May 26

The Future of Cycling is in the Balance

511P1050852A Fine Art of Balancing

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As a cycle coach one of the most common questions I get asked by parents of young children is, “What is the quickest way to get my child to learn to ride a bike?” my immediate and unwavering response is get them a balance bike. Both of my children learnt on them as young as two, and by the time they were three they were pedalling without ever having used stabilisers and were joining us on cycling trips into the Cairngorms.

The concept of the balance bike has been around for centuries and the design dates back to the early velocipede created by the German Karl Drais, called a Laufmaschine, where the rider would sit on the saddle and propel the bike by walking his feet along the ground. Looking at drawings of Drais’s machine, it is difficult to see much difference in design to modern balance bikes, but then why change something that clearly works.

The fine art of balancing is the fundamental key for anyone who wants to pedal a two-wheeled bike, but most training methods for young riders give them the experience of riding a bike, but take away any need to learn to balance, hence the inevitable difficulty when the training wheels are removed and the hard part of cycling has to be learnt from scratch. Balance bikes teach the child to propel themselves forward, using their feet, meanwhile finding a comfortable position on the bike. As their confidence progresses they can lift their feet for as little or as long as they want and let the bike roll along. For the very young rider this can take longer, but the fun is in the learning. For parents it can be a liberating experience. When my wife and I went for dog walks in the woods we normally wouldn’t have been able to go far pushing buggies, but with my daughter at four pedalling like she’d ridden for decades and my boy, just turned two, scooting along on his balance bike, we were able to walk for a couple of hours without a grumble of discontent from our two young wheelers who happily rode through puddles and up and over bumpy ground.

Even in a world of TV and computerised games the sheer joy for a child when they learn to ride a bike means a whole new world of discovery and adventure opens out before them, and with a balance bike these possibilities start to open, but it is when the child has mastered the act of balance that the fun starts. On many occasions I’ve seen children that have learnt to balance, put down their balance bike and straight away pick up a pedal bike and go; it was that easy. For my own two, it took a few minutes, five at the most to get to grips with the pedals, but it still wasn’t long before they were hurtling down the dirt track beside our house, whooping with delight.

For many of you reading this however, you may have already gone to the expense of buying a bike with pedals and you don’t want to spend more money on buying a balance bike; the simple answer is take the pedals off and “voila”, you have a balance bike.

More manufacturers are adding balance bikes into their children’s range and the choice available is ever widening. For me the key factor is to keep it simple on the bike, if a child is too distracted by other bits and pieces on the bike then they will take longer to learn to balance.

Whichever bike you choose it is a good idea, where possible to try out the bike first, but in general balance bikes are so basic that you can’t really go wrong as long as you have the right size.

Some features to look out for:

Minimum inside leg measurement – This will dictate the child’s ability to sit on the saddle and touch the ground with their feet, also known as “step-over height”. The lower the measurement, the more suitable the bike is for younger children, or those with shorter legs. Most of the bikes have adjustable seat heights that allow the saddle to be raised as your child grows.

Rear Brake – Some balance bikes don’t have a brake, which means the rider has less to think about as they learn, but as they grow in confidence and speed a brake is recommended. Some balance bikes that don’t come fitted with a brake have an option to buy the brake as required. My own two children learnt without a brake until they got a pedal bike. I feel it helped with perception and control of speed, but their mother wasn’t convinced when the soles of their shoes wore out.

Weight – The heavier a bike is, the more difficult it will be to ride and is likely to discourage smaller children

Steering limiter – Most of the balance bikes will come with a steering limiter that prevents the handlebars turning 360 degrees. These can limit the full steering motion and avoid the handlebars being turned at an acute angle and thus causing a fall.

Tyres – Pneumatic tyres will take more maintenance and upkeep, but are easy to replace and repair as required. Puncture proof tyres will be more durable and may be a selling point for parents with no mechanical expertise.

Some Balance Bikes to consider

(Prices, sizes and details correct at time of writing)

Isla RothanThe Isla Bike Rothan Balance Bike – £129

Colours – Chilli Red / Hot Pink

Minimum inside leg measurement – 30cm (11.8”)

Rear Brake – Yes

Size – 12″ wheels, 4″ frame

Weight – 3.5kgs (7lbs 15 oz)

Frame – 7005 T6 heat treated aluminium

Fork – Hi ten steel

Headset – 1″ ahead with steering limiter

Spokes – Steel, black

Tyres – Pneumatic with presta valve inner tube

Isla Rowntree is passionate about making kids bikes and the Rothan is an ideal starter balance bike with a sturdy, but light frame. Original Rothans were built without brakes, but the current design has one back brake, that is easy to reach and pull with small fingers. The tyres are pneumatic with presta valve inner tubes that allow a higher pressure. They will require maintenance in the form of regular pumping, but this is something the kids enjoy joining in with and they are not puncture proof, but tough wearing all the same. The popularity and quality of Isla Bikes is evident from the amount of children that use them across the UK at Youth and Junior cycling events. At the mid price range they are a good mix of quality build and components without excess and Isla Bikes even offer a “Buy back”, part exchange scheme when buying a bigger bike from their range, dependant on the original bike’s condition – http://www.islabikes.co.uk/

