Sunday, March 17, 2013

The (r)Ides of March

The truth of the matter is that lately I've been as bored of my blogging as most of you out there (well, both of you) have been reading it, and I have been feeling that the formula has become a bit stale and cliche. However, someone or something has inspired me to write again, so despite my reservations, and without resorting to any dramatic change in style, I'll simply persist with what I know - hopefully the recent lack of frequency will make this seem fresh and new.

Despite my blogular silence, things have been continuing along unabated, and those of you enamoured of the social media and my dribblings will hopefully have been following my daily outpourings and updates on my Facebook page anyway, if you're that way inclined...Obviously there's no way I'm going to be able to catch up with the time that has elapsed since my last post, so I'll just plough ahead and try and make some of the usual old shit up, interspersed with pictures...

With Jacq finishing her nursing degree to a very high standard after three hard years of work, life has changed up for us all quite dramatically around here. Sadly, she wasn't able to secure a job straight out of school, so while she hunts around for work she has been taking care of things on the home front, giving me more time to focus on my work, and giving me the luxury of taking full advantage of the best summer I've ever known Wellington to have since we arrived here on the Northern Star in 1967.

After years of regaling you with Tales of Woe regarding various health problems interspersed with some delusional and weak attempts at some kind of "comeback" I'm delighted to report that my health has been fantastic for quite some time now, and I'm feeling more and more well all the time. I've had the usual colds and flus, but haven't suffered from any of the underlying debilitations of the last few years whatsoever. This has meant I've been getting in some decent hours on my various bicycles, and instead of tiny highs and massive lows I am experiencing a slow climb towards something approaching fitness, with the added benefit of general health and wellbeing - as I rapidly near 50 I feel closer to 40 than I have since I was 40!

Judging by how many people I have encountered on these rides that I don't even know who comment on my lack of bloggage, I must be quite identifiable in my Blues. It's very rewarding to hear that people dig what I write, and I will admit this has been niggling away in the back of my mind as a motivation to put finger to keyboard once again..

I have settled very nicely into the home workshop, and it has on the whole worked much better than I thought it might. The lack of space isn't ideal, but I seem to be able to do anything job that I could in the old spot so it's just a matter of being organised and not over-committing. Sorry as always to those I can't fit in, but there's only the one of me, no matter how magnificent that one is. My privacy concerns have largely been dissipated, and the conveniences of being around home when working have far outstripped the minor inconveniences.

The way I've been able to ride most days of this glorious summer is because I have gotten into the "routine" of working my arse off in the morning, then bunking off for a spin before catching up with anything left in the afternoon and after tea, something I wasn't able to do in the old workshop for several years due to consideration of the tenants upstairs - the tenants here just have to lump it!

I've been mainly riding my road bikes, loving the feel of the tar and thoroughly enjoying roaming the roads of Welli as I try and get some base to build on.

Riding out to Eastbourne and home is always a good yardstick of how I'm feeling.

But the Bays is my default ride, as well as the most accessible, of course. Here are Slim and Not-so Slim caught on camera riding on the seafront in Seatoun.

(Photo by Dave Livesey)

Earlier on this ride I was lucky to avoid a serious crash, as a close-passing car hit my handlebar with its wing mirror literally as I was taking the below photo of  my buddy Dave - somehow I turned the fall into a recovery, even managing somehow to put the camera back in my pocket before remonstrating with the moronic oxygen thief behind the wheel.

Working from home is proving to be very cool, with one of the benefits being the ability to keep working while Bodhi is enjoying being around his own home, instead of being forced to hang out in the basement of a house belonging to someone else...

Despite the months of lack of evidence on this blog to the contrary, there's actually been plenty to report. Here now are a few things I've been posting about on the Facebook in the last few months - in no particular chronological order:

As far back as July I was having a delicious and fun time watching the Tour de France at my dear friend John's place with him and Simon Kennett.

As a semi-Englishman, I loved watching Bradley Wiggins take Britain's first ever Tour victory, although after my disastrous Lance Armstrong fandom I'm not going to claim I know whether it was a clean win - I think it was, but to be frank (Shleck) nothing will surprise me now.

If you've taken the time to read his blog, Sifter Goes (Bike) Riding - and you definitely should! - you'll know John has his challenges, but his way of dealing with them is to create further challenges. One he recently knocked off was to gain a PB at the feared Karapoti Classic - he not only took seven minutes off his best time, he won a superb 8th place overall in the gruelling event! Outstanding, bro!

Just yesterday, John and his mate Dave Sharpe spent 14.5 hours riding in their Roadworks kit around Mt Ruapehu, including diversions up all three ski access roads, and the extra offroad kilometres of Tree Trunk Gorge just for good measure. For John this is all part of the training as he builds up to doing his own Tour de France, of which more will be heard both here and in his own blog, no doubt.

