Gerard Vroomen at Cervelo bikes

Cervelo are one of my favourite bike manufacturers, if I had the money they would be the bike of my choice. I like the grass roots, "hand built" personality of the brand, their marketing really gets across how they put heart and soul into every product. Results show this too, their bikes for years have been at the forefront of professional cycling, particulary Time Trialling.

I like their good product development, understanding the need and audience while being sympathetic to design. Their bikes look beautiful.

So when Cervelo announced the retirement of their professional cycling team a couple months ago it was a disappointment. Over 2 years they had achieved so much, from newbies on the block to serious contender, not least getting Thor Hushvod into the World Champion and Tour de France green jerseys!!

Lack of funding was to blame and the team was effectively taken over by Garmin.

I came across this blog from Cervelo owner Gerard Vroomen about the demise of his team. I think this is a great example of their commitment and passion to cycling. I feel sorry for him but hopefully Cervelo will come out of the experience stronger and good on them!

http://www.cervelo.com/en_us/news-blog/rider-blogs/article/mixed-emotions/2616/

MBNA credit card fraud prevention

I've just found out that my credit card details stolen. It is sickening when you find out but fortunately I have been well looked after due to some brilliant service from the guys and girls over at MBNA in Chester.

I first found out that something was wrong after receiving a SMS text message from MBNA which alerted me that £1 had been paid to PayPal. If this was correct I was to text back YES, if not I was to text back NO.

Once I had replied NO, another text message shortly followed letting me know someone would give me a call shortly and to answer any withheld numbers. Literally within one minute a MBNA representative had contacted me and ran through my details to close the account.

I was lucky, in total £1,300 of transactions were pending. These are now being refunded. I spoke to Jane Lane who was excellent.

In an age where digital transactions are becoming more common place and the income divide ever more apparent; the desperate, sadistic ways of making money becomes (seemingly) all the more easier. My visit from today's modern age pickpocket is a reminder that if you do have cards, get them protected.

Couple of nice ads

Spotted a couple of nice ads this week. I love the tongue in cheek approach from Commerzbank, a really nice play on the stereotypical understanding of German organisation while still getting across the serious notion of using a professional bank.

Post It looks at the consequence of not having any Post It notes available, and perhaps a reminder to us all to buy more! I love the ugly piece of paper which is being lost into the colour of the fridge reminding us of the reason why we use Post It.

I thought this POS for Absolut vodka is a very clever way of making a potentially dull bus stop into a really useful tool for increasing both the character of a product and brand recognition.









RIP Leslie Nielsen

Just a quick tribute to the legendary comic actor that is Leslie Nielsen who passed away this week having suffered with pneumonia. Star of the Naked Gun series, I loved his quick wit coupled with fantastic dead pan acting.

One my favourite films of his, like many other people I'm sure, was Airplane! and I found this trailer on You Tube which is just hilarious! I think there was a joke every 10 seconds, be it at the forefront of the dialogue or in the background, the trivia page on IMDb is massive.

Germany to return to the Deutschmark?

Interesting report on Newsnight last Tuesday. It reported on the trouble with countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy who have massive debt levels. As we're seeing with Ireland, the country is on it's knees and desperately seeking financial help. There is concern that the problems with Ireland and these countries will affect the value of the Euro. Economists hope that the economic strength of key Euro countries such France and Germany will help subsidise the Euro.

Germany in particular is a key country, it reported GDP growth of 3.9% in the last 3 months and this pushes the strength of the Euro. Interestingly the report highlighted that such is the growth of Germany that it is making the Euro too expensive for the countries that are struggling. As the Euro value increases, exports are being less and the cost of living rising.

One way to combat this would be to allow Germany to leave the Euro, this would then allow the Euro to fall in value making it easier for the struggling countries to start spending and be more lucrative to trade goods.

I thought this was a really interesting situation. Speaking to a couple of German friends, they would be more than happy to go back to the Deutschmark as they too believe the Euro is too expensive. Personally I would love to see the re-introduction of old currencies again, I think it brings charm and personality to a country although I understand the rationale behind a single currency, particularly for those living on the European continent.

Christmas TV Ads

The Superstores have started their big pushes for the festive season.

Let me know you're favourites. Mine are Marks & Spencer and Tesco. Marks & Spencer have brought in the usual mix of celebrities to cover their target age range. Peter Kay was good decision, not only for ad visibility, but to promote their Big & Tall range. I really like the ad, it's bright, refreshing and shows the clothes in a great light. It will work well for them.

Tesco's have decided to keep with Fay Ripley and Mark Addy as Mum and Dad while bringing in Britain's Got Talent's Amanda Holden. Nicely executed ad concentrating on consumables rather than food. Lots of product on show, the store looks nice in the background.

I like the message behind Sainsbury's, the ad is beautifully shot but I'm unsure about the lack of product. Morrison's has remained focussed on educating us on the source of their products. This time they bring in children who visit farms (and in-store) to learn about the vegetables and meat - nice idea as it focusses in on Mum's and healthy eating while showcasing product. Waitrose have concentrated on using celebrity chef expertise to showcase their premium product.













Goodyear EfficientGrip Fuel Giveaway


As I approached the M6, J19 roundabout this morning it seemed very busier than usual around the Esso petrol station. A massive Goodyear Blimp was floating above and about 10 people in florescent jackets and placards stood in the middle of the dual carriageway (just like the guy in the picture).

This stunt was all part of a campaign to raise awareness of EfficientGrip, a new tyre developed by Goodyear which reduces the amount of rolling resistance, thus using less energy and saving motorists money on petrol.

It is said that it can save drivers 1 litre of fuel in every tank as well as offering good tyre durability, increased wet weather performance and a quieter ride. I had a set of Goodyear F1 Eagle's on my Golf GTI a year ago following rave reviews from the likes of EVO magazine. I found them to be an uncomfortable ride, the noise was loud and the performance terrible. I switched to Continental Sport Contacts and have found them to be much better.

Not only are Goodyear offering £20 free fuel but will award a £10 fuel voucher for each tyre when fitted!

It is a great, high visibility campaign. There was a huge queue this morning outside Esso petrol station and for those receiving the free fuel I'm sure they will remember the brand!

Goodyear aren't the only ones to have tried this stunt, other attempts include Electronic Arts which played on fuel being used as currency in Venezuela for their new computer game Mercenaries 2 and Hyundai also offered a free fuel top in the US to promote their new fuel efficient models.

Clever Ads

Sometimes it can be hard to get clients on board to develop really nice creative ideas, many want to take the safe route which can not always generate good volumes of sales. To help I try to put ideas in the mind of the client. I came across these beauties yesterday as I was prepping up for a client meeting.

The ideas wonderfully illustrate the message from the products. Despite being smaller, the new range of Komatsu tractors are still very powerful. The Gorilla ladder's standing base is so big and sturdy that it's like the ground has come up with you.







Facebook launches Social Inbox

Facebook have launched a brand new messaging system, which introduces a fusion of email, SMS and Facebook messaging.

Speaking at a Facebook conference today, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that "email is dead", claiming it to be "too slow and formal".

It is something I've thought about for a while now. At work we send thousands of emails a week. Emails are important as they obviously track a timeline of conversation and we are then able to save emails into job bags for future reference. This is something which is lost in a verbal conversation and can be lost using instant messaging.

A solution where you can have a platform like Outlook, but instead of simply receiving an email, you could start an instant real time conversation which would then be saved into a folder just like email would be ideal.

This is a solution which Zuckerberg is putting forward although texts and all method of written conversation would also be saved in a historical timeline instead of being scattered on various solutions. The inbox will also be split into friends, general email and junk. A nice touch.

It is a genius solution, showing great understanding. It is a great move for Facebook.

And yes, all Facebook users will be getting a Facebook email address, although Zuckerberg was keen to stress it wouldn't be an "email address" as such, perhaps more an "identity".

To start with Social Inbox will be by invite only, however if you head to www.facebook.com/about/messages - you can ask for an invite.

Fosters Funny Alan Partridge

Ste Coogan is on a roll at the moment. He has just launched a new series of the brilliant Alan Partridge on www.fostersfunny.co.uk and is involved with new BBC 2 comedy "The Trip" with Rob Brydon.

The new Alan Partridge episodes are excellent. 10 minutes each, they quickly take you back immediately to the much missed TV series of old. This time Partridge is fronting "North Norfolk Digital" with the episodes filmed through the studio webcam. Alan is as boring as ever, jingles as diabolical as ever but the subtle humour from Coogan is as sharp as ever.

