An evening at the track

At Christmas there is not much I ask for.  Loads of stuff I want but this is usually restricted by lack of funds or Lainey telling me no, this is part due to over excitement and poor atttempts at convincing her that we really need a wifi enabled kettle.

My wish list for Christmas, birthdays or if you just fancy buying me a gift is pretty short.  Jack Daniels or any kind of cycling related items and you are in my good books!

This Christmas I was given money, solely for track sessions.  For those that have not tried track cycling I would highly recommend it; 250m Olympic Track, fixed wheel bikes with no brakes and a 45º bank.  I would suggest beginning with a taster session and give it a go, I did and have been hooked ever since.  I am currently heading for my level 3 accreditation and a few nights ago attended a session in Group Techniques.  If it was anything like the Speed Techniques earlier in the month it would be a good session, and it was.  My legs are still feeling it a few days later.

I am lucky my main job resides in Islington so I pass the Lee Valley Velodrome on my way to and from work.  It’s a great place to train in the winter, mainly as the track is warm and I can get my legs and arms out. Easy tiger!

It was a cracking two hours and I was lucky to meet some familiar faces from previous sessions. It does start to get a bit competitive but it’s a great way to keep up the winter training.


Lee Valley Velodrome has a lot to offer so for those not interested in the track, there are other activities available.  With warmer weather just on the horizon, you could try the 1 mile road circuit, an ideal place for a chaingang session.  If the off-road scene is more your style then there is the Olympic BMX track and MTB circuit, all situated within the confides of the road circuit.

Group Techniques – The Washing Machine

Altum Kickstarter Campaign

For those that religiously follow the ‘Cycling Rules’, saddle bags are frowned upon… That is what jersey pockets are designed for. So to those people, I insert a blowing raspberry noise! (Please add this noise yourself and wipe down whatever device you have currently sprayed) I carry the bare minimum to save weight, but enough to get me out of trouble at the roadside; spare inner tubes, Co2 cannister and applicator, tyre levers and a multi tool.

Whilst looking through Kickstarter a product by Altum Designs appeared, a multi tool and roll that caught my eye.  I currently carry a Swiss Army knife style of multi tool.  I have had it a few years now and it does look distressed.  This has not been through use but from sitting in the saddle bag gathering dust.  When it has been used I have found it to be a little cubersome and certainly a distinct lack of leverage.

Altum Modual Tool System


The 14 function tool system arrived and first impressions, I was impressed. The roll feels tough and rugged plus the velcro fastenings are very strong, so strong that I wondered if the stitching will give before the velcro releases.  he clasp that holds everything together gives a positive click when in situ and gives the confidence that it will not ping open on the first bump in the road. The roll also has a zipped compartment for a payment card or cash and I really liked the stitched in magnet, great for holding any loose bolts or tool heads when completing a small roadside repair. On the underside of the roll is some elasticated webbing for an inner tube. You may get two in there but would require some inner tube origami! Without the inner tube the whole system is small enough to fit in a jersey pocket, therefore appealing to those that follow ‘the rules’.

The main tool feels weighty and very positive in the hand.  It has two tyre levers neatly slotted into the side of the tool. Their angled hook is impressive and will provide decent leverage against any tyre bead and rim. There are a good range of heads from 2mm to 8mm hex, T25, Philips and flathead screwdriver options. There is not a need to carry all of these, with the main tool being magnetised, up to 4 heads can fit snuggly in the centre body. A nice touch was a personalised, hand written compliments slip. It’s things like that give  you a little warm, appreciated feeling!

The Altum
Decontructed Tool Roll
In situ

I normally carry a gas canister and applicator and had reservations that it would not fit but this was not an issue.  The tool roll closed as if the extra items were not even there.

The setup for me

The inclusion of spoke keys and straight or right angled tool position is a nice addition.  I am really happy and it will be go from the winter bike onto the summer bike.

The tool system and roll is available on their website Altum for £39.99 and well worth the money.


Fog, no brakes and The Blue Egg

Today was one of the first road rides for Back On Track that involved more than two riders.  It is always great to get out but even better when there are more of you.

I’d been watching the forecast and decided to delay the start of the ride. The walk to school had demonstrated the amount of ice under foot and it was a slippery affair.  Also according to the weather app I utilise, the fog was clearing at 1100.  I’d looked at another app and it clearly stated there was no fog, I wonder where they got their information from?

At 10am we met in the usual spot and decided on a nice gentle ride out to the Blue Egg.  A popular coffee shop/post office/garden centre with cyclists.  Good food, cracking coffee and a warm welcome.  I say a nice gentle ride, we all seem to have a different dictionary definition.