I don't have the fitness yet to contemplate such epic missions, but I do aspire to one day accompanying John on something similar, if not quite so extreme. I do on occasion love to imagine I'm engaged in something slightly out of the ordinary riding-wise, and I can evoke this feeling to a degree by riding inappropriate bicycles in out of context places. It's good to be reminded how adaptable bicycles really are, and that one of the best things about these amazing inventions we're so in love with is their versatility.

Despite this though, there's nothing like riding a bike fit for purpose. One of my favourite types of riding is gentle trail and gravel road riding on a road bike. Mostly I've just used whatever bike I've had to hand, but thanks to a Coalition of GCs I have been generously gifted a custom frame and fork to be handbuilt by my good friend, the talented David Benson. As part of the nailing down of details and feel of what I was after, DB lent me his Evil Genius machine for a couple of weeks.

To say I expected something amazing but was still blown away is an understatement, as the ride of his near-perfectly fitting personal frame astounded and delighted me over a week of varied riding all over Wellington, on all sorts of terrain and surfaces - the thought of how good one built expressly for me will be gives me goosebumps.

When DB rang me to inform me of the incredibly humbling (but slightly duplicitous) conspiracy to get me the frame of my dreams, he told me that he wouldn't enter into debates on geometry and that I'd have to trust him for that. Having seen how he works and knowing the pedigree of his builds I was only too happy to put myself in his hands entirely, so I gave David my measurements and he has selected what looks like the perfect geo for me. He will be building out of beefier tubing too, for my more, er, powerful physique. Much more on this exciting and fun blessing as things progress...

At this point I'd like to pause to pay respects to my sponsors. First, Geoff and Tim and their team at Havana Coffee Works on Tory Street. Geoff and Tim have supported me as long as Roadworks has existed, and the  free coffee and other help through times both thick and thin has been a vital part of my survival.

 Cheers as always for the best coffee in the world, for the COFFEE YOU FEEL!

My other sponsor, and a man I have sponsored in return in my own small way for years, is my good mate the estimable Paul 'WO' Larkin, shown here in his recent role as manager/mechanic of the New Zealand Team to the historic Cyclo-Cross World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

Paul leads the Coalition of GCs in the mission to put me astride my very own Benson, but in his role as distributor of FMB tubulars into Australasia he hooked me up with a pair of fine 25mm Paris-Roubaix tubs, as ridden to a record-tying 4th victory in the Hell of the North last year by Tom Boonen.

These tyres, in a fetching and Bianchi matching green, make for the most supple and smooth ride I can imagine my old Shamals ever giving!

I can't believe how good they look too - the ride would be improved by the tyres being fitted to some standard spokes wheels I'm sure, but who the hell cares when they look this good?

They even came packaged with some of Jens Mouris' ex-bidons too. Thanks, bro.

Paul put his name forward (and paid his own way!) for CX Worlds to support our friend Alex Revell in his quest to learn the ropes of the brutally hard cyclo-cross World Cup circuit. Since his second-place finish in the NZ CX Nationals, Alex has made a challenging and brave journey to Belgium to live and race in the spiritual home of this tough sport and, as thanks to some astute managing of his image, he has become a genuine international cult hero to the fans of the sport. Read the excellent Zander's Flanders for the background to all this but, in the meantime, here are Alex and Paul at the post-Worlds "Foam Party" with the new CX World Champion, Sven Nys. Paul seems underwhelmed, but I know he was actually quite whelmed really.

I feel like wherever Paul goes he takes me with him, and I'm always grateful for that, even if I am really just living vicariously through him.

No mean cx-er himself, here's WO as 'Mr March' in the Victorian Cyclo-Cross Association calendar this year.

From his base in Melbourne after the event he sent me yet more goodness, in the form of schwag of the highest order. The poster is signed by Alex and Paul's Aussie mate Lewis Rattray, along with the previous and new World Champions, Niels Albert and Sven Nys. The cool little cup thing has been well utilised already for both coffee and rum consumption...

Alex too has kindly donated some items to the prodigious Roadworks Historical Archives, including this traditional cyclo-cross bell...

And also the race number off his back, complete with awesome and entirely apposite inscription. Most bodacious. Chur, Snor!

The last member of the Black Ops squad to rate a mention in this rambling diatribe is my dear friend, the talented Tim Wilding, winner in the past of multiple National Championships, Karapoti and Xterra, among too many other great races to list.

(Photo by K. Harwood)

Having just had a wonderful weekend away for Tim's stag do, I'm truly sad Jacq and I can't be there for his wedding next weekend. I'm sure it will be a wonderful day and I wish Tim and the lovely Tamsin all the very best for a long and happy life together. To keep with the gravitas of this paragraph, here's a fine shot of Tim limbering up for our big night out in Martinborough a couple of weekends ago.