What can go wrong does go wrong (and as we find in episode 2 this week) Alan takes part in a radio documentary on his family history, only to find one of his relatives dies of syphilis prompting Alan to remark "if I was going on a man's radio show to accuse one of his ancestors of having a sexual disease I wouldn't want to be pretty sure, I would want to be the next step up; which is, presumably, 'uber sure'".

The series is also a great social media strategy from Fosters. The results must be staggering, both from a brand equity perspective to the amount of news coverage. You can check them out on YouTube below.

If you love these check out The Trip on BBC 2, which follows Ste Coogan and Rob Brydon as they travel around North England reviewing restaurants. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it is beautifully produced as Coogan and Brydon vibe off each other with hysterical impressions while you try to figure who is real and who is an actor in the surroundings. It is also great to see the North beautifully shot, and to me the food courses create just as much as the great dialogue.





The Social Network

Becky and I watched The Social Network the other evening. The film is based on the book "Accidental Millionaires" by Ben Mezrich (with the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin of A Few Good Men fame and directed by David Fincher, who was also involved with Se7en and Benjamin Button. Kevin Spacey was also Executive Producer) and explores the beginning and development of Facebook.

As I spend pretty much everyday on Facebook, both on a personal and business perspective, I was really interested to see Mezrich's insight into the development of Facebook, especially as he was supposedly supported by Facebook co-founder Eduardin Saverin.

The film is fascinating and although the film centers around Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it is Saverin who plays a major part in the Facebook story. The story can be told thus:

* Winklevoss twins approach Zuckerberg after he launches Facemash, a "hot or not" website which was created from hacking into the Havard Universities student photo database.
* The Winklevoss twins look to launch the Havard Connection. A social networking website similar to Facebook today.
* Zuckerberg starts developing the site before deciding to make it his own behind the Winklevoss twins knowledge and creates Facebook.
* Best friend, Saverin is announced as Financial Director, Saverin finds investment for Facebook at the beginning and develops the Facebook relationship algorithm.
* Saverin clashes with Zuckerberg over business direction. Saverin wants to introduce advertising to create revenue, while Zuckerberg didn't want to as he felt it was "cool" that Facebook didn't include ads. Zuckerberg was right.
* Zuckerberg meets Napster founder Sean Smith, despite being chalk and cheese share direction.
* Facebook moves to California while Saverin spends time away in New York searching for advertisers.
* Behind the scenes Smith introduces investment banks and eventually Saverin looses his shares after being tricked into a dodgy contract.

So, who would have thought that our beloved Facebook could be so corrupt?! There is no way of knowing how much of this is true but Zuckerberg did end up paying the Winklevoss twins $65 million in compensation and Saverin's shares were also restored.

Zuckerberg is a discreet character, he keeps himself to himself. He has admited that the majority of the film is untrue but the majority of the shirts he wears in the film is correct. He is portrayed as an arrogant, well assured individual in the film, watching interviews with him it is hard to accept that. Although a strange thing I noted is that during the lawsuit between Saverin and Zuckerberg in the film, Saverin still held Zuckerberg in high regard despite being conned by his best friend, so perhaps there is something else there.

This is one of my favourite interviews of Zuckerberg, I think it is a good reminder that the despite his intelligence and wealth, the guy is only in his early twenties!

5 months with the club

November marked my 5th month anniversary with Weaver Valley Cycling Club. In such a short period of time I feel I've developed as a cyclist. I'm not by any means the finished article but I've ridden on the track and my hill climbing has improved so I'm now not totally off the back. This is mostly down to watching others developing my technique and having better anticipation and gear selection when it came to the hill.

I've unfortunately not had a consistent run of club runs due to personal commitments and also helping out with marshalling. I've normally had 2 or 3 in a row weekends with a week off but I'm finding that I'm loosing weight and I'm learning that when the pace eases up, to take drink, a deep breath and getting ready for the next onslaught.

I enjoy the company within the club, everyone is great and supportive. There are some amazing cyclists, where they get the power and energy from I don't know! You learn the best groups to be in for your own ability and I'm really enjoying my cycling. I also enjoy being part of the cycling community, getting involved in marshalling etc.

Getting involved with a cycling club is definitely worth it, I've found that a lot of new members are already very fit from having been involved in marathons or triathalons previously, others have built their way up gradually like me. So, if you're thinking of joining a club for the 2011 season, I would say make sure you have a couple of sportives in the legs to test your ability and get involved.

Tour de France 2011 Route


The 2011 Tour de France route was announced today in Paris. The route celebrates 100 years of the Alps and to mark the occasion the Tour visits the Galibier twice and also goes up the vicious Alpe d' Huez for a mountain top finish two days before Paris.

There is an individual time trial before Paris.

There is a return to the Pyrenees in the first half of the race which could be interesting and there is the return of the Team Time Trial too.

Not as exciting as the start of 2010 without the Beligium Pave but definitely one for the climbers, I'd put my money on Andy Schleck this year.

Gap


It's good to see that branding still plays a massive part in our day to day lives.

Clothing retailer Gap announced that it was to give it's reknowned logo an overhaul in an attempt to appeal to a modern audience. The new logo included a blue square in the top right hand corner as a nod to the old branding.

Well it's safe to say it all kicked off. Over 2000 comments on it's Facebook page, not counting those on Twitter (a Twitter feed dedicated to both the old and new Gap logo were created). Such was the uproar surrounding the new look that within a week of announcing the new logo Gap decided to pull it and revert back to it's previous branding.

There are two ways to look at this.

1) Gap has a terrible communications strategy. Do they really know their audience?
I would love to see the brief for this new logo. It is terrible. It is poor design, secondary school at best execution. I wouldn't have the square overlapping the "p" at all, nor the gradient in the square. It would cause all kind of production problems and would look terrible in a single colour.

Gap reverted back after only a couple of thousand people kicked up a fuss. For a global brand this is very weak. Were they too frightened to loose mouldy old customers and make a bold new decision? Surely they had done their research?

2) Is it a clever Social Media strategy?
I find it hard to believe that (according to MarketingMag) a reputable agency such as Laird & Partners in New York would create such a grotesque logo. Gap also announced through Facebook that they were re-branding. Not exactly the norm when executing such a major branding change.

Gap also pulled the new logo within a week due to a couple of thousand people complaining. Were they looking at a clever way to get people talking and add new followers to their Facebook and Twitter feeds? Perhaps create a bit of a fuss and get people to remember the glorious heritage of the Gap brand. Those expensively produced blue paper bags with the reversed logo. Look good on the high street don't they? When did you last shop at Gap? The clothes were expensive but the quality was good no? Wasn't there a time when it was cool to have your baby dressed head to foot in Gap? But now you shop at Next right?

I can't say which one it is but it would be genius if it was number 2. Shame they couldn't have kept it going slightly longer!

Horse of the Year Show Tickets

Becky and I ventured down to the NEC in Birmingham on Wednesday for the Horse of the Year show. Becky loved the day and arrived home a lot lighter in the purse but weighed down by shopping!

We had a good day but I wanted to highlight something just in case you were thinking of going because I think it is very poor form from the organisers Grandstand Media.

Becky had left buying the tickets to the last minute (due to saving up to go and trying to get the day off). Luckily she managed to get the day off, however when it came to the tickets last week we were shocked to find that the £26 and £36 a ticket seats had sold out - for these seats to sell out on a Wednesday and Thursday is very unheard of. There was no way we could afford £56 each, it wouldn't be good value for money either with the professional riders not being very active on the Wednesday.

Anyway after searching long and hard we managed to grab hold of some £36 tickets.

For Horse of the Year show to say those cheaper tickets were sold out is wrong. We sat in the arena and there were hundreds of empty cheap seats. It was so empty that the stewards told us to sit at the front (in the expensive seats) as it wouldn't be busy.

Surely it would make better sense to fill up the arena with cheaper prices than hang on to see if people would pay £56 a ticket (which from talking to 5 people they didn't). Grandstand Media have had to pull the British Open Showjumping Championships already due to lack of interest, perhaps they should revise their strategy or Horse of the Year show will follow suit.

It isn't a cheap day out, especially for families. You also have to pay £8 parking, and if you want a programme that is another £8 (I know I fainted too). Food and drink isn't cheap either, easily £4 for a sandwich, hot dog or burger and a cup of tea even comes in at £1.60.

