under my belt so I decided that yesterday was the day for my first ever multi-modal (human-powered) commute;  in by bike in the morning, then running home via a shortcut straight over the shale bing at Winchburgh.  Another first yesterday; my first ever run over the Forth Road Bridge.  It’s a weird World on top of the bing - a bit like being on the moon, I imagined.  I was a bit of a wus on my descent though.  As I peered over the edge, the nearly 100% gradient seemed impossibly steep and I was mindful of the need not to do a Wellock (a few years back, the unfortunate Trotter charged down a scree slope in the Pentlands and promptly snapped a femur on his first stride onto level ground at the bottom). I ended up running round the rim of the crater to an area where there were a few trees and bushes on the slope, so at least I’d have something to clutch at if it all went pear-shaped.  In the end it was fine - a nice soft scree, the only down-side being the need to empty my shoes at the bottom.

By 12 miles, I was flagging - a combination of lack of fitness, slightly ambitious early pace and maybe still being a bit jet-lagged from the China trip - and the final 3 miles were a bit of a hobble, with my hamstrings cramping badly.  On my return though, a few pints of homebrew later and all was well with the World.

Friday, 12 April 2013


Yes, my blog posts are a bit like buses..…. 
The weather’s been so shitty here that I’ve only this week got back on a road bike, after commuting all winter on my drinking bike MTB shod with bullet-proof but oh-so-weighty, Schwalbe Marathons.   The difference in performance has been so marked that I’ve felt like one of those Spring lambs gambolling in the fields, marvelling in their new-found prowess.  The joy was short-lived however and I nearly nominated myself for the Darwin Awards on my homeward commute on Wednesday.
I could feel my left crank working loose and sure enough, the nut holding it to the bottom bracket had come un-done. It’s one of those old-school ones that need a socket wrench, which I didn’t have on me - so I was stumped four miles from home.  Quick risk assessment – “OK, screw it on by hand, adopt one and a half-legged pedalling and stay seated so if it comes off I’ll be safe enough and that will at least be quicker than walking”  Doh….!
So I got half a mile along the road to East Calder High Street, the crank comes off, still attached to my shoe, pivots round, somehow gets jammed between front wheel and frame (wish I could see a slo-mo vid of this bit!), bike comes to an instant halt and I’m dumped like a sack of spuds, what seemed like jaw-first, on to the tarmac.  Must’ve looked a bad’un because the folk watching weren’t even laughing. 
So a nice ‘70s steel frame has been written-off (though credit to the builder, the brazed joints were all intact) and I’ve got a cracked tooth, stiff neck and marginally less attractive face.  What a week it’s been! Only the day before, I left my “cashback” tenner at the till in Asda.  The only thing that’s cheered me up is that Judy Garland is doing rather well in the Charts.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

342 Days Later

Spring may be here any week now, so it’s high time for another blog post. It’s fair to say that for me, last year has been all about bikes. As I discovered with Bambi, bike building can be even more fun than shoe manufacture so I set out to explore some possibilities in that direction.
I contested last year’s West Lothian Clarion’s weekly Time-trial series and the idea was to do this on a homebrew bike, making just one modification per week to allow a scientific analysis of what works and what doesn’t.  That was the theory but it all went out the window when I got involved in an ugly arms race with the pesky JenTaylor, when any and all measures needed to be deployed each week in ever-more desperate attempts to keep her at bay.

My bike started off like this, a “Flying Gate” modification to my dumpster BH bike, using tubes from an aluminium garden clothes dryer.
 Flying Gates are a 1930s design from a time when race rules didn’t allow manufacturers to advertise their name on frames. As a result, they devised distinctive designs which would be instantly recognisable.  You can still buy a proper “Gate” from TrevorJarvis, if you’re feeling flush.  

By week 12, the bike had a tri-bar and aero tubes and forks with the aid of some carpet tape and a few Aly baking trays from Asda.  Next year, I’ll be seeking sponsorship from Alcan.  I improved from 28:45 to 23:07 for the 10 mile course (actually 9.4 miles but “10” sounds better).  Bizarrely, Jen improved by almost exactly the same amount and most weeks we were within about 10 seconds of each other. In order of effectiveness, the five things which improved my speed the most were:

1)     The fear of being caught by Jen, when starting as her minute-man
2)  Changing from “on the drops” to the Tri-bar
3)  The Aero-Foil mods (boy, did it feel good to pass a £2k bike with those!)
4)      “Obreething” – a bit weird but it really works!
5)   Duck tape over my helmet vents

