Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Wheel Success Story: The Trials and Triumphs of the Tour de France

Image by:  monkeywing
The Tour de France is now recognised as the ultimate event on the cycling calendar. For months, men practise, pedal and persevere in their unrelenting quest to be the best and don the conquering yellow jersey.
It represents the most persistent and dedicated of men on two wheels across the globe in their unflinching attempts to step on to the podium and bask in the victorious glow of cycling glory.

But it wasn't always that way – at least not when the Tour first came to the UK.  In fact, the first Tour de France got off to a rather inauspicious start, marred by hostility, bureaucracy, and a less-than-practical location for the actual event. 

Location Matters
It was forty years ago that the event crossed the channel for the first time – bizarrely selecting Plymouth as the centre stage for the tour. And it didn't make a comeback for another 20 years.

Many of the cyclists – according to former professional Barry Hoban – were treated like illegal immigrants, corralled into a locked room in which he had to repeatedly kick the door to be let out.

The event's organisers had originally planned to use the Dartmoor hills for the event, but instead turned to the rather more inappropriate A38 to host the Tour.

The race had kicked off two days previously in Brest, the yellow jersey being carried by Eddy Merckx en route to what would be his record-equalling fifth and final win of the event. 

Everything was ticking along nicely – until the event took a detour outside its usual mainland Europe for the first time.

Blame the Artichokes

The artichoke growers of Brittany had come up with the somewhat novel idea the best way to promote their product in the UK would be to fund the Tour de France on its initial visit to the UK. Part of the publicity campaign would also incorporate the Roscoff-Plymouth ferry route which had opened the previous year.

British customs, however, had other ideas, letting the British side down and setting back Anglo-Franco relations back 20 years.

Council officials and customs had been advised the riders would be extremely tired on the day having already have raced 200km, and should therefore allow the cyclists a swift passage through customs.

It was, however, a request that was met with a stony, uncooperative response. Customs officials even threatened council workers if they interfered with the rather heavy-handed way the new arrivals were being handled, with matters further exacerbated when the cyclists were delayed trying to leave the country – made to fill out endless forms and being held for hours.    

A Unique Opportunity

Despite the discouraging events that unfolded before, during and after the event, the Tour de France did give cycling fans the opportunity to see their heroes in the flesh – cyclists such as Raymond Poulidor.
The customs officials' rather brusque and uncooperative approach to the riders did, inadvertently, highlight the convenience and efficacy of the new cross-channel ferry route.

The transport to and from England, however, was only one part of the exasperating jigsaw. The route itself was ill-conceived and not exciting enough for a race as adrenaline-pumping as the Tour de France – effectively a short stretch up and down the recently-opened A38 Plympton bypass.

Some sources still suggest the French organisers were all partly responsible for and in favour of this route.
It was a choice that was also supremely unpopular with the cyclists, spanning five miles with people at the start and finish but nobody in between – and the anti-climactic finish line catching riders off-guard by ending abruptly just around the final roundabout.

To snatch an oft-quoted phrase from another revered sporting event, it was strangely a game of two halves. 
The treatment of the riders had been far from warm and hospitable, and yet the arrival of the event on these shores was a real adrenaline shot for the country which – before the arrival of Bradley Wiggins and Lance Armstrong – had really had no fervent interest in the sport at all.

The winner of the stage was Dutch cyclist, Henk Poppe, who retired a year later after being a professional rider for only two years.  

Eddy Merckx (in white) went on to win the Tour for a record-equalling fifth time.

How Times Change: 2014 Cycling Fever

The 2014 Tour de France was a completely different event, with an estimated six million cycling supporters lined the streets to cheer on the riders.

Of course, the face of cycling in general has changed dramatically over a relatively short period of time.  Cycling has not only become big business but fashionable. 

People are ditching their cars for two-wheels in an attempt to live a more eco-conscious, environmentally friendly lifestyle. Bristol has been awarded the status of the UK's first official Cycling City.  The government and countrywide council officials are relentlessly launching campaigns and hammering home the health benefits of jumping in the saddle. Families can be spotted on weekends cycling along country lanes and in parks.

Cycling in 2014 has become something of an all-consuming phenomenon on these shores, almost to the point of obsession.

