Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Gaspipes 'R Us - The Way We Were...

(Photo: Chris Dallison. Click on image top view full size)

That last post about the Revel Romany 531ST - got me thinking about how things have changed in 'Cross, and how easy the young 'uns have got it now, with all that specially designed 'cross gear they have now an' all.

This is me at the Newbury Road Club Cyclo Cross in the winter of 1975-76. As I recall is was quite well placed (about 3rd or 4th) behind - and lapped by; a couple of Pros - probably Keith Mernickle and / or Ian Jewell.

I was a medium sized fish in a very small pond in those days.

Anyway - what we have here is a fairly standard rig for impecunious Amateur 'Cross riders in the mid-'70s. Raleigh 531 plain gauge touring frame, which I'd filed the mudguard lugs off to make it look racier (!), rattle-can sprayed in dark burgandy, with Dave Russell* decals attached...

GB Synchron side-pull brakes and I think the levers were GB too. SR / Sakae bars and stem. Heavily drilled Iscaselle saddle and a 'swaged' Raleigh-branded Sakae 42T single chainset with homemade ring guards and Lyotard steel cage pedals with Christophe straps. The rear cluster was a 14-28T 5-speed with a nasty Simplex plastic rear mech' and bar-end change lever.
Normandy large flange hubs on fiamme rims with either Wolber or more likely Barum knobbly tubulars (sew-ups)

I know that I was wearing a pair of pukka leather Cross-Country running shoes with ribbed soles (these worked v.well indeed for several seasons as the ribs were very deep and acted as shoeplate 'slots' and gripped not only the mud but the pedal cages too). They were absolutely the biz for the Three Peaks by the way.

And of course dig the crazy hairdo - no doubt inspired by Cross Pro' Barry Davies - the supremo of the Jason King lookalikes in those days (and now regular contributor to this blog) - and of course the 'easi-shrink' wool jersey and shorts.

I was 24 years of age and thought that a Professional career beckoned. No it didn't... Metephorically it was downhill all the way from here.

*Dave Russell was a very highly regarded lightweight specialist and frame builder (every frame with his name on was built personally by him - except the one above of course!) based in Slough and later Theale - just to the west of London.

Dave has now retired, but there are loads of his bikes to be seen in and around the Home Counties to this day. In fact I have a road bike made by him in my garage (another fleabay purchase).

I recall variously what a very affable chap he was, and that he sponsored not only a series of professional riders over the years - but also our local track league at Palmer Park in Reading. I also know that I could never afford to have a frame built by him - hence the fake above. No idea where I got the decals though - sorry Dave...

The Man with too many 'Cross Bikes (Part 2)

With only 6 1/2 months to go to the Three Peaks and 7 months to Iron Cross # 7 my thoughts have started to turn towards how not to get my bottom kicked in both races again. You'll probably have gathered that my long silence has because of the mental anguish suffered because of the sore arse I got in the Michaux Forest last October but I'm finally emerging from that dark place and deciding how to give myself the 'unfair advantage' that Colin Chapman (of Lotus F1 fame) was always looking for...

Training might be a start - so I've cobbled together another bitsa 'Cross bike to see me through the long miles / hours of road / off road summer / autumn training.

Here it is. An old (ex fleabay - for £30 / $45) Revell Romany 531ST touring frame*. No-name Shimano hub 32H wheels. Shimano STX 7 speed transmission (which of course now works correctly with the dreaded Powerpro MTB chainset - see below. Cinelli bars and quill stem. Suntour XC brakes with Exage levers and old Shimano bar end index changers. Bonty saddle.

Not likely that this beast will ever be raced in anger - as it's def' a bit chunky for competition, but it's a comfy ride thanks to the steel chassis and will probably be used for the audax (or 'cyclo-sportive' as the hipsters like to now call them) events that I normally ride to get the miles in at weekends...

NOTE: The cat is one of three we have here - and was just intrigued as to what his stupid dad was doing building yet another bike today. He's Cosmo and is named for the Seinfeld character Cosmo Kramer.

*If anyone knows where I can get Revell decals I'd be glad to know. Google is silent on the matter - so until then it's an Ian Briggs...

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul…

…at last an Iron Cross #6 report! (part une)
Apologies to all my ten readers for the 5 month silence, but for me (but certainly not for most) Iron Cross #6 was a trial of strength and many lessons learned – when I imagined that this was one race that I had dialled-in and was pretty familiar with.
The Gods of Michaux decided otherwise – and wreaked their vengance…
The first error I made was to over-estimate my ability to recover from the effects of having ridden the Three Peaks a scant two weeks earlier – and even regard it as some sort of warm up for Iron Cross.
LESSON ONE: Don’t under underestimate either race – they’re both nasty – and they both bite! It’s not without good reason that the Three Peaks is widely held to be the toughest cyclo-cross in the World. Arrogance led me to believe that a ‘modest’ 5+ hours of plugging around the Yorkshire Dales at (my) racing speeds, could be recovered from by two weeks of light training, plenty of sleep and ingestion of suitable food materials.

I spent the last few days before IC #6 pottering around Pennsylvania on the bike (see earlier posts), and felt absolutely fine. No aches, no pain, plenty of energy. However, 20 minutes into race at Michaux, and after the post-start adrenalin rush had faded - I knew I was in really big trouble. The tank was pretty near empty. My legs felt leaden, I was generally uncomfortable and [most importantly for this race], couldn’t get into any sort of climbing cadence. By the final checkpoint, at 4+ hours, and nowhere to go but on to the finish – I felt so bad that I was actually getting really bad tempered about the whole affair – you know, shouting at tree stumps and rocks etc.,.

