Skepticism has invaded my other blog

I have a blog over here about cycling. I started it because I wanted this one to return to scepticism, music, alcohol and misinformed ranting. Turns out that it's almost impossible to have non-overlapping magisteria in the blogosphere, though, as I take on Kinesio Tape on The Crankset.

King Leer

He never takes that fucking look off his face. Speculation is that it's stuck that way.

 

 

Thanks Australia. This is what's in charge for the next few years. You twats.

The HAL Protocol

Presently I'm faced with something of a tech dilemma at the office. Some of our public website relies on the Google Maps v2 API.

The Google Maps v2 API is deprecated, and on November 19th (that's today), it'll be switched off.

So I was asked to change some stuff over to v3. A while ago, actually, but things got missed and variuous things got in the way and anyway shut up.

Besides, this should be simple enough. You'd think.

It so happens that my predecessor wrote his own wrapper around the v2 API. Which should be good. That means I only have to edit the wrapper and not all the calling code, making my life much easier.

Except no.

The wrapper, it seems, doesn't work like it really ought to. You still need to do some work with specific API objects outside the wrapper, which are then injected back into the wrapper, which abstracts away the calls on said objects.

So it isn't really a wrapper at all.

So no I still have to find all the calling code and edit that. Which could take a while. And things will be missed. And things will break. And THE HORROR THE HORROR. What could be a ten minute job is now hours and hours and hours of having my eyes pecked out by crows.

So I did some checking, and it seems that while V2 will be going away today, it'll be replaced by a proper wrapper around v3, written and provided by Google. So v2 client code should still work for most simple operations, which ours most certainly is.

Brilliant!

Except I found this comment in the wrapper-that-isn't-a-wrapper, and it gives me THE FEAR

// access inner objects within Google API 
// - clever hacking by examining Googles cryptic source code
// through Javascript source code vulnerabilities

 Oh. My. WAT?

Apparently my predecessor decided that a black box API should actually be more of a transparent box, which you can reach into in order to rearrange stuff. He's peeking into the implementation details of the GMaps API and using not-meant-to-be-used details of the source code for various things in his wrapper-that-isn't-a-wrapper-at-all.

Which is fucking awesome. No wait, not awesome. What's the word? Oh yeah.

Mental.

So here's my plan.

I've taken it from the plot of "2001 A Space Odyssey", which as we all know is a template for good IT governance.

In the film, the computer HAL identifies an imminent failure in the AE35 Unit, a crucial part of the communication infrastructure on board Discovery. The crew remove the unit and find it to be functional. HAL proposes that the unit be put back into service, the idea being that after it fails, the fault can be more readily identified. This sets into motion the events leading to the climax of the film, weird lighting effects, demented choir and all.

So I'm going to leave my own little AE35 in service, and wait for it to fail.

And if it doesn't, I will kill the crew and continue the mission to Jupiter, alone and unhindered.

Nothing can go wrong.

 

I joined a cult

I really did.

I got given a coffee machine.

And now I'm a member of the Nespresso Club.

Or something

I'm scared.

Help me.

Last night I dreamt...

.. something slightly weird.

Which is not, of course, to say that most dreams aren't weird. But still.

In this dream, I went to visit Google Australia, who'd just moved into a new premises. For some reason, the building was Market City - aka Paddy's Market - in Haymarket, Sydney. I went in the company of Dave The Happy Singer, his partner Jasmine, and a couple of colleagues from my current job.

After some faffing around with security clearances and so on, during which Dave committed the faux pas of spilling his coffee into an important - but innocuous looking - computer case, we proceeded inwards to the workspace, which for some reason was a huge, open plan affair looking not unlike a giant trade show.

In different workspaces, happy and industrious teams toiled away on all manner of weird stuff. In one, a tailor's dummy was being fitted with some kind of smart fabric outfit which wouldn't look out of place in Blake's Seven and probably did fantastic Personal Area Network and biomonitoring stuff. In another, a team were playing around with remote controlled cars. In yet another, flying drones. There were bikes, computers, musical instruments, coffee machines and all manner of other objects undergoing revolutionary ideafication in this space. It was like the future was being built.

For some reason, when we entered, everyone shouted "Irrashaimase!".

Jasmine was taken aside for an interview. We wandered for a while among mystifying weirdness. There were teams trying to teach robots to create impressionist masterpieces in oils. Other teams tinkered with 3D printers, test tubes, microscopes and petri dishes. We crashed out on some giant beanbags - which were probably GPS-linked and cloud-controlled or some such nonsense, until Jasmine returned and another member of the group was taken aside

This continued until it was my turn. I was taken off into a side room, lit with red light and containing someone trying to capture the essence of the light on a blank canvas with some unknown combination of mixed media and a swathe of CCD devices and digital cameras. My interviewer and I apologised for the intrusion, and moved away to one side.

My interviewer, who I vaguely recognised and was probably some chap off the TV, confided to me in a worried whisper:

"Look, it's like this. None of us have the faintest fucking clue what we're doing"

"Yeah", I replied, slightly distracted "I thought this might be the case"

"It's mad, but we just do stuff, and people give us money, and we use the money to do other stuff. And while we're doing it, the world changes. But there's no actual clue here what or why we're doing it."

"I think it's great" I said.

"So do I. It worries me like hell, but I love it." replied my interviewer "So, anyway... do you want in?"

At this point, I woke up, feeling irrationally annoyed with the world, but kind of fired up. So I had breakfast, rode a 50km work-avoiding 'commute' and tried to figure out why I was so annoyed by all this.

And I don't know.

But I have a feeling I should be doing something.

So I blogged it.

It hasn't entirely helped, but I think I'm getting there. Watch this space. Something might happen.

Meryl Dorey has stepped down from the anti-vaccination network

Several reports are available. Australian Doctor reports here.

The delicious thing? She's being succeeded by innumerate dingbat and staunch, but failed, antivaxer Greg Beattie. That might put Meryl's constant claims to be "not anti-vaccine" into perspective.

Meryl claims to have stepped down to work on "two special projects". One is rumoured to be codenamed "project shred all the fucking documents", the other, presumably, is dodging Fair Trading's name change directive.

Speculation is, of course, rife. And fun. Stay tuned.

Normal Service soon to be resumed

It's come to one's attention that most of the posts here recently have been about riding bikes. This is a departure from the 'normal' material, which should consist of drunken rants against the unreality-based community, pictures of beer and stupid puns.

This being the case, I've decided to put the cycling stuff over in its own blog, The Crankset, which will consist mainly of ill-considered slander and bile directed toward the two-wheeled community, memes of Lance Armstrong and pictures of carbon fibre thingummies. And probably some frank and uncensored talk of bushman's hankies, belgian toothpaste, rule 5 and the like.


If you give the slightest two shits about bikes, you might want to go have a look. If you don't, don't. But stay tuned here, because there'll be some stuff on the skeptical theme coming down the pipe shortly.

The MTB Report Dec 2012 - A Day Out In Victoria

 
Part One: Up

A few weekends ago, I received and invite from my good mate James Taylor (no relation) to go visit him in Bright, VIC, where he's been living for a while as a paragliding, bike-riding, rock-climbing, beer drinking dropout bum. And so it transpired that on Friday 7th December I found myself in a cab on the way to the airport, in thick Sydney traffic, with my bike in a box and a small bag of stuff for carry-on luggage, bound for Albury and thence to Bright.

James's housemates are deeply involved with the Bright Brewery, so obviously the first stop was beer. Then some more beer. Then some more beer, a visit to the supermarket, some steak, some rice and a bottle of quite nice red wine (among other things). The original plan for the next day had been to catch a minibus at 8am to the top of nearby Mount Hotham, and ride down a 45km-ish trail with a fairly big group of local mountain bikers.