And the success of the Yorkshire-to-London Grand Depart has left tongues wagging that the event could return to these shores sooner than anyone might have thought.

In fact, as Marcel Kittel added a stage three victory to his opening day triumph, talks were already well under way to bring the event back to this Sceptred Isle in a few years' time. The Lake District and Wales have also been mooted as potential bidder for the opening stage of the next event.   

…And the Crowd went Wild

There was a palpable excitement and buzz as the fervent crowds packed the streets between Cambridge and London to get a peek at Peloton. 

And the multitudes put paid to the notion that the UK is a more football than cycling enthused nation, with more people turning out to watch the second coming of Le Tour in the UK than attended all four professional football leagues each weekend.

Fans had been whipped up to such an extent some of them had been waiting six hours to see the riders flash past – and official estimates stating around one million to add to the five million that had already engulfed the streets of Yorkshire that weekend.

The Tour de France truly has become the leading road race in the world and the cause of much celebration by cyclists and fans alike.

A Very Different Picture

Compared to the initial antagonism and bad feeling of the 1974 race, today presents a very different picture, with the salivating hordes clamouring for the event to return – and riders now more than happy to come back.

Like cycling itself, the Tour de France has entered into the minds and seeped into the collective consciousness like never before. It's an essential part of the country, and one that represents much of its modern beating heart.

In fact, not since the 2012 Summer Olympics has there been such a hotly and widely anticipated sporting event, with that event's director, movie maker Danny Boyle, on hand at the finish line on Monday to give his seal of approval for the Tour's staging.   

Cycling continues to sweep the nation and the Tour de France remains the exhilarating encapsulation of all that's great and good about the sport.   

Tour de France Comes To Yorkshire: A History of the Sport in the Dales

Image by ARG_Flickr

Yorkshire is arguably the home of British cycling. It’s therefore not hard to see why Yorkshire won its bid to host the Grand Depart this year. With countless cycling stars beginning their sporting careers in the dales of Yorkshire and numerous cycling organisations starting up in the county, Yorkshire has a rich history with the two-wheeled sport.

But what is it about Yorkshire that inspires people to get pedalling? Well, the challenging yet beautiful landscape surely has something to do with it. Cycling in Yorkshire is like trying to defy nature – as you battle through rain and wind, across hilly terrain, the ride certainly feels like a challenge. And it’s arguably this challenge that encourages the adventurous in Yorkshire to get out on two wheels.

Cycling Culture
But cycling in Yorkshire is also a cultural thing. The national cycling charity, CTC (Cyclist’s Touring Club) began in Harrogate. Originally, the BTC (Bicycle Touring Club), you’ll find a reminder of Harrogate’s place in cycling history near the St George Hotel, commemorating the beginning of the BTC on 5th August 1878.

As one of Britain’s first cycling clubs, the BTC was formed inside a Harrogate pub by Stanley Cotterell, who pedalled his penny farthing all the way from Edinburgh to meet like-minded people in Yorkshire. Ten years later it became the CTC, which is now the largest cycling organisation in UK, boasting 70,000+ members.

Unsurprisingly, since it was announced that the Tour de France was coming to Yorkshire, bike shops across the county have been buzzing with excitement, with an increased interest in the sport. To celebrate Yorkshire’s part in this year’s Tour De France, we examine some of the most famous cyclists from Yorkshire and the impact they had on British cycling.

Brian Robinson
As the first British rider to finish the Tour de France in 1955, Brian Robinson has earned his place in cycling history. He also has the impressive claim of being the first UK rider to win a stage at the Tour a few years later in 1958. Born in Mirfield, he went on to join Huddersfield Road Club when he was 13, training in Yorkshire before going on to compete internationally.

Victor Sutton
Famous for beating some of the greatest climbers in history (Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes), Victor Sutton took the cycling world by surprise. At 23, the Yorkshire-man took on the pair in the 1959 Tour de France, which was a staggering achievement, proving that British cyclists could compete internationally at the highest level.

Barry Hoban
Beginning in the Wakefield-based Calder Clarion Cycling Club, Barry Hoban went on to win 8 stages of the Tour between 1967 and 1975. This was a World Record for a British rider at the time and has only recently been beaten by Mark Cavendish.

