Beaufort for Bikers

Calm. The steam from your pre-ride espresso rises vertically.

Today I cycled from Aberdeen to The Lecht ski centre in the Cairngorms and back. Whichever way I pedalled the wind was slapping my face. Which got me thinking about the Beaufort scale.

The scale was devised in 1805 by Francis Beaufort (later Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort), an Irish Royal Navy officer, while serving on HMS Woolwich. Clearly he wasn’t a cyclist. If he was, this is what he’d have written…

0 – Calm. The steam from your pre-ride espresso rises vertically but only because you’re slap bang in the middle of a high pressure system that stretches from Scandanavia to the Bay of Biscay. Night time temperature’s have plummeted to – 12C and the road is covered with 3″ of black ice.

1 – Light air. The drift of bumble bees indicates wind direction which, inevitably, is always directly towards the unzipped neck of your cycling jersey. Other, stingless, insects remain stationary.

2 – Light breeze. Wind felt on exposed skin which is a blessing in summer but leads to chillblains in winter.  Leaves rustle but you think the noise is coming from your chain so you stop pedalling. Wind vanes begin to move – towards you.

3 – Gentle breeze. Leaves and small twigs constantly moving. The dead ones snap off and land in your path. You swerve to avoid a slightly bigger twig just as an articulated lorry starts to overtake you.  The weather beaten flags left up after last year’s poorly-organised sportive are extended.

4 – Moderate breeze. Dust and loose paper raised. The dust gets in your eyes even though you’ve just shelled out £200 for a pair of wraparound, anti-nuclear, eye protectors (formally known as sunglasses). Small branches begin to move but you can’t see them because your eyes are watering so much.

5 – Fresh breeze. Branches of a moderate size move. But you still can’t see them because by now you’ve accidentally rubbed cherry-flavoured energy gel into your eyes in a desperate attempt to get rid of the grit. Small trees in leaf begin to sway. You begin to sway.

6 – Strong breeze. Large branches in motion. You’re in motion. But slower than you’d expect for the effort because, whichever way you head, the wind is always on your nose. Whistling heard in overhead wires and in your helmet. Umbrella use becomes difficult and you begin to wish you’d brought that Gortex cycling onesie instead. Empty plastic bins tip over. You tip over empty plastic bins.

7 – High wind, moderate gale, near gale. Whole trees in motion. You’ve ground to a virtual standstill and dismount to squirt water in your eyes because, while that cherry-flavoured gel tastes lovely, the methadioxydrone, or whatever gives it its taste, stings like hell. Effort needed to see where you’re going.  Effort needed to walk against the wind.

8  – Gale, fresh gale. Some twigs broken from trees. Some spokes broken from wheel. Cars veer on road. Bikes veer on road to avoid veering cars. Progress on foot is seriously impeded so you decide to keep pedalling. Progress on bike is seriously impeded (by twigs and veering cars).

9 – Strong/severe gale. Some branches break off trees, some wheels break off bikes. Some small trees blow over. Some small bikes blow over. You wish you’d still got those stabilisers from back in the day. Construction/temporary signs and barricades blow over but only at the precise moment you’re riding past them.

10 – Storm, whole gale. Trees are broken off or uprooted. Cyclists are broken and upended. Structural damage likely, particularly to the aero carbon frame that you re-mortgaged your house to buy.

11 – Violent storm. Widespread vegetation and structural damage likely. Most of the vegetation ends up in your face. Most of the structural damage is to the most expensive components on your bike. The dérailleur hanger is the only bit that remains unbent.

12 – Storm force. Severe, widespread damage to vegetation and structures. Debris and unsecured objects are hurled about. On the third attempt you finally manage to open the back door to fetch the bike from the shed only to realise that there is no shed. You head back to the house inexplicably humming Somewhere Over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz to find the back door has blown shut. You haven’t got a key and there’s nobody else in the house. You utter a string of un-Dorothy-like expletives and sit on the step in your bib shorts cursing while the storm blows itself out.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post please consider donating to my Just Giving page. I’m raising money for Willen Hospice by cycling from Paris to Nice via the Alps. Hopefully not into a headwind!