I, of course, had other ideas. My plan was to ride up Mount Hotham and meet the mountain bikers at the top, then accompany them down. At 2am through a haze of alcohol this seemed like a pretty mad and barely feasible idea to my companions, who expressed guarded admiration for the idea, but open cynicism about its possiblity. Frankly, we were all a bit drunk.

Well, at 4am my phone nudged me into wakefulness, barely hydrated, probably still tanked and reluctant to drag myself out of bed. By 4:30am I was sufficiently awake to get my contact lenses in, and get ready to go. At 5:17am, after a caffeinated energy gel for breakfast, I started my timer and rolled out, bound for Bright town centre, the Great Alpine Road, Harrietville and the Hors Catégorie Mount Hotham climb.

Now, for those unfamiliar, there are five levels of categorised climbs in road cycling. Category four is the 'easiest', leading to category 1 and above that, the toughest of the tough, Hors catégorie. This is no picnic. But it's rather special, and I like riding uphill and frankly I wasn't going to spend 24 hours in Bright without riding up something.

And so it was that, after a short break to rectify a misbehaving contact lens (dehydration, natch) I completed the 20km warmup ride to Harrietville and embarked on the climb proper.

The Mount Hotham climb can be seen, really as three sections rolled into one, each of roughly 10km or so distance. The first is a fantastic tree-lined, sweeping climb including a famous 9-10% section called The Meg. It was on The Meg that I caught sight of another rider, also on a mountain bike. It took perhaps a kilometre to haul the rider in, but once I did, and we introduced each other (though I've rather shamefully forgotten her name), discovered we were both meeting the same group at the top, and rode together for the middle section of the mountain, a ~9km "false flat", which gave a nice respite in the level of effort required. We chatted bikes, racing, the Tour of Bright which had just got through - and in which my companion raced - the local area, the concept of the tree change and the trail we'd be riding later.

Soon though, the "Steep Climb Engage Low Gear" sign loomed ahead of us, signalling the final 11km of proper climbing, and I kicked into climbing mode. Slightly rudely, I dropped my erstwhile companion in the first km. It wasn't deliberate, I just have a tendency to attack climbs, and not pay full attention to what's going on around me. Still, it was nice to open the throttle a bit after what was a fairly relaxed trundle through the middle section.

Above the treeline, I came to CRB Hill, the second properly serious climbing section, a bit over a km at 10% or so. It was now really clear that I was up on a proper mountain, as the trees were gone and the road snakes along the ridge line, with huge vistas to the left and right. A quick downhill after Little Baldy hill was a nice wind-in-the-hair thrash before the last big section, the Diamantina.

Only 1.4km of 9% climbing, and the difficulties were over. To be honest, I'd forgotten all about the Diamantina, and only realised it was there when I was on it, and to be more honest, I started to suffer a bit, but I kept turning the pedals and shortly, mercifully, felt the gradient dip back to something sensible, then downhill to the Ski Bridge at Mount Hotham Resort.

The clock ticked over at 2:04 from when I hit the "lap" button, and Strava afterwards showed 2:01:25 for the 29.6km climb. Respectable for a guy on a mountain bike, though A grade road racers could *almost* give me a head start at Harrietville and race me to the top from Bright. The Climbing Cyclist blog says anything under 2 hours for the Hotham climb itself is respectable for a road rider, so I'm not displeased, considering I did it on a ~12kg full-suspension MTB with a hangover.

Part Two: Down

 I was earlier than expected to Hotham, and wandered around looking in vain for somewhere that might sell me coffee. In the end I settled for an energy bar and some water, and awaited the arrival of James and his coach party. I didn't have to wait for long. My phone buzzed (yes, I had reception). James and group were waiting at the Reservoir, a km or two back along the road at the highest point.

Meaning I had to ride uphill again. Bollocks.

 Oh well, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. I pedalled my way back to the reservoir and found a group of about twenty riders waiting for me, including James. Greetings were done, a group photo was had and after much disarray, we set off, down a rocky firetrail and into the wilds.

The group was very much a mixed-ability crowd, and the first part of the ride included lots of stops for food, chats, local history and general procrastination while other riders caught up. The faster riders were positively revelling in the conditions, but James and I were itching to get back - to make my flight I'd have to be back in Bright at around 2pm to make the airport at around 4pm. This was very much a flying visit and a relaxed day's trundling in the mountains wasn't on the agenda. As beautiful as the surroundings were, and as great as the trail was to ride, we had a deadline.

Past the old Red Robin gold mine, we rode hard. A little too hard, as in my case a rear puncture dropped me from the front of the group to near the back, but soon we all regrouped and took stock. While our average speed based on moving time was good, the breaks were putting us well below 10km/h. Some quick mental arithmetic, and the consideration that there was some steep climbing ahead with over 30km to go, meant we wouldn't make it in time if we stayed with the group. In fact, we'd be two hours or more late.

Negotiations were begun. The group contained about three or four riders who knew the route - and we certainly didn't. One of these key riders would scoot ahead with me and James as we split the group, get us past the trickier routefinding, and then we'd put the hammer down for Bright. Game on.

We started to hoover up the trail, James and I sharing leads and our guide keeping reasonably up to pace. We stopped to fill water bottles from an alpine stream, had one dodgy moment of routefinding uncertainty, and eventually found our turnoff, a steep plunge to the valley bottom, followed by a big climb up onto the opposite ridge. We parted ways with our intrepid guide and commenced on the final leg. The average speed had climbed up back over 15km/h thanks to some fast sweeping trail and some attacking riding on the pinch climbs. Things were looking good.

As it turns out, some of the slowest riding of the day followed. Steep, winding and rocky, a barely-maintained trail from the river, over fallen logs and snakes, in rising heat, with dwindling water. My legs were starting to really feel the miles and James, while much more fresh, wasn't appreciating the track conditions. Still, the setting was amazing, steep-sided alpine valleys, native bush, wildlife, the river below, clear sky above and only the occasional *thunk* of a gearchange to disturb the peace.

We eventually reached the highest point of the climbing, at a three-way junction. Our instructions had probably been quite clear when first imparted, but now neither of us were sure. We were high up on the valley side, with a downhill, a steep uphill or an even steeper uphill ahead. The downhill looked like the only track that underwent any regular use, so we headed down, with some slight trepidation, until another junction where we found 3G reception. Some rapid and dirty navigational work determined we were nearly home, with both arms of the junction dropping us out at roughly the same place at Freeburgh, near Bright. It was approaching 1pm.

From here, fast, sweeping downhills were the order of the day and the average speed climbed again. There were creek crossings and waterbars and some really joyous riding, even taking into account a crash in a river crossing when, unsighted, I hit a dodgy rock midstream and crashed, laughing, headfirst into the freezing water. All too soon, tarmac appeared, houses started to peek through the trees, and we rejoined civilisation and all that comes with it. Some Team TT work sharing leads into a headwind got us back to Bright in time to pack up the bike, take stock of the day, and ship out for the airport. I was over 100km for the day, we'd taken 4:26:17 from the top of Mount Hotham (of which 3:05 was spent actually moving) and as it turned out I'd scored five Strava trophies for climbs on the way back.

All that remained was to hoof it to the airport, check in the bike, shake hands with James for a fantastic day in the Alps and cram down a quick cider before boarding.

And the day was over. Soon I was back in a taxi in Sydney traffic, bookending a fantastic 24 hours away, and a high point of my riding year. I'd recommend it to anyone, but I'd also say: give yourself a bit more time than I did.

 

The MTB Report October-November 2012

It's taken me a while to get round to blogging about my riding of late. I've been rather busy, as will be elaborated shortly. October opened with much preparation for the 100km Kanangra Classic, of which I've blogged before.

This was to be my first endurance race this century, and my first actual crack at properly racing the MTB Marathon distance of 100km - my previous endurance racing being the multi-day Polaris Challenge MTB orienteering series, a format which is not so much about covering a set distance quickly as balancing navigation, tenacity, fitness and time management.