Yes of course best advice is to book as early as possible especially if you are thinking of going Friday, Saturday or Sunday, (if you book by December you can pay 2010 prices rather than 2011 so sounds like they're going up again) but for Wednesday and Thursday book the cheapest you can as chances are you'll sit nearer the front anyway. Approximate tmes are available on the website beforehand so print those off from there to save the ridiculous £8 programme charge.

New Heinz Tomato Soup "Whistle" TV Ad



I saw this new TV ad from Heinz the other night for Tomato Soup, no doubt for the run up to those chilly Autumn days. The advert was created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and is part of a £2 million pound campaign.

I love how it has brilliantly observed and captured the moment of someone's first mouthful of soup. Beautifully filmed and has a nice tone to it

Dave Hinde Race Series

Those who read my blog will know I had a disagreement with a cyclist and a car recently which ended up with my 6 month old Dave Hinde L'Etape frame being written off, together with handlebars, cassette, chain and rear mech.

Anyway all this has meant a new frame and the guys at Dave Hinde have been excellent, in fact Jim was one of the first to phone me once the news had filtered through. They set to work in taking the bike apart and checked everything throughly. With my entry level L'Etape written off they made me an offer to replace it with a brand new Race Series frame which they had in stock. Made in Aluminum, like the L'Etape, the Race Series frame is made by Italian frame maker Dedacciai. For those of you who following cycling closely, Dedacciai also make the frames for Condor of the Rapha Condor Racing Team.

The Race Series frame is certainly a lot chunkier especially on the seat tube with a squared top and down tube. It means business and is similar weight if slightly lighter to the L'Etape. I have it finished with Pro-Lite kit, Mavic wheels and full Ultegra groupset.

I decided to upgrade the forks. I had Ambrosio forks previously, this was a default option from Dave Hinde. I wasn't impressed with the forks, right from the first ride they had a very harsh ride and wept under pressure when sprinting. They were very poor.

I upgraded to Deda's very own Blackfin racing forks which are full carbon and are also very light. The difference has been incredible already. The ride is a 100% better, the front of the bike glides along soaking up the little bumps. Compared to the Ambrosio forks it is like riding in an arm chair.

Combined with the Race Series frame, the Deda forks make a very nice ride. The bike is very forward moving, every pedal stroke pushes through the frame to the wheel. If you're looking for a first time road bike I'd probably stick to a L'Etape, for an upgrade or second affordable frame definitely consider the Road Series.



First time at the Velodrome

On Friday evening I had my first taste of riding the boards at the velodrome in Manchester courtesy of Weaver Valley Cycling Club. I hadn't had any track cycling experience before, nor had I ridden a fixed or fixed with no brakes!

All I can say is that if you love your cycling, you need to get on the track. It is the most overwhelming, exhilarating, mindblowingly, adrenalin fuelled fun you will have on two wheels. It is brilliant.

The air whooshes past your face, the massive kick you get as you come off the bend, your surroundings just whizz by, it is such a great sensation.

Some beginners tips if you're visiting the Velodrome for the first time.

1) You can hire a track bike from the Velodrome for £10. They are all fixed wheel, all you need to know is your frame size.

2) You can hire cycling shoes from the Velodrome for £4 or if you use Look Delta cleats you'll be ok.

3) Riding a fixed wheel bike can be strange at first, even stranger without any brakes! With a fixed wheel, the cranks are constantly moving so you can't freewheel. Don't worry if you try to, you just get a gentle reminder from the bike to keep pedalling! Track cycling is all about how fast you can spin your legs, together with leg power.

4) You brake by 1) softly cycling backwards, this takes some getting used to as I found I was yanking back to harshly at first or 2) start to cycle at a slower revolution.

5) Every session has a trainer from the Velodrome who will get you on your way. The sessions are split into 2, one half for beginners and intermediates and then another half for the experienced boys and girls (we were getting 15 minutes on rotation which worked out really well).

6) The key thing about cycling at the Velodrome is to push hard through the corners. It is all about forward motion and looking around you. Never move out without a good look.

7) Don't worry about the banking, it does look intimidating at first but let gravity help you out. When we were racing we used the black inside line as it is the shortest way round the course and used the blue line for overtaking. You start off by riding around on the flat "cote d'azur" around the edge at first to get used to a fixed wheel bike and then go up onto the banking. At first it is a wierd sensation trying to stick to the line, you'll wobble about a bit. I found it dodgy on the corners but you just have to relax and trust that the bike isn't going to from under you, and as long as you're pedalling it won't do.

8) Self control is a massive area. Get some group riding experience so you know how to alter your cadence to suit the man in-front. You need to be thinking ahead, pre-plan your movements and be aware of what is happening being you.

9) Always overtake on the outside. Never on the inside.

10) Relax and enjoy it. I found as soon as I relaxed my upper body, loosened my grip on the bars I could concentrate not only on the race but let my legs do the work.

Crash

Cycling for me hit an all time low last weekend while taking part in the Manchester 100. The morning hadn't started as planned anyway, I was wanting to set off at 7am to complete the 100 miles by lunchtime. Despite leaving my house at 6am, a 20 minute journey turned into an hour and a half queue to get in. I narrowly made the 8am cut off point for the 100 mile and set off.

By this time the roads were pretty busy with cyclists, many would have started the 100k option so there were all kinds of bikes on the road from fixed to mountain to full sus. I've documented many times about how poor the cycling etiquette can be in these sportives and this was unfortunately another example. Riders were strung across the road, some even riding 5 a breast onto the opposite side of the road and people who are riding alone were even sat in the middle of the road.

There is a long stretch of road at about 10 miles in which goes past Tatton Park, it was at this point I saw a group of 10 riders who had pulled over taking up the whole road, 3 of which were casually having a piss at the side of the road. I'm sure the female cyclists and passing drivers didn't want to see that. Further on I saw another group of cyclists flat out in a field taking a break - it was only 10 miles in?!!

I haven't got an issue with cyclists starting out at all. 3 years ago I was in the same situation, even completing Manchester to Blackpool on a mountain bike myself. The issue I have is the poor cycling etiquette and I've always felt that one day someone was going to get hurt. This time it was me.

Anyway I pushed on and before long I heard some squeeking and a lot of huffing and puffing behind me. These 2 gents passed by and pulled in front of me. You would have thought we were in deepest winter with the full length tights, skullcaps, full length clothes and winter jackets they were wearing, but they were going at a similar pace so I decided to sit on their wheel for a couple of miles to save energy.

Before long they slowed up and I re-overtook and carried on. About 10 minutes later they overtook me again and pulled right in front. I decided to slow up and let them carry on.

As you pull out of Knutsford, there is a slight drag and a pretty decent descent where you can pick up some speed. As I came over the arch of the hill, the two guys were ahead of me by about 80 metres. No danger and I reached for my bottle. Just as I reached for my bottle, a car coming the opposite way was trying to overtake another cyclist on a blind bend. The guys in front suddenly broke really hard, I slammed on omy front brake and brought my hand up for the rear but with the momentum of the hill together with the guy in front not looking and pulling into my path I had no where to go but to hit his wheel sending me and the bike flying.

The bike and I skidded for about 50 metres, me landing about a metre away from the front of the car. I had landed on my head and shoulder, and my right leg and arm was totally ripped.

Now here is the bad bit, as a lay there dazed and badly bleeding, did the 2 cyclists stop to make sure I was ok? No. They just cycled on like nothing had happened. I couldn't believe it.

The driver and some passing cyclists helped me out. I refused for an ambulance to be called out as I was only 10 minutes from my house so I put a call in for help there instead! The last thing I wanted was all the attention of an ambulance rolling up. Dazed, I thanked everyone and slomped down in a field out of the way. I was so angry. Angry that I should have known better with the guys in front, angry that the guys hadn't even stopped and angry that I was only 15 miles in.

The bike was a wreck. The rear mech had twisted into my wheel, the handlebars bent, gear levers knackered and the frame looking twisted.

Luckily I've had a huge amount of support from everyone and I'm very grateful. One thing is for sure I won't be taking part in any events produced by Bike Events anymore. The roads are too congested, cramming as many people as they can on to the route. They need to cap the amount of entries, especially for their events which are geared up to new cyclists.

As I was driven home, another example of what I'm talking about happened right in front of us. One of the crossings is across a dual carriageway near to J19 of the M6. Although marshalled there is no traffic light system so it is down to judgement. As we drove towards the junction, 5 cyclists on mountain bikes came shooting across the dual carriageway without even stopping and taking a proper look, forcing a car to slam on his brakes to narrowly miss them.

