Archive | June, 2013

Kit review: Le Marq custom cycling clothing for the Financial Times

26 Jun

FT girls in Le MarqThe arrival of our bespoke Le Marq Financial Times cycling kit this week caused much excitement in the office. The brilliant team at Le Marq have designed the gear for Team FT to wear in the FT Human Race London Cycle Sportive this weekend, and we are going to look good! I only have this photo of some FT girls modelling the kit for now, but more action shots to follow after the ride on Sunday.

From the moment I unwrapped the tops, I was impressed. The design is fantastic, sporting the all important FT pink with eye-catching use of our logo across the front, sides and back. It keeps in line with the FT brand guidelines while looking distinctive and classy. The design uses three colours: a white base, FT pink panels on the front and back, and a curving black design across the front. As well as making the tops stand out, the black curves represent landmarks on the sportive route: Biggin Hill (a killer, if you’ve done it), North Downs, Box Hill (made famous by the Olympic route last year), Surrey Hills and the Herne Hill Velodrome where the ride finishes with a victory lap. It looks excellent and is also a nice way to remember the route. The sleeves are finished with a great three stripe design that matches the cuffs of the bib shorts. The bibs are black with the Financial Times logo along each side in white and – my favourite – the pink FT logo stamped firmly on the butt. Great branding. All together the kit looks sharp and as everyone knows, looking good is the number one rule for all cyclists. If you look the part, you’re halfway there to winning.

To the fit, functionality and comfort. The tops have a full length front zip, making it easy to get on and off. The sleeves are fitted but not too tight. There are three decent sized pockets on the back of the top, meaning you can fit in all the food and accessories you need for a long ride. Very important. The tops are a high quality material – all Le Marq kit is manufactured in Italy and has been developed and tested by cyclists on difficult routes, exposed to the elements – so is very comfortable for lengthy wear. Compared to previous kit orders where the hems have disintegrated on the first wear, this feels much more durable.

A word on the sizes – the men’s are very snug. Most of the guys in Team FT asked if there was a bigger size, so if I was ordering from Le Marq I’d go up a size from your usual one unless you really want a racing fit. In the end I convinced the guys that tighter was better because a) it was more streamlined and therefore fast and b) it was a good excuse to show off their rippling muscles, etc, etc. The women in Team FT had no problems with the sizing. In fact it was nice to find kit that actually fitted, compared to other gear where a size small is more like a medium because it’s adapted from the men’s sizing. The shape of the women’s tops is great too, figure hugging without being skin tight.

I asked the men what they thought of the bib shorts and the answer was positive – decent padding and a comfortable fit. A group of the guys have just set off on a three week trip around France, so I’ll report back on the comfort of the kit after they’ve spent a few more days in the saddle.

Here’s some of the feedback about the kit taken directly from Team FT:

‘I really like the design and it’s great to cycle in. The size is snug – although they should be!’

‘Very nice jerseys, though they are a little snug. I know they are a ‘racing’ fit, so it’s probably more of a case of me being ‘racing’ unfit!’

‘Fits like a treat.’

‘Love it. Very cool design.’

‘Fits really well and very comfortable.’

The verdict: I’d highly recommend Le Marq kit for anyone looking to order top quality custom cycling clothing, at competitive prices (more details about how to order and pricing can be found on their website). They aim to supply ‘premium quality apparel for the world’s hardest and most prestigious amateur events’ with clothing ‘worthy of the finest pro teams’ – and they certainly provide that. The clothing combines chic design with essential functionality. Thank you Le Marq!

P.S. If you’ve got stash envy, it’s not too late to order an official event jersey for this weekend’s FT ride. You can buy one online now for £59.50.

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Winging it… not always the best organisational strategy

23 Jun

Erin and Kate in Brighton Here’s a guest post from Erin, who recently did an interesting version of the London to Brighton ride with another friend Kate. As she explains:

Our plan was to catch the train from London to Eastbourne, camp there, cycle to a castle on the Saturday, ride to Brighton and back on the Sunday then return to London. I’m pleased to say that we managed to reach both destinations and tick off both rides. Everything else, on the other hand, went wrong.

