Astwood 20 9/7/14

symbol_03Each year, the North Bucks club event calendar includes one event run over two laps of the Atwood circuit. This is one of the longer events in our calendar, at a shade over 20 miles. It’s a fun event, given the nature of the course, and one that I always look forward to.

I tried my best to get out of the house a little earlier than the last time we rode at Astwood, but failed to avoind the level crossing en route to the race. Once again I found myself held up while two trains passed and ended up dashing to the start. I arrived after the first few rides had departed!

Having signed on and got my number pinned on, I awaited my start. I’m always in two minds about whether I should go hell for leather from the moment the pusher-off lets me go – it’s only a short distance to give way on the main road. This evening, I found myself easing up until oncoming traffic passed. Still, that can’t have cost more than a few seconds! Out on the main road, I settled down on my tri-bars and tried my best to keep a decent speed. This was made a bit hard by the head wind, which seemed to be coming from a peculiar direction, and made somewhat gusty by the hedgerows. Nevertheless, I felt pretty good at times.

Probably the only point where I felt some wind assistance was in the stretch to North Crawley after the Chicheley turn. Apart from that, the going felt pretty heavy to me. Indeed, even the descent near the end of the first lap was surprisingly slow – presumably a consequence of the headwind once more.

The second lap was pretty uneventful and not much different from the first lap (including having to once again pause for traffic before joining the main road!), though I did catch a couple of riders. I finished with 50:10, which was good enough for 5th place.

Team Grumpy visits the Tour de France in Yorkshire

Well one of the Team Grumpy riders, anyway! We walked over from Yeadon and down East Chevin to Otley. We got there about half an hour before the publicity caravan was due to arrive, and found the town was completely full. We located a standing spot on the steps of a shop and awaited events to unfold.

The crowd was very good natured, and cheered mightily as each element of the Tour passed by. Particularly loud cheers seemed to be reserved for anything with a Sky logo, and for the British police motorcycles. We didn’t manage to grab any of the goodies being chucked out from the caravan (I just get Haribo when I order from Wiggle!). The publicity caravan took ages to come by, then we had a bit of a wait before the race proper came by. The sun had come out, and the other side of the street was bathed in sunshine. On our side, we were still in shade, and blasted by a stiff (and rather cold) breeze.

The riders came through only a few miles after the finish of the neutralised section in Harewood, but nontheless, there was a break with Jens Voigt (riding his 17th and final TdF) and two others.

After all the riders were through, we filed back up the Chevin via the Cat Steps and back to Yeadon, pausing for an ice cream while we enjoyed the view from the top of the Chevin.

Of course, the big news of the day was the crash in the finishing sprint in Harrogate. Here’s a video from a spectator which gives a real feel for the speed at which these events unfold.

Stoke Hammond 10 2/7/14

symbol_03Another long day at work left me tired and uncertain how well I’d ride at this club event. We did have a good turnout, possibly because it wasn’t a bad evening, with a light and variable wind. 

Lining up at the start, as number 17, I was rather aware of traffic coming past, fresh out of the newly ‘upgraded’ roundabout behind me. As usual, my passage through the first roundabout was somewhat cautious as a result, with the next being quite straightforward. On up the drag to the roundabout where we turn left onto the dual carriageway, and I was pleased o feel rather good, keeping a decent speed up until the roundabout itself.

Things went a little awry on the dual carriageway – my speed seemed to rise and fall for no apparent reason. I decided to just work at it as best I could. Round the turn and things felt good again. I negotiated the roundabout off the dual carriageway and sped off down the descent.

Luckily, I had no traffic issues on the remaining two roundabouts, and shot past the timekeeper quite quickly. Unfortunately, my ageing eyes don’t really allow me to read my Garmin display, particularly in evening events with sunglasses on, so I didn’t really know how I’d done – particularly since I failed to stop the computer after crossing the line. I was rather pleased to find I’d recorded 22:27 for third place (10 seconds behind Geoff Bunyan and well over a minute behind the winner, Jason Gurney)

Full results

Stony 10 25th June 2014

symbol_01Another lovely evening saw a good turnout of 16 riders for this event on the Stony Stratford course. Sadly, we were unable to use the regular course due to roadworks, so we switched to an alternative. Instead of heading to a turn on the A421 via Beachampton and Nash, we headed out via Calverton and Whaddon, to turn at a different roundabout on the A421.

This road isn’t one I ride frequently, and it was the first time I’d raced this course. I found it a particularly technical course, with many sharp turns, and frequently dubious road surface, so I was off the tri-bars quite frequently (deciding discretion was the better part of valour!). There did seem to be cars parked along the course, which one needed to be aware of, but the most alarming event was when one of my racing colleagues took a turn rather fast and appeared to be heading for a head-on collision with me! I say “appeared” because  his bike handling skills were pretty much up to coping with the turn.