 

The Strider PreBike ST3 – £84.99

Strider

Colours – Orange, Red, Pink, Yellow, Blue and Green

Minimum Inside leg measurement – 28cm (11”)

Back Brake – No, (optional friction brake available)

Wheels – 11”

Weight – 3.1kg (6lbs 9oz) without optional brake

Frame – custom welded, thin gauge steel alloy

Fork – Welded steel

Headset – No steering limiter

Spokes – Plastic, black

Tyres – Moulded foam

The Strider offers a light frame without a back brake which means the rider has to control their speed using their feet, which means one less thing for them to think about when they are learning; on the downside, as they gain confidence and speed, this can wear shoes out quickly. The manufacturers offer an optional friction plate brake that is operated by using the foot to press the plate against the rear tyre. My reservation of this system is that the child is learning a braking system that will differ from the handlebar mounted brakes on their next bike. The Strider also has footplates on the rear stays that allow the rider to stand up as they roll. The moulded foam tyres are virtually maintenance free and are puncture proof and lastly there is no steering limiter that the manufacturers claim allows the child to learn about setting their own steering limits through rider input.

http://www.stridersports.co.uk/

 

The Like a Bike Mini Forest – £169Like a Bike Mini Forest

Colours – Natural beech wood with red, black or blue trim

Minimum Inside Leg Measurement – 27cm (10.5”)

Back Brake – No

Weight – 3.5kg (7.7lbs)

Frame/ Fork – Beech marine plywood

Headset – Steering limiter

Spokes – Steel, black

Tyres – Pneumatic with Schrader valve inner tubes

Made in Germany by Kokua, the original Like a Bike was designed by Rolf Mertens in 1997 and he is credited as being the originator of the “new-wave” of balance bikes now on the market. Very similar to the “hobby horse of years gone by, the “Like a Bike is made of wood. It’s a beautiful object to look at and of all the bikes reviewed here it has the lowest stand over height, meaning that even this should fit even the smallest of riders, however the adjustment, as the saddle is put up is limited to 4 set heights, although a height extension post is available to accommodate a further 3cm of stand over height. Interestingly, unlike the Strider, the Like a Bike has a steering limiter that Kokua claim avoids potential jack-knife crashes.

The full range of Like a Bike wooden bikes offers a multitude of choices including, spoked and disc wheeled bikes, “the racer”, that has skinnier wheels and the “Wing” that has integrated footrests. The Like a Bike is at the top end of the balance bike price range, but for those who like something to look a bit different the design of this bike certainly makes it stand out.

http://www.likeabike.co.uk/

 

Kokua JumperKokua Jumper -£155

Colours – Kawasaki Green, Bright Red, Metallic Purple, Metallic Red, Juicy     Orange, Metallic Blue, Royal Blue, Pearl White

Minimum Inside Leg Measurement – 35cm (10.5”)

Back Brake – No, (option for front brake to be fitted)

Wheels – 12”

Weight – 3.4kg (7.5lbs)

Frame/ Fork – 7005 Aluminium

Headset – Steering limiter

Spokes – Steel, silver

Tyres – Pneumatic with Schrader valve inner tubes

The “Jumper” comes from the same stable as the wooden “Like a Bike”, but with a higher step over height it is suitable for older riders. The design, with the exception of the wooden frame “forest” is similar to many other balance bikes here, with one big exception, the Jumper has rear suspension. Whether you feel that a balance bike has the need for suspension or not is another matter, it is certainly a selling point that might attract both parents and children alike. My own opinion is that a rider, who has progressed to the point of skill that they required suspension, would be ready to progress onto a pedal bike. It has the highest step-over height of all the bikes here, so is certainly aimed at an older rider. Built for Kokua by folding bike specialists Dahon, the Jumper is certainly of a high quality build and looks great and has built in footrests.

http://www.likeabike.co.uk/

 

StriderRidgeback Scoot – £99.99

Colours – Lime, tangerine, silver, matte grey, blue, purple, pink

Minimum Inside Leg Measurement – 32cm (12.6”)

Back Brake – Yes

Wheels – 12”

Weight – 3.4kg (7.5lbs)

Frame – 6061 Heat treated aluminium

Fork – High ten steel

Headset – Steering limiter

Spokes – Steel, silver

Tyres – Pneumatic with Schrader valve inner tubes

The Scoot is another great looking bike with a wide range of colours to suit the tastes of even the most choosy child. One feature on this bike that doesn’t appear on any other bike looked at here is the “carry-grip” on the saddle, which is ideal for parents when they have to carry the bike when their child doesn’t want to ride.