Beryl Burton
Beryl Burton is not just one of Britain’s most impressive cyclists, but one of Britain’s greatest athletes. She dominated women’s cycling in the UK – winning 96 domestic championships. From Leeds, Beryl also went onto compete internationally with similar success, winning seven world titles. Plus, she set the record for the women’s 12-hour time trial, which exceeded the men’s record for two years. In later life, she moved to Harrogate, the finishing point of day two of the Grand Depart.

Malcom Elliot
Born in Sheffield, Malcom Elliot is one of Britain’s most successful riders, with an unstoppable enthusiasm for the sport. Despite the highlights of his career stretching back to the 1980s, he only recently stopped competing. Highlights include a Commonwealth gold medal, winner of Tour of Britain, competing in the Olympics and two successful Tour de France campaigns in the late 1980s.

Ben Swift
Moving on to more recent times, Ben Swift is a 25-year-old Team Sky and Team GB rider who began cycling in Rotherham. So far, he’s had numerous successes on the road including winning one stage of the Tour of California, two stages of Tour Down Under and one at Vuelta a Castilla y León.

Ed Clancy
From Huddersfield, Ed Clancy is a speedy sprinter and has already won World, Olympic and European titles on track. At the London 2012 Games, he took gold in the team pursuit and bronze in the individual event.

Lizzie Armitstead
A road and track cyclist from west Yorkshire, Lizzie Armitstead became a household name during the 2012 Olympics, winning the first medal of the games for Team GB. Her success continued after the Olympics, winning the Omloop van het Hageland and the World Cup a week later.

And lastly, there’s the favourite for this year’s Tour, Mark Cavendish – who’s not actually from Yorkshire but has strong links to the county. His mum is from the spa town, Harrogate and his uncle still lives there now. Because of this connection, winning the first stage from Leeds to Harrogate is his big goal this year.

With such a rich cycling history, it’s not surprising that the world’s greatest cyclists will be pedalling through Yorkshire this summer. Who’s your favourite Yorkshire cyclist? Share your thoughts below.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Complete guide to bike gearing

Understanding how gears work is crucial for any road cyclist who wants to ride efficiently — and quickly!

The gear system on a modern road bicycle is made up of nine component parts: two integrated levers; two gear cables; two derailleurs; a cassette of different sized sprockets at the rear wheel; a crankset or chainset of different-sized chainrings connected to the pedals; and the chain.

It’s actually a very simple set-up. The left lever operates the front derailleur, the right lever operates the rear derailleur, and these move the chain between sprockets or chainrings. The different sized sprockets and chainrings offer different achievable speeds, however, they also offer different options in terms of pedalling ease. So a rider cycling down a slight incline won’t have a problem going quickly pedalling the biggest gear ratio available, but going up hill they will want an easier gear, with the compromise being they’ll have to go slower.

On the cassette at the rear wheel it’s possible to have anything up to 11 sprockets. The bigger the sprocket, the easier it is to pedal, but the slower the rider will travel. The smaller the sprocket, the harder it is to pedal, but the quicker the rider will go. Modern road bike cassettes range from smallest sprockets of 11 teeth to biggest sprockets of 32 teeth.

At the chainset it’s possible to have anything up to three chainrings (this set-up is called a ‘triple’ chainset). However most current road bikes use what is known as a ‘compact’ chainset, which has two chainrings, a the smaller inner ring with 34 teeth and a wider outer ring with 50 teeth. When it comes to ease of pedalling and achievable speed, the situation with chainrings is the opposite of cassettes — small chainrings are easier to pedal but slower, big chainrings are harder but faster.


How to use your gears

What’s the point of bike gears and how should you use them? Really, every cyclist’s aim should be to maintain a steady cadence, or constant rhythm of their pedal stroke. The quicker a cyclist can spin their pedals consistently, the easier it is on their legs and the more work their heart and lungs do. The slower and harder they push, the more their leg muscles take the strain. But leg muscles tire a long time before heart and lungs.

Assuming you would rather be aerobically fit with healthy heart and lungs, rather than anaerobically fit with bulging leg muscles, a reasonably high cadence is important. It’ll also mean you’ll all be able to cycle further without getting tired. For most leisure riders a cadence of something like 80rpm is good, while professional road cyclists can pedal at cadences of 100rpm or more.