This incident has left me with a bill for pretty much a new bike, new clothing and me in a huge amount of pain and off the bike for 2 weeks. Not to mention the huge knock to my pride but most of all I still can't believe the actions of a fellow cyclist not even stopping. It is this kind of mindless stupidity which is going to end up in more than just minor injuries on these rides.

New Heineken TV Ad



I LOVE this new Heineken advert. This comes second in my list of favourites after Specsavers' Postman Pat advert, which I spoke about earlier in the year.

I love how they've kept the Dutch in there, it really works. The juxtaposition between the girls and the boys in their own walk in wardrobe is fantastic. It is beautifully put together, the timing is excellent, great acting and the female lead is gorgeous.

I haven't got much infomation on who created the advert, however it is Heineken's first TV advert since 2008. Here's to more !

The Power of Twitter

The folks over at the Daily Mail seem to have taken time out from telling us that we're going to get cancer from eating.....well just about anything and have seemingly annoyed businessman Duncan Bannatyne of Dragon's Den fame. And it's not only the Daily Mail that has felt Bannatyne's rath in this intriguing use of social media.

It all started when the Daily Mail released an article which featured Sharon Wright of Talpa Products. Sharon visited the Den last year, you may remember she had an invention which allowed wires to be poked through holes easily called MagnaMole. If I remember correctly she came up with the idea after having Sky fitted. She came across very well, I think she had a couple of offers and eventually she opted for James and Duncan as her new business partners.

I'll let you read the article but things since then didn't work out, the deal came to an end and things have turned a bit sour. Bannatyne first responded through his Twitter feed at @duncanbannatyne - his lawyers were on the case due to sloppy journalism and openly responded to tweets from followers asking questions, even publishing the contract on his blog.

It was at this time that Kate Pritchard at Real Business (@real_business) thought it would be a good idea to poach the Daily Mail article and question Duncan Bannatyne's integrity on her own blog. This lead to an already disgrunted Bannatyne asking "How trustworthy is Kate Prichard who writes for Real Business?" on his Twitter feed, angry that she hadn't checked the facts with him first. This lead to ongoing dialogue between the two and a flapping Kate Pritchard forced to update her blog and tweet feed with grovelling, cringeworthy apologies to Bannatyne.

All the while Sharon Wright, who is also on Twitter (@sharon_wright), decided to promote her side of the story (that is if you can actually understand a word she is saying). Bannatyne's fast and open reaction on Twitter had put him at a good advantage as people drove to Wright's twitter feed to open their opinions many negative that was looking for fame and money. Wright responded angrily to these people, perhaps throwing more coal into an already burning fire. Wright claims the money from the article went to a charity.

James Caan had been slow to react but today released a statement on his website which was clear, positive and honest about the situation. Wright's response on Twitter was of discontent claiming "STATEMENT JAMES HAS SENT OUT IS INCORRECT, MY LAWYERS WILL ADVISE wht I cn & CANT SAY, SO I dnt INCRIMANATE MYSELF, ths IS FAR FROM THE END".

While for an outsider this was all very juicy, what can we learn from this mess? 1) The power that social media has. The fact that Duncan Bannatyne, within minutes, was able to personally control the situation whilst on holiday. He was able to be open, answer questions and stop any more untruths from spreading. He was able to stop a damaging situation from developing on a business entrepreneur blog. This would never have happened offline. 2) Always get your facts right. Social media is great due to the amount of information available but just how correct is the information your receiving/using. 3) It's all about speed. The faster you react the better, deal with questions politely but if you're unsure take a deep breath, get advice first and issue a quality statement. 4) That having a crisis PR strategy is crucial not just offline but also online. I've been reading about this at work with our clients recently and it is really interesting.

Riding For The Club

I wrote a month ago about taking part in my first club run with Weaver Valley Cycling Club. It was a tough yet rewarding experience. I've since been on 2 further runs and decided to join the club.

I'm glad I took the plunge and went on that first run. I'm learning all the time riding with the club, slowly building my confidence thanks to the amazing support in the bunch. I've already made some good friends. It isn't a piece of cake, I'm right back at the beginning of the learning curve and just hope I don't let the club down.

So what would I say if you're thinking of joining a cycling club.

1) It is relentless. You'll be riding at 20-22 miles an hour plus constantly. There is no respite and at times you'll be flying along on the front and before you know it hanging on at the back. I struggle because of my weight, many of the guys are slim and scamper up hills no problem. I'm really fortunate I've found a great club that will hang on for 10 seconds while I'll catch up.

2) The short runs aren't just a nip round the block. The short runs will be about 40-50 miles, and don't think that if you're going to Congleton you'll be going straight there, you'll most likely take the long route there or most definitely have a loop added in.

3) Get some endurance in. I wouldn't join a club unless you're easily doing 30-40 miles non-stop at a 18-20 mile an hour pace. You'll be able to ride with the bunch ok but it won't be a leisurely ride as I've found out.

4) Get a road bike. Don't turn up on a mountain bike. You don't need the best kit, just a road bike and road tyres.

5) Get some sportive practice in. I would get at least year of riding in sportives, the miles will do you good and you'll also get experience in riding with groups at a pace. It is a good way of monitoring you're level of fitness.

Joining any club can be daunting, read up on the club and ask the local bike shop if the club is right for you (some are really pretentious, some are very leisurely). I knew Weaver Valley had an excellent reputation, fair, friendly but competitive. They host and take part in a number of bike races throughout the season and have a column in the local paper so I knew right at the beginning that I wanted to join Weaver Valley but I needed to be at a really good level before that first ride.

Tour de France 2010

Well this wouldn't be Thoughts From The Bike without a post about the Tour!!

My predictions - Alberto Contador to win, but I would keep an eye on Cadel Evans, he is having an amazing season at the moment, he could pull it off.

This season we have the debut of Team Sky, the first British cycling team since Raleigh in the 80s. It is an exciting project, with Bradley Wiggins on board as GC and Edvald Boasson Hagen for the sprints it will be interesting to see how they get on. It's great to see Geraint Thomas and the Wirral's Steve Cummings get a shout. I've read a number of interviews with Steve Cummings, it's good to see a good guy get the opportunity!

We are a few stages into the tour already and it is interesting to see how the race is progressing already. I've got to say Stage 3, which took in parts of Paris-Roubaix pave, was a sensational race. The race was split apart and we even lost one of the favourites Frank Schleck with a broken collarbone! Seeing Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans at the end being interviewed, white as a sheet, totally exhausted said it all. The images of the crowds along the pave, the riders following each other darting from side to side to find the smoothest line were amazing.

After a surprising Prologue from Armstrong which saw him take out a few seconds on Contador, people starting talking whether Armstrong could do it in his last ever tour. After stage 3 that all changed, those who were minutes behind (such as Cadel, Andy Shleck and Bradley Wiggins after poor Prologues) found themselves back in the top 10 with minutes ahead of Contador and Armstrong.

Contador wasn't going to do any damage on the cobbles and even managed to take a minute out of Armstrong. His performance so far has been solid, managing the flat stages well, no major accidents and kept himself quiet ready for the mountains to come.

This is going to be the most exciting Tour for years, I would love for Mark Cavendish to pick up the Green jersey too. I've just watched stage 5, which having seen Cav been written off the day before (due to loosing a sprint into stage 4) totally destroy the field. Mark Renshaw did an incredible lead out (one of the best I've seen from such a long way out) and Cav finished it off. The pouring of tears on the podium and in the interview afterwards just showed that despite his spiky personality, underneath he is just a cocky teenager with an incredible talent. Cav is under a huge amount of pressure, and together with a poor build up to the Tour, today showed he is a very tired guy. I hope he lasts through the mountains, but today he won himself a lot of respect for the passion he has for cycling.

Get ready for the Pyrenees!!

BTW I'm all over the ITV footage of the Tour, excellent interviews throughout and some behind the scenes footage. ITV 4 at 7pm or watch it live.

Manchester to Blackpool Review 2010

Last year's Manchester to Blackpool wasn't the best; poor cycling etiquete and the organisers cramming in 5000+ riders through town centre routes dampened what is the North West's biggest sportive.

I'd like to say that this year was better, and in some respects it was as it seemed quieter, but cycling etiquete was once again appalling. Why can't people cycle to the left, not in the middle of the road on their own and why can't people look behind them before pulling out?!! It isn't hard. The number of times someone pulled into me without looking was just incredible. Another thing, when cycling through a busy town center road why do people cycle more than 2 a breast. Cars can't overtake and causes chaos everywhere.