 

http://www.ridgeback.co.uk/bike/scoot-matte-grey

 

Feb 6

Get in the right gear

Getting in the right gear for cycling doesn’t mean donning his best lycra.

Chainring and crank

Using the gears on your bike correctly will make cycling easier and more pleasurable, but unfortunately the subject of gears can add a whole new layer of confusion to cycling to the point that many just avoid the subject completely. However it doesn’t need to be confusing and getting to know how your gears work can bring a new dimension to your riding.

 

front shifterConsider that on a bike you are the engine and the gear you are in affects how your engine performs; lower gears will make pedalling easier, but as you pick up speed staying in a low gear will mean your engine will start to “over-rev”. An example I often see with novice riders is that when they see a hill they instantly change down into their lowest and easiest gear. This has the effect of causing the rider to lose any forward momentum and they then have to use more energy to drive the bike up the hill. Consider how this would feel in a car if you were to suddenly change from fifth gear to first gear at the first sight of a hill and how it would affect your fuel consumption. That is not to say that you shouldn’t use easier gears when climbing, just that you should change down gradually as required. The key is to try and maintain a steady “rev-count” on your pedal cadence by using your gears, and as with a car where smooth driving can save you fuel, riding in this way will save you energy.

rear deralliuer

Perhaps the best way to figure out the gearing on your bike is to find a short and quiet gradient and ride up and down it trying out as many combinations of your gears as possible and “feeling” how each affects your momentum. A word of advice however, beware of cross-gearing, which is when you are riding with your front gear in a harder gear and your back gear in the easier gears, thus making your chain run diagonally, rather than parallel to the bike, putting it under strain and potentially causing it to snap.

rear sprocketinverse

Gearing is a subject I could write pages about and routinely devote whole coaching sessions to and to gain proficiency does take some effort and thought, but don’t let the complexity of the subject put you off finding out more. Once it’s clicked you’ll find a whole new world of riding out there.

Get out and ride.

Scot Tares

Twitter: @SkinnyTyres

Where to ride: Dronley
Location: OS Landranger 1:50,000 Map 54

Start at NO343359

Distance: 4miles/ 7km return

Details: This short off-road cycle route is situated a mile north of Muirhead at the back of Dundee. It’s suitable for children of all ages and follows a section of the disused Dundee to Newtyle railway line

 

Feb 6

An interview with Dame Sarah Storey

Scot Tares has a chat with the UK’s most successful Paralympian ever: Dame Sarah Storey.

Dame Sarah Storey

Dame Sarah Storey had an incredible year in 2012, with many wins in road and track cycling, topped off with four Gold Medals and a World Record at the Paralympics which brought her overall tally to 11 Gold, eight Silver and three bronze and making her the UKs most successful Paralympian ever.

This week it was announced that she would be patron of the 2013 Etape Series of events that includes the Etape Caledonia held each May in Pitlochry, Highland Perthshire. Prior to the announcement I caught up with Dame Sarah.

In 2005, Dame Sarah switched from swimming to cycling, after a series of ear infections forced her out of the pool and onto the bike. She started cycling to maintain form during her enforced leave of absence from the pool, but was soon offered a trial by British Cycling. This was so successful that she had guaranteed her selection for the European Cycling Championships in Holland. She came home from that event with a World Record, two Gold medals, a Silver and a Bronze. Despite this, the decision to focus on cycling rather than swimming was not an easy one, but following advice from her coaches the transition was made and she hasn’t looked back since.

Dame Sarah, unlike many cyclists, does not limit her focus to a sprint or an endurance event and she combines a lot of road racing, with a mix of different disciplines on the track, from team Sprint and short time trial efforts, to longer endurance based events such as the individual pursuit. For many riders, the training involved to combine such a mix of disciplines to get an optimum performance can be difficult, but not so for Sarah Storey.

“It’s all about balance; partly about what nature is giving you, but compensating with training to create what you need for the other events. Being able to sprint while on track gives you speed on the road and an ability to sustain distance on the road enables you to cope better on the track. We constantly monitor everything that we do and tweak accordingly.”

Dame Sarah has competed in and won many non-para cycling events and I was interested to find out whether she felt the integration of para and non-para athletes competing on the same programme at the same event was something she saw as positive. She commented:

“It’s not logistically possible to fully integrate para and non-para events as the event would be 6-8 weeks long and you’d lose the quality of the riding. We should put para-sport on an equal footing which is what London demonstrated, but to combine (both) you’d potentially lose something; opportunities would be minimised as opposed to maximised. No athletes I know of are calling for integration.”

Since the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, there has been a move to run para and non-para sport alongside each other in the same games. Glasgow 2014 will see more para-sports than ever, including tandem track cycling for the first time. Dame Sarah continued:

“The Commonwealth Games are a good size of event to be able to do that, but it’s not a comprehensive programme; it’s a step forward but not full integration. Para-sport is too big to integrate fully. We welcome the changes made to integrate and there may be a time when there is a full para-Commonwealth Games. Hopefully the London legacy will be that more para-sports will be reported upon. Tandem riders very excited to compete in Glasgow.”

