I bear the marks of my biker’s tan… It’s my second skin. I derive neither shame nor glory from it. I take it on, and, with the first rays of the spring sun, I put down another layer. One day I was at the pool and a kid yelled at me: ‘Hey pops, you forgot your bike!’ It’s hard to stay incognito. – Paul Fournel, Need for the Bike

By now your friends, family and work colleagues already think you’re strange with that peculiar obsession with cycling you have. But that doesn’t stop them from stifling a giggle when they first notice that the deep brown tan on your arms mysteriously ends at the wrist – the classic cycling mitt tan line. Do they suspect the other tanning horrors that lurk beneath your shirtsleeves? Read the rest of this entry »

Perhaps it’s just part of the ageing process, but I’m finding myself increasingly tempted to ride an Audax event – the long distance cycling discipline favoured by cheerfully eccentric men with beards and sandals – for not only is there a minimum speed that their rides are required to be completed in, but there’s also a maximum speed too. Racing is quite clearly frowned upon.

Living in a city like London, the pace of life can sometimes seem unrelentingly hectic. Commuting by bike should provide a chance to escape the shoulder-to-shoulder rat race of an over crowded tube, train or bus, yet instead it so often degenerates into just another race to or from work.

A common reason given by commuters why they choose the bike over more sedentary forms of transport are the health benefits – cycling helps keep you fit, it saves on gym membership, a way of squeezing a workout into a busy day. I’m not denying these things might be true, but it sort of misses the point. Commuting by bike should be about pleasure – not speed, time, fitness or training. There could be no other more infuriating environment to choose for your daily exercise than the rush hour streets of London – clogged with traffic, crammed with junctions, crossings, roadworks, u-turning taxis, snaking bendy busses – as soon as you’ve got your heart rate into that target training zone you’ll be grabbing the brakes as the lights turn to red. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s difficult to understand how some people’s favourite season is not summer. In terms of racing there’s more on offer than at any other time of the year; living in London it’s easily possible to race three times a week if you so wanted, and that’s not to mention time trialling and sportives (if you’re that way inclined). Racing after work is possible because of the longer evenings, and Tuesday night alone there’s the choice of either Hillingdon or Crystal Palace. But for me the only choice is Palace.

I remember in my first year of racing I didn’t stray far from Hillingdon; as a fourth cat your racing options are fairly limited anyway, but I’d heard stories about Palace. About the crazy narrow course. That’s in a public park with dog walkers straying onto the road. The chaos as the various concurrent races mingle and tangle, and all the confusion that ensues. But bored of circling a flat featureless track out by an industrial park at the end of the bordering-on-hostile Uxbridge Road, I gathered my courage and headed one evening instead to south east London… I’d never enjoyed myself so much during a race than during that first taste of Palace – sprinting out of every corner, tentatively getting to grips with the tricky bends. I regretted listening to the nay-sayers and the doom mongers, and for not racing there sooner. Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing a new, possibly regular (possibly not) series where I ask various cycling folk what they’re liking right now…

First up is illustrator and designer Richard Mitchelson whose distinctive work can often be seen in Rouleur Magazine, on jerseys from Milltag and on a very desirable collection of new mugs.

  1. Screen printing… every time I see it – such as this piece by illustrator Will Scobie – I know it would suit my own work. I love the results, even when they go slightly wrong and don’t match up properly.
  2. Cyclocross… I’m about to pick up my first ‘cross bike, a Cannondale CAADX 105 – nothing too crazy expensive or whiz bang, just a good quality bike that will do the job and something I can upgrade later. I’ve been drawn to ‘cross by the countryside in and around where I live in Sussex. The nature of the single track on the South Downs is perfect for Cross training, and I cant wait to get racing in the autumn. I’ve found myself looking out of the window on the train looking at fields in a new way, wondering whether they would be a good spot for training. Read the rest of this entry »

If you’re reading this blog then the likelihood is that for you cycling is a year-round activity. However, to much of the London population, cycling is something that only happens during the summer (and tube strikes). In the same way that tennis hibernates year round and only emerges during the brief weeks of Wimbledon with every public court booked out morning ’til night, London’s roads become clogged with cyclists the moment it’s warm enough to leave the cardigan at home.

As an aloof, elitist and snooty racing cyclist, I of course endeavour to look down on these fair weather cyclists with disdain, overtaking them with my nose held high in the air. It is important for the world to see the distinction; they are merely people riding bikes, whereas I am a cyclist. Through thick and thin, through bad weather and good, I am dedicated, committed and devoted to the bicycle. And if my assured riding style, and nonchalant regard for complex road traffic systems isn’t proof enough of my cyclist status, then my lycra shorts should be.