A foggy and cold morning so off we headed.  One of the guys had washed his bike since the last ride and discovered he still had the brake quick release open.  This became evident whilst descending Tilty Hill, not a particularly steep hill but with no brakes and a T junction at the end, does provide a bottom clenching moment.  Obviously we showed our concern with the usual smiles and asking if he needed to change his cycling shorts.

Attached is a short video, still playing with the GoPro and editing software.

Feeling slightly moist from the dampness in the air, the Blue Egg was a welcomed break.  Wet cleats and a tiled floor is always a test for a cyclist’s ability to walk.  Funnily enough we picked a table closest to the door, avoiding any Bambi embarrassment.  After warming up, a couple of coffees a piece plus cake, it was time to head home.  The fog had closed in and the temperature had dropped.  So the best thing to do was cycle home faster than we arrived, the old let’s take it easy approach.  It never fails.

The ride home was hard and the weight of good cake was starting to be noticed.  That is my excuse and I will stick to it.

Finally home and I could begin to thaw out, once the bike had been washed, of course.

Don’t think much to the Essex Road Mudpack

Zwift – The Volcano Expansion

I had seen over social media that Zwift were planning on expanding Watopia and early screen shots showed a little Volcano route.  Checking on Twitter this morning, it was buzzing with other users experiencing the new route.  For this mornings roller ride I decided to give it a go.

When Zwift opens it gives you the route option, there are now two Volcano related routes to try.  The ride through the volcano is relatively short and flat, around 2.5 miles (4.02 kilometers for those non-Brexit people) and a nice change of scenery.

I selected the Volcano Route and started pedalling.  There is a faster way to the Volcano, this requires a u-turn at the start, head up Ocean Hill and turn right. Not much of a warm up so I decided to complete 5 miles before entering the ‘mouth of the Volcano’ (best said with the accent of evil).

Heading for the smoke
Heading downhill
Still heading down
A couple of cheeky switchbacks

Entering the volcano

Here comes the lava

Out the other side
Total loop back to the start line is around 7.5 miles. 

A nice addition to the Watopia map. 

Energy, that constant search

I am always interested in trying new energy drinks, gel or bars to aid my cycling.  Trying to find that happy balance and something that is right for me. Dry bars, sweet or claggy gels resulting in downing a powdery drink to remove the taste, the worse combination.

Getting your energy intake and timing right on a ride is a challenge, each individual is different and I cannot afford a sports doctor or nutritionalist.  Plus, where is the fun in that? I’ve never really done as I’m told anyway.

Listening to a podcast from Whitelee Warriors, Stu mentioned about FireStar, energy provided in a small 25g sachet. Just pour it into your mouth and it gives 2-4 hours of effective duration (market estimate, according to their website).  I thought I would have a look at their website and contact them to see if any samples where available.  Tom from FireStar was quick to respond and a sample quickly arrived the following day.  Now that was fast!

Firestar Samples

I have looked at the information on their website and my idea of an energy drink and what is listed on the site are two different things.  FireStar is compared to the likes of Monster, Relentless and Redbull and I personally have an issue with this type of drink.  Full of sugar and addictive, the only time I have had a Redbull is when it was complimented with a jagerbomb, those are not that often either.  Too old to deal with the hangover anyway…

Each sachet is less than 10 calories, compared to the 220 calories from an energy drink but then the volume of the energy drink is larger.  Ingredients consist of caffeine, sugar, flavouring and vegetable oil, standard so the proof is going to be in the testing.  I like how compact they are so this will allow easy storage in your cycling jersey or saddle bag.

I think to be the most effective for me, taking one before a ride, the estimated duration should easily cover my winter rides.  However, I am concerned about the come down.  10 calories per sachet and potentially a pure caffeine hit, which for a sport I’m not sure will work?

Who are the Back On Track Cycling Club?

So how did Back On Track Cycling start? A question that has yet to be asked by the most powerful minds of the world.

I have a main job that consists of shifts so a 48 hour week is completed in 4 days.  I was looking for something to fill my time.  I have always ridden bikes and attempted my own repairs, sometimes successfully but as a kid it’s the only way to learn.

As a family we moved to a new estate and many of my new neighbours had bikes.  Suddenly I began to assist with theirs, from this Back On Track Repairs was born.  I am lucky to have had help from C&D Cycles, based in Kettering.  This is an independent shop that is run by my best friend, he offered some guidance and I spent a week working with him and honing my skills.