Dame Sarah Storey has raced and won many non-para cycling events and she just missed out on a place for the Olympic British Cycling team for London 2012. Looking to Glasgow 2014, there are no para-events for her to ride, so she will be looking to gain a place on the English team for the non-para cycling events.

“In Glasgow 2014 the same events will be available to me as in Delhi.” (Dame Sarah came sixth in the non-para 3000m pursuit.) “I have always competed in available events, alongside able bodied athletes. It’s just another competition. Whatever the level of impairment, the athlete is best to compete in any event, not just para-events. It’s always been done; no-one’s paid any attention before.”

Out of all the excitement and victories in 2012 in both men and women’s racing, many of the women’s events proved to be a lot more exciting to watch than the men’s races, dispelling the myth that women’s racing is boring. However, there is still discrimination and prejudice towards women’s cycling as female riders struggle to gain parity with men in sponsorship and media attention and in race opportunities.

“It’s a similar situation to para-sports; men started doing it first, women are one step behind. It’s down to the UCI to be able to sell the TV rights. Even though someone might be willing to show the event in its entirety, it’s hard to do so because the investment is not there. The infrastructure is there, the riders are there, it’s just a matter of time. Since the games in London it’s been an incredibly positive response; we shouldn’t be afraid to step into the unknown and let it happen, because it can just happen.”

As Dame Sarah became successful in sport at a young age she found that she was marginalised by her fellow school pupils. Sport can have a huge positive impact on people’s lives and give them confidence, but often young people involved in sport are viewed as different by their peers and the amount of training involved to become successful can also mean young athletes feel they may not have the social time their friends may have.

“People have to stop seeing sport as something that takes you away from something or that you need to sacrifice something for it. I haven’t sacrificed anything; I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do. We need to redefine what we are saying to our children: redefine what our use of time means; what is leisure time? Hanging around, playing video games, or training in a sport that we love. We need to encourage people to see it as an enhanced life experience.”

So for young people looking to get into sport, what advice would Dame Sarah give?

“Keep looking, keep trying; there are lots of tools on the internet, lots of information out there. Be prepared to look, do your research. Get down to your local sports centre, find out what’s happening and get involved. Try out everything, don’t limit yourself. “

Feb 6

Scotland the Great

Wherever he cycles in the world Scot Tares finds that Scotland is hard to beat.Scotland Stunning Highland Lochs

As I rode, numbers raced through my head: four miles to go to the top; my average speed was 12 miles per hour, giving an ascent time of approximately 20 minutes; my pedal cadence was 80 revolutions per minute, giving 1600 pedal strokes needed to get to the road summit;  my heart was beating at 155 beats per minute, not in the red, but close to it, and it would beat another 3100 times before levelling out as I rode over Ben Lawers. I was cycling on one of my favourite climbs in Highland Perthshire, if not the UK. It has many qualities of an Alpine ascent, from the moment it breaks from the steep initial ramp through the trees to the panoramic vista that opens out before you as you climb higher above Loch Tay; and for me, that is one of the key points that sets it above its giant Alpine cousins. Where the Alps offer longer ascents, the lack of distance on Scottish climbs, such as Ben Lawers is more than made up for by the view. In the Alps, the wider view is often blocked by the view of the towering mountain in front of you and although the setting is often spectacular, I would rather have a “grand view” to take my mind off the numbers racing through my head. And so it was with Ben Lawers: as I broke out through the trees, my mind instantly forgot the computer on my handlebars that spewed out a list of figures that served only as a reminder of the pain ahead and instead it filled with the pleasure of riding my bike in one of the best cycling countries in the world; our very own. Wherever I have cycled in the world, on my return I have ridden through Breadalbane and Glen Lyon and over the shoulder of Ben Lawers and been reminded what it is that makes cycling in Scotland so great and wonder why I would want to ride anywhere else.

Scot Tares

Twitter: @SkinnyTyres

Where to Ride

Ben Lawers: The ascent over Ben Lawers, the tenth highest mountain in the UK, is just one of the many highlights of this classic circular route.

Map

OS Landranger 1:50000 51

Grid ref

Start – NN741 470 (Fortingall)

Details

31 miles

1693ft of ascent

Ben Lawers climb: 4 miles

Description

Starting at Fortingall head south towards Fearnan, before turning onto the A827 south west. After 11 miles, turn right onto the climb of Ben Lawers, which initially climbs through trees, but breaks out onto an Alpine style mountainside. The climb starts to level out as you approach Lochan na Lairige, but then kicks up steeply once last time to take you to the top of the dam. A long winding descent on single track road takes you into Glen Lyon; care is required for this descent. If required you can stop for refreshments at the bike friendly café at Bridge of Balgie, before riding back via Glen Lyon. The Glen is perhaps one of the highlights of this route as it is slightly downhill and if you have a tail-wind then you are in for a treat as you ride through the historic steep-sided “longest, lovliest and loneliest” glen in the country.
Feb 6

Obree the Maverick

The Obree Way

A training manual for cyclists.