Next came the Clarion Freewheel Champs (gravity only, no pedalling) for the fiercely contested Cobble Trophy.  For this I commissioned The Bomber.  The only problem with this design was that we needed to do a 30 mile Club Run before reaching the "Hill of Destiny", so I put another saddle in the normal position and removed it for the descent.
The Bomber. Next Year I'll add lead shot to the frame tubes
As an engineer, I know that if you chucked me and a random selection of club fatties out of a plane, we’d all fall at the same rate so I’m a bit perplexed that the anorexically-challenged seem to do so well in this type of event.  Is it because a) Fat-cat types tend to be wealthy and can afford better quality hub bearings?; b) ‘aero belly- trumps skinny ‘parachute ribs’? or c) it’s psychological?  Probably a combination of all three methinks.  

In the event, the Bomber performed well but I was soundly thrashed by a few more naturally gifted downhill athletes.  I didn’t do myself any favours though by bottling it on a bend in the course and I’m sure that coming out of my Superman tuck onto the bars robbed me of a few valuable yards…. 
Me, bottling it on a bend
Steve - A gifted Downhill Athlete
By contrast, here’s the winner Steve Fleming showing perfect technique. (Ace photography thanks to Neil Greer)

October is Hill Climb season and the BEEB was in town, featuring the Clarion-organised Kingscavil Hill Climb on BBC2’s Adventure Show. The programme provided great coverage of the club but sadly has disappeared into the ether as I missed the original broadcast and it only lasts for a month on iplayer.  Strangely enough, all the Freewheel stars were “injured” for this event.  My TT bike was put on a diet and I used up the remainder of my garden clothes dryer to aluminise the rest of the frame.
The "Kingscavil Conqueror". Won't be using that bamboo saddle for an
End to End attempt but it's OK for a 5-minute effort!
I had a nice wee interview on the start line about the engineering merits of nylon tights for joining the frame together and my dread as I puffed my way up the hill was of something going pop on-camera and me being the object of ridicule for eternity.  Fortunately it all held together, though the engine could have been better tuned for the event, as you can see from the heaving wreck in Lewis Forsyth’s Youtube footage HERE

This year, I’ve been tempted towards The Dark Side, aka the wonderful world of Recumbent bikes. Because of lower air resistance, these are much faster than even the most hi-tech upright bike – compare Chris Boardman’s 1996 hour ‘upright’ record of 35.03 miles to Francesco Russo’s 2011 record of 56.89 miles on a recumbent.  'Bents are a bit of a niche market and you won't get much change out of £2k for a commercially available one, so it's back to the garage for me I'm afraid. Not that I’ll necessarily be going to the extremes of the Graeme Obree “Beastie”  but I’ve joined the British Human Power Club (a collection of uber-Geeks if ever there was one) for inspiration and have already hacked a road bike to pieces to graft them onto a bamboo pole in a different arrangement. 
Sara foolishly left her scooter too near the garage and that too has now been dismembered to provide the steering column pivot.  I’ll report on future developments but safe to say, the completed bike won’t look anything like the pic.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Ale-ympics Countdown

Well done to all the WHW Flingers last week.  But for those expecting reports here of mega-mileage weeks and tales of running derring-do, please CLICK AWAY NOW… In fact, I’ve done so little running this year that I’ve scarcely needed a shoe repair, and I’ve had to lay-off the 40 sweat-shop midgets in my cellar, whose dainty needlework once made the Billys ©®™ brand the dominant force in West Lothian running shoe manufacture.  Life has been busy nonetheless, what with commuting to work, thinking about cutting-edge designs to launch my future bike-building empire whilst at work, and then all remaining time spent trying to get Sara to bed before us.

I have done some running spectating though, and the weekend before last I managed to combine a cycling trip to rummage for parts at the Bike Station with the short onward hop over to Holyrood Park to watch the big race of the weekend – no, not the London Marathon - rather, the best race in the World (second only to the Black Rock) , the famous  (Video thanks to Porty's Peter Buchanan).  The race is advertised as 240m of climb but actually more like double that.  I felt a bit guilty that I wasn’t taking part but the Bogtrot is a savage wee beast and though my bike commuting-enhanced thighs would have coped OK with the uphills, my correspondingly shrunken hamstrings would have been crucified on the descents without any acclimitisation.  I therefore settled for taking pleasure in watching others’ pain.  And suffer they did - bloody marvellous!