All this put together makes life much harder, having to slow down and accelerate to overtake and mentally keep on your toes rather than focus on your ride.

The route was similar to last year, due to an event on at Haigh Hall, we were directed up through Standish and into Charnock Green. Personally I thought this made the route a lot better, nice twisting country roads to keep the legs rolling before getting to my favourite part of putting the hammer down along the bypass at Leyland into Preston.

The ride start well, unfortunately I lost a bottle going through Leigh early on. That knocked my concentration for a couple of miles as I worried about loosing it, should I go back and get it? I decided to continue on and stop at two stops rather than the one to top up the bottle.

Although a flattish route there are quite a few drags, I don't know if it was me but I thought the first half had quite a few lumpy bits compared to last year. Nothing to get you out of the big ring but enough to get you into a climbing rhythm for a couple of miles.

I battled through the miles, the legs felt good with no cramping and even the energy sapping drag from Lytham into Blackpool felt ok, the headwind was always just crackers.

I finished in 3 hours 45 minutes, knocking 45 minutes off my 2009 time. I'm happy about that but really, really disappointed not to get 3 hours 30. I finished exhausted and it has taken a few hours for me to sort myself out. I think I obviously I need more speed and that will be down to loosing weight.

Will I be back next year? Despite it's problems, I'm sure I will.

My First Club Run!

I've just got back from a relaxing week away in the Lake District but before I left I ventured out on my first ever club run.

A number of people, from Dave Hinde to cyclists on my training runs, have always said that looking at my sportive times I would benefit from a joining a club. My local club is Weaver Valley who have a fantastic reputation around Northwich, they produce a number of big road races and their riders are always visible every weekend. Although they are well known to be a competitive club they are also very well known for being friendly and welcoming to new riders.

I've always said that I would join the club when I felt my fitness was ready, I didn't want to go in half heartedly, I wanted to prove I'm up for it and I'm committed. Training has been going well recently, putting in some nice miles so I holding my breath I went down to Hartford Social Club to join in on the weekly Sunday run. There would be a choice of a long and short route, what could go wrong?!

I turned up half an hour early hoping to get to know a couple of people before the ride. As it happened I befriended a young guy called Dylan who had been riding for a few months before everyone else arrived.

There was about 30 of us and the guy who usually takes the rides was away on holiday. It was decided we were going to Wrexham (gulp!!), well at this point I couldn't say no thanks could I?! Fancy whimping out already on my first run and we hadn't even pulled out of the car park!!

So off we went, the route taking us past Beeston Castle and winding through beautiful quiet country lanes, the scenery was just incredible. The warm breeze felt amazing. On the way there the route took up a couple of climbs, the first couple I managed no problem and felt confident at the front.

Then we came to a tough climb. It was about a mile in length, the beginning easy enough in the big ring but it had you peeling back to the small ring in the last half before really ramping during the last quarter.

I was overtaken and the last quarter it was just me. I kept my eye on the last man who was about 10 seconds ahead of me and tried to keep up my pace. My eyes were bulging out my sockets, my heart was pounding but eventually I got to the top.

I was sure I had been dropped and they would have gone on without me but as I looked up there was a rider at the top waiting. I didn't know whether to feel happier to have made it to the top or that someone had bothered to wait for a newbie like me. As I turned the corner I couldn't believe it, they were all there waiting for me. I whimpered out a "sorry for holding you up guys" and kept going on. Everyone was really nice about it but I didn't want to stop, I wanted to show determination but it took a good 15 minutes of hanging off the back for me to recover.

The ride there had been good and when we stopped at the Garden Centre cafe I took the opportunity to introduce myself to a few people. I found a spare seat at a table with Jed, Malcolm and John. They weregreat. I think they were quite taken back that this was my first ever club run. Supposedly a club run would never have been this hard for a cycling club novice "we definitely wouldn't have done that hill for starters"!

The ride was flat all the way back and I took the time to talk to more people. I spoke to one guy who had been with the club for a few months who said "don't worry it's not normally this tough, the rides are normally shorter, this is the longest, hardest and fastest we've done in ages". Great!! So the first ride I decide to do it's one of the tough ones!!

The tempo was good all the way home and I managed to keep with the group until about 5 miles from home when I got detached up a drag. I think word had spread that this was my first club run and as everyone peeled off I got a pat on the back and "great ride mate" which did wonders for my confidence, it was great to know I hadn't let anyone down.

I loved the ride. It was great to talk to like minded cyclists, it was great to feel part of a team, everyone was really friendly, loads of great advice and can't wait for the next one. If anyone is reading this from Weaver Valley from that ride - thanks very much for your help, much appreciated.

My membership is definitely in the post and can't wait for the next one after Blackpool.

For anyone worried about joining a club, just make sure you're fit, doing 40 miles non-stop and at a good pace. Once you're doing that get involved, dig deep and you'll make some great friends.

My Advert Of The Year

Just fabulous, brilliantly executed by Specsavers Creatives Simon Bougourd and Neil Brush, and I think it was directed by Darren Walsh.

Makes me smile everytime.

Are you checking out??

Just been passed a really interesting article on the Checkout Abandonment on websites.

The article is an introduction into the Checkout Authorisation Guide by Dr Mike Baxter, which I'm yet to read. It explains that the main reason for customers not committing to purchases in their website shopping baskets is due to high hidden costs such as postage. This is the same result from two separate surveys where around 40% of people questionned said that high costs at the end of the shopping experience put them off buying.

So retailers need to be more open about charges. It's an age old tactic that retailers make a lot of profit on marking up postage costs. I don't know of anyone who has charged the exact amount for postage when selling personal items on e-bay.

If you're clever about being upfront with customers you could look at selling more goods. Remembering Behavioural Economics, people look at the most ethical option for them. For example if the postal options are laid out £5 for up to 2 items and £7 for up to 4 items. People may be encouraged to buy a couple more items because it is only an extra £2 in postage.

Look at your sales figures, what are your average items per purchase? Again using Behavioural Economics you can look to increase sales by illustrating the high postage cost for multiple items. So for example, if you know you normally sell on average 3 items per sale, why don't you illustrate the high postage cost of buying 10+ items, so it then makes buying 3 items seem a bargain.

Look now, buy later

Another interesting aspect from the Checkout Abandonment research saw 65% of people not purchase as they weren't ready and saving for later. (The article does mention that 41% were not ready and 24% were saving for later - personally I would put "not ready" and "saving for later" together).

This brings the need for Wishlists to be added to e-commerce sites rather than just a shopping basket, this is a nice technique allowing people to put a side a couple of items for another day and concentrate on items that matter most. The Wishlist gives an escape route if the total amount is getting too heavy for the customer.

Imagine it like when you've walked up to the checkout in HMV with 6 DVDs, you've debated long and hard about spending £20 on 6 DVDs and is it worth it. You've decided it is but as you stand in the queue in those final moments you decide just to go for the 3 for £10 and you leave the other 3 on a nearby shelf. I'm sure we've all been there.

You will see a similar thing happening in a lot in stores like Primark. Primark is crammed full of items, the shopping baskets are designed to hold large volume of items and is set up for compulsive buying. People throw in item after item into the shopping basket, tempted by the relatively low cost of the items available. What you will see though, as you approach the checkouts, are people around the edge of the room checking through shopping baskets and putting unwanted items on random rails before making their purchases.

I bet you can name a time where you've wanted to buy an item, decided against it but hidden it away from other buyers at the back of a random rail for you to come back later should you still be interested. The hold or wish list works in a same way.

These are big decisions. We work twice as hard to keep an item than we do to gain one. I can relate to that when buying music, I can create a list of music in 15 minutes but it can take me up to an hour to decide which ones to buy to meet my budget. Those that I decide not to buy I will put in my holdlist for future reference.

The wish or hold list helps people out, it gives them the option. The important thing is to then focus on targeted mailings from those items that are left in Wishlist to make sure they do come back.

Behavioural Economics

Work is part of the IPA (Institute of Practitioners of Advertising). Only 270 agencies are part of the IPA, however those agencies that are part of the IPA are the real deal handling to 85% + of the whole UK advertising spend.

It is quite a tough process to be accepted and once you're in it is hard work to stay there as the targets of hitting CPD can be quite strenuous in a busy advertising agency. That said it is a fantastic industry body which provides a huge amount of resources to aid with improving business/marketing knowledge. A lot of major brands will only consider agencies part of the IPA as they know the level of Personal Development learning involving in being a member.