Graeme Obree offers a unique approach to cycle training

Graeme Obree offers a unique approach to cycle training

World Champion cyclist Graeme Obree can never be accused of being conventional; quite the opposite in fact. It is his maverick and eccentric approach to cycling and cycle sport that has endeared him to millions of cyclists around the world. Unfortunately, to some of the more rigid-minded individuals he has come up against during his career, his unwillingness to conform to contemporary wisdom has meant that he has had a bumpier ride than he may have liked, but this is perhaps what Obree thrives upon and is the spark that drives his passion for the sport of cycling. His approach is direct and outspoken; he knows what he wants and he knows how to achieve it and it is this single-minded determination and confidence in his methods that shines through in his new book “The Obree Way”.

This is a beautifully packaged training manual like no other; you won’t find the scientific references to leading research in performance training, but you will find it packed with  meticulous details on what has worked for Graeme, (and who are we to question a World Champion?), but perhaps this is the book’s greatest strength. In the introduction Obree states, “…it would become habit for me to question every aspect of bike set-up, riding technique, positioning, nutrition, and training” and his enthusiasm to probe into “contemporary best-practice”, pull it apart and piece it back together in a more effective approach, leads the reader to question their own approach to cycling. Obree himself states that, “you may not find every piece of advice in the book useful…”, but that isn’t really the point of this book; it is really more of an enlightenment for those who have been drowned in an ocean of facts, figures, and more often than not the commercially driven opinion that clouds the real questions that a cyclist is searching for answers to. It provides a starting point where each cyclist can begin their own journey into the world of cycling or rediscover and reignite a passion for training that may have been in the doldrums.

Each of the 13 chapters focusses on a specific area of training and preparation that Obree feels is relevant. These include: bike set-up, pedalling, stretching, psychology and nutrition and diet. It is not exhaustive, but all the key points are here. Be warned though, if you are looking for a book packed with training plans, this is not it, there are plenty of others with that information; what Obree has succeeded in doing is producing a book that is quite different to most others on the market in that it provides an armoury of techniques and more importantly a mind-set orway of thinking that many other publications brush over with, at best a passing glance.  One of the chapters that jumped out and struck a chord with me was, “The Turbo Session”. It is in this chapter that Obree’s individual character shines through. As with the rest of the book, there is no list of workouts here to spoon-feed you a training programme, (to have included these, the book would be treading ground well ridden over already and that is not Obree’s style); instead, Obree puts such a passionate slant on how to get the most out of your turbo trainer and his approach of getting the environment right, correct visualisation and thinking of the rhythm of pedalling gave a whole new outlook to my indoor trainer-shy attitude that I found that myself dusting the cobwebs off my own “turbo” that I previously regarded as a torture implement from the Spanish Inquisition and, enjoying might be too strong a word for now, but certainly not hating the training session. Other chapters, such as “Breathing”, shed new light on often forgotten about, but crucial facets of getting the most out of your performance in a way that makes you question why you had never thought about it before. The simplicity of the subjects in this book betrays the depth of knowledge conveyed in each chapter and you will find yourself thinking about the words long after the book is back on the shelf. It’s back to basics, but delivered in a way that is engaging and pushes the boundaries, all in the pursuit of improvement. In a generation where the head honcho of British Cycling has almost ingrained the mantra of, “marginal gains” in the psyche of coaches and riders alike, it seems that Graeme Obree has been practicing this himself for years and is now ready to share his secrets.

Throughout the manual, Obree offers a way of thinking and getting into a mind-set that is supplemented with technique and outcome that is part, a document of Obree and his own road of discovery, part martial philosophy for two-wheels and part manual for the discerning cyclist who likes to think out of the box a little.

“The Obree Way – A training Manual for Cyclists” by Graeme Obree 

ISBN 9781408196427 Bloomsbury

Scot Tares

Feb 6

The Anatomy of Cycling

Anatomy of Cycling

Hands up who thinks cycling is all about leg strength? If so, then go to the back of the class. This is a common misconception among many riders, and can be dangerous as a primary focus on leg strength can cause an imbalance in the body, which leads to injury. In fact, core and upper body strength can be looked upon as the inverted foundation that supports the power you push through your legs. A lack of core and upper body strength can lead to injury and discomfort when riding your bike, especially when climbing, but even if you don’t experience any pain, improving your flexibility and upper body strength will pay dividends in your riding ability and speed.

Core strength and stability can be increased by movements such as the "scissors"

Core strength and stability can be increased by movements such as the “scissors”

Cyclists are notoriously bad at stretching and when you think of the hunched, repetitive pedalling and fixed position that you maintain on a bike,

sometimes for hours at a time, it can be a recipe for disaster. However a new book entitled, “Anatomy of Cycling, A cyclist’s guide to strength, flexibility and conditioning” by Jennifer Laurita, aims to address these issues and allow riders to train in a more holistic way.