If organiser Mark Laser had made the mistake of standing on the course on the last sektor, this would certainly have been the scene:

The “Three Peaks / Iron Cross double-header Effect” as we shall now call it, has since been a discussion point between myself and fellow-CBRCer Chris McBurnie, who had likewise done the ‘double’ and also suffered the torments of the damned in both. We’re not sure that it’s possible for mere mortals to recover enough to put in a sparkling performance in both events – unless you happen to be a professional endurance athlete and probably called called Rob Jebb. Maybe doing nothing at all on the bike for two weeks between the two races is the key – but as a cyclist that would never really feel ‘right’…

Now… if we could persuade John Rawnsley to hold the ‘Peaks one week earlier or Mark Laser to run IC one week later – that might be enough time…

The second error was not to follow my own good advice, “Don’t use new / untried equipment”. I did, and what a plonker I was…

LESSON TWO: Don’t use new / untried equipment! Just prior to leaving for the US, I’d put together an new bike based on a rather lovely Raleigh Special Products 853 frame (good choice), my trusty Fulcrum Seven wheels (ditto) and LX MTB 9-spd running gear (ditto – but only so far). The only untried bit was a ‘new - very old stock’ PowerPro MTB triple chainset with 175mm arm that I thought would be the dog’s bs for all the uphill riding involved on IC. I hadn’t tried this rig out in the stress of race conditions, just for some of that ‘light training’. I discovered too-late (at about 21 mins) that the spacing between the rings was for 7 speed and when used with a 9 speed chain, and changing down over bumpy terrain (lots of that at IC) the chain would jam solid between the rings. And I mean SOLID.

This happened twice and meant I had to completely dismantle the rings from the cranks to get the chain out each time. 20 minutes+ lost. Plonker… The second half of the race was ridden entirely on the middle ring as a result. My temper started to flare around about this time...

Third error: I thought I knew the course. Well I did, but the buggers had changed it just a little – and just at the point where I was mentally thinking “not far now – just through those gates in the fence over there, across the scrub clearing beyond and then we’re onto those easy sections of singletrack before the last climb, then it’s all downhill to the flag…”

LESSON THREE: Don’t assume you know the course - you cretin. The trouble was that the gates that we’d ridden through for the last two years were closed and we now had negotiate a very nasty piece of terrain right round the fenceline of the clearing – adding 5+ mins to the race time. Not a lot, true, but I was feeling out of sorts already (see above) and this was a final blow to my morale and any aspiration of doing a decent time. I refer you to picture above for the likely outcome had Mr Laser been nearby…

After the finish I mildly enquired why we had been sent down this new route and someone vacantly said that they thought it was because they couldn’t find anyone to marshal the gate so it had to remain closed. This seemed strange to me even in my weakened state – as there had been loads of marshals out on the remainder of the 61 mile course (?) Only later did the organisers admit to me that actually they did it for a laugh… (again the picture above refers…)

LESSON FOUR: The Iron Cross Organisers are basically EVIL.

Part Deux Follows…
(Top pic courtesy of the excellent Charles M. "Chuck Armstrong - )

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Iron Cross # 6 - 3 days to go. Live in Pennsylvania

Only 3 days left until the sixth running of YBR's 60 mile Iron Cross in Michaux State Forest, and I'm here in Pennsylvania, wondering where the start might be...

Actually, and for the benfit of Civil War buffs, this is the memorial to General G K Warren on the summit of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. For further FYI - the IC6 start is about 30 miles distant in the blue ridge directly behind Genl. Warren's head. I've been lodging in Gettysburg since Monday evening and will be moving on to my B&B near Michaux tonight. The Raleigh 853 is all set up having arrived safely courtesy of Virgin Atlantic's baggage handlers and has had a couple of excursions onto the local battlefield in the last few days (below).

Given that I'm now moving out of a 'wireless' zone for the race - I'll probably not be back here until after the event - so best of luck to all the Iron Crossers, and see you there.

Friday, 3 October 2008

09.44hrs Sunday 28th September 2008

Just prior to the 'off' last Sunday morning. No other caption required, except to say that I can only see three former winners of the 'Peaks in this picture - and I'm sure I should be able to see four?
(photo: Bina "Snapper" Briggs - click on the image blah, blah, blah)

Roger Ingham MBE & John Rawnsley, who deserves one.

I just really love this picture. It shows the 'Voice of the Three Peaks' - the very wonderful Roger Ingham MBE. Roger provides both the riders and the spectators full value entertainment with his inimitable commentries every year. Here he is, with our equally wonderful organiser John Rawnsley at the finish line, apparently momentarily taken aback to be photographed himself, while an admirer looks on.

I suppose I really could have cropped myself out of the shot - but what the heck; and I promise it's the last pic of me for a little while.

(photo - as you might imagine; Bina Briggs. Click on image to view full size)

The man with too many 'cross bikes...

And this is the one that I'll be packing up in a bike bag tomorrow for the trip to Iron Cross #6.

Ex-ebay Flam-blue Raleigh Special Products 853 frame*. Deore LX 9-spd transmission / Tiagra levers with a Powerpro triple MTB chainset 46/36/24 (blue anodised to match the frame*). White* Selle Italia C2 gel saddle. Classic ITM Eclypse steel quill stem (these used to be the stem of choice for any self-respecting 'cross racer), 3T bars and Specialized Roubaix padded bar wrap (N.B. this stuff is excellent and well worth the £10 asking price). Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels with Schwalbe Landcruisers and Froggleg brakes (red anodised*).

*Perhaps too much bling factor? - never mind, psychologically it might be worth at least .0001 mph next Sunday.