    A decent fridge: Must-have kit for HBT drinking challenges
What I am better prepared for is HBT drinking challenges, the next mammoth one of which is the 2012 Ale-ympics.  This kicks off on May 5th after the Edinburgh to North Berwick (the third-best race in the World) and in the remaining 2012 hours before the Olympics, the club will attempt to imbibe 2012 different  British real ales.  That’s all fine and easy in the early days, when the shelves of Morrisons and Tesco produce point-scoring bounty a-plenty but after a couple of weeks, it becomes a major barrel-scraping trawl of obscure micro-breweries from Somerset to the Outer Hebrides to ensure that no promising ale goes un-quaffed.  The last similar such challenge a few years back required the consumption of 1331 different beers in the 1331 hours between the 50th birthdays of founding club comrades  Big Dick(less) Wall (see rear-of-field humping in above video) and Robin YP “Triple Ton” Thomas (see pre-race safety briefing in above video).  The challenge culminated at the Paisley Beer Festival,  when the Brown Hordes descended upon the peaceful hamlet, sweeping aside bemused local crusties to mop the few dozen beer types required for victory. Other than achieving our target with less than an hour to spare, this epic evening was notable for two things:

  1. It was YP’s 50th birthday and his parents thoughtfully brought down a lovely birthday cake, into which we miraculously managed to secretly shoe-horn a real pig’s trotter (let’s just say it was past its sell-by date) without breaking the icing.  The cake-cutting ceremony was superb!
  2. We were chucked out of the festival for me and Dick mooning at the live webcam.  As we were forcefully ejected from the beer hall, the screams of an angry bouncer were ringing in our ears - “that camera is linked to the Police!”  Unfortunately, the offending image was captured by a club member watching at home on his computer, so there’s a photo of my arse still floating around somewhere in cyberspace.

Ah, happy days!  And with the inevitably massive post Ale-ympics hangover encroaching on the sporting event itself, what better time to have it than during the first few days when they inflict the joys of synchronised swimming, modern pentathlon and show-jumping upon us?

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bambi Goes to Work

Bambi joins the commuter ranks

Watched Horizon “Playing God” the other week about genetic engineering. There’s a spider which extrudes a continuous thread that’s stronger than kevlar, every time it moves. American scientists have managed to implant the thread-producing gene in goats, which thereafter produce the requisite protein in their milk. It can then be extracted and spun into a wonder-thread for practical use (surgical stitching, for example). I was thinking I could do with some of that for my DIY projects. It’ll probably be a wee while before it’s available in the likes of Poundland though, so until then I’ll make-do with man’s own wonder DIY alternative, nylon tights.

Bespoke luggage rack

Since my last post, when Bambi had the wobbles, she’s been stripped-down and re-engineered, with stiffened down-tube, chainstays and beefed-up head tube joints. The mods have been fairly simple, comprising strips of bamboo glued to the sides of the tubes to increase lateral stiffness, all held together with generous lashings of tights, superglue and epoxy. I've also ditched effeminate trappings such as gears, though the single-speed gear I’m using is relatively modest 69 inches. That means my legs are just a blur at anything approaching 25 mph but on the plus side, I can get up reasonable hills. Beefing things up, of course, cocked-up lots of critical dimensions and it took another couple of weeks’ bodging to achieve adequate clearances for tyres, chainring and cranks.

Bye-bye to sweaty backs

Drilled brake levers save 2 seconds on my morning commute

Surgically-enhanced Bambi’s maiden voyage was a West Lothian Clarion club run and I’m pleased to say, handling is now much better. She’s still fairly whippy compared to a steel frame, say, but I’m no Chris Hoy and for all practical purposes seems fine. One feature of a single speed bike is that for hills, there’s no lazy option of crawling up in a granny gear. On the “Climpy” climb from the A71 to Forth, I really had to commit to the cause to avoid grinding to a halt. On the way up, I was given constant reminders of my neglected trunk strength and at the top I was a heaving mess - but it was a nice feeling of satisfaction getting all the way up. For general riding, it’s also pleasant not having the distraction of gears, with their attendant hassle of constantly changing up and down and never being quite satisfied with the gear you’re in - with a single speed, you’ve got what you’ve got and just happily get on with it (commuting home into 50mph headwinds excepted, perhaps).