P.S. You can read about the proper Beaufort scale here and see how spookily similar mine is to the real thing!

T am S y

It is, as headlines go, a little confusing, I’ll grant you that. Certainly not up there with “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster” which has the simple virtue of telling you all you need to know without having to demean yourself by actually buying a copy of The Sun (wot published it.)

Courtesy The Sun
Courtesy The Sun

And not in the same league as my personal favourite, the Carlisle News and Star’s “Budgie’s Death Now Being Treated As Suspicious” which has the opposite effect and makes you want to take out an annual subscription (at least to the Silloth edition).

Courtesy Carlisle News
Courtesy Carlisle News

No! “T am S y” falls into the cryptic category and as such probably belongs more in the back page crossword puzzle than on a front page headline. The clue is in the gaps. Fill them in with the missing letters and you’ve solved it. Or, if you prefer your clues a little more gnomic, Rupert Murdoch on your bike will give you the same result and also, by a bizarre coincidence,  link the hamster headline with mine.*

Yes, you’ve cracked it: “Team Sky.” Cracked being the operative word because the Team Sky lettering on my very expensive Rapha bib shorts has cracked after just one wash and dry (ahem) cycle. My other pair of even more eye-wateringly expensive shorts haven’t and they were put through the wringer (so to speak) in several ride through laundromats on my epic trip across America. 

I didn’t notice Chris Froome sporting   am Sk  kit as he showed the competition a clean pair of cleats on his way up to the summit finish on La Pierre Saint-Martin. I didn’t see the motorcyclist cameraman getting an arse shot of Richie Porte’s shorts with  “2 s Cent  y Fo ” emblazened across them.

bib shorts
Courtesy my tumble drier (on sportswear mode)

All of which leads me to conclude that Team Sky and Rapha are fobbing off us amateur riders with second rate kit.

Or to put it another way: “Team Sky’s Bib Shorts Are Pants.”

If I want to wear something that needs mollycoddling in the laundry department I’ll buy a G string woven from unicorn fur thank you very much. Cycle wear is going to get sweaty. Fact. And as such it’s going get whanged in the washing machine and tossed in the tumble drier. So make them more durable please. Either that or persuade the boffins at Bosch to design a cycle cycle on the next generation of washers. At least then I’ll be able to freshen up the G string and the bib shorts in the same load.

*Rupert Murdoch’s companies have stakes in both The Sun and Team Sky.

By the way, if you’ve enjoyed reading this and you’ve got a few bob to spare I’m riding from Paris to Nice in a few weeks time to raise money for Willen Hospice. You can donate safely and securely via my Just Giving page. Thank you.

Why fish don’t wear shirts

I should have seen it coming. The van that is. Three thousand miles across car-obsessed, gas-guzzling America without a scratch. Three hundred miles in bike-obsessed, pedal-pushing Holland and…

I’d arrived in the Netherlands a few days earlier to put in some training for Ride for Willen 2015 – an eight day, 800 mile ride from Paris to Nice via two Tour de France summits in aid of Willen Hospice. Not, on the face of it, an ideal place to prepare for a ride that takes in Alpe D’Huez and Mont Ventoux. But my thinking was this: what the country lacks in vertical ascent it more than makes up for in bike friendliness. And, I have to admit, beer. Those seductive blonds that at the end of a long session make you realise just why you took up cycling in the first place – to eat and drink what you want.

Nothing like a cold one after a long ride.

Beer apart, the Dutch don’t do things by halves. There are dedicated cycle lanes in virtually every major town and city. The tarmac is smooth. The demarcation lines freshly painted. Why, there are even traffic lights just for bikes! And even where two and four wheels share the same bit of carriageway, drivers behave so impeccably towards cyclists that you can get your head down and concentrate on your training regime without worrying about where the next threat is coming from. It’s probably because, when they aren’t behind the wheel, motorists are themselves cyclists. You see everybody in Holland rides a bike. All except one.