     (Sick as Cycle Services Skinsuit courtesy of Ben Kepes)

Just so T-Rex doesn't think I'm picking on him, I have to confess that he was probably the most dignified of the entire group on the night. I, however, didn't fare so well, even sustaining minor injuries in an ill-advised plinth incident of dubious sensibility.

Away from this debacle of ritualised and realised humiliation and back towards riding bicycles, with a nod still towards the CX end of things, I have sometimes been thrashing my IndyFab around the wrinkled terrain of Wellington.

Even taking it away on the family holiday in my friends Dave and Laura's cool camper van (thanks heaps, guys!) to experience some new places from atop the saddle of this cool rig...

...including some wicked exploring around the Otaki Forks area... well as a wonderful morning checking out some dirt road riding in the hills around Castlepoint.

This summer's dry and dusty trails around Wellington are fair game for this fun bike also, of course, and I doubt these superb networks will ever lose their appeal.

One of the most fun rides I've been on in ages was a ride around Red Rocks and up Long Gully with my friend Geoffrey recently. We set out from my place in fairly calm conditions...

...only to have the wind increase dramatically as we climbed up away from the coast... a point where even standing was difficult at times! I'd like to thanks Geoffrey for putting my fears about riding with fit people to rest - when you are used to riding like a slug for years it's very cool to ride with someone with patience and an ability to fool one into thinking they are riding at one's pace.

It's not just the road bikes and the CX rig that have been getting a workout in this never-ending summer, the old mountainbike has been perambulating the environs too.

Of course it's always great to ride with my old compadres Al and Matty, who are well used by now to me slowing them down.

Matt and I, along with another good friend in Steve Grenside, were recent winners of the vet's category in the fine Creek to Peak Relay race, a fundraiser for the super Makara Peak Supporters. As well as being  surprised and delighted to take my second MTB win ever, the first being several years ago as a team in this same event with the wonderful John Randal. From 3rd last after my lap to first after John's scorcher meant I felt like I contributed little to that first win, but this year I felt like my solid (if admittedly short) lap was definitely a part of Team Roadworks' success. Quite apart from another Glorious Victory in this storied event, it was great to feel like I was actually racing again, rather than just struggling to cope. No photographic evidence of Matt or I on the short Koru/Lazy Fern laps has surfaced, but here's Steve on one of the two Grand Loop laps he rode that were the lion's share of our success story. Thanks very much to Steve and Matt for making an unfit old man briefly remember what it feels like to win a bike race!

(Photo by Shane Wetzel - CYCL1N)

Non-competitively, yet still sufferingly, I've been braving the awful warm and windfree conditions to experience a few of the other wonderful trails of Wellington. Skyline is a perennial favourite, with wide open spaces and so much fresh air it makes one almost drunk with oxygen saturation.

On a rare cloudy and windy day atop the feared Mt Albert ascent. Now this was some fresh air!

But there's nothing like a mountainbike ride with my sons. These days it's hard to pin Ket and Harry down to one, but at last Bodhi is showing some interest in the odd ride. One day we got the lovely Jacq to shuttle us out to the Silverstream bridge so we could ride with a tailwind all the way down the Hutt River Trail to meet her for a picnic in the Hikoikoi Reserve at Seaview. Here we are about to set off on this 14km epic.

And this was our arrival at Hikoikoi Reserve after a super ride that included a halfway rest stop at Avalon Playground - I would highly recommend this safe, fun and traffic-free ride to anyone with kids who aren't yet keen or ready for offroad action.

Bo and I also had a wonderful ride to Pencarrow one completely calm evening. I had planned it so we would have the southerly pushing us back to the car after visiting the lighthouse, but the wind was so light I honestly don't know if it made any difference. This is on the Eastbourne Promenade as we began the ride in a shot that also doubles as one of my obligatory self-pics.

Bodhi set a cracking pace on the way to the lighthouse, but still had enough breath to chatter about all manner of interesting subjects the entire distance...

As you might tell, this is one of my favourite rides. The scenery is amazing, the road relatively easy, depending on the strength of the wind, and the scenery is amazing.

Did I mention the scenery is amazing *modest*?

We finished this wonderful experience off with some delicious fish and chips by the beach as the sun sunk into the west, made all the more spectacular, we were told, by the atmospheric haze generated by massive fires in Tasmania and Canterbury at the time.

We're approaching the end of this stupidly long, make-up-for-lost-time post, so it must be time for one last picture of my beloved Bianchi. This is the now iconic Brooklyn bus stop, a guerrilla art attack that survived undamaged for well over four months. So cool to see people using it like a living room, and very kind of them to not mind being props in my photo...

So no here we are, at the end of this long post. Hope you've enjoyed it at least a bit. I now ride off into the night, unsure of when I will return...

But return I shall. Until then, thanks for reading. Cheers, Oli

   (Photo by Stephen Robinson -