I’ve added my garden cane pannier rack as a finishing touch and Bambi’s now been pressed into commuting service. I have to say, it’s quite a buzz to be riding about on something a bit different - and I’m certainly given a wide berth by startled motorists.  I've racked up a couple of hundred miles with no major problems but it's still early-days and I need to be a bit cautious for obvious reasons. So I’m packing a few extra tools and will be keeping a close eye on frame joints for the time-being - we’ll see how things go in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Bambi Update

Finally got to ride the bambi last weekend! Building it wasn’t without its cock-ups and challenges but has been a really enjoyable process.

I had an old steel frame in the garage which
was a bit knackered but good enough to donate its joints and a few other bits to the cause, so I used that as a donor. I did this one the easy way and used the existing frame geometry, cutting out a tube at a time, leaving a stub at each end and then “springing” the frame to fit over or inside the new bamboo tube as required.
When I finally got the frame tacked together, it was 60% the weight of the steel one – a useful kilo lighter - but when you factor in the weight of glue and other bits and bobs to be added, the saving wasn’t quite so impressive.

The superglue/nylon tights joint wrapping worked a treat. I ended up using 300 ml of glue, which would have cost about £200 for branded stuff but I went to Poundland and got all I needed for a tenner. Superglue was invented for sticking back together squaddies in Vietnam battlefields, so it’s supposedly non-toxic on the skin . But you do need a well ventilated area if you’re using lots of the stuff, as it gives off horrendous fumes as it reacts and I’m sure glued together brain cells can’t be particularly healthy.

Took it for a spin round Murieston to see how she handled. It’s not totally anorexic in the weight
stakes, but still light enough to be pretty nippy. Vertical stiffness, braking and fit were all perfect, but it’s still too flexible laterally, and I could feel the twist when powering the pedals out of the saddle. I shouldn’t really be surprised, as the bamboo tubes were about the same size as the original steel ones, and I probably need something about the size of the chunkier tubes you get on aluminium bikes. It would be fine for tootling about but I’m not really happy with it, so it’s back to the garage I'm afraid, to stiffen up the main tubes. For that, I’m simply going to glue on bamboo strips to the sides. As this will add a bit of weight (but hopefully not too much), the bike’s going on a diet and I’ve belatedly decided to eschew nancy-boy gears and stuff, and convert it to a single speed. And as my research on how to do this revealed, there’s a whole murky world out there inhabited by the weird sub-species of single-speed and fixed wheel enthusiasts - things can only get sadder!…..
From this...
via this....
to this...
A few left-overs.....
Bambi in all her glory.  Shame she'll have to be uglified to beef her up

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


A wee shout for Trotter FGM Steve Cairns who apparently finished 4th in Sunday's Kielder marathon. Except Stevie was 3rd at 15 miles with a 6-minute cushion to 4th, and no-one overtook him for the rest of the race. Turns out the aptly named Rob Sloan jumped on a bus, leap-frogged the leaders, hid behind a tree until the first two had passed, then trotted in for a "podium finish", thus ruining Steve's glory moment. He had the cheek to deny any wrong-doing when Stevie confronted him, and was even interviewed by the local media, sporting his bronze medal.

Fortunately, witnesses spotted the bus hopping and tree hiding, and the results have now been rectified. Stevie normally sorts out his problems with an Uzie 9 milimetre when on security duty down the airport, so it's perhaps fortunate for Sloan that Steve didn't have his work gear with him. Although denied of his podium glory, the silver lining for Steve has been appearances in the Metro, BBC and even Channel 4 news, and no doubt a forthcoming appearance on Opra. And Sloan has now been epxosed as a total prat.

Friday, 16 September 2011


"Junk" from the Dump - Who said the '80s had no style?