Bridge with leg lift

Improve spinal and pelvic stability with a bridge and leg lift

The book is split into five main sections that focus on flexibility, legs and arms, core strength and stability, balance and posture and then finally workouts. Each section devotes two pages to each movement and is clearly illustrated and explained. The format follows a step by step explanation of the exercise, supported by photographs which are then further accompanied by larger anatomical illustrations that detail the muscles that will be targeted by the exercise.

Side notes also detail the benefits, things to think about and things to avoid when doing the exercise. It’s beautifully illustrated and is clear and concise enough for even the most novice of riders, but also has enough depth for more experienced cyclists to delve deeper and explore how to get the most from each exercise and apply it to their riding.

The Dead Bug

Improve your core stability with the “Dead Bug”

It is this clear and uncluttered format of the book that ranks it above other books with a similar theme, but for me the clear winning point is that all the exercises contained within its cover can be completed with some simple equipment. Too often do these books require access to a gym or expensive equipment. For the average and often time-crunched cyclist this luxury usually isn’t an option. To complete each of the 66 stretches or exercises in the book you will only require access to a chair, a bosu balance trainer, a medicine ball, a swiss gym ball and a foam roller; all of which are inexpensive and easy to store at home, but providing you with your own home gym.

Scot Tares

Anatomy of Cycling by Jennifer Laurita

Published by Bloomsbury www.Blomsbury.com

ISBN 978-1-4081-8769-2

Paperback – 160 pages

Dec 31

Cycling the same old roads

Even after years of cycling the same routes, some rides can still be a voyage of discovery.

Everyone who cycles builds up a repertoire of their favourite routes, and over time these rides become so familiar that you become aware of all the peculiarities and features of that route. Among a group of my friends we are able to describe a route by mentioning these features rather than naming the road or trail. One particular favourite is the “welly Gate” on Craigie Barns, so called because of a welly that had been stuck upside on a fence post beside it. It was there for years and although it has now disappeared, we still refer to the welly gate and everyone knows exactly where it is. You might think that all this knowledge meant that there weren’t many places I hadn’t ridden, but more often than you would think I come across a road or a trail that I have never pedalled along. It’s a strange feeling to be riding through an area that is so familiar, but unrecognisable at the same time.

Cyclist riding over Garry Bridge on the Etape Caledonia route

This happened to me recently as I pedalled out on my regular Saturday morning “dog ride” around Craig Vinnean (my two dogs exercise a lot, so my only way of keeping up with them at times is to take my bike). Despite the previous weeks being mild, sunny and warm I was surprised to find that the upper tracks were still deep under snow. Not being one for turning back I ploughed on, before shortly having to shoulder my bike to make any progress in the deep and soft snow. My thighs burned as I stepped on the snow, which held my weight for a micro-second before giving way. I made slow progress in this fashion for 45 minutes, before I came across a side trail that I had never noticed before. I had no idea where it would lead, but I surmised that it couldn’t be any worse than this current purgatory I was putting myself through. Much to my delight I found the trail headed deep into the trees and was completely clear of snow. 15 minutes later I emerged out on the main track again, much lower and now thankfully clear of snow. Looking back the trail from which I had just emerged was obvious and despite my familiarity of the forest I was surprised I had never spotted it before.

It is one of the joys of cycling that rides and routes can become old friends, but still have the temerity to throw up some surprises for you to explore now and then.

Get out and ride.

Scot Tares

Where to Ride.

Cycling in Angus: Montrose Basin

Where to ride: Montrose Basin
Location: OS Landranger 1:50,000 Map 54

Distance 12 m/ 20km

Start at Mains of Dun Car Park NO 669591

Details: An on road route around the nature reserve of Montrose Basin, with great views of the basin as you ride and plenty of places to visit on the way including the Scottish Wildlife Visitor Centre and Bird Observation Point at Montrose Basin, and Mains of Dun Farm with its mill remains.

From Mains of Dun head south to join the A934, then A92 through Montrose before turning left onto the A935 to take you back to Mains of Dun.

Dec 31

Youth Cycle Racing

If you want to get your kids to eat their greens, then enter them in a bike race.

The Commissaire stood with his starting pistol in the air, “The race will start within the next 15 seconds”, he shouted to the riders who sat on their bikes with a look of absolute concentration on their faces. Bang! The starting pistol fired and the riders sprinted to get into the sharp left corner first. This could have been a scene from a professional race, but it wasn’t; each of the 20 riders lined up on the starting grid were six years old or younger and they were all taking part in the West Lothian Clarion Youth Cyclo-Cross race in Linlithgow last Sunday.