But then something started to change, and over the past few months I’ve been getting increasingly self-conscious in my serious cyclist’s kit; I tug down slightly at my jersey when stopped at traffic lights, feel a little foolish when clomping about in my figure-hugging shorts and ungainly cycling shoes upon arrival at the office. All of this stuff, all this cycling-specific lycra, started to feel slightly unbecoming. Read the rest of this entry »

How many times does the thought cross your mind? “I wish this could just end right now”, as the elastic to the wheel in front starts to stretch further and further, and the effort to close it gets more and more painful. A puncture, a broken spoke, something innocuous but definitive. A noble end, an irrefutable excuse. “Not a crash, nothing painful, just an end.”

And then it finally happens, the shameful truth emerges – the legs inadequate, the heart too weak, the line of riders drift away. Shoulders bowed, head hung low – you’ve been dropped.

Did it ever happen to Mercx? Did anyone ever have ‘The Cannibal’ for breakfast? Was Hinault ever humiliated, anyone ever lick his plate clean? Did that guy who beat you and the rest of the field on Sunday ever grovel in the wheels of stronger riders, ever ride himself into the ground only to finish dead last – or not finish at all? After all, we’re all human – right? Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring the many fascinating facets of cycling and bike culture, Jack Thurston’s The Bike Show is a weekly radio broadcast on London station Resonance 104.4fm. But just as the content isn’t confined to its London setting, the show reaches a global audience thanks to its popular podcasts with several years of shows, and hours of entertaining listening, available to download. If you’re discovering the show for the first time then you’re in for a real treat as you wander through the archives – Jack’s enthusiasm for all things cycling is infectious and makes for both charming and insightful radio. Just as the latest season hits the airwaves, we chat about his passion for touring, love of Moultons, and his thoughts on Boris Bikes…

Give us a brief account of your cycling background. My earliest cycling memory is riding behind my mum as a young boy, across Midsummer Common in Cambridge, where we lived; to me she looked huge on this giant upright Raleigh, while I zipped along on my little red bike. Then in the sixth form at school in north London my friend Daniel Start was granted permission to start a cycling club as a way of getting out of doing normal games which by that point, we hated. An understanding and rather eccentric chemistry teacher supervised a small group of us on touring rides in Hertforshire, and the school even provided us with pack lunches. I didn’t regard cycling as sport but as a way of getting around independently. As a fifteen year old I remember riding down to the West End to the Virgin Megastore and Ray’s Jazz Shop, and as I was getting there for free without having to pay for a bus or tube fare it meant I could buy more records. I was quite taken by that idea. I also remember being about twelve and my parents allowing me to do the London to Cambridge ride (a mass participation event much like London to Brighton) on my own – they seemed to think nothing of it. They took the train to Cambridge to meet me at the finish.

How did you first getting in cycle touring? My first touring trip was with a group of friends to Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns after doing our mock GCSEs. We made all the basic mistakes and were totally unprepared, not bringing warm enough kit or any waterproofs and allowing our tents and sleeping bags to become drenched on the back of our bikes.  It was February and at night it was snowing and got so cold we couldn’t even light our stove, and all we could eat was some raw tinned ravioli. I imagine some of us were very close to hyperthermia. Strangely that experience didn’t seem to put me off.

What bikes do you ride? Luckily I have a bit of storage space near where I live so at the moment I have eight bikes. I think I’ve just bought a tandem too – a friend is bringing it down from Manchester. The collection also includes three Moultons which I have a particular interest in. They make for fantastic touring bikes, incredibly comfortable and well designed to carry a touring load. Their smaller wheels actually make them faster than normal bikes, particularly on the downhills. Tom Simpson even raced one on the track until the UCI banned them. Read the rest of this entry »

After a restless night, I hear my alarm go off. Still dark outside, but I was already awake anyway. Lying still, I strain to listen to the weather, for the tapping of rain against the window or the signs of a stiff breeze disturbing the leaves of the trees. It’s early season and it’s race day. Hitching a lift with a team-mate, we survey the skies over the motorway as we leave the city and head out into the countryside. Rain might mean a last-minute change of kit, or could determine how the race is won. We chat nervously trying to predict how the racing will unfold, recalling the difficulty of certain climbs and the vagaries of the particular circuit. Our destination is race headquarters at a country village hall. It could be Loxwood, Alfold, Bletchingley or Wisborough – all names conjuring images of a quaint Britishness distant to our everyday metropolitan lives. On arrival, the ritual begins: signing on, the pinning of numbers, several toilet visits. We change in the drafty hall on plastic chairs common to municipal buildings, notices for Women’s Institute meetings and toddler playgroups are dotted about the walls. In the corner is the familiar counter serving tea. Laid out is a spread of homemade cakes and sandwiches of cheap bread and simple fillings. The race officials warm and feed themselves in anticipation of the hours standing on cold road corners, or of monitoring the race from the front seat of the commissaire’s car. The racers will revive themselves a few hours from now, cradling cups of hot tea in shivering hands, faces spattered in road grime.

Read the rest of this entry »

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