…without an alstublieft the driver of the black Renault Trafic (funny how you notice these little details) a wheel-length or two ahead of me swerves into the cycle lane to avoid a car pulling out of a side road. I swerve too. But the hastily- executed manoeuvre only results in a face plant on the van’s right rear door instead of the van’s left rear door. I say face plant. It was more of a head plant, as I had just enough time, or instinct, to tuck in my chin to let my helmet take the full force of the impact. Which it did very well. Though it’s a shame cycle gloves aren’t made out of the same material because my right thumb took the next full force – of my impact with the black top. It’s only when you break such a small and apparently insignificant bone that you realise just how significant it really is. With one hand’s worth of opposable digits out of action for at least a fortnight,  you don’t need an evolutionary biologist to tell you that human beings wouldn’t have made it down from the trees without fingers and thumbs. Hell, they probably wouldn’t have made it out of the water and up to the trees in the first place.

So next time you’re asked why fish don’t wear shirts you’ll know the answer: without thumbs they can’t do up the buttons!

Thumbs up.

Back home the nurse in the minor injuries unit at Ludlow Hospital (note to NHS do NOT close it) entered the word TOOSH in my medical notes. Ever the journalist I asked him what it meant. “Trauma on out-stretched hand'” he said.

“No trauma at all,” I replied. “Not compared to those at the end of their lives being cared for at Willen Hospice.”

You can donate to this exceptionally good cause on my Just Giving page. Please do. I’ll give you a thumbs up.

Ride for Willen 2015

Eight days, 800 miles, 45,000 feet.

Last year when I cycled nearly 3,000 miles across America you asked what are you doing it for and how much money do you hope to raise and, to my shame, I had to reply just for me and nothing!

Well this year I’ve decide to salve my guilty conscience with a sponsored ride. I’ll have a lovely time. But it’ll be even lovelier if I know that every turn of the pedals is bringing me closer to my individual target of £1,000 and the collective target of £100,000. So please give as much as you can via my Just Giving page and click donate.

The cherry tree (with apologies to Housman)

I’ve long been struck by the saw (old saying) that says a dead tree is more alive than a live one. Which is why I’d been reluctant to take the other kind of saw to the cherry at the bottom of the orchard even though – to misquote Housman – of my three score years and ten it wasn’t going to bloom again. At first I hoped it had succumbed to some temporary malaise and that the following Spring would turn slowly green via a drift of baby pink confetti as it had done every April for the 22 years I’d lived at Crosshands. But now I’ve been hefted to this Shropshire spot for 25 years and instead of dropping leaves it’s dropping branches. It was the smaller ones at first. Twigs really. Sapless stick-fingers the first to dry and brilliant tinder for the wood burners we’re still lighting (in late May) to keep the latent chill of the clay earth from creeping up the solid cottage walls. But now the bigger branches are falling too, threatening the limbs of those whose lifeblood is still rising should they be unlucky to pass underneath at the wrong moment. Which, statistically, may be unlikely but a chance increased because the tree is on the path to the compost heap – a part of the plot frequented more at this time of year than in winter. Rhubarb leaves and the less malignant weeds piled on top (we burn the really persistent ones like dock and dandelion); sweet-smelling mulch to nourish this season’s vegetables pulled from the bottom. An eternal cycle of death and re-growth. And a handy home for hedgehogs.

Hairy legs and all

To shave or not to shave, that is the question (with apologies to Wm Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet).

It was always going to happen. In all honesty I’m surprised I’ve lasted a whole year. But it’s time I came out of the closet. Or rather it’s time I came out of my wife’s closet. You see I’ve been in there casting lascivious looks at her hair removal mousse more than a real man really should.

It all started with a trip to the loo at the start of a cycling event last summer. I know a true gentleman is supposed to stare nonchalantly ahead in such circumstances. But I couldn’t help myself. A furtive glance left revealed the smoothest pair I’d ever seen. To the right it was a similar picture. If anything they were smoother still. Silky, in fact.