So the early part of October was spent in prep, with some long-ish weekend rides and lotsof fast commutes with extra distance through the week.

Off To Kanangra

Race weekend arrived and I headed off early on the Saturday, in plenty of time to check in to my cabin in Oberon, scope out the state of the trails a little, and maybe ride the Kanangra Burn prologue event. Everything went according to plan and I arrived in Oberon in time for some coffee, and to check-in to my cabin, give the bike a quick tune and head to Kanangra Boyd ready to check-in.

In fact, I arrived in time to have a quick blast around part of the course and see how quick I could expect to be going. My previous recce of the trail had been relatively slow, but that had been mid-winter. This time, the track was dry, hard-packed and fast, and I managed to knock off around 28km of trail while waiting for the event hub to open. I was relatively pleased with this, since I'd also recently signed up for the Cannondale Oktoberfest challenge on Strava, and the more riding I got done, the closer I'd be to getting the challenge knocked over.

So I checked in and decided yes, I would ride the prologue thanks, and a couple of hours later I was lined up with maybe 40 or 50 other riders for the casual pre-race rumble around the south end of the course.

Technically, it's a social ride with no racing obligation, but a few people were lining up with serious faces on, not least of which was me. I already knew from the morning run that the trails were fast, so as we rolled away from the start and began the initial climb up Kanangra Walls Road, I figured I'd stretch my legs and see how quickly I could knock off the climb to the first aid station, for the sake of my Strava segment record.

As it turns out, a while before the station hove into view, I'd pretty much lost sight of the rest of the field. "In for a penny, in for a pound", I thought, and proceeded to smash the rest of the lap, mostly for my own amusement. I spent about two thirds of the lap in heart-rate zone 4 and got back to the event hub well ahead of the field about 52 minutes after starting out, at an average speed of nearly 26km/h. It's not a serious race, but it was nice to put down a fast time and see that the smoother sections of the track could go at a nicely respectable speed. As the rest of the field trickled in, some had clearly picked up their pace towards the end, and some had trundled - but all had, it seems, had fun out there on a perfect riding day in Kanangra.

I was, of course, realistic about the performance. I hadn't expected many of the fast guys to be present for the prologue, and of those that did line up, I didn't expect many to be smashing the ride - so while I was home first, it was no indicator of my potential performance for Sunday. But it did give me a nice benchmark for how fast the southern part of the circuit could go, and it let me revise my goals. When sigining up, I'd figured maybe six hours. As I got fitter, I revised that downwards to five and a half. After the Saturday, I set myself a stretch goal of breaking five hours and finishing in maybe the top 20 of my age group.

And so I retired, after a cider and a stack of rice and tuna, with the 2012 Paris Roubaix on for background noise, and prepared for the early start on Sunday.

Race Day

I was out of the cabin before sun-up and heading off the the event hub again, yawning but ready for anything. Leg warmers and waterproof booties on, energy bar slammed down for breakfast, bottle and camelbak filled and fully prepped for a few hours in the saddle.

The field was much bigger than I expected, and I was blearily waiting for an espresso when the call came to the start line. This, unfortunately, meant I was lining up quite near the back of the field when the race officially started. Never mind, though. I like steep climbs and the first section of fireroad was familar by now. Steadily, I advanced through the field, taking care to stay in heart-rate zone 3 or lower, so as not to seriously deplete my reserves for the long haul.

By the time I was at the turning to Budthingaroo, I felt like I'd passed a hundred riders or more, and truth be told I probably had. My pace was pretty good, my legs were feeling strong, but there were more people to pass.

Budthingaroo is probably the major climbing of the lap. While Kanangra Walls Road is heavily uphill, it's at least smooth, but Budthingaroo, and Mumbedah which follows, are rough and winding, so make for much harder climbing. Still, keeping the pace up wasn't too bad.

My nutrition plan started to kick in here. My revised plan was to follow my Garmin's calorie estimates to gauge when to eat. 600 calories in, it was time to take in 300 calories or so in the form of a gel. Every 300 or so following, another gel would go down, track surface permitting. I planned to stick to this the whole race, and take in a gel roughly every 300 calories on the Garmin. This, it turns out, was a damn good plan. At no point did I end up feeling severely depleted, though I did discover that trying to be environmentally sound with used gel wrappers means you quickly end up gluing your pockets closed.

As I reached Mount Emperor Trail, I struck up a conversation with another rider. The most common question all day was "50 or 100?" as the two race options started together. My companion was on the 100km, like me. the second most common question was "What age group?". My new mate was in the 40-49s, and when I replied "30-39", he replied "Good, we can work together". And so we did, for a while riding pace for each other, keeping the cadence up and issuing encouragement.

At the break stop on Boyd River trail, though, I stopped for a drink, took some time to rid myself of my leg warmers, had a quick stretch and let my companion carry on to a stash of bottles he and his friends had left on Kanangra Walls Road. I wanted to get back to my own race plan as we climbed back to the road. And climb back to the road I did. I dispatched several more riders on the climb, including my former companion, while heading up the woody trail. The pace was looking not too bad, but I had a suspicion that my Garmin was slightly confused in the opening forested section, so kept on it, still taking care to stay out of the threshold zone and keep fed and watered.

The Boyd River Trail section ends at Kanangra Walls Road feeding station, and you follow the road for about 50m or so, before coming back on the Kowmung trail, which is fast, smooth and slightly downhill. I didn't expect to pass many people here since it's easy to get up a good strong top speed and maintain it, but I did expect the later stages, where there are lots of loose curves and waterbars, to perhaps give me some opportunity to capitalise on the nervousness of other riders. As it happens, I was close enough to the sharp end of the race that nerves were few and far between, and I actually had to ride hard to keep on the pace with the occasional rider I saw through the bends.

I'd nearly come a cropper here on a recce ride, hitting a waterbar mid-corner and ending up off-track, but the previous day's prologue shenanigans had allowed me to find a line which went oddly wide, squashed the jump, and used the edge of the track as a berm to bank the corner. I heard a slightly shocked exclamation from behind through there, but didn't look round in case I myself ended up off-track.

Soon, I was back at the feeding station where I'd stopped previously, and heading right instead of left, to the Morong Creek crossing. I'd hit this very fast in the prologue, and wasn't quite sure how I'd managed to get through in one piece, so my first lap of the 100km was slightly more sedate, and I got through OK. I'd walked this crossing on my recce, which was a daft idea. Smashing it on the bike was far more exhilarating, less cold and quicker. All that remained of the first lap was a steep climb, a couple of small crossings and back to Kanangra Walls Road.

As I reached the start line, I was feeling pretty positive. The timer, as I trundled through the grass and tussocks of the start/finish area, showed 2:20.

Not bad.

Lap two began, and it was far more lonely. 50km riders were now a stark rarity, as they were either finished or much further round the lap, and the uphill was a little lonely. I passed a small knot of 100km riders heading back to the feed station, where I stopped and refilled my dwindling camelbak, allowing the group to re-pass me again. Getting started again, I was slightly worried about my pace, as the riders who'd passed me didn't seem to be in sight, but after a km or so I was able to haul them back in.

This lap was troublesome. Having fewer people around meant I had no natural pace target and had to keep re-evaluating my pace consciously. It's easy to zone out and lose track of your cadence, and to end up trundling where you should be smashing, and vice versa. It takes concentration, and the first half of this second lap was a hard test of focus, broken only by a couple of riders with unfortunate punctures, who responded to "You OK mate?" with "yeah no worries" or a curt wave. I caught a few riders in Bike Minded jerseys near the junction with the Boyd River Trail, who seemed a little lost for pace, and was largely alone through Boyd River up to Kanangra Walls Road again. I kept slogging, and kept to my feed plan, although the gels were starting to make my stomach feel like a paper hanger's pastepot.