One piece of knowledge the IPA have been sharing recently is Behavioural Economics. Although the Theorem is decades old, notably coming about in the 1950s, it is relatively new in study. You know when people are winning Noble awards based on their research into Behavioural Economics that it is something to be taking notice of!

Behavioural Economics is a challenge on Classical Economics where the methodology was based on all human beings thinking and acting the same when it comes to decisions. A methodology I didn't agree with in the first place. Behavioural Economics looks at psychological decisions people make when making a purchase.

This new study is vital to the growth of marketing, where marketing has been considered simply ideology in the past and brand value not taken into account on the boardroom spreadsheet, Behavioural Economics gives fresh science to how the customer behaves and how important developing brands and marketing strategies needs to be.

A good example of this is an area of Behavioural Economics called "Price Perception". It looks at how a well developed brand can charge more to a product than a competitor. In mental acuity tests, those that chose the more expensive energy drink believed they performed better than the cheaper competitor when in fact is the cheaper energy drink had exactly the same ingredients. The same with medication, people spent more on over-the-counter drugs believing they were better when in fact the only variable was price.

Price Perception is a huge area in the health and pharmaceutical sector and always commented on by my girlfriend Becky. A cough medicine will be advertised on TV, and the next day people will be immediately buying the product despite the Dispensers advice that their current medication is cheaper and better.

With better marketing companies can create powerful brands which in effect can create them more profit. Hopefully the tables will turn and advertising agencies will invited into the boardroom to discuss company growth away from current alternatives of redundancies, outsourcing etc etc.

There are numerous other areas to discuss in behavioural decision making - ever notice that rarely does someone buy the most expensive bottle of wine or meal from the menu? Due to Choice Architecture people choose relative to what they can have, not absolutely what they want thus the most expensive items on the menu rarely have a great deal of profit attached to them compared to other items but create gravitas. It is the same reason why Rolls Royce sells cars at Yacht shows. A £200,000 Rolls Royce looks great value next to £5 million pounds worth of yacht.

It is why Audi spends millions advertising the Audi R8. How many people are going to be able to afford the Audi R8? Not many. How many can afford the A3 & A4? Millions. Because people think relative, they buy into dream of the R8, they can't afford that but buy into the model they can to be part of the experience.

Virgin are fantastic at building a brand. Their Virgin Mobile business is a Virtual Mobile Network Operator which basically piggybacks an existing mobile network(T-Mobile). It is the brand which you buy into, the tariff and customer service - the network is exactly the same as you would get if you joined T-Mobile direct.

Did you know that when in a telephone holding queue rather than telling the customer that "their call will be answered in x minutes", actually telling them to callback later makes people not hang up and hold on. This is because people work twice as hard to keep something than they do to obtain something.

With better marketing, companies can create powerful brands which in effect can create them more profit. Hopefully the tables will turn and advertising agencies will invited into the boardroom to discuss company growth away from current alternatives of redundancies, outsourcing etc etc.

Macclesfield Bikeathon 2010 Review

It seems like 6 months since I last took part in a sportive, that was the Cheshire Cat back in mid-April. Since then I have been continuing to put in the miles, I've extended my training route to a regular 35 mile route at the weekend which takes in a couple of challenging climbs. Work has been busy over the past month so after work rides have unfortunately been limited.

Although I'm doing a lot more climbing, and most certainly a lot longer "all in one go" training rides than previous years, I should also be getting a couple of mid week rides in. Going into the Macclesfield Bikeathon although I was comfortable, I did feel a bit stiff. I didn't have a smooth flow to my cycling rhythm and found myself puffing a bit. I'm also having trouble with the bike, I'm really struggling to get comfortable and have been adjusting my position.

Anyway, Sunday morning rolled up and I entered the 53 miles again. The 53 kicks off into the hills surrounding Macclesfield and Congleton, touching into the Staffordshire peaks for 30 miles before heading back down around Jodrell Bank and back to Macclesfield.

Anyone who has ventured into Winkle will know there a tough couple of climbs. Last year after just 2 climbs in I had to pull over, nearly spewing up, as I had ran into the red, it was a big, big lesson for me.

This time I was wiser, I had the hills from practice in the legs and managed a lot better, not stopping at all and climbing pretty comfortably (needless to say I didn't keep with the groups, but only got overtook once or twice). The hills do take their toll and saps the energy right from the legs and I found the last time miles really tough. I was riding on my own, there was a gusting wind which made it difficult too and I kept getting cramp in my right thigh.

I just couldn't seem to get into a rhythm and felt I was going backward, I just spun a hopelessly high gear in the big ring, rolling along lanes which seem to take forever.

Funnily I completed the course in 3 hours 15 minutes. 45 minutes quicker than my target! I completed a similar course in March which was 50 miles in 3 hours 22 minutes.

Now I would be chuffed but I still feel deflated. I cycled like a moron, I got overtook a number of times, I couldn't hang on to groups and just seemed to lack any energy in the legs. I blame it on the lack of training before hand, those extra miles of training make all the difference in the final 10 miles.

Another problem I had was that the bike overnight had picked up a strange clicking sound in the left hand crank/pedal. It was very obvious in the small ring and a little obvious in the big ring.

It knocked my concentration, I was too busy worrying about the noise, too busy getting angry about it. The noise when right through to the pedal everytime I got to 12 o clock on the upstroke and it affected the rhythm of my pedalling with a vibration going up my leg every time. I have no idea where it has come from as my ride the day before was perfectly fine. I'm getting into Dave Hinde's next week.

On top of that my cleats decided to play up too! The right side only clipping in at severe angle. Why did this all happen on the Sunday of a ride at the same time!!

So a good time but I felt I could have/should have done better especially on the flat and decents.

Once again another great event from Bikeathon crew, would definitely recommend it for 2011!

Hills

I remember reading in Cycling Weekly one time, they said "the only way to improve climbing hills is to practice climbing hills". Simple eh? Hills are a cyclists worst nightmare after headwind, especially if you are fat like me.

I remember them saying "a cyclist will go to any length to avoid hills but once you change your mindset and start enjoying hills, you'll never stop finding them". Well that is what is happening to me.

I'm determind to improve on my hill climbing, it's the only thing letting my down. I hate climbing hills, I'm slow, I get puffed out however from past sportives I've learnt that I'm not going that slow, unless I get overtaken by a runner bean of a person. I've found that riding out of the saddle is better for me as I can control my deep breathing better.

Anyway in my quest to improve climbing up hills I've been finding every step hill in the area and I'm enjoying the challenge. Most require a good 15 mile ride out so it also gives me time to stretch the legs. I'm finding I'm improving really well, a longish hill near to where I live where at one time I was puffed out, gasping for air at the top at one point, I can now manage quite comfortably.

So again I'm really happy with progress.

I'm off to watch the Leaders Debate on ITV, with the most idiotic format that the audience can't boo, cheer or make comment. I would love to have been there when the agreement was made "yeah I'll go on a head to head debate as long as I don't have to communicate directly with the general public I'll be serving for". Great.

Monday's Training Run

I decided not to take part in the Ron Sant Memorial Ride on Sunday, opting to spend some time catching up with friends. I've been feeling really tired recently, concerned that I might be fighting off something I decided to have a bit of a blow out and a good lie in.

I instead went out for a couple of rides including a nice 37 miler on Sunday. This gave me the opportunity to try out MapMyRide, a nifty iPhone application that uses GPS to track your rides.

The really good thing about Map My Ride is that it gives you stats at the end of the ride. I did the 37 mile route in 2 hours 10 minutes with an average speed of 16 mph. Considering it was an easy spin of the legs I was impressed with the time and average speed (at one point my speed was 40mph+). I was also really happy to complete the whole ride without stopping, getting back home and still feeling good in the legs.

I've been experiencing problems with cramp/soreness in my thighs recently, my ITB especially being very sore and tight. I thought it may be due to fitness however I move my seat up slightly and seemed to cure it on my ride. Again just that small adjustment making the difference.

I'm still not entirely convinced, I went out on a quick 45 minute ride this evening and found my legs to be sore and lacking in energy. I seem to be having a lot of ups and downs at the moment. We continue....

Cheshire Cat 2010 Review

Following a successful Jodrell Bank sportive in which I encountered a number of tricky climbs, I was looking forward to taking part in the Cheshire Cat.