Such events happen up and down the country throughout the year and are a great opportunity for young riders to experience the thrill of racing, but more importantly, it is a chance for them to get out and have fun on their bikes with lots of other young people. My own two children were taking part in this race; my six year old girl was a veteran at such events, having entered several before, but for my four year old boy it was his first and such was his excitement that he went to bed early every night in the lead up to the race and was asking for more vegetables for his tea, “Just to be strong and healthy for the race, just like Chris Hoy” he said. It was a parent’s dream and our only wish was that there was a race every week we could enter him in. At the end of the race there were a lot of red cheeked and sweaty little faces, but every one of them had a grin from ear to ear as they tucked into the cake and hot chocolate from the refreshments tent. As we drove home in the car and my little boy’s eyelids grew heavier he muttered, “Can we do this again tomorrow?”. The cyclo-cross season is coming to an end, but the Scottish Cross Country (SXC) mountain-bike series is about to start with the first event being held in Forfar on Sunday 17th March 2013. SXC is similar to cyclo-cross in that it is an off-road event with categories open to all age groups of riders, allowing parents and their children to enter for the event.

If you would like more information then visit: Scottish XC

Where to Ride?

The Trossachs for some off-road riding

Where to ride: The Trossachs
Location: OS Landranger 1:50,000 Map 57 Distance 13 m/ 22km  one way Start at Aberfoyle NN 523011 Finish at Callendar NN 626075
Details: This on and off-road route through the Queen Elizabeth and Achray Forests leads you over the Dukes Pass and down to Loch Venacher and onto Callendar. It is suitable for adults and older children and follows traffic-free forest tracks, some minor roads with a short section of main road at Aberfoyle. The start of the ride has a stiff climb, but then it is steady going after that and mostly downhill

 

Dec 30

Castelli Fusione Windstopper Jacket

Castelli Fusione Windstopper Jacket

Let the Castelli Scorpion take the sting out of your winter rideCastelli Fusione Windstopper

I have a certain nostalgic tendency towards cycling and my preference is always for Italian. It’s not just a romantic notion though, as the Italians have a passion not just to produce the best, but to do it in the most stylish way possible. For this very reason I have long been a fan of Castelli for this very reason. In this respect the Castelli Fusione Windstopper Jacket does not disappoint; clearly a lot of time has been taken to ensure this jacket looks good, but no matter how stylish something looks, it is the functionality that counts on the day.

Racing fit and sleek lines

The cut of the jacket is good and lends itself to the racing heritage of Castelli with sleek lines and a fit that avoids material flapping in the wind. I have long arms and I was pleased to see that with my arms stretched out on the hoods of the bars my wrists were still covered. Weighing in at 294g the jacket is more of a bantam than flyweight, but it’s certainly no heavyweight. The slight weight increase offers more protection from the elements, but is on the cusp of having too much bulk to pack into a jersey pocket; it does, but only just. However that is not really an issue as the “Fusione” is more of a jacket to be used on days when the weather is such that wearing a jacket from start to finish is the order of the day, keeping your lighter and thinner, packable jackets for less inclement conditions.

The worst of the Scottish winter weather

And so it was Christmas Eve and the forecast for my northerly bit of the UK was horrendous: gales blowing at 60mph with gusts of 80mph; driving frozen rain with snow at higher levels; not the ideal riding weather, but I had signed up for the “Rapha Festive 500” and nothing was going to stop me heading out. I donned my “Castelli Fusione Windstopper” jacket, flicked up the collar and got my head down. The first few miles were directly into the headwind and progress was slow, but I was warm. My Windstopper jacket was doing its job well so far. I’ve tried various “active shell” jackets before, with varying degrees of success, but for this kind of weather I would usually wear a heavier weight jacket and several layers, with the inevitable “Michelin Man” feeling the result. There is nothing worse than feeling overly bulky as you head out on your ride, so the close fit of the Fusione combined with its weather beating qualities was a delight. Underneath I wore a long sleeve club training top and underneath that a long sleeve merino base-layer and that was more than enough to keep me warm. Indeed if the mercury level had been a few degrees higher I may have been too warm, but the Fusione had that under control with front and back zipped vents to allow a through-flow of air. As I rode on, conditions deteriorated; rumbles of thunder emanated from the hills above me and the sky grew very black indeed and it felt like I was riding into the depths of “Mordor” from “Lord of the Rings”. My average speed was pitiful as I fought against the rising wind speed which was now carrying flakes of snow past me at a high rate of noughts. Mixed in with the snow, hail and frozen rain needled my cheeks, but the high-backed collar of the Fusione, with its soft fleece like material, kept the sting from the back of my neck. The descents were where the Helium “Windstopper” fabric really showed its capabilies  stopping the chill dead and keeping me warm and comfortable.