In theory you can use any combination of rear sprocket and front chainring to maintain this steady cadence. If a bike has 10 sprockets at the back and two chainrings at the front, that would offer a total of 20 different gear ratios.

However, there are some caveats. For example, you should avoid putting the chain through extreme angles. Try not to use the smallest sprocket at the back and the smallest chainring at the front at the same time — simply push the chain onto a biggest chainring at the front if you want to go quicker. Likewise don’t use the biggest sprocket and biggest chainring at the same time, simply drop the chain down to a smaller chainring if you need an easier gear.

In these extreme settings you may hear the chain rubbing against the front derailleur cage — that’s not an efficient sound for a cyclist. Remember: using gears is all about producing the most efficient result from your pedalling.

One final tip: inexperienced cyclists have a tendency to attack challenges in the biggest gear possible and only change down when they are in dire straits. This is not efficient cycling and can lead to accidents — changing gear while the system is under load, such as while you’re struggling up a climb, is more likely to result in a derailleur failing.

So when you come to the bottom of a big hill, select a gear ratio you can maintain and keep a nice steady tempo all the way up. It’s the most sensible way to cycle and it won’t mark you out as a rider with all the gears, but none of the ideas!



"When John Burke, president of TREK, stated that 'We didn't want incremental improvement; we wanted to leapfrog the competition,' Velonews' Leonard Zinn responded 'My first impression is that Trek accomplished that.' Praise doesn't get much better.
In the all-new Madone,Trek Bicycle has taken its quest for perfection to new levels.

Charged with creating the world's finest all-day performance bike, an army of engineers, designers, physicists, chemists, carbon producers, bike shop owners, project managers and riders spent the past two years elevating the Madone from elite racing cycle to the consummate performance experience.
The result of their efforts is an exquisitely balanced machine that delivers a transcendental riding experienceThe new Madone represents the largest design project Trek has undertaken on any bike, at any time. It was born from the expertise of seven consecutive Tour de France victories, more than 15 years of OCLV Carbon engineering experience and the input of Lance Armstrong and other world-class riders.
 The Madone underwent hours of FEA analysis, exhaustive real-world ride testing and 30 different lay-up schedules as engineers fine-tuned every detail of this ultimate riding machine."

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Handsome Dog goes to Hawaii!!,"

"Following a win at the UK Xterra Triathlon Championships on a very wet, muddy and windy course in South Wales it meant qualification to the Xterra World Championships in Maui, Hawaii. Reading about the bike course on Maui island, it was obviously was going to be tough, not just because of the terrain but the climate was also going to be challengingUntil recently, I have been racing triathlons on road bikes and now this was like a new sport in going 'off road.' I had little experience of such extreme terrain and welcomed any advice or suggestions. I needed a bike that was lighter to cope with a long ascent with steep climbs but could also deal with obstacles such as lava rocks, deep and dusty silt and the local thorns that resemble nails!"

"Thanks to All Terrain Cycles , they were able to provide me with advice and a HANDSOME DOG Arrow XT Disc hardtail. It was put to the test on the course reputed to be 'brutal.' And it was!The aluminium frame was so much lighter than my old jalopy and made it easier on the up. Even though it had disc brakes, it still was a light bike and as I was used to disc brakes this worked well. It was a relief that I didn't have to expend extra energy dragging or pushing or carrying a heavier bike in that heat. (90 degrees and no wind to cool!) Generally, I enjoy 'uphills' but the 2,500 feet of climbing was tough in those conditions - I drank 2 litres of fluid on the ascent alone!!"

 it meant easy gear shifting and so I never had any issues thereAn easy bit at the start!"

"The descent was a welcome relief but perhaps not for long as I realised that the lava rock didn't allow the rider to control but just to hang on and balance on the bike. The Handsome Dog handled well with the Fox F100 forks and didn't jump around unnecessarily. I was actually glad I had a hardtail bike as I think I would have bounced around even more on a full suspension. I did notice that the majority of the pro women were sporting hardtails too. I should have perhaps put a chain protector along the bottom part of the frame, as there was a good deal of chain bounce on to it"