I originally entered the 67 mile option which took in Mow Cop and continued on to Winkle near Macclesfield. Although the climbs were tough I felt that because they came in the first 25 miles, with the rest of the route being flat, I could handle it.

Unfortunately after the Jodrell Bank sportive I didn't capitalise on having the miles in my legs. A weekend trip down to London and late nights at work meaning no trips out on the bike. The Saturday before the Cheshire Cat I went out for a 30 mile ride, the legs felt ok but I was no where near the fitness level I wanted to be at for the 67.

For 24 hours my mind was everywhere, my heart screamed for me to do the 67, conquer the climbs and tackle Mow Cop while my common sense was saying get another 47 miles in the legs and build up the base fitness.

I decided to do the 47. My target is still to do my first century in September. I decided to set a target of under 3 hours, if I wasn't going to do the 67 then at least I was going to go full out in the 47.

Signing in was simple. I arrived at Crewe Alexandra on Saturday afternoon and had it done within 5 minutes. We were all given a timing chip and come Sunday morning all I had to do is ride up to the line and get going.

2700 riders had signed up of which 260 were doing the 47. After 15 minutes I was on my way and rode along with a group, hooking on to some fast riders passing by. The pace was pretty fast early on and eventually I split off on my own after 10 miles.

The winds were mental all the way round the course, making it tough work on my own. The roads were horrendous. I didn't come across any riders throughout the morning, there was only 2 of us at the feed stop at Holmes Chapel. It was simply a case of digging deep, staying focused and keep the legs spinning.

I felt so bad doing the 47. I felt as though I was letting myself down especially when people like Phil Jones, who have only been riding for 9 months are getting stuck in with the 100, but I was glad I had chosen the 47. I wouldn't have managed the 67. I need to build up my fitness slowly, and if I'm going to do this I want to do it properly, not puffing around a course with my eyes popping out, nearly throwing up. I want to be competitive.

By the closing miles of the 47 I was cramping in my thighs. I'm going to get some advice on this as I've had much more training leading up to March than in previous years but I can't remember cramping up as much. Saying that I might be putting more effort into my riding.

The Result

I completed the course in....3 hours 3 minutes!! This included the time at Holmes Chapel where I stopped for 10 minutes waiting to see if Brad was coming through so taking off the 10 minutes I would have been well under 3 hours. Super chuffed!

My split times were the same both halves and I ended up 46th out of 260. Taking off the 10 minutes I would have been in the top 25. The fastest guy was 2 hours 24 minutes so there is plenty of scope to make up, however I'm happy with progress.

April is now a quiet month for rides before it kicks off big time in May. I'm hoping to get out a lot more with the lighter nights and get some longer rides in over the weekend. Hopefully this will build up my fitness levels and help me loose my weight. I also want to improve my hill climbing.

I would totally recommend the Cheshire Cat, a great atmosphere, superb organisation and the spread at the feed stops and finish have set a high standard to be matched. It is no wonder it sells out each year. The 2011 Cheshire Cat takes place on the 27th March - get your name down early!

Macclesfield Bikeathon 2010 Announced!

As predicted by Thoughts From The Bike the Macclesfield Bikeathon returns in 2010 on Sunday 16th May.

One of my favourite sportives of the season, there is a choice of 52, 26 and 13 miles. Those into their cycling will be up for the 52 which takes us into the hills surrounding Macclesfield to test the legs early on taking in Wincle, Heston, Biddulph, Astbury and Congleton before meeting up with the 26 miles at Siddington where the route is then pan flat.

The 52 and 26 then continue along the glorious country lanes surrounding Siddington, although these can be tough roads if the wind is up, taking us around Jodrell Bank into the quiet Swettenham and back home to Macclesfield.

Both the 26 and 13 miles are pan flat which is great for those new to cycling. Due to the quiet roads, families and little ones compete in the 13 miles, although caution is to be exercised on the last stretch heading back into Macclesfield.

Start time for the 52 mile is 8.15. The route is all on road and the atmosphere is really good too -they always lay on a good party at the end.

Entry is only £10 too with proceeds going to charity so all good! Check out the website at http://www.macclesfieldbikeathon.co.uk

Jodrell Bank Sportive 2010

Well I've done it, I've completed my first sportive of the season. The Torelli Jodrell Bank Sportive kicked off the season this morning at a chilly, overcast 8am from Woodford near Stockport. There were options of 30, 50 and 80 miles. I chose 50.

Signing on was a doddle, I simply had to give my name in at the desk and in return I received a goody bag (water bottle and 3 gels) together with a timing chip.

Once prepared I joined the queue at 8am for the start. It never ceases to amaze me just how egotistical these events can be. I was stood next to a group of guys talking the talk, the funny thing being that this guy had a brand new BMC carbon frame, DuraAce groupset and Zipp wheels, probably 5-7k worth of kit, and he was doing the 30 mile. What is the point?!

Anyway our timing chips were swiped and away we went. The first 15 miles sped by, the route taking us from Woodford, through Alderley Edge to Mobberley, through to Peover, Lach Dennis and then to Goostrey for the first feed stop. I arrived at Goostrey in 56 minutes.

At the feed stop we had our timing chips swiped, picked up free bananas, gels, energy drink and water. A minute later we were off again, winding through Goostrey before a couple of loops around Withington (Jodrell Bank) before heading onto Siddington, Broken Cross on the outskirts of Macclesfield into Prestbury, Bollington, on to Pott Shrigley, Poynton and then home again.

Up to Siddington was easy. I was rolling along in good rhythm. It was when I hit Siddington that things started to get messy. It got lumpy and the open fields surrounding the route caused a heavy headwind which made long drags of road last forever.

One of the big problems with today, compared to the sportives I took part in last year, was that nobody was prepared to work in a bunch. I don't know if it was because of early season and people were having issues with fitness but nobody even wanted to work as a pair! The wind was pretty bad, side on and head on, working as a bunch would have been perfect but it seemed to be everyone for themselves.

In fairness during the first 5 miles there was an attempt, however people just hid in the wheels and I spent half an hour on the front with no attempt of anyone coming through to take a turn. Luckily I eventually broke off.

So with this, wondering through the open Cheshire plains in the wind was hard going. Then came the hills. After a good 40 miles in the legs it came as a surprise to come across some steep ascents. I've been practising, reading and watching a lot into climbing technique and I found that my climbing has improved.

I found a lot of UK magazines really push that you must sit down and spin on the climbs, which I've really struggled with. However I found that European and American authors tend to promote an out of saddle approach. I've found that I suit an out of saddle climbing style, probably due to the fact that I can stamp my weight on the pedals.

I've also learnt not to panic and to keep my own steady rhythm, because of this I found I wasn't being too eager to grab lower gears. I also found that I wasn't huffing and puffing up the hills as in the past. I feel with my out of saddle style I have more control over my rhythm and thus found my heart wasn't pounding out of my chest.

Although saying all this, the hills were a shock to the system and in the last couple of miles I struggled, barely rolling along, my thighs were on fire, my lungs were hurting, my head light, my eyes tired. I was worn out, totally out of energy despite 6 bottles of drink, a packet of energy shots and several gels before even considering my pre-sportive build up of pasta and porridge.

The Result

This is where the surprising part comes in. Out of 207 riders doing the 50, my split time to Goostrey was in the top 20. My overall time positioned me 63rd. This proves again that if I can loose weight and improve on my climbing I can really start getting competative. I also found once again that although I was dropped on the climbs, I re-gained advantage on the decent and flat.

It is a shame the Jodrell Bank is on so early in the season as it is quite rare to have a timing chip. I started the sportive not considering time, more concerned about getting miles into the legs however I was humbled to have a time of 3 hours 20 minutes. I was expecting much worse however lets not forget I was churning out 100Ks quicker than that towards the end of last season.

My time put me 63rd out of 207 riders. 45 minutes off the first place man, however heart warmingly my time fitted in within a couple of minutes of a big bunch of riders so I'm pretty much on average pace. I thought an average speed of 15 mph was really good for me considering the hills too. Overall I'm delighted!!

I really enjoyed the Jodrell Bank Sportive, it was well organised and extremely well signposted (the signs had even been put out a week in advance!). I would have enjoyed it more had I been fit, perhaps they may have a re-run in August?

Anyway, I would definitely put the Jodrell Bank down in your diaries as a season opener in 2011. Next up: the Cheshire Cat on the 28th March!

Who are you talking to on Facebook tonight?