I looked down, despondent. Mine, by comparison, were hairier than Lemmy from Motorhead. I decided there and then that I wanted  to look like the other boys.

Trouble is I wasn’t sure how to go about it.  Mousse, wax, razor, tweezers, sandpaper? Wax I ruled out for two reasons: one, that it hurt like hell when I tested a sample patch with the molten bit from the top of a candle; two, that I wasn’t sure I could trust myself not to “rise to the occasion” whilst having hot towels or whatever they use flicked dangerously close to my proverbial nether regions at the local beauty salon (assuming they’d even have let me through the door in Lycra). A wet shave I discounted on account of the fact that if I’m as careless as I am with my face some morning’s there wouldn’t be a bog roll long enough to staunch the arterial flow. My electric shaver struggles with a five o clock shadow like an old car with a flat battery on a winter day so I was certain it couldn’t slice through hair that’d been growing continuously since puberty (for the record at least 40 years). And if my Braun man tool wasn’t up to the job then I wagered the good lady’s Ladyshave wouldn’t cut it either. So that was out too. Along with the tweezers which, I concluded, would’ve taken far too long and, though I’d never plucked anything other than a guitar string and a chicken, would almost certainly cause my eyes to water more than a bit. Same thought process applied to the sandpaper. All of which left the mousse as the only viable option.

That was a year ago and I’ve yet to do it. I’m still not like the other boys. A point brought into sharp relief in the gents at the start of the Autumn Epic in Knighton last Sunday. So now, to misquote Shakespeare for a second time, I have to screw my courage to the sticking place, unscrew the lid and give it a go. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Incidentally, if you’re more interested in riding than hearing about hair then I’d thoroughly recommend the Autumn Epic. I managed the 95 mile course in about 6 hours 15 minutes (6′ 30″ with two feed stations stops). Next year I’ll be going much quicker. Less wind resistance!

ABB Day 27 – Vidalia to Tybee Island (the end)!

So we did it. Not sure what to think right now less than 24 hours after rolling into the Atlantic Ocean nearly 3,000 miles and three plus weeks after setting off. Think it’s going to take a few days to sink in. Can’t believe I’m already itching to get back in the saddle. I’ll add some reflective words as they come to me. For now I’ve gotta find a cold beer and some healthy food (in that order).

ABB Day 26 – Perry to Vidalia (one more day to go)


We all like to big ourselves up a bit. (Hell if it wasn’t for the photographic evidence to the contrary I’d probably claim to have crossed America on a unicycle – half the number of wheels equals double the achievement). And so it is with towns. Especially small towns. Places  like Vidalia where we’re staying on our final night before – all being well – crossing the finishing line and baptising our wheels in the Atlantic tomorrow, a mere 27 days and 3,000 miles after christening them in the Pacific. Vidalia, you see, is home to the “world famous” Vidalia sweet onion (Vidalia’s quotes not mine) . Now I’m not terribly well versed in culinary matters but have you heard of Vidalia sweet onions? Thought not. Talking up one’s town is called boosterism (thank you Conal) and it became endemic as America expanded westwards with new towns trying to outbid one another for residents and in doing so boost land prices.  Not so much supply and demand more lie and demand. But on balance I suppose it’s better to be famous for sweet onions than, say, Anaheim’s claim to fame. The Californian city is home to the inventor of the “world famous” pooper scooper (my quotes not Anaheim’s).

At the end of every day’s riding I take a shower. Get rid of the grit and the grime. Freshen up. Let the jets of water ease tired muscles. Well today I had three showers. It’s not that I’ve developed some cycling-induced obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s just that it rained on us for the first time. The rain showers were nearly as hot as the one in the hotel bathroom. In fact if I’d slipped a bar of soap into my cycling pants I could have saved a whole lot of time later and finished the ride squeaky clean. Or at least squeaky. I enjoyed riding in the rain. It reminded me of  home. Reduced the air temperature and increased the speed. The only down side? Prune fingers, prune toes and, though I didn’t look to check, prune cheeks.

Not many pictures, by the way, because I didn’t want prune iPhone.