At one point I found myself on an unexpectedly sharp (though fortunately short) climb after a lengthy and fast descent, which reduced me to grovelling up in an entirely inappropriate gear. I’d actually be quite keen to have another go on this course, now I’ve got a feel for it.

The event, 10.6 miles, was won by Anthony Batt with an excellent 25:43 – despite one of his tribar extensions coming loose. I was fourth with 27:40.

Results at the NBRC website.

Astwood 10, 18/6/14

symbol_01A lovely evening brought out a good field of 25 riders for this NBRC club event. I had a bit of a mad dash to the event after getting held up at a level crossing waiting for two trains to pass, eventually signing on after the first riders had started. Still, I got there and managed my first ride for a few weeks (cycling holiday, illness, then work commitments being collectively responsible).

After I started, I found myself going pretty well on the main road through Chicheley. My modifications to the saddle seem to have helped solve the problems I’d had sliding forwards on the saddle. Sadly, modifications like this are UCI-illegal – fortunately, CTT sanctioned events don’t insist on UCI-legality!

Rounding the first turn after Chicheley, I was still pedalling smoothly, and it wasn’t until the approaches to North Crawley that I began dropping speed. This little climb always saps my speed, and I didn’t regain my momentum until I’d exited North Crawley. From there, it’s the usual ups and downs of a sporting course, but I was hopeful of recording a ’23′ in this event. (I couldn’t read the smaller numbers on my computer by this time due to sweat in my sunglasses!).

I approached the descent before the finish squinting at my computer – was a sub 24 ride still possible? On the first bit of climb to the finish, all seemed possible, but I flagged a bit on the main bit of climb to record 24:11. Oh well, not too bad given my lay-off from time trialling over the last few weeks!

Results at the NBRC website (I came 7th, in the midst of a stack of riders who’d done 24s).

 

Hemel Hempstead 10 (F11/10) 14/6/14

symbol_03This was my first time trial in some weeks, due to being on cycling holiday, returning with a cold, and then work commitments. Not only had this restricted my racing, but my training has been affected by that dratted cold. This event had been entered some time back and I was keen to have a first ride on the F11/10, a local fast course based on the A41 Tring bypass. The course itself is  characterised by having a fairly steep descent about halfway through (see the Garmin trace below) which you don’t have to come back up.

In advance of the event, there had been some internet chatter about the road surface on sections of the course. Apparently the formerly smooth surface had been ‘improved’ by top dressing with gravel. In places, this was supposed to be dangerously deep in loose chippings. But according to others, there was no problems, just a rough road surface. In any event, Tony and I drove round the course beforehand, partly to have a look at the chippings and partly to recce the course’s turns (the first turn is a poorly sighted double roundabout that passes under the A41).

The event was actually two events – one with male, female, juvenile and tandem categories, and the other with another 150 riders! The HQ was in a pretty good cafe/sports place in Aston Clinton (The Hub), and after driving round the course, we parked near the HQ, collected our numbers and set the bikes up.  A brief warmup later, and I was about to start on a slip road leading down to the A41. By this time a rather blustery wind had built up, though it wasn’t clear what effect that might have.

Setting off, I rolled down the slip road, building up a decent speed. Sadly this seemed to evaporate as I joined the A41 and encountered the dreaded road surface with chippings. This really had a bit of a negative effect on my speed – all of a sudden, I seemed to be struggling to keep things above 25mph! Well, it did get a bit better, but then I got stopped at the first turn. The marshal was doing an excellent job of indicating that there was traffic oncoming from the right. The line of sight isn’t great, and I slowed to see what he was warning about. Sadly it was a line of about eight cars, and I ended up having to stop. Annoying, but the safer approach!

Moving again, I got round the turn with no further traffic problems, and set off again onto the A41. Again, the lengthy patches of newly chipped road surface were horrid to ride, rather like riding a pneumatic drill, but I did see some decent speeds on the descent and beyond. The second turn isn’t too bad, a roundabout that you approach directly on the road rather than by slip roads. I had a clean passage round and headed back up to the finish. This final section was really quite tough at times, with the blustery wind causing my speed to fluctuate quite markedly. I crossed the finish line with around 22:20 on my computer (actually 23:20, since I started my computer’s timer when the guy in front started), leaving me wondering just how much time the hold-up at the first turn had cost me. Back at the HQ, however, I’d been given the time of 22:31, which annoyed me a bit but, hey, I hadn’t done a stellar ride and I never go questioning the timekeeper. Tony P. did 21:53 and Geoff B. 21:57.