Back On Track as a repair business has grown and even though I enjoy seeing people back on their bikes, my main love is cycling.  Through local repairs I have met others whose work patterns also consist of shifts and we started to ride during the week.  Just a few of us to start off with and now we have a regular turn out for cycling, coffee (some in the group even drink tea!!!) and cake.  We are still small and have 54 cyclists on the Strava group but looking forward to the summer when more will join us.  Rides are posted out on the Strava group including details of speed and distance.

I organised a ride New Years Day and another local club Dunmow Velo joined us.  In total we had 14 riders for a 30 mile loop, a nice leisure spin of 15mph average and such a pleasant ride.  Hopefully later in the year, when the weather is warmer and the sun is shining another ride will be organised, a little more of an endurance ride.

Plus our cycling kit has been approved by British Cycling and submission is ready to be entered for affiliation.

Click the links for our social media


Ian Appleby the Adonis
Back On Track at a local charity ride
A ride out
The old and new cycling jersey
Roadside puncture repair
Back On Track Cycling lead out
Where it all started, Back On Track Repairs

 Mr Whitton, we meet again

Back in May 2015 I arrived in Grasmere, parked up the van and proceeded to registration.  I was handed an envelope with everything I needed to meet Fred.  I met him at 0500 the following morning and over the duration of the day, he proceeded to destroyed me.  On returning to my hotel that night, I remember speaking to my wife and uttering the words from a beaten self, “never again!!!”

So guess what?  I have submitted a lottery entry to met him again in May.

For those that have no idea of my initial ramblings, let me explain.

Fred Whitton was a popular member of the Lakes Road Club, he was club secretary and organised and attended many of the club activities.  This charity event has been set up to honor the late Fred Whitton.  The Fred Whitton Challenge is a 112 mile sportive around the Lake District, starting at Grasmere and taking in some climbs that Essex has none to compete with.  Climbing Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes.  They save the best till last and at 98 miles slap you with a 30% gradient climb.  I think it’s just in case you thought the rest was easy!!!! In total you climb around 12000ft.  You are not eased gently into the ride either, no real time to warm up because within the first few miles you start to climb and quite sharply.  Starting at 250ft climbing to 1275ft, well that got the heart rate going, plus you pass a sign that says “The Struggle” that sets you up for the day.

Elevation for Fred Whitton


This ride is intense and even though I had trained in and around Derby and Nottingham for a few days, nothing prepared me for this. When you’re out of the saddle, pushing hard, turning the pedals slowly and you can reach forward and kiss the front tyre, you know the climb is steep.

Through Twitter I have been lucky enough to meet a small group of friends, who share a common interest in cycling.  There is always conversation, normal levels of abuse/motivation and advise when needed.  Most of us have not met, but Ian Appleby (Twitter : @moses_dad) decided to join me and cycle the Fred Whitton Challenge……….for fun.  I did question his sanity but this is his neck of the woods.  It was a great pleasure to meet Ian and to be able to ride the wet twisting roads with someone.

Ian and I before the set off


This ride is the hardest I have completed so far, furtherest distance I have ever ridden and the biggest overall elevation I have climbed.  The hills are relentless and when you can see Hardknott Pass a few miles away, it plays on your mind.  I managed to cycle half way up Hardknott but had very little left in the legs.  I was moving that slowly that unclipping was not an option.  So I found a little piece of soft grass and moss at the side of the road and dismounted the bicycle by falling over.  Once I’d stopped this caused another issue, how do I start again on an 18% inclined section?  You have no choice but to walk until the gradient subsides.  Ian mentioned he wanted to beat the pass and off he went and attacked the section and at one point had his water bottle in his mouth as he flew passed other cyclists.  What a show off!!!!  But a tip of the hat for that one.

If the climbing was painful, the descents offer another difficult challenge.  I struggle with climbing, my power to weight ratio is not at its best.  That is my excuse and I am sticking to it! What I love is descending but when you fly back down the other side, brakes on and you are still doing 26mph, it is time to clench and concentrate.  One wrong move and it could be costly.  Even though it was raining and rained all day, the views were fantastic.

One of the many climbs


I will admit I was glad to see the finish.  Ian’s motivational words for the last few miles helped but then I did not have the energy to smack the beard off of him and pedal.  I finished the ride in 8 hours 43 minutes so I will be looking for under 8 hours this time around and dryer, warmer weather.

I have entered the ballot for 2017 and will have to wait for the closing date, 22nd January.  Hopefully a bit more prepared.

The start of Hardknott Pass, heed the % warning