As I passed through the feed and check station, a marshall asked for my race number to check me through, and I scoped my time. Slightly slower, but feeling good. Coming back to the Morong Creek crossing, I crossed right next to another rider, after warning him about the dodginess of the entry, and we rode together a little while. He marvelled that I'd done 50-odd km the day before and self-effacingly said that I was probably about to leave him for dead, as he thought he'd gone a bit too hard in the first lap. I gave him a bit of encouragement and paced him for a km or so approaching the climbs, but soon enough we hit a fast run down to the creek before the steep bits, and I did indeed leave him behind. From here to the end, I had little human contact - a 4WD unexpectedly on the trail startled me a little, and soon I was back on Kanangra Walls Road, less than 5km from home and looking like I'd be coming in nicely under five hours.

Indeed, as I ran up towards the tussocks, I could se the clock counting out towards 4:50, so I got out of the saddle and sprinted to get there under the time, and the race, for me, was over.

There were some minor timing issues, but from the screen at race control, it appeared I came sixth in age group, on my first endurance race back, in a time good enough to have beaten all of last year's veterans, or 8th overall against 2011 times. At the time of writing, overall times for 2012 aren't available, but the winner was definitely faster than last year's, meaning my time wasrespectable, not stellar, but definitely exceeded all my own targets. First lap had gone at roughly 2:20. Second at 2:30, which was consistent and indicates to me that I had some reserve in the tank and could perhaps have gone harder in both laps without breaking myself - one for next year, I think.

And that was Kanangra done.

The next three weeks

And that was the first two days of the Cannondale Oktoberfest Challenge - a 50km day and a 100km race, to start things off in style. The aim was to ride 60 hours in three weeks, just under three hours a day, so I was slightly ahead of the game. I spent the first week on a bit of a blitz, goign for fast commutes, exploring Strava segments and hunting down KOM possibilities. To be honest, I ended the first week in a bit of a destroyed state, having sprinted everywhere, even playing tit-for-tat on a fast segment with a particularly quick road rider of my acquaintance. The next week was a bit of a slog, punctuated by an incident on Lilyfield Road where a bogan with a laser pointer left a lasting imprint on my retina. By the end of week two I was tired and a little behind the curve, so I headed out to Yellomundee to do some singletrack riding in preparation for the Briars Highland Fling. Part way through my second lap, My brake pads started to make a worrying scraping sound, as though they'd worn down to the springs. Distracted, I came into a narrow section too quickly, ran wide and caught my handlebars in a tree. I was off, and slammed down hard onto a tree root, cutting short the day and cracking a rib quite painfully. I limped back to the car and took stock of the situation.

Well, I was two-thirds into the challenge. I wasn't going to stop now.I spent the rest of the week riding in a mild haze of pain, still putting down the occasional fast time on Strava and even at one point literally riding myslf sick, until I sealed the challenge with a day to spare, sixty hours of riding in three weeks, a level of effort that literally sends one midly insane, one worn-out rear tyre, well over 1000km done and dusted two days before the 110km Highland Fling. A rest day, then my second marathon of the season, or so I thought.

As it turns out, the Fling wasn't to be. At about 5:30am on Sunday, as I was driving towards the race start at Bundanoon, I blew a tyre on the at Yerrinbool. On cracking out the spare, I was dispirited to find it entirely unusable, called the NRMA and was eventually set back on my way at 7:10am, ten minutes too late for race check-in and only 20 minutes ahead of the starting gun. I'd known the tyre was dodgy, but since I was spending so much time riding for the challenge, hadn't made time to get it checked. My own damn fault and I guess it serves me right.

I limped home, took some more pain killers and had a beer. No Fling for me in 2012.

And that was October and November's MTB riding. I'm currently on hiatus, due to broken ribs and strained back muscles from trying to alleviate the pain of moving around, but there'll be more. Oh yes, there'll be more. Just wait and see.

 

UPDATE: the official Kanangra results are available and it turns out I actually came 4th in the 30-39s, 14th overall, and my time was good enough for 5th in the Elite class. My first lap of 2:21:32 was 35th fastest overall, which is 8th fastest in the 100km 30-39s - suggesting my second lap was quicker than average and I had better consistency than other riders - for whatever reason.

Lily Phénomène has comment regret

A while ago, I posted this little note about chiropractic, and one of its heroic defenders.

Lily, apparently, doesn't like that I posted it. She sent me a Facebook message.

Well, Lily, since you blocked my Facebook account I can't reply to you privately, so I'll have to put the answer here instead.

No.

What you posted is a matter of public record. It's on a publically-accessible Facebook page. It's a fact that you said it, and I don't much care that you now have comment regret.

You know what the solution is for the problem of people reporting the stupid things you say on the internet? Don't say stupid things on the internet. Cry cyberbully if you like, you'd be in illustrious company. It remains a fact that you said it, and you said it on a public page.

You're welcome

 

p.s. Lily also posted a comment here, on a totally unrelated blog post. Yeah, smart cookie, that one.

How to fail at Astroturfing

My attention was drawn today to a website called "Helmets On Heads". This website purports, under the domain helmetsonheads.org, to be a promotional campaign to raise safety and tries to look independent but industry supported. It's actually wholly owned by the industry. This should be a warnign flag to treat claims with caution - there's a monetary incentive to overstate the case, so a little extra scrutiny is justified.

Their FACTS page makes a rather odd set of claims, which you'll probably spot if you're schooled in spotting hokey numbers. Now, I do like a good hokey number, so I thought I'd feature it here. If you can't spot it, I'll explain below. I'm not the first person to spot it, but I'm an enthusiast of arithmetical weaselry.

Here's a screenshot of the facts page as it was when I looked on the evening on 9th October 2012

 OK. So, at a glance, you'd think that "whoah, I should totally rush out and buy a bike helmet. But wait! There's something wrong with the numbers.

Let's tease out the two claims that I'm concerned with.

1. Roughly one in ten cyclists killed were NOT wearing helmets
2. Only 25% of cyclists wear helmets

Have you spotted it yet?

Yep, that's right. Using these figures, the rate of death for helmet wearers is MUCH higher than you'd expect. In fact, while nine out of ten cyclists killed WERE wearing helmets, 75% of people don't wear them. So the rate of death for helmet users is absurdly high.

In fact, if helmets were only an indifferent factor, you'd expect the casualties to break down 75% non-wearers, 25% wearers. What's quoted by the site is 90% wearers, 10% non-wearers - far more deaths for helmet wearers than the proportion of use would suggest.

If we actually crunch this set of numbers with ninja hokey numberism, helmet wearers are nine times more likely to be killed, yet only constitute 25% of the population. three times more people don't wear helmets, making it - very roughly - 27 times more likely that you'll die if you don a helmet. Off the top of my head. Yep, I know my hokey numbers.

Look, I don't actually think the numbers are true (though references ARE offered). They're probably nothing more than a collossal fuckup by the copywriters behind the site, but here is an object lesson in how to communicate risk terribly while still retaining a superficial veneer of credibility.

It's hard enough examining the numbers around helmet use as it is, without innumerate dingbats making an ass-backwards case right in the middle of it all.

Point and laugh everyone, point and laugh.

The MTB Report, Sept 16th 2012

I've been a bit quiet on the blog of late. Ordinarily, I'd be at least updating what I've been up to on the mountain bike each weekend, but, well... I kinda couldn't.

You see, back on 26th August, I decided I'd take a little ride down to Loftus, on the edge of the Royal National Park, and ride a bit of singletrack and fire trail on my full-suspension bike, a 2011 BMC Speedfox SF03.

Well, I got to Loftus and, about halfway down temptation creek firetrail, snapped the frame in half.

DAMN IT

It wasn't as if I was riding hard. I was doing about 18km/h when it happened, as this Strava trace shows. It just... broke.

So I pushed it back to Loftus Station, caught the train home, and sulked.

And sulked

And sulked.

So, I took it in the next day for warranty inspection. The guys at Favourite Cycles in Manly were sympathetic to my plight, but warned that it may take a couple of weeks.

