Haughcross 2013

Today was Haughcross, a summer cyclocross race as part of the Aberdour Festival. For me, it was a chance to try racing again after a gap of nearly two years. For training, I mixed up regular laps of Arthurs Seat with longer fast-paced rides out to Cramond and finished with a little bit of sprint intervals. Having spectacularly hit the wall in my last race, I paid attention to what I was eating – lots of food + liquid in the last few days, plenty of carbs, finishing with a PBJ sandwich 3h before the race and some lucozade energy drink up until 1h to go.

The course was fast and flowing, laid out with tape on the large meadow next to the Silver Sands beach. Two sets of barriers, lots of hairpin turns, and a nice mix of faster turns (where you could go wide) and faster turns (where going wide was a bad idea) and one burn which you had to dismount and leap over.

As I’ve now learned several times, there’s a big difference between being “pretty fit” and being “race fit”. Straight from the start, it was clear I was going to be competing for perhaps the last 4 places. I was wary of starting out too fast, but got past a few riders on the first two laps. However, my heartrate was 167+ and I knew I had to dial things back to have a chance of completing an hour of racing. So I slowed a bit. My pace dropped off a lot towards the end of the race, but at least I avoided hitting the wall. Later in the race, I’d keep well out of the way of the leaders as they lapped me, but actually each of these micro-rests helped me last too.

I fared better in the muddier races I did in 2011. Today’s race was fast and flowing. I noticed that I made up time primarily going over the obstacles, and running uphill, but lost time everywhere else. I wonder if the 2011 races had more of the technical stuff that perhaps I’m better at. Today’s race seemed to be more about speed, acceleration and carrying momentum round corners.

I’m astonished by how fast the rest of the field is. In some ways, I don’t particularly mind dicing for 3rd last pace because I know that merely finishing the race pushes me harder than almost anything else I’ve tried before. I guess it’d be nice to have a crystal ball which told me how much of performance is about training, and how much is genetics. In other words, if I quit my job, trained every day, would I be winning these races? Or finishing half way down the field? Unfortunately, I know that Bradley Wiggins is about the same weight and height as I am, so that’s one excuse ruled out!

Portobello -> Edinburgh

Warm day, so unicycled from Portobello to Leith docks, then up the Water of Leith to Inverleith – route on endomondo. It’s been a while since my last ride, but that often helps my technique a bit. Plenty of kerb hopping, rolling mounts, dodgy surfaces (the cobbled car park behind Brittania Spice is good fun).

One wheel, one pedal

Did another 4 mile-r this weekend – along the waterfront at Silverknowes and back. It was pretty windy, which isn’t a big problem even on a uni, but does mean that you can’t “switch off” as much as usual. However, I did try unicycling with my eyes closed for 10 seconds, and managed that fine. I spend a fair while on some soft grassy land starting to practise one-footed pedalling, but it never really came together. On a more positive note, I can do rolling mounts, jump mounts and 90 degree jump mounts without really thinking nowadays.


At the last moment, I decided to ride out to Balerno along the Water of Leith on the muni. I’d ridden out to Roseburn (and back) before, but this was substantially futher. It was lots of fun (except a few wrong turns) and, because I had a bit of time pressure (I was getting a lift back from Balerno) I realised that I could actually go substantially faster than normal without too much difficulty.

Endomondo says 17km in 2h, which means about 5.3mph. Allowing for the wrong turns at miles 9 and 11, and a few pauses, I probably ride at about 6mph. That sounds about right – I’ve previously thought that it was about twice walking speed, or something around jogging pace. I’ve overtaken a handful of joggers, and followed a few others for a while.

Uni + mud

I went for a uni ride up the Water of Leith, after (bi)cycling it last night to see the flooding. I went as far as Roseburn before climbing up to the cycling paths and then heading north to the Granton gas storage thing, then east past the harbour before heading back south on the cycle paths to Cannonmills. A grand total of 8 miles, with a good bit of slow riding, hopping and a few attempts at one-footed riding.


I made more progress in my attempts to do Proper Wheelies this morning. I was riding up a slight incline, and manage to do a wee bit of steering correct whilst the wheel was up in the air. Normally, I just veer to the side and bail. The magic difference this time was that I was looking far into the distance, rather than staring at my front wheel.

Steering is funny like that. It works best when you don’t think about it. Just look where you want to do and you end up naturally doing corrections to keep you in that direction – even whilst on one wheel, it seems. It works the other way around too. It’s really hard to not steer towards something you’re looking at – target fixation.