I have to take issue on how the media is exploiting Facebook in the recent Ashleigh Hall murder trial. I appreciate it is a terrible thing to have happened however as much as every newspaper can question about how safe Facebook is on their front pages, I must say that Facebook is merely a catalyst in this whole situation. To me it is down to bad parenting.

It is all too easy to 'blame' Facebook. We live in blame culture. In my opinion Facebook has done very well to control privacy. Facebook allows you to block all your details to people you don't know. You also have to give permission to anyone who wishes to add you. You are in control, you don't know them: don't add them.

Parents will ask how are they to know who their children are talking to and I sympathise with that. As a parent you can add software which can block websites you don't wish them to view, however Facebook and the likes of Bebo are very much at the centre of teenage social media. It would be difficult for parents to block websites such as Facebook without the fear of excluding them. Unfortunately parents can't control who their sons or daughters are talking to on sites such as Facebook. You either block the site altogether or invade their privacy.

You then rely on education which is drilled in to us all from primary school which is don't talk to strangers. There isn't anyone on my Facebook who I don't know however I can appreciate that innocent testosterone fueled teenagers may add people who they don't know and are good looking to their Facebook profile. (Let's face it, it's easier than a date: you don't like 'em just block 'em!). So while we are not strictly following the don't talkto strangers rule here there should be a degree of education where we should be cautious of people we don't know.

Now this is all well and good until they decide to meet up. Parents will then ask "how do I know who they are meeting up with?".

In Ashleigh Hall's case she had befriended a 33 year old rapist who was portraying a 19 year old boy. Chapman the offender had advised (acting as the 19 year old boy), that his Dad was picking her up so she wouldn't be freaked by the old man parked up outside her house.

When questioned Mrs Hall commented "What could I have done?" she asked. "She was 17. You don't stop your kids from going

I'm sorry but if that was me I would go and introduce myself to this Dad. My daughter is meeting a boy for the first time and he hasn't arrived with his Dad?

If I had a son or daughter I would like to think I knew them pretty well. I would know where they are going, who with and the basic time I would expect them home. Yes they could make it up, however I would be sure I would know my own son and daughter to know when they were lying: not looking into my eye, different clothing, more make up, more perfume - surely there would be signals. I know that I personally wouldn't wear the same clothes on a first date than if I was going shopping with my mates.

Secondly if I did know my daughter was meeting someone off the internet I would want to know some basic details at least and go with her, not to be obtusive, but to be there in the distance when I drop her off.

Terrible as they are, instances like Ashleigh Hall's have happened through out time without Facebook, just look at the Moors Murders or Jack The Ripper.

It isn't Facebook. It is sensible parenting, creating awareness and having care and consideration to sons and daughters which will prevent these instances.

Finding My Legs

Today was a good day. I found my legs. The months spent before Christmas in the gym on the turbo, going through the dark days, the hours spent out in the snow, frost and chilly winds have all been worth it. Half way through today's ride I hit that sweetspot, the moment when the bike position is perfect, the legs are smoothly swiping round and the road was rolling beneath me effortlessly.

It is such a great feeling. Since January, although I've been putting in the miles, the legs have felt dead: plodding down on the pedals rather than a silky motion and I've noticed i'M grabbing on to the handlebars rather than balancing delicately.

I'm really pleased that I'm in this sort of form at the beginning of March especially with the Jodrell Bank and Cheshire Cat sportives coming up. Managing a 40 mile ride and still feeling good afterwards is really heart warming. I was glowing walking around Morrisons this afternoon! I just need to keep improving, incorporate more interval training to my rides and loose the weight. Going to watch the Eddie Soens Memorial on Saturday was a really inspiring move, I would love to get involved with those races.

Since the receiving the new bike I have been struggling to find the right position. I thought that after being measured it would be super spot on. A couple of trips out and I've found I've been over stretching and it just didn't feel right, I told myself it is a new position and I would have to get used to it but it just wasn't working. It is surprising just how much difference a millimeter can make. Trust me, if you feel like a div moving your saddle up and down: don't. Be patient, ride for 10 minutes and if it doesn't feel right (your leg muscles feel too strained or you can't swipe back on the pedal easily without having to adjust your leg) then stop and make an adjustment. It will take several very slight efforts but it is worth it. Don't struggle on, go with what you feel is right.

The bike is excellent however, I'm not too sure on the Ambrosio forks. I hadn't heard of Ambrosio until I had them fitted and I believe they are an Italian brand. I'm not convinced. Put it this way, they are very stiff. Ok, the Cheshire roads at the moment are nothing but a total disgrace but I might as well be holding on to a pneumatic drill, the vibrations are incredible. To be fair they are excellent at keeping position, despite the bumps I can float on the bars and they will remain going straight however I'm going to look into some other options such as 3T or Pro-Lite.

New Dave Hinde L'Etape Road Bike

Well here it is my new Dave Hinde L'Etape Road Bike.

For the past 2 and a half years I've been riding a Dave Hinde L'Etape. It was my first ever road bike (previous to that I was messing about on a Carrera Kraken mountain bike which I even completed the Manchester to Blackpool on) and after finding my feet (for want of a better word) on the road, I decided to go for a road bike.

Living in Northwich I decided to give the local bike shop a try. Dave Hinde is a specialist bike shop dealing in bespoke road bikes. At the time I was still getting my head around everything and Dave Hinde offered me a lot of good advice and guidance. I went for the entry level L'Etape with a Tiagra groupset which served me well. I upgraded to Mavic Aksium wheels a year ago which really made an all round difference.

The Frame

Now 3 years on I was looking for an upgrade. My frame was looking a bit battered and the Tiagra, although dependable, was heavy and could be clunky to work with. I considered a carbon frame however after speaking to Dave he said that it wouldn't be worth looking at it at my level. A lot of low price carbon bikes have a poor quality carbon weave which means under stress, especially climbing, the frame is all over the place. Aluminum is a lot stiffer and dependable.

Even though it is an entry frame, I can certainly concour from my experience with the L'Etape, that it is incredibly stiff. Every pedal stroke runs through it and goes out the back wheel. I remember the Manchester 100 and the bike was just flying past everyone. Although not as sexy as many carbon frames out there, it does have a gorgeous classic look about it.

I spoke to Dave about a re-spray however he said that for the money, I would be better going for a new L'Etape frame. The Dave Hinde Carbone frame albeit gorgeous, and the top of the range aluminium D7.9, were totally out of my price range, but I had no quarms, the L'Etape had served me very well. The L'Etape is made from Columbus Zonal Aluminum weighing in at around 1200g.

The Groupset

I was originally looking at upgrading to a 105, the next step up from Tiagra, however after some sums, including trading in my old Tiagra L'Etape, Jim Edwards at Dave Hinde was able to build me a L'Etape with a full Ultegra 6700 groupset, carrying across my old Mavic wheels. Ace!

I decided to keep with a compact chainset (50T-34T) for the time being to get me up the hills. Hopefully now with a 10 speed it will give me more scope on the flat and descent. I decided to go with a 11-28 cassette for more range.

The Ultegra 6700 is the younger brother to top of the range Dura-Ace and shares many features. A "neat" feature is that all wiring is hidden away and the carbon gear levers have a nice feel, the hoods themselves are wider and feel sturdier compared to the Tiagra.

Getting Fitted & First Impressions

The whole experience was excellent, it took a good hour of personal service. Dave Hinde measured me up on the fitting bike upstairs. I had issues that on my previous L'Etape that, although not a major issue, I was stretching when riding on the hoods. Dave recommended a 54" frame and a 11" reach.

Jim walked me through the options and basically I've got a brand new L'Etape frame with Ultegra groupset, new Selle Italia saddle, new Pro-Lite bars and 2010 Ambrosio forks. Normally the bike would come with Pro-Lite forks however they were out of stock.

The bike was ready the following weekend. Dave and Jim were on hand to make sure everything was ok. They put me on the bike and Dave made sure the fit was right with the saddle.

On first impressions the bike is incredibly light, it is surprising just how much lighter the Ultegra groupset is. The gears click through with good assurance and the new bars are "wide" giving a good solid stance. The frame dependable as always and the new standard paint job gives it a nice fresh edge. The brakes are also ultra responsive and I feel better now I've had the rear brake transfered to the right.

I'll keep you updated on how I'm getting on.

If you're thinking of getting a new bike it is definitely worth a visit to Dave Hinde's. Also make sure you check out Phil Jones' blog and follow his journey to a new bike.