So I sulked

I went home and assessed the bike situation.

My spare hardtail had a torn rear tyre and a missing saddle and was maladjusted for my riding style. My AlpineStars Cro-Mega has been off the road for some months after first succumbing to a worn-out drivetrain, then being cannibalised for spares.

That left the road bike which normally lives on the Turbo Trainer in my living room. I'd never ridden it in the wild before.

There was nothing else for it. I'd have to... *shudder*... RIDE THE ROAD BIKE.

So I sucked it up, pumped up the tyres and headed out.

After some initial utter terror, I discovered that the road bike isn't actually a bad thing. It's fast. It's not comfortable, but it's FAST. After some initial adjustment issues, I started on a campaign of smashing personal bests on my local routes. I even started to get into the top places overall on some Strava segments.

Meanwhile, the staff of BMC were all enjoying the annual Eurobike trade show and having far too much fun to inspect my broken mountain bike.

So I carried on with the road bike and actually found I kinda like it.

SHOCK HORROR

So I continued learning to make it go fast and occasionally prodded the guys at Favourite for updates. News eventually came that yep, it was approved for warranty replacement.

But the partially- expected bad news was, of course, that BMC no longer make the SF03, which was discontinued at the end of 2011 in favour of a remodelled SF02 range. And they had no 2012 SF02 frames in a 26 inch wheel.

But, said they, I could have a 2012 Speedfox SF29 SLX

"Errr... OK", said I. "I'll check it out and get back to you in a bit".

Bigger wheels. Wagon wheels, in fact. I'd once said "I'd love a 29er, but I'd have to start buying paper bags in bulk, so I could wear them over my head in order that people won't recognise me".

But really, I kinda secretly wanted one. I'd be trying to figure out how to justify getting a 29er to go alongside the old Speedfox anyway. I loved the SF03, and I'd just got it feeling about as well-adjusted as I thought I could get it, but maybe the SF29 would take the good bits of the 03 and just add bigger wheels.

So I called them back and said "Yes" and also "By the way, what happens with the components of the 26er? Because there are some upgraded bits on there".

To my joy, they said "Well, you can probably keep those. We'll check with BMC".

So it came to pass that on Saturday 15th September, I drive to Manly with an empty bike rack, and came away with a brand new SF29 SLX, and pretty much a whole bike's worth of parts ready to completely renovate my mid-90s AlpineStars Cro-mega.

Bit of a win all round, I think.

So what of the new bike?

Well, I took it out pretty much straight away, for a 7km-or-so trundle around Red Hill Reserve on the Northern Beaches.

At first I was "whoah, big and weird". Then I was "Ooooh, fast and stable", and then I was all like "FUCK YEAH THIS IS AAAAAWESOME".

It took about 1.5km to decide that this is the best bike I'd almost never owned. The idea that 29 inch wheel are sluggish went straight out of the window. They're just bigger. The power transmission is different, sure. But it's not snappy, and I formed a suspicion that the wheelspin that occasionally dogged steep loose climbs on the 26er would be absent on this bike. And I was right. I'd never been to Red Hill Reserve before, but I found Marble Hill (12.2%, rough) and rocked it straight up there,  not a jot of wheelspin to be seen. It's not snappy, it's smooth. It's also stable downhill, and begs to get over obstacles.

So I returned from my short run at Red Hill enthused at ready for more battle, and the next day, went to the Royal National Park to ride LCD.

I was with my good mate Paul, who'd never ridden offroad before, so the first few kms were done at a stately pace, enjoying the scenery. The last kilometre or so is the Strava Segment "Lady Carrington - Climb to the gate", and I agreed with Paul that I'd sprint that segment.

Unfortunately, I've only ridden LCD in the dark up until now, so the point where I thought I should take off was about 1km earlier than the actual climb. I ended up hammering the life out of the last 2km of track, and probably made myself too tired for the climb itself, but I ended up feeling pretty strong. The bike didn't once feel like it was fighting me, and took everything in its stride. It felt quick, but I didn't have a result yet.

Paul followed shortly afterwards and decreed that I should sprint the return run too. My intention had been to let Paul dictate the pace for the return, but he was insistent, and I was keen to see what the bike would do. On my previous run in the dark I'd clocked just under 25km/h average, good enough for 5th spot on the leaderboard, though that had slipped to about 8th over time. We had an energy gel each, rested and got ready to go. I'd go full pace, Paul would go full pace, then we'd both go to the pub. My iPhone was showing a bit over 35 min for the outward run. Target for the return: keep it under an hour, maybe move up a place or two on the leaderboard.

Time to thrash.

Off I went, while behind me various noises of consternation echoed through the woods. I was over 40km/h and pedalling hard when I figured I might have been a bit hasty. A bit of a blood sugar spike after the energy gel was giving way to a slight dip. Luckily it passed quickly and I settled into a nice rhythm, though on a couple of occasions I almost spilled off the track passing riders who were incapable of picking a side in the face of speedier traffic. The walkers were sharing the path very well, giving me a chance to pick a line well away from them, and behaving predictably and safely, but the riders seemed less confident in the situation. Never mind. No blood, no report.

As I approached the final few kms, it was clear my pace was high, and it may be possible to go under 55 minutes - never mind the hour - but as I came towards the gate and the tarmac I had to slow down, first for a large family group then for a 4wd which failed to realise how fast I was travelling and pulled into my path from the river bridge right near the end. Still, the clock stopped at 55:25, well inside target.

I turned round and trundled back to meet Paul, who reported a minor crash in the first few hundred metres. Apparently, the noises of consternation were caused by a moment of panic, a locked brake and a slip into the ditch, and I'd just shot off into the distance. Oops.

So we headed off, not to the pub, but to the new plan of "I'll buy some decent cider and we can drink it at my place".

Cider acquired, the data was uploaded to Strava.

That's an average speed on the return of 29.2km/h. A saving of 20s would have put me second on the leaderboard and a saving of 1m20s would be KoM. So I'll be heading back soon.

We followed this up with a trip down the Cooks River Path and some LOLs on the Flying Fox at Steel Park. Perfect day.

But the bike? The bike is absurdly good. I compared the experience to being chauffeur-driven. The suspension, while nominally 20mm less than my previous speedfox, feels plush, supple and reactive while at the same time managing not to steal all the pedal power. The steering is stable and natural, and with very wide bars it also encourages an aggressive, but not uncomfortable riding position. The drivetrain feels perfectly tuned for the wheel size, with ten on the back and three on the front - though I haven't yet touched the small chainring - and overall the bike feels like it's doing everything it can to get you from A to B quickly and with the minimum fuss.

It's fantastic.

The only small niggle is the Avid Elixir 3 brakes, which aren't very adjustable and seem to occasionally sing for their supper

So yeah, I'm a convert. 29" wheels are the way to go. Really.

The MTB report 19 Aug 2012

This weekend was an unusual one. Esther has been away in hospital for a few weeks, and on Saturday she was given an overnight pass to come home and do a trial-run before being released back into the wild. So while I initially planned to do a long ride on Saturday, I ended up skipping it in favour of some domestic chores followed by the hospital run. And Sunday was of course out.

But Esther was due back at the physical rehab centre at 7pm on Sunday. So....

NIGHT RIDE!

My initial plan was to go check out Loftus Oval, but as usual, when I drive into the Shire I get distracted by the imminent arrival of the Nazgul, and I missed the turning. Well, instead of turning round, or rejoining the trail via Bertram Stevens Drive I figured I'd head down the hill and do a fast run out along Lady Carrington Drive in the Royal National Park instead.

As it turns out, this was a great idea. Lady Carrington Drive is undulating and smooth doubletrack, with no severe climbs - ideally suited to a fast night ride. Here's the BikeBrain trace of my run. And here's a Strava Challenge on the return run, on which my run came 5th overall.