To start with, both of us were feeling slightly ‘under the weather’ on Saturday morning (nothing to do with Friday night escapades) so we didn’t end up leaving London until around 11.30am. Our camping plans had also already failed due to a lack of tents for sale in nearby stores, so we decided a five star hotel would have to do instead. Booking this accommodation proved rather difficult however as it turned out there was a bit more happening down on the coast than we realised. The tennis was on and also the annual London to Brighton charity ride. Fortunately we found a nice wee room in the end, but did have to share a bed.

We made some lovely, die hard tennis fan friends at the hotel who had been coming to Eastbourne for the past 60 years to see the tennis. They thought we were just crazy and couldn’t understand our antipodean twang: “Where are you from young lady, because it’s obviously not from around here?” Foreigners, eh. They’re everywhere. Our friends also enlightened us to the fact that we most probably would not be able to get back to London due to a ban on bikes on trains on Sunday. Thanks South West Trains staff for informing us of this when we boarded the train to Eastbourne with bikes…

Kate and Erin at castleThe sun rose on Sunday and we decided to put this possible hiccup to the back of our minds and enjoy our ride. We had a friend who had offered us her floor to sleep on for Sunday night in Brighton, if worst came to worst. We had a lovely ride, all four seasons making an appearance. On arrival in Brighton, the atmosphere was pumping and the town packed with cyclists who had biked from London – mostly male ones. We kept getting congratulated on our achievement so ended up just claiming the compliment instead of explaining that we had just coincidently decided to ride to Brighton on the same weekend as the event.

We made it back to Eastbourne, put on our best puppy dog eyes and a kind train worker let us onto a train to Hastings. The detour was less than ideal but we got back to London eventually, riding home from Tower Bridge with huge packs and 80km of hills and rain in our legs. We learnt a few lessons, had a fun weekend and despite the lack of organisation, winging it worked out just fine in the end.”

Pearl in Brighton

How many girls does it take to change a tyre?

20 Jun
Lady changing tyre

One of the essential skills of any self-respecting female cyclist is the ability to fix a puncture. Yes, it’s one of those jobs that most of the time I’m happy to play damsel in distress for, batting eyelids at the closest lycra-clad, lean, muscled (or not) male cyclist. But I do think that if you’re going to ride a bike you should at least know the basics as inevitably (particularly if you cycle in London), you’ll end up with a puncture at some point.

The first time I changed a tyre it was an agonising 45 minute job, huffing and puffing and alternately swearing at the tyre, bike, myself and closest offending person (my lovely patient boyfriend who was doing his very best to help). It ended exultantly with four bloody knuckles and five broken nails, but a brand new, well fitted inner tube that I did all by myself (well, 99% myself).

Here’s the step by step process:

  1. Take off the tyre by loosening the screw that goes through the middle of your wheel, so you can pull it out of the frame (much easier on the front as you don’t have the chain and back derailer to contend with). You may also need to loosen the quick release lever on your brake pads.
  2. Remove any excess air from inner tube (this step is very important; I know because I missed it out the first time).
  3. Then the hard part, particularly when the tyre is new: remove one side of the tyre from the rim using special little coloured levers purchased from any cycle shop. This step requires a fair amount of brute strength and strong fingers and hands. After hooking one tool under the side of the tyre and onto the spoke below, slide the second little tool under the wheel adjacently, simultaneously pulling the tyre back with one hand, across with the other and gripping the wheel without pulling the tyre down, moving your hand in small fluid movements until the tyre releases from the rim, pops out and slides right the way around. Easy, right? Not really. It seemed to take me forever, was the cause of aforementioned bloody knuckles and broken nails, not to mention seriously blackened hands. But – I got there.
  4. Remove tyre fully, turn it inside out and check thoroughly for any offending glass or other sharp objects that might cause a repeat puncture. (Note, if you check really thoroughly you can give yourself a little break as you prepare for the next bit).
  5. Step five is actually easier: slightly pump up the new inner tube and slot inside the tyre which you’ve replaced back on the wheel, one side only. (If you’re really manly, or experienced, or just want to impress someone, you can blow up the inner tube with your mouth rather than the pump). Also note that OCD cyclists will align the writing on the side of the tyre with the valve hole. Aesthetically pleasing, and easy to find when you later go to pump it up.
  6. Replacing the tyre onto the wheel: the second difficult bit. To do so hook in the side of the tyre into the wheel rim, taking care not to pinch the inner tube as you do so. Then work the tyre back onto the wheel, moving round the rim. This is deceptively easy until you get to the final bit, when you have to find some brute strength again in your fingers to force it back on. If feeling hot, bothered and quite frankly irate that this black rubber tube has got the better of you, don’t worry, you’re nearly there.
  7. Pump up the tyre. Use your pre-prepared track pump to pump the wheel up to 110-120 psi (that stands for pounds per square inch, of course).
  8. Finally, replace the wheel on the bike. Fairly straightforward, align the wheel between the forks and on the skewer. Slot in, push down. Don’t forget to tighten the brake pads if you loosened them to get it off. Twist the skewer to tighten it (make sure you haven’t loosened or tightened it too much) and push back your quick release. Very important: ensure this is aligned in an aerodynamic position, for extra speed.

And that’s it – brush off your hands and give yourself a pat on the back. Now you’ve proved you CAN do it if you need to, next time you can call on one of those lycra-clad men to impress you with how quickly they can do it for you.
If all else fails, it might be worth watching the below video which claims it will teach even six year olds to change a tyre in three minutes.

Velodrome cycling with Team Sky’s Ben Swift

19 Jun

Few things are more exhilarating than cycling at speed round a steeply curved velodrome track, others on your heels and the single golden rule in your head: “whatever happens, do NOT stop pedalling”.

Raring to go with our fixiesI discovered this thrill after spending yesterday afternoon at the Herne Hill Velodrome with Team Sky professional cyclist Ben Swift, the fantastic velodrome coaches and the brilliant team from Human Race. On a muggy London afternoon, thankfully with dry skies, I headed to the velodrome – the only venue from the 1948 Olympics still in operation – with a friend Kate and fellow FT staff Ben and Tom. Tom’s an FT journalist and a keen cyclist, and his previous close encounter with the velodrome track did nothing to quell my nerves about my first time on a fixie bike (that means no gears and no brakes). The event was part of the FT’s partnership with Human Race, also including the FT London Sportive on 30th of June (which there are still places available for, if you get in quick).

On arrival the team fitted us and about 30 other riders with the kind of single speed old skool bikes you’d expect to see trendy East Londoners riding, sans helmet. As he adjusted the seat for my height, coach Tony told me this particular red bike was ‘Wiggo’s old ride’. (Only the massively impressive 2012 Tour de France and Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins.) Must go fast then, I thought…

Lining up to startTeam Sky’s Ben Swift (what a brilliant name for a pro cyclist) is an incredibly nice guy who was very generous with his time and advice. After a quick pep talk: “Whatever happens, do not stop pedalling. Always look to your right before you move up the track and left before you move down. To stop, simply slow your legs down. Have fun, smile, and whatever happens, do NOT stop pedalling” – we were off. By ‘off’ I hardly mean a racing start, more that we held rigidly on to the fence beside the track as we strapped our feet into the pedals, before ever so gingerly moving off onto the flat part of the track. One lap round on the white line, one lap moving up onto the blue line, one lap up onto the red line and a final lap sitting at the top at a very odd sideways angle thinking desperately, do not stop pedalling! Slowing down takes some time as you gently ease off your legs, reducing the pace until you can grab the railing beside the track to stop fully and unclip your feet.