Dumps are boring places nowadays.  When I were a lad (♪cue Hovis music♫), the Mavis Valley tip  was a real treasure-trove of wheels (proper pram wheels rather than the pathetic roller-skate efforts of today) and everything else you needed to construct extremely dangerous, but oh-so-thrilling go-karts, or bogeys as we called them.  Dump trips had the added excitement of running the gauntlet of wee Neds from Milton, who regarded us “snobby c* nts fae Bishie” as legitimate targets.  Nowadays, dumps are all squeaky-clean and have even rebranded themselves as “Recycling Centres”.  So I certainly wasn’t expecting to find anything interesting when me and Sara visited Oakbank with a car-load of junk from a garage clear-out last Saturday.
But there, propped up amongst an assortment of discarded kiddies’ bikes and electrical goods, lay a cracking steel-framed BH Vittoria road bike, its class unconcealed beneath a bit of garage dust. And what a beauty. Spokes all present and correct.  A cracking pair of NKS pedals with proper leather straps. Alloy cranks, chainset and bars.  Weimann brakes with those irritating extension levers so trendy in the ‘80s - but half an hour with a Junior hacksaw could sort that.  Wheels needing minor trueing and hub adjustment, but nothing beyond even my meagre mechanical skills.  A local bike too, its black sticker declaring it was supplied by Pedal Power of West Calder, the 0506 dialling code hinting at its vintage (probably mid-1980s). 
A spare inner-tube tucked away under the saddle would suggest its previous owner was a club cyclist; the shark-toothed smaller front cog, yet pristine larger one (showing where the chain had spent all its life) indicating a poser rather than athlete.  A large frame, so maybe a gangly teenager dabbling in cycle sport before belatedly discovering birds and booze, but now in middle-age too fat to get his leg over (the frame at least)?  Or maybe, with the bike being in such good nick, it was a passion dumping – the murderously vengeful wife, having discovered hubbie playing the field, striking a blow to the heart by carting his pride and joy straight round to the tip?  Well, too late now – should have kept it in your pants mate.
I was impressed by the integrity of the Cooncil worker at the dump - he wouldn’t take a penny for the bike, explaining that they weren’t allowed to sell anything (understandable for public workers I suppose, but no-one would have known) and he was happy for a delighted me to wheel it away free of charge. 
A very perceptive Sara was rolling her eyes as I took off the wheels to get it in the car boot and, sure enough, the price for the bike manifested itself in the grief I got from Gulshen on our return - for coming back with junk, rather than taking it away.  A bit of a dilemma now in deciding what to ride, as I’m quite fond of my old Peugeot but all parts are interchangeable, so I should be well enough stocked-up to keep me rolling through the winter.  My latest acquisition kind of undermines my “need” argument for a new Cycle to Work scheme Boardman, so I’ll just have to bluff my way through that one as best I can.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sara's New Wheels

Mush, daddy!
Gulshen cancelled her gym membership because we’re skint – (a rare case of acknowledging the difference between “need” and “want”) - then went straight out and blew a year’s gym fees on the ultimate in stroller technology!. And when she sees the shiny new bike I’ll be getting with the Cycle to Work scheme (a shut-and-dried case of “need”, surely?!), with its monthly gym fee-sized payments - which I’ve sort of told her about, I think - she’ll be straight back to the gym to re-join!  Still, the buggy removes any remaining excuses for training sloth and Sara seems to like careering around the block at high speed.  Fortunately she’s young enough to believe that this is all quite normal.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cross Training

Most of my training in the last few weeks has been on my cycling commute.  Enough, I would have thought, to avoid morphing into a total couch potato.  So why do my occasional runs now leave me feeling like a crocked octogenarian, when everyone’s been telling me how great cross-training is?  Well, I’m sure there are benefits, particularly bike training for hill runners, but only up to a point.  Astronauts are observed to have a considerable reduction in bone density after only a few weeks in space – a case of the body simply adapting to its new requirements.  I suspect that this effect happens, albeit perhaps on a smaller scale, when runners do too much pedalling and not enough pounding.  No matter what sort of cardiovascular system you can upkeep by cross-training, if you don’t do enough of your main sport, the specific physiology and co-ordination that you need for it fade away and you become worse at it, only to become good at what you’re doing instead.  If only human-powered commuting were a sport.

OK, so what about triathletes.  Shouldn’t their cross-training be enough to make them excel at running AND cycling?  Yes, champion triathletes might be very good club-level athletes at individual sport but no triathlete is going to be troubling the 10000m running World record any time soon.  Nor, I suspect, will one be challenging for a Grand Tour win. 

Although runners are generally considered to be poor cyclists and vice-versa, with specific training, some athletes have successfully switched sports; HBT’s Claire Thomas for example – having cracked her hip on a skip and taken to the bike to maintain fitness while being unable to run, she just stayed on the bike and never looked back, now being a successful cyclist at UK level.  And Clydesdale’s Prasad Prasad has gone the other way – originally a cyclist, he’s now taken to hill running with great success.  Perhaps it’s just a case of these two athletes happily finding their true sport - though in Prasad’s case, I’m not sure which sport he’s actually better at.  Perhaps he’d be the ideal triathlete?