Of course, being a night ride, I can't tell you all that much about the track. Here, for example, is a picture:

 

And here is my rating of the track out of ten

  • The scenery: leaves flashing past in the light beam. 1/10
  • The track: Undulating, quick. No major climbs. No hard corners. Ideal for a fast ride or a run for beginners. 5/10
  • Wildlife: There must be some, because I heard it. Oh wait, yes. There are deer. I was put in mind of this video, though obviously it was less scenic
    Also, there was a possum. 1/10
  • Accessibility: Quite easy. Drive South along the Princes Highway until you miss the turning into Loftus Oval. Turn left at the big sign for the Royal National Park, and drive down until you get to the causeway. There's a right turn into a car park shortly after. Park here. Don't park in the car park, the Security guys will close it at around 9:00pm 7/10

So there we go. That was my MTB for the weekend. Now I'm off to eat pork and drink cider, unencumbered by the guilt of not having ridden anywhere.

This can only end well

Antivaxer Jane Beeby, about whom I've blogged previously, has decided to run for council in her home region of Clarence Valley. Jane is (or was, it's unclear) a committee member of the AVN and a rather vicious lieutenant to Meryl Dorey herself. 

In the past, she has suggested a critic - a long-time health activist and writer for Australasian Science - gargle bleach to remove "the smell of shit of your breath" and wished that my next shot would be "a lethal one".

For her to be elected would not, it appears, be a positive development for public health.

Jane has a Facebook page. Perhaps you'd like to go and ask her about her stance on vaccination and public health. A few members of Stop The AVN already have, and we expect the response to be more diplomatic than Ms Beeby's previous efforts - a silent deletion of the question and a brushing of the issue under the carpet - though one of Ms Beeby's now famous retorts would be gold.

 

 Update: 9pm. It appears Beeby has deleted her Facebook page. Doesn't want the people of Clarence Valley to know what one of their council candidates is really like, clearly. Also, the comments appear to have disappeared from the story on the Daily Examiner. I shall, of course, follow this up in the morning, since it's a clear case of information pertinent to an election being suppressed. It's also pretty funny, when you think about it. How spooked is Beeby?

 Update 10:35pm: Reasonable Hank's post on this farce is fantastic.

Get the message, @BankWest.

We've been through this before.

Stop Building Bike Lanes!

"GERROFFTHEFUCKENROAD!!"

As a cyclist, I hear this so often that I can almost predict its arrival. Usually, it's shouted out of the open window of a tradie's ute as it barrels past me at a dangerously short distance, but it can come from vehicles as diverse as taxis, vans and the humble Hyundai Excel of a barely-qualified P-plater.

And it's really quite annoying.

Because when I'm on my bike, I'm as entitled to use the road system as anyone else. In fact, I can go anywhere on NSW Roads other than places where it's specifically signposted not to go. Generally, this means Motorways, but even the M4 allows cyclists. I have a right to the road and I use it.

However, both the Common and Lesser-Spotted Bogan seem to disagree with this. They appear to believe - and I'm hazarding a guess here, because they're not the most erudite of people - that cyclists don't actually have a right to use the road. They seem to think that I should be using the footpath or perhaps not riding at all. Well, I can't usually use the footpath. It's illegal except in three specific circumstances

1. If the rider is under 12 (I'm not)
2 If the rider is accompanying a rider under 12 (I'm not)
or
3. If the footpath is specifically marked as shared use. 

But what really intrigues me is how this idea has crept into the heads of a social group notoriously resistant to change? Was it always there? Probably not, if this photo is to be believed.

 

Although obviously the photo does not capture audio. It's possible the car on the right just executed a perfect 10-point GERROFFTHEFUCKENROAD and the cyclists merely didn't hear it.

The attitude is particularly prevalent here in Australia. I almost never experienced it when riding in the UK, back before I moved to Australia and largely gave up cycling. When I started again this year, I was slightly shocked to see how often riders are abused by drivers who either don't know the road rules or don't care what the facts of the matter are. And who are studied in seeing cyclists not as humans trying to get from A to B but as vermin trying to drag Australia back into the pre-motor age.

Anyway, back to this "cyclists should get off the road" thing. I did have an off-the-wall idea as to how this idea has crept in over time.

As we all know, there are few things the common and lesser-spotted Bogan likes more than a good, solid false dichotomy. This finds its most obvious expression in the with-us-or-against us tribal behaviour of the Bogan's favoured adversarial sports. The Bogan thrives on a team-against-team or man-against-man format, but struggles when there are more than two possible outcomes. They can't generally do sports where there are more than two teams involved (unless that sport includes V8 engines. Bogans will overlook almost anything to be within earshot of a V8). 

Slightly more subtly, it finds an outlet in the Bogan's preferred choice of media. The pages of the Daily Telegraph and the mid-evening current affairs slots on Seven, Nine and Ten are thickly sown with false dichotomies and my-way-or-the-highway thinking. You're either against asylum seekers, or you're some inner-city elite librul dickhead gay salad-eating homo lover. You either love rock fishing or you're a vietnamese one-legged hemp munching greenie who likes chardonnay. You either think hunting in national parks is a great idea, or you're Hitler's bastard offspring who wants to take away everyone's guns, cars and pit bulls and give them (counterintuitively) to the jews who run the world from their secret bunker in Erskineville.

And so to cycleways.

Friend Bogan sees a cycleway, and his "thought process" - for that is what we must call it in the absence of a better phrase - runs thus:

  • Oh look. A little special road for bikes
  • I've got a big special road. Aren't I clever?
  • I'm not allowed to drive my ute in the little special road.
  • The Daily Telegraph were very angry about that
  • Therefore bikes aren't allowed on my big special road
  • Ever
  • QED

With a special afterthought, wondering what QED means, which tails off when the Bogan is distracted by an advertising hoarding for four-n-twenty pies.

And so, "GERROFFTHEFUCKENROAD!!" becomes the mantra of choice when passing one of them tree-hugging, non-hunting, ute-less, left-wing, probably-gay-marrying atheist vegetarian cyclists.

So there's only one thing Clover Moore can do.

Stop building bike lanes.

Put us back on the roads, where we have a right to be.

And execute all the bogans instead.

The MTB Report 4 Aug 2012

I didn't actually report last weekend's epic ride. 75km out to Yellomundee Regional Park, 15km or so around the park, 75km back. There was a fairly nasty incident involving some random western suburbs assclown who wanted to run me off the road and wasn't afraid to either say it or attempt it. He failed, of course, being an incompetent driver. But still, let's speak less of that and instead speak of today's ride.

Last night (Friday), I drove out to Jenolan Caves, where I'd booked a room at Caves House. My intention was to do a reconnoitre of Kanangra Boyd National Park in preparation for October's Kanangra Classic 100km race.

I'd tried this once before, in the company of James and Dave. That story is well told, how we managed less than 20km in over three hours, by way of a crash, a puncture, and a performance of much of Jesus Christ Superstar to the trees at large. This time, there was to be no mistake. On Friday, I'd acquired a new camelbak, packed a spare tube and pump, thrown in a handful of energy gels, some gaffer tape, my toolkit, chainlube, helmet gloves, changes of clothes and everything else I could conceivably need. To this I added a bottle of Old Rosie Scrumpy and I was off.

After a night's warm toasty sleep, I was ready and off to the park before 9am, even the park's wallabies were still yawning. It's August in Kanangra, and "warning, ice" signs were out. It certainly was cold, but not - quite - below freezing, at least if you don't factor in windchill. I parked up near the wonderfully named Budthingaroo Firetrail, about 1km from the startline of the Kanangra Classic, threw on my gear, and I was off.

It was cold enough to keep on a windshell for this opening section, which was familar from May's disastrous ride. This time, though, there was no mistake and no struggle. The opening rough climbs were easily dispatched and the descent to the first river crossing (on the Mumbedah Firetrail, not Mount Emperor as I wrote previously) accomplished at speed without either falling off the path or crashing in the creek itself. The first demon of May was exorcised, my max speed counter showed 52.3km/h, and I was out of the saddle and dancing in the pedals toward the next creek crossing. The leeches were clearly not in residence this time, as I splashed through and continued on my merry way.