There was much chat about the conditions of the road and weather, with most riders complaining about both. Apparently the wind direction wasn’t the ideal direction for this course. And everyone hated the chippings. So, the usual time trial grumblings! Anyway, despite the road surface and the wind, the event was won on an 18.

I regretted my choice of wheels. I’d chosen to ride a Hed Stinger 90 front and Corima disc rear, both with 20mm tubulars at 140psi. I think I’d have been a bit better with the H3 front and Hed-Powertap disc rear with the 22mm clinchers at about 110psi. I think those would have dealt with the rough road surface a bit better.

Using a Raspberry Pi as a Squeezebox

I have recently been playing around with using Raspberry Pi devices as streaming music players within a Squeezebox-based system. I’ve arrived at quite a comprehensive arrangement, which includes a Pi as a player:SqueezeboxSystem

This is a rough illustration of my current implementation of a network of Squeezebox players linked to a NAS (GrumpyBox) running Logitech Media Server (LMS). It consists of several Logitech Squeezeboxes, a couple of iPads that are playback-capable through apps such as SqueezePad and iPeng, and the software Squeezebox emulater, SqueezePlay. To this I have recently added a Raspberry Pi running piCorePlayer. I also have a second Raspberry Pi running Squeezeplug, which has its own instance of LMS (not shown in the diagram).

I’ve summarised the usage cases of the three setups I have tried in the table below. My opinion can be summarised as:

  • If all you want to do is run a media player connected to an existing LMS, choose the piCorePlayer option.
  • If you need to set up a media server as well as a player, choose the Squeezeplug option.
  • By far the most versatile of the two DAC cards I’ve tried is the Wolfson DAC – if you want to use this, then Squeezeplug or the custom Wolfson kernel options are best.
  • Both Squeezeplug and piCorePlayer work well with USB DACs
Squeezeplug piCorePlayer Wolfson kernel
URL website website website
Usage Convenient low cost LMS server and player Low cost and easy to use player. Configured via web interface. Wolfson supply a patched image supporting the DAC. Squeezelite can easily be installed and configured
LMS yes no no
Guide Squeezeplug wiki I also described this installation here. Instructions at the piCorePlayer website  I described this here
Wolfson DAC  supported not supported supported
HiFiBerry supported supported
Notes

1, 4

2, 3

  1. May require powered USB hub if a USB-powered hard drive is used with LMS
  2. piCorePlayer is run solely from RAM. The Pi can be powered off without corrupting the SD card
  3. Also supports the Sabre DAC and the HiFiBerryDigi card though I’ve not tried these
  4. I set up a script for a button press to shutdown the Squeezeplug (and the Wolfson kernel) systems so the Pi can be safely powered down. See here.

For both the Raspberry Pi based devices I use, you do need to think about how you interact with them. I use the LMS web interface (usually found at http://IPaddress:9000) with a laptop, or one of the many tablet or smartphone apps that are available (such as the afore-mentioned SqueezePad and iPeng).

Installing any of these devices is much easier if you have a reasonable amount of experience with the Linux command line. On the other hand, a Raspberry Pi is a pretty good way to learn the Linux command line!

 

Book review: Cycling in the Hebrides

When we first visited Lochedge Guest House in 2012, Richard Barrett, who runs Lochedge, mentioned he was just completing a book on cycling in the Hebrides. By the time we returned in 2014, the book was approaching a reprint, and there were a couple of copies in the B&B. After leafing through one of these, I decided to buy a copy on my return.

Cycling in the Hebrides cover

Physically, the book is conveniently sized for stuffing in a pocket or handlebar bag. But its small size doesn’t detract from its contents. In its nearly 300 pages, all of the Hebridean islands from Arran to Lewis are well-covered, along with a number of linking routes, many on the west coast of mainland Scotland, which enable the individual routes to concatenate  into lengthy tours. I have on many occasions ridden on Mull, Skye and the Outer Hebrides, and many of the west coast roads, and I think Barrett’s descriptions of these routes are accurate and well-described. I imagine that the routes I’ve not ridden so far will be likewise accurate.

The routes include maps and (usefully) altitude profiles. The descriptions include useful factoids such as places to eat and where bike shops are (they can be few and far between), along with interesting facts about locations that pique one’s interest.

While the main part of the book consists of six geographically grouped chapters of cycling routes, they are book-ended by an introduction that give well-considered advice on planning a trip (including equipment, weather, maps, and suggestions for tours), and a series of useful appendices with summaries of the routes, ferries and so forth. I am particularly taken by the table of possible day trips to the minor islands (e.g. a day trip to Coll is possible from Oban on Thursdays in the summer, with a possible stay on Coll of 8 hours).