Wheelies like a jet taking off

There’s an item which has remained stubbornly unticked on my life ‘todo’ list for a long time – learning to (properly) wheelie on a bicycle. I’m not talking about popping the front wheel up into the air for a second. i mean a proper stable wheelie-as-long-as-you-want affair. Given that I can now ride a unicycle, it seems somewhat inconsistent that I still can’t do this.

One thing which unicycling has taught me is that stubborn persistence reaps rewards. If you actually put in the hours of practise, and refuse to give up then eventually … eventually .. things will start to click into place. For me, wheelies definitely fall into this category. I think I’ve done four hour-long practise sessions now. Each time, little bits start to come together and make more sense. On the first time, I realised that there was a transition into a more stable balance point when you get the wheel high enough. On the second time, I realised that raising the front wheel purely via pedal power (and no pulling on the bars) stopped me falling to the side. On the third time, I realised that you’ve only got a half-pedal stroke in which to apply enough torque to get the wheel up and so you need a big burst rather than a steady push. And finally tonight, I realised that dragging your brakes and letting them go just at the start of the pedal downstroke means you spend the whole downstroke at maximum torque as opposed to ramping up to max torque – just like what jumbo jets do when they spin up their engines with the brakes on before takeoff.

I can occasionally manage to wheelie for maybe 10 metres, so I’ve not totally nailed it yet but I’m getting there. Just need more practise.

Top tips:
– Read this article. It speaks the truth. You don’t need to precompress suspension, or do any big pre-transfer of your weight.
– Lift the front wheel by pedal power, not by arm power. You need a sudden burst of pedal power. Pedal against your brakes so that you’re really having to force the pedals round, then release the brakes for a sudden surge. If you find yourself falling to one side immediately, make sure you’re not doing arm-pulling.
– I used middle chain ring and either lowest or second-lowest gears. Anything higher and you don’t have the leverage to rotate the bike.
– Have your seat at a normal height to allow you to pedal normally. Sit toward the back of the seat, but you don’t need to be hanging off the back (unlike doing a manual, where you don’t have pedal-power to rotate the bike).
– Do this a million time until you start to get familiar with how the bike balances with the wheel up in the air.

Accidental epic

I accidentally did a 10.3 mile ride today. I really just meant to go out and practise balancing, but I found a new path down through Granton. Once I got to Granton, I thought I may as well ride along the shore rather than go back up any hills. I rode through the industrial estate, crossing sideroads by riding off kerbs and hopping up the other side. That lead eventually to the Esplanade. It’s a good place to ride, so I practised mini-idles, hops, and rolling hops. I carried right along until I got to Cramond. The choice was then between riding up the dull and steep hill, or continuing along the River Almond on offroad trails. Easy choice! Lots of mud and puddles and bumps to keep things interesting. This took me to Cramond Brig. Now I had another choice. Rather than head home through Drylaw, I phoned to arrange to meet family for lunch in South Queensferry. So, i continued my ride, out through Dalmeny and down the steep hill to the Hawes Inn for lunch and a pint. A grand total of 10.3 miles!

Sun + Mud

Woo, the sun is out! But the ground is soaking from days of heavy rain.

I rode out to Ocean Terminal, riding through many many big muddy puddles by the side of the Water of Leith. My focus for the day was transitioning from riding to hopping and back – I can now do it almost without thinking. I messed about in the quiet carparks on the outskirts of Ocean Terminal – riding off kerbs, hopping up/down, standstills and 180 hop jumps.

I received two separate rounds of spontaneous applause from people walking nearby. And I had two seperate long chats with random folk – people are friendly and it’s easy to chat about uni for a while .. and usually I appreciate the resting time as well as the banter. I met a young guy who said he got a uni a few months ago – cool! And I overtook a jogger for the first time (heh).

I’ve established that the best way to mount the muni is to mount into a hop, get settled, then ride away. It works on all sorts of ground, and gives me a chance to reposition my feet properly on the spiky pedals before moving off. My balance-hops are getting smaller, more controlled and require less energy. I feel that I can correct balance by pushing outwards on the pedals a bit, rather than having to do a full hop. I managed some 180-hops off kerbs today, and tried hard to stay on the uni when things got wobbly by hopping rather than stepping off. I also nearly made it up the steep, steep hill after the railway bridge – I got all the way up to the sharp right-hander and bottled it.

Really enjoyable day, and lovely to see the sun out!