Round the trackAfter the comfort of my usual road bike with brakes, riding a fixie was daunting. Add to that a track that slopes upwards at what feels like a 90 degree angle as you round each corner, and the initial experience is unnerving. In actual fact the steepest gradient is a mere 30 degrees, gentle compared to the 45 degrees of the 2012 Olympic Velodrome. “Hoods or drops!” the coaches yelled as we sped past – most of us were gripping the handlebars at the front where the brakes should have been. No use doing that. Much as I knew the force of gravity and traction wouldn’t let it happen, I still felt like every time I rounded the bend at the top of the track, the bike and I would slip down to the centre and crash catastrophically.  It was only when I’d been round a few times and proved this wouldn’t happen that I felt confident to build up speed – and that’s when the fun began. Because when you forget about the slope, forget about the risk of crashing, forget about the lack of brakes and just think about going round as fast as you can, the sensation is electric. Your focus is honed on pushing your legs round at speed, looking fleetingly to each side as you move up and down the track. Then on tailing the rider in front of you closely to catch their
draft, before pulling up and accelerating the pace to overtake. The higher up the track you are, the better visibility you have and as Ben explained, “it’s all about your vision”. From there you can check where your opponents are, view the track ahead and plan where and when to attack.

On the trackOur second drill was an attempt at group riding. I say attempt because what was supposed to happen was a tightly spaced peloton of riders moving smoothly at the same pace, the leader pulling up and away at each halfway point, before easing in to the back. What actually happened was a haphazardly spaced and paced jumble of riders trying to stick close together, but not really wanting to sit on the wheel of the cyclist in front just in case someone forgot to stop pedalling. In the end four of us managed to make the formation work for a while, and the oomph that you get from sitting behind the leader of the peloton is substational. At the front you’re battling the wind and pulling the others along but behind, your legs spin easily and you roll along almost effortlessly.

Kate and I with Ben SwiftThe final session was the best – an eight lap scratch race. So called because all riders start from scratch, rather than at intervals like in a pursuit race. Here, the object was simply to go as fast as possible and I promise, eight times round the 450m track was hard work. When you really push it your thighs are burning and lungs are gasping and legs are flying so fast they’re a blur. (In my head they were, anyway. Photos may show otherwise.) On the last lap the coaches rang a bell so you know it’s the final one and can really go for it. I have no idea what the time was, but I do know that eight laps was quite enough. Ben holds the record for the 15km race around the track – that is 33 laps. Don’t ask me how you keep count.

The whole experience was sensational, simultaneously terrifying and intoxicating. I can’t wait to go back. In keeping with the theme of this blog (to encourage more women to give cycling to go), there were about five women to 30 men there, so I asked the coaches about the male/female ratio. Much more men than women was the answer, but Kate and I were strongly encouraged to join the ladies session, run by women for women and taking place every Sunday from 5-7pm. Just £6 to turn up and give it a go… I might just be there next week.

Kate and I ready to go

Calling all ladies

18 Jun

The more time I spend cycling round Richmond Park, the more I realise there is an abundance of M.A.M.I.L.s (that’s Middle Aged Men In Lycra, for those who don’t know) and not enough women on bikes. I’ve been cycling about a year and having discovered the greatness of the sport, would love to encourage more ladies to take it up. Not necessarily seriously – anything from commuting to work, getting a bike to pootle around town, giving the velodrome a go or trying some longer rides and races.

I’m not sure why the sport is so male dominated, because frankly, women look much better in lycra than men do. Plus it’s a great way of keeping fit, exploring the countryside, and a good excuse to eat cake and drink wine afterwards. And who could say no to that…

This blog aims to share cycling adventures, tips, practical advice and encourage women to give the sport a go so one day, we’ll see all-female pelotons giving the Mamils a run for their money. Guest posts are welcomed.