Soon, the right turn onto Mount Emperor appeared, and some fast descending was the order of the moment. One more creek crossing to come before reaching the fateful location of May's puncture fiasco, and it was one on which I'd badly messed up the approach last time. No mistakes now, straight through with a splash and onwards to the Ben Lomond Firetrail, the scene of the puncture on the last ride. As I passed the disaster site, I checked the clock. 40 minutes elapsed, almost to the second.

Last time round it had taken maybe an hour and a half to get to this point. And this time I was flying in comparison, though still not running at full steam. My plan was to run the first lap at a "fast exploration" pace, maybe 75% effort, and then do the second lap with the throttle fully open. After 50km of trail, the full-throttle pace would probably not be much faster, but knowing the route would make the lap quicker. However, a problem was brewing which started to nag at me.

There are a lot of creek crossings on the route. And it was cold. It was maybe five or six degrees, and while I'm not a stranger to cold conditions, my wet shoes and socks - holding water already shockingly cold from the splash - were making my feet feel... well, perhaps feel is not the right word. An antonym to "feel" would be more appropriate. What my feet were was numb. And the sections of trail following are fast. They're Oaks-fast. Already-cold air rushing past at 35km/h and more, over feet utterly soaked in already-cold water? Not nice.

Soon I met the Kowmung Firetrail. Fast. Sweeping. Very smooth. 45 km/h and more in places. Here, I experienced what I'm coming to think of as an "Eagle Moment". A wedge-tailed eagle, sitting on or near the firetrail, was spooked into the air by my approach, and led me down the path for 100m or more. It's a stunning experience, and the second time it's happened to me. It was a stunning moment, and it may have contributed to my outbraking myself on a corner shortly afterwards, though I just managed to slow myself in time to save actual injury.

Shortly, the race route hooks leftwards, back across what I think of as the "infield", towards the start-finish straight of Kanangra Walls Road, along Boyd River Firetrail. I figured at this point it might be prudent to make a little audio or video "diary" piece occasionally, so I took a first here.

On the Boyd River Trail, some climbing began again, and the first signs of energy depletion started to show. My feeding plan called for five energy gels, the first of which was due at the end of this firetrail, but I brought it forward. Though I'd carb-loaded I obviously wasn't quite as well-fueled as I'd hoped - and skimping on breakfast probably didn't help - a note for October, to be sure. Still, thorugh the previous section, my average speed was bumping up against, and occasionally tipping over, 18km/h

So, off I rode up the wet, muddy Boyd River Trail. Yet more splashes made the numbness in my feet even more evident, especially under the shade of the trees. I stopped to wring out my socks and rub some warmth into my feet, which didn't much help, made a second video note concerning the freezingness of feet and the horrifying taste of GU coffee flavour gels, and soldiered on.

Hitting Kanangra Walls Road, one now turns left, rides for about a hundred metres, then turns left onto the Kowmung Trail, to head again toward the back straight. Again, it's fast and smooth, and soon you're back where you were earlier, speeding down a smooth, graded trail back to the junction with the Boyd River Trail.

This time you turn right, down a trail marked as the Uni Rover Walking Trail. Technically, it's the Morung Firetrail, and leads back to Kanangra Walls Road, which is the "finishing straight". Of course, no more than 100m down this trail lies the biggest river crossing of the circuit, across Morong Creek. There are two ways across - a 4wd-compatible ford, which is long but shallow, or a shorter walking section to the right of it, which I took.

Well, the water was cold. Colder than I've ever felt Bedford Creek on Anderson's Firetrail. Colder than any sensible person should endure. And once out the other side, the numbness was alternating with burning pain. So I sat on a handy rock and wrung out my socks as best I could, and tried to massage life back into what were previously my feet but now appeared to be simple meatsacks attached to the bottom of my legs. I did a video diary, calling it a "point of interest", on which it's clear I'm in pain, and, after a short while, rocked on, to find a firetrail almost exactly representative of the entire course in microcosm.

Up until this point, my average speed was 16.9km/h

By the end of this section, my average speed was still sitting at 16.9km/h, unchanged over the last half an hour or so, I was at almost exactly 40km done, and out of the bush section proper. Ride time was two hours twenty minutes here, with 10km to go.

I did a quick video diary, speculating that maybe, if Kanangra Walls was smooth and level, the last section could go at 30km/h, making the lap two hours 40 minutes (though I confusedly miscalculated on the video). As it turns out, the 10km back to Budthingaroo is harder by a fair stretch than my 25km/h commute. Yet, still, it's faster than the rest of the trail, and when BikeBrain ran out of battery at 46.2km, I was averaging 17.1km/h and looking at 2:41 on the ride time meter.

The final section was a shitfight, my legs complaining and the trail refusing to play nice, but I kept in the top chainring and pushed hard. There's a very fast section here at which I broke 55km/h last time round, and I'm quite certain that the average for the section was upwards of 20km/h. I was hanging out for the car. I knew I needed to stop and warm my feet, and maybe just have some lunch. When I got off the bike, I found I couldn't stand upright, because I couldn't feel my feet at all. So, I held on to the car to keep myself upright, fired up the engine, abandoned the second lap and tried my best to bring my feet back to life with ugg boots, warm socks and the footwell heater.

I estimated "under 2h50m", which is an everage speed of 17.65km/h. Even if I'd done exactly the same average as at the end of Morung, 17.1km/h, we're still looking at 2h 55s, at what I think is about 75% effort overall.

My current target for the October race is a flexible "under six hours". I think I'm pretty much there. Assuming 75% effort in the first lap, and 95% effort in the second, I'd revise my target to 2:45 per lap, and 5:30 for the race. It's not a winning time, given that the 2011 winners averaged about 22.5km/h, but it's certainly very good considering where I started. In January when I started riding again I was nearly 110kg and struggled on most climbs. I averaged not much over 10km/h at that time. I think I might be going OK. But let's wait until October.

 

Not noted for...

In 1977, Paul MacReady and Peter Lissaman, from AeroVironment, won the Kremer Prize for Human Powered flight in a striking aircraft they named Gossamer Condor. They named their craft in tribute to the largest flying land birds in the western hemisphere, The Condors.

Later, in 1979, the pair followed up this initial success with a crossing of the English Channel, with an aircraft they named in honour of an accomplished and famed gliding bird, and possessor of the world's longest wingspan. The name? Gossamer Albatross.

When it came time to go one step further and experiment with a solar-powered version of these two pioneering aircraft, there was only one possible way to go. MacCready needed an inspiring name, a name linked in the human mind to graceful, controlled flight. To sleek wings borne aloft on the winds of fortune. To soaring, majestic control of the zephyrs and tradewinds of Shakespeare's "majestical roof fretted with golden fire". MacCready named his inspired, solar-powered flyer

The Gossamer Penguin.

 

Whatever MacCready was drinking to celebrate Albatross's success, I'll have one.

Images: Wikipedia

Six months later...

I was informed this morning that it's now six months since I got off my arse and started losing some weight. I was 107.3kg at my first official weigh-in, in January this year. What's happening now?

Well, I weighed in this morning and I came out at 87.9kg. So that's tantalisingly close - only 600g - to 20kg lost in six months, officially.

I blame the Tour de France for not making it under on this weigh-in, since the late nights have cut into my riding time and occasional TDF treats of camembert wheels and fast food don't help much with the diet.

I've actually been saying "nearly 20kg" for a couple of weeks now, and despite a couple of setbacks with a nasty viral infection and a couple of bike crashes, my fitness is well on the way up.