Having read the book, I am now planning excursions to the southern and minor islands!

Highly recommended, even to those (like me) who may have cycled extensively in some of the Hebrides before.

Cycling in the Hebrides – Island touring and day rides by Richard Barrett Pub Cicerone Press ISBN9781852846435

2014 Tour – Day 8 Acharacle to Oban

A nice day at last! The weather forecasts were for pretty much wall to wall sun, at least until we were likely to reach Oban to collect the car. We planned to catch the 12.45pm Lochaline to Fishnish ferry, then the 3.00pm Craignure-Oban ferry. This would mean that we’d be hanging around at Craignure for a bit, but the next Lochaline ferry wasn’t until 2.45pm (it would seem ferry men need a lunchbreak!). This schedule worried Carol, who was by now in the grip of a nasty cold and said her legs felt all wobbly. Oh, and symptoms were gaining fast on me too…

Out of the hotel, and up a whole series of climbs, some big, some steep, all strength sapping. Through Salen at the base of the Ardnamurchan peninsula and over to Loch Sunart. The scenery was delightful, with a particularly idyllic campsite over at Resipole. On along past Loch Sunart, and the road got flatter and flatter as we approached Strontian (the village where the element Strontium was discovered). Through Strontian, and we could see the big climb we were going to have to get over in order to reach Lochaline. All too soon, we were heading up.

Fortunately, I’d got a bit of a grip on which Rohloff gears to use for this sort of stuff. Too low, and it’s hard to balance, particularly when cars pass on singletrack. Too high, and you don’t get anywhere! This climb was hot work, particularly with a sick stoker (who did really very well). Once on the top, there’s a welcome descent, before the road rises again, though much less savagely than before. One of the problems with this road is that there can be quite a bit of motor traffic over to Lochaline and back which interferes with setting up a decent rhythm, and can make one rather anxious about meeting the ferry departure time.

The last 8 miles or so to Lochaline are again delightful – varied landscape with lots of wooded riverside fields. We reached Lochaline quite quickly, and could see the 11.45am ferry about to load passengers. We quickly zoomed to the front of the motor queue along with a large number of middle aged german blokes on motorcycles. So we got on the ferry before the motorists who’d pushed past us on the climbs! Minutes later, we were on the way over to Mull.

We may have been the first on the ferry, but we were the last off – just as well, since there’s an uphill road from the Fishnish jetty to the road! It’s only 5.6 miles to Craignure, and these mile ticked by quite quickly. Indeed, we reached Craignure in time for the 1pm ferry – only having to wait a few minutes before boarding with the other dozen cyclists (and before the cars).

40 minutes later, we rolled out into Oban, grabbed some lunch and collected the car for the drive south…

2014 Tour – Day 7 Broadford to Acharacle

We had another cooked breakfast, but this time we got to eat our breakfast  while watching a sea otter breakfasting on crabs! (The breakfast room had a huge bay window looking out onto rocks and the sea). Once we were all packed, we set off for Armadale. Carol was still feeling a bit groggy with the cold she’d picked up somewhere en route, and I was feeling like I had (probably inevitably) caught it too.

We left Broadford feeling reasonably OK, and rode across the road through bare hillside, then down into and up out of lovely wooded areas – we could hear cuckoos. We kept an eye out for sea otters, though the patterns of the last 20 years in which we had never seen one reasserted themselves after this morning’s triumph!

Arriving at Armadale in plenty of time for the Mallaig ferry, I sat in a cloud of DEET in the outdoor seats of the cafe talking to a succession of people who one by one got beaten of by the midgies. I fed crumbs to an astonishingly tame robin. The crossing is pretty quick, around 40 minutes, and when we arrived at Mallaig I popped into the ticket desk and bought a second Hopcotch ticket (for Lochaline-Fishnish and Craignure-Oban).

On up the road, and we set about the succession of climbs and descent with resignation. The good weather was seemingly about to revert to showers. We stopped in a layby to heat up some food and coffee/tea, but couldn’t linger as the rain began, and the midgies attacked. By the right turn at Lochailort, the rain had become rather persistent, and would continue like this as we rode along the side of Loch Ailort itself. At the end of the loch, there’s a steep old climb that takes one over to Moidart, where we camped on out first event cycle touring trip (just a weekend trip).

A few more hills, and we reached Acharacle, which lies is a delightful and lush area bounded by hills. By this time the weather had eased a bit, so we were actually quite dry when we checked into the Loch Shiel Hotel. This hotel is just under new management, and is very cheerfully staffed,with quite a bit of renovation work ongoing. We drank beers in the bar (chatted to a bloke from Barra who’d tried to set up a campsite in Barra only to have several successive caravans blow to pieces), and had dinner.