Castelli Cycle clothing

My jacket (white) was highly visible out on the road in the dark and dingy conditions and the reflective details across the shoulders, sleeves and on the vent lanyard straps as well as on the distinctive “Castelli” branding across the chest and classic “Castelli scorpion” gave me a confidence that I would stand out to other road users no matter how dark the sky grew. An elasticated hem kept the chills at bay around the waist and Velcro adjusters at the sleeve cuffs ensured a snug closure at my wrists. The seams are stitched rather than taped, but so far I haven’t experienced any issues with wetness making its way through. Overall the Helium Windstopper® fabric does its job well and despite the conditions I never once felt a chill. The Fusione is water repellent, rather than waterproof, but it did a good job of keeping me dry. Prior to trying out the Fusione I had read some reviews that breathability had been an issue, but I am glad to say that I had no such problems, even without using the sizeable vents. The zipped vents appear with two on the front and two larger ones on the back. The front vents are fairly standard, but the back vents are notable for the lanyard strap that hooks onto the zip. This allows easy access to the top zip, without having to stretch your arm; this works well on opening the vent, but is not so successful when trying to close the vent again. A bottom zip also allows opening of the vent and access to rear pockets in your jersey underneath. There are no pockets on the Fusione, which I wouldn’t really expect on a “race-cape” and the inclusion of them would have added bulk and taken away from the sleek lines of this jacket and added little functionality.

Overall I have been impressed with the Castelli Fusione Windstopper Jacket, both for its notable Italian style and flair, but more-so for its remarkable ability to shrug off the worst that the Scottish winter weather could throw at it. I’ve ridden over 300km wearing it in the grottiest conditions and it is still looking new and doing it’s job well.

To find out more about the Castelli Range of cycle clothing visit

ProBikeKit UK

Castelli – An Italian Cycling Legacy

Italian cycle clothing manufacturer “Castelli” has a long and rich history of supplying clothing to generations of professional riders such as Italian legends Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. The brand as we know it today however started in 1974 with Maurizio Castelli and it was at this point that the innovation really kicked in as the company started to produce a series of “firsts” for cycling kit, including the first aerodynamic lycra shorts and first functional thermal winter cycle clothing. Professional riders like Eddy Merckx, himself someone who was always looking for the cutting edge to gain advantage on his rivals, gave the company a huge boost by wearing a Castelli body-suit on his successful “World Hour Record” ride. Perhaps one of the most important innovations by Castelli however was the pioneering of the sublimation dye process that allowed colours and logos to be added to technical fabrics; from that point on, cycling’s commercial aspect would never be the same again. Sadly Maurizio Castelli died in 1995 from a heart-attack, at the age of 47 whilst cycling up the Cipressa, a climb made famous by its inclusion in the one-day Queen of Cycling Classics “Milan San Remo”. Castelli’s legacy lives on however in the brand that bears his name and his design flair and innovative approach to cycling kit continue to be evident in the range of items that the company produce.

Visit ProBikeKit UK for more cycling gear

Scot Tares

Skinny Tyres

Aug 2

Improve your pedalling

CadenceGet more out of your cycling by creating a more efficient pedal stroke.

You’ve spent a lot of money on your bike and invested countless hours in all weathers to get fitter and faster on your bike, but if your pedal technique is inefficient, then you are expending a lot more energy and effort than you need to.

Swimmers spend a lot of time in the pool, not just improving their fitness, but also honing their technique. Combined, technique and fitness will contribute to a better and more efficient swimmer. It is something that cyclists can learn from; we invariably spend a lot of time “putting in the miles” to become stronger and faster, but rarely focus on our technique.

The French term, “souplesse”, is often used to refer to someone who has a supple and flowing pedal cadence. A smooth pedal stroke like this can make the rider look like they are riding effortlessly, whereas a rider that is mashing at the pedals, not only looks like they are making hard work of it, they are also expending a lot of extra effort for very little return.

Engage your glutes

There are 4 key points that you need to focus on when improving your pedal technique:

  • Cadence – The faster you can pedal in an easier gear, then the further you go for less energy expenditure.
  • Engage Your Glutes – Your glutes are huge powerful muscles, but riders often just rely on their quads to keep their momentum going. Get your position right on the bike. Get you saddle height right, ensure the fore and aft position is correct and get your body position right for the terrain you are riding.

Pedal in a circle

  • Pedal in a circle – It sounds obvious, but most riders have dead spots in their pedal stroke because they only engage with the pedal at the top of the pedal stroke.  ushing the pedal over will pay massive dividends. This can only be achieved by engaging your glutes
  • Relax – All of the points above can cause a rider to tense up and hunch their shoulders. This can lead to aches and pains and will prevent you from maintaining a smooth and high cadence.

Relax

Just like a swimmer, a cyclist needs to practice on each of these aspects to improve their technique. It is not just a case of thinking, “Right, I know what I need to do, now let’s go and do it”. Each technique needs to be practiced over and over again with a conscious and reflective learning style. Only when you have mastered each technique can you pull them all together and master an efficient pedal technique.

For more information on pedal technique or any other aspect of skills or performance coaching, get in touch with us, or join us on one of our coaching weekends.

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