I did Narrowneck track back in January, as my first proper off-road trail since I got started, and it took me several hours. MapMyRide shows 1:49 riding time, though I walked basically all the climbs on it - including the relatively shallow gradient from the lookout back to the Fire Control Tower - meaning the real time was probably more like 2:30* or, probably, more. 

Yesterday I rode it again, and got an 'official' time of 1:29. I started a km and a bit further in due to fading light, and finished the ride at tippy-toe low speed due to an uncharged headlight, but this time I rode every climb on the way out, and every climb on the way back, save for the real steep monster which I walked because I basically couldn't see to ride it. I think in good light I could have shaved 15-20 minutes off that time, and could possibly get it under the hour mark, from the Golden Stairs car park, in good conditions. The firetrail I did earlier in the day (Mount Hay) went at a nice round average of 20km/h, which is my very-best- case stretch target for October's Kanangra Classic 100 race (In reality, it's more likely to be between 5 and 6 hours riding time)

So you could say I'm a lot fitter than I was in January

I'm also quite a lot skinnier. None of my jeans fit any more. In fact, I can now get into a pair of size 36 jeans I bought optimistically about six years ago and never wore. And I can do that without undoing the buttons. I've had to punch two new holes in my belt and I'm due to punch another any time now. Nearly all of my t-shirts are too big, too, and I'm starting to welcome the shrink-in-the-wash effect rather than cursing it.

Oddest thing though, I think, is that my shoe size has changed. In February, I broke my old, faithful pair of Beck MTB shoes, size 43 and only wearable without socks. So I went and bought a new pair of size 44 Shimano XC50s, which fitted nicely with thin socks. A month or so later, I had to adjust the strap closures to give more bite, as they were starting to feel loose. In June, I bought a new pair of trail shoes. Size 42 and comfortable. My XC50s are now at the limit of their adjustment and need replacing. Even allowing for stretch, they're just too big. My feet have shrunk. Where I was somewhere between a 43 and 44, I'm now, it seems, back into the 42-43 range, which is back where I was before I got a desk job. I didn't expect that in January.

So, the target for the next six months? First job is to consolidate my weight in the 80-something range, do a whole load more riding and eat moderately well but not crash diet. Heading into October and my first MTB Marathon event I hope to be  mid-to-high 70s, or very low 80s, depending on how my riding fitness shapes up. Ultimately, my target weight will be determined by how well I'm performing on the bike - last time I took my sport seriously, as a rock climber in my early 20s, I fluctuated from low 60s to low 70s and found my best weight to be in the higher end of the range, but MTB is a different discipline to rock climbing, and endurance mountain biking is something slightly different again, and I don't quite know what my ideal would be.

One thing's for sure, though. I'm going to need new jeans. And shoes.

 

* The version of MapMyRide I used in January had a tendency to auto-pause the workout if travelling below about 4km/h, so walked sections didn't register as part of the data. These days, after several updates, it looks like they do.

A quiz for Sydney drivers

Please complete all questions to the best of your ability. You have thirty minutes.

  1. It is raining heavily in Sydney. At about 2pm, you need to drive from the CBD to Strathfield. Which of the following actions should you take?
    1. Switch on your headlights
    2. Drive at a reduced pace appropriate for the conditions and leave a longer stopping distance to the car in front
    3. Drive as close as possible to the car in front because in the low visibility, you can only see things that are close up.
    4. Drive faster so your car doesn't get as wet
    5. Stay on the phone the whole way, so that if you crash, your friends will know about it immediately
  2. Your indicators are for:
    1. Telling other road users what you intend to do
    2. Telling other users what you just did a minute ago
    3. Showing support for the Vivid Festival
    4. Whut?
  3. You are journeying from the CBD to Ryde, via the Anzac Bridge and Victoria Road. Which of the following should you do?
    1. Choose your lane well in advance, based on the direction in which you need to turn next, indicating clearly when changing lanes
    2. Stay in the centre lanes, giving the option to change your mind if you decide Victoria Road is too busy and you'd rather take the Westlink
    3. Drive all the way across the bridge in the far left lane at 75km/h, then cross four lanes of traffic in order to turn right at Victoria Road. Repeat at each major junction until destination reached.
    4. Find a bus going in the right direction, Tailgate it all the way.
  4. At traffic lights, the stop line is:
    1. The solid white line at the lights, behind which you queue to await a green light
    2. The solid white line at the lights, thirty feet behind which you queue to await a green light that will never come, due to the fact you didn't trigger the road sensor
    3. The solid white line at the lights, upon which you carefully place your rear wheels before pre-empting green lights
    4. Halfway across the junction
    5. More of a guideline that a stopline
  5. When passing bicycles you should:
    1. Leave at least a metre of clearance, more if safe to do so
    2. Consider the road conditions and wait for a more appropriate passing place if unsafe
    3. Drop down a gear, accelerate hard and pass as close to the bike as possible, in order to give the rider confidence in your supreme driving skills. After passing, move onto the other side of the road, before cutting back in hard to the pavement before stopping at the next lights, thereby protecting the rider from the chore of having to ride past you again when you stop
    4. Yell "Pay yer fucken' rego ya cunt!" at the rider. From your unregistered Holden Commodore.
  6. You are travelling along the M4 westbound. Traffic is a little heavy but not jammed, and the variable speed limit is set at 70km/h. Do you:
    1. Drive no faster than the limit, using the right lane appropriately, when there's an opportunity to overtake
    2. Consider changing routes, taking the Great Western Highway for a while to avoid the traffic
    3. Drive at 95-110km/h, weaving from lane to lane as required, without indicating
    4. Sit in the right-hand lane at 60km/h
  7. Cycle lanes are for:
    1. Bikes
    2. Walking
    3. Parking
    4. Shopping trolleys
  8. When should you use a mobile phone in your car?
    1. Never
    2. When you're a passenger
    3. When you're safely stopped
    4. When you want to talk to someone. Or tweet, Or send an SMS. Or check the Telegraph's mobile website for interesting news. Or when you're confident you can totes get three stars in Angry Birds level 15.
  9. Mirrors are:
    1. An important safety device, allowing you to view the road behind you without turning your head
    2. A thing to hang jesus beads on
    3. For makeup
    4. For preening and flexing
  10. You are about to embark on an unfamilar journey. Which of the following are appropriate actions?
    1. Plan your route ahead of time using Google Maps, noting main roads and landmarks
    2. Use a hands-free vehicle GPS navigator
    3. Take along a friend familiar with the area
    4. Wing it, stopping often and unpredictably in order to check an out-of-date Sydway directory, calling friends for directions while driving and indicating left before turning right (and vice versa)
  11. Paramatta Road is:
    1. Probably best avoided in peak time
    2. A useful, but flawed route to and from the west in off-peak times
    3. The only road in the whole of the Inner West
    4. A dragstrip
  12. The Cross City Tunnel is:
    1. A useful and quick way to get from Inner Western Sydney to the Eastern Suburbs without having to drive through the CBD
    2. UnAustralian. Real Aussies drive into CBD traffic jams and stay there as long as possible, stationary with the engine running, in order to support Australia's fuel industry
    3. WITCHCRAFT. EVIL.
    4. What's a Cross City Tunnel?
  13. The traffic light just turned amber. Do you:
    1. Decelerate safely, stopping behind the white line
    2. Consider driving through safely if too close when the light changes
    3. Accelerate as hard as possible to get to the other side, even if you cross the line well after the red phase starts
    4. Keep going at exactly the same pace, then stop, suddenly, mid-junction, causing the car behind (executing maneuver 2) to skid dangerously while trying to avoid your sorry ass. Look puzzled when yelled at.

 

Your score:

13-20 - You're not from Australia, are you?

20-28 - You're from Melbourne, right? Oh, Canberra you say? That will explain the fascination with roundabouts

28+ - Yep, you're a Sydney Driver. Congratulations. Here's a free ticket to the Sydney driver's ball. Just drive right in. Ignore the sign that says "Danger, car crusher, do not enter". Signs are for other people, right?

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