"On my journey, I passed many bike casualties such as broken frames, punctures, destroyed wheels and also athletes' limbs adding to the list as the sharp lava rock and thorns did their worst. I was quite amazed at the amount of competitors and their bikes lined along the tracks fixing flats. I used Slime tubes and took some folding Vapor Continental tyres to reduce the risk of punctures and sidewall slashes.Having travelled this far, I decided I wanted to finish the race in one piece and without mishaps - so took a little more time in keeping to the track and attempted to take the best line. I still had the run section to do! As a result, I slowed down, which on reflection I'm not over happy with, as I know that as it was a race - maybe I should have pushed it a bit harder? After all it was the World Champs!! The bike certainly didn't let me down- it was the rider! Obviously, I need to get out to hotter climes and practice on razor sharp rock if I'm to go to Maui again next year?! It was certainly a great experience all the sameI looked forward though, to trying the Handsome Dog out in a race familiar territory and climate.So a week later, I found myself racing at Haworth Mudman Duathlon - grey, wet and muddy! I smiled all the way round the bike course - this was more like it and what I was used to. The bike seemed to manage the mud and rocks efficiently and was fast on the climbs and downhill sections. I was pleased to finish 1st !!"

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tour de France bikes versus Road bikes

Just as Wimbledon inspires people to pick up a tennis racquet each year so, too, the Tour de France encourages everyone to hop back in the saddle. But how much relationship is there really between the bikes that pro racers ride and the road bikes we can all buy?

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that cycling isn’t Formula 1, so the connection between two-wheeled, pedal-driven top-level racing machines and their mass-produced siblings is far more obvious than the rather woolly suggestion that road cars eventually benefit from drip-down F1 technology. In fact, in the case of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, anything other than a direct correlation would be a waste of time. The team exists to show off Cannondale’s engineering but, even so, many people might be surprised to realise it’s perfectly possible to buy the same bikes that the team uses, at surprisingly realistic prices.

So what does the team use? While the Tour de France was in the UK we had the chance to look at Cannondale team leader Peter Sagan’s own race machine. Pro riders have the same requirements as amateur cyclists, it’s just the demands they place on their bikes are greater. They want a bike to be as light as possible, as stiff as possible, and — when they’re riding day after day — as comfortable as possible.

Sagan uses a SuperSix Evo frame, exactly the same as those available to the public. In performance terms, the reason why the team races this is quite obvious: the SuperSix Evo is the lightest mass-produced bike frame in the world, weighing less than 700g. The beauty of the SuperSix, though, is that achieving such a light weight has had no bearing on other aspects of its performance.

What Cycle? magazine recently tested the SuperSix Evo and had this to say: “The real positives of the SuperSix frame are twofold. First, there’s a very reactive temperament in terms of effort you put in — every ounce of energy feels as if it’s being converted efficiently into outright speed. And then there is a hefty dose of secure, stable handling. We were worried that with its minuscule weight the SuperSix would either feel ready to crumple underneath us, or simply be blown away by any errant sidewind, but that’s really not the case — this is a light bike with a big presence.”

Because the Cannondale team is sponsored by SRAM components, Sagan uses SRAM’s Red groupset. It’s a very refined system, with smooth, accurate gear changes and hugely powerful caliper rim brakes. Again, it’s the same kit as is publically available, the one small distinguishing feature being the Cannondale team enjoys a custom-coloured version with green highlights.

So let’s return to that comparison with Formula 1. If you wanted a close copy of a F1 car it would cost you multiple millions of pounds, and an exceeding amount of difficulty. But to get your hands on a Cannondale SuperSix Evo complete with a SRAM Red groupset is super easy, at prices under £3,000.

The only differences between this and Sagan’s bike is that he uses Speedplay pedals, SRAM power cranks, FSA bars and stem, deep-section Vision Metron wheels and prototype Kenda tyres. That might sound like a substantial list, but actually they’re mostly examples of easily-available after-market kit which have been chosen often simply for personal preference or sponsorship reasons.

But there’s another very important benefit that comes from the SuperSix being a major part of Cannondale’s standard catalogue: you can enjoy all the benefits of that incredible SuperSix Evo frame at even cheaper price points. At All Terrain Cycles our SuperSix Evo range starts at just £1,395 for a bike fitted with Shimano’s superb 105 gearset.

So it’s something of a mixed blessing when we say, probably the biggest element distinguishing your bike and a team bike is… the rider!