Please dad, don’t…

John Deere Tractor Racing Team

Please dad, don’t….

a)      Wear that in public

b)      Dance like a fool

c)      Drive that thing

d)      All of the above

It would seem that teenage girls are genetically programed so that after a certain number of days on this planet they reboot. One day they just wake up and realise that their funny, joke telling, Lycra wearing, energetic old man, with the moves like Jagger, is not cool at all, in fact he is a complete prat!

The other benefit of this teenage reboot is that they also inherit the wisdom of the universe. Overnight they know everything, you can’t say, do or ask anything without being told that “I already know”. The result of all this is that they are now very clear about how they should be bought up and what is and what isn’t acceptable parent behaviour.

In our house, the rebooted teenagers are also placed under increased pain and suffering because apart from dad being a complete embarrassment, the other part of the dynamic duo, she who can normally be relied on to keep him in check, has not only joined him in his Lycra clad lunacy, she is even more excited about this Billy Cart Buffoonery than he is.


It would seem that as you get older you long to be younger and when you are young you can’t wait to be old.

And so there is a certain degree of trepidation in our house as the weekend of our Red Bull Billy Cart race approaches. The girls are not sure how this is going to play out. Robyn and I are very clear how it will go. We are ready to rock, roll, boot scoot and descend the course (with no care for life or limb) in our beautiful John Deer Billy Cart Tractor.

It would seem that the Billy Cart concept, aside from being excellent marketing for Red Bull, is really all about feeling young.

The concept of building your own vehicle has the same effect now as it did when you were a kid. The moment you make a plan, start scavenging for bits and pieces and get the tools out you are transferred back to simpler times. To a time when the only screen you were interested in was making a window screen so you didn’t eat all those bugs and flies as you raced down the hill at the back of your house. 

In a recent interview for the local press I was asked what my motivation for participating was. I would have loved to have offered something a little more profound, but the reality is it is purely about having a good laugh!


So the race weekend will be a chance for all of us young and old to have fun and to create some memories.

As embarrassing as it may be for some, I am sure that in the future we will all sit down and reminisce about the time Mum and Dad went Billy Cart Berko.

Here are some videos which plot our journey to the start line:

The Build Part 2

The Build Part 1

Application Video

Elvis Has Left The Building

Elvis in Bondi

Elvis had been on the back of a ute for 3 hours, singing away to the elite runners, then the serious amateurs and then the rest of the 80,000 participants in the City 2 Surf.

We were in the last group of back markers,  5 adults and 5 kids also dressed up as the great man himself and he was delighted to see us as, much as we were to see him. On a sparkling Sunday morning in Sydney, we had a slightly surreal moment. A dozen “Elvi” of various shapes and sizes crammed on the back of a ute, singing along to GI blues and loving every minute of it.


We have participated in the City 2 Surf for the last 6 years. For the last few years we have been dressed up.


It’s always a fun day and a great way for us all to catch up. There are 4 of us that went to school together in the UK. In fact Fiona and I went to the same playgroup and then to the same primary school with Richard. We met Emma when we all went to the same secondly school.  So we have known each other for all our adult lives and most of our childhood.

Old Friends

There was never any master plan for us all to be in Australia, it just happened. It works well, put us all together with partners and kids and we are a surrogate family which makes it easy and enjoyable to catch up throughout the year. Like family it can be easy to take for granted the friendship and the fact that there are people around you that care about you and you can rely on.

It is also nice to know that even as the years progress there are others who are only too willing to grow old in style!

To my Elvis family, thank you very much!

Elvis 1


The time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time!

I was delighted to read this because over the last 2 years I have spent 969 hours on my bike covering a total of 24,361KM.

This started 2 years ago when I completed the Three Peaks Challenge down in Victoria. This is a one day ride covering 230km and climbing 3 big hills for a total days climbing of over 4,000m.

In 2013 I went over the “easy route”, because of fires on Mount Hotham, this year I was back there riding the proper course.

You have to complete the event in less than 13 hours to qualify for a finisher’s jersey. In 2013 I was happy just to get around as it was my first real attempt at climbing some serious mountains. This year I went gone down with the intent to go under 10 hours. This is significant because you get a special jersey telling the world this is what you have achieved.

I have always ridden my bike for the sheer pleasure and have enjoyed getting fitter and faster without the need to think about my performance in relation to times and average speeds. I am just happy to be out and about seeing the countryside.

When you target a time it all changes. The same thing happened when I ran my one and only marathon.  I got a little too focused on a time and haven’t really run since due to the resulting knee operation I had to have.

So as this event got closer and the training intensified I was aware that a similar pattern was playing out. Being on my bike was no longer the escape that it used to be, with schedules and fitness to monitor it took on a bit of a different demeanour.

I am not sure if taking your bike back to the UK over Xmas counts as commitment or stupidity. I even took a turbo trainer with me and it didn’t register at the time that getting up in the dark at 6.30am on Christmas Eve, to sit in my sister’s garage for an hour, pedalling in the cold and listening to the rain was slightly bonkers.

Last Sunday I got to see if all the training was going to pay off. I had gone down to Falls Creek trusting that I had done enough work and to enjoy myself regardless of the result. If all went well then a sub 10 hour should be achievable.

3 peaks profile

So at 6.45am on Sunday morning I found myself waiting with 1,850 other for the day to start. Even though I have ridden my bike for nearly 4 years now I still feel a little out of place with the rest of the Lycra clad bunch. When I am riding on my own it feels very natural, riding with a group of people is a little  more taxing for me as I have to concentrate. On a day like today, where working  with others was going to be critical to get a good time, doing my own thing was not a good option. So I positioned myself in the middle of the 9-10 hour group with the intent of giving it a red hot go.

I can honestly say that for the next 9 hours, 6 minutes and 4 seconds I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were times when it was tough, but no harder than other days on the bike, and all I could think about was how fortunate I was to be able to indulge myself like this. Even on the last climb of the day, which comes at 200km and is 9% for 9km, I just kept pedalling away knowing that it was going to flatten out at some stage, it always does.

My time was way beyond my expectations and puts me well inside the top 10% of finishers. This in itself is a bit of a surprise given I only ever consider myself as a keen, middle aged codger, who likes going out on his bike for a pootle around.

The weekend’s effort can be nicely summed up by a couple I met out on a training ride earlier this month. In their 50’s, she was a retired Iron Woman and he was an Ultra Marathon runner, their philosophy was simple, “The race is the reward for all the time you spend training”.

I loved their approach and adopted this mentality on Sunday, maybe that’s why it felt such a good use of  my time.

3 Peaks Strava1

Marriage Guidance

How do you measure the strength of your marriage?

Do you have open dialogue, date nights, do you invest in quality time to focus on the positives and how you complete each other?

Personally I have found spending 273 hours and riding over 6,000km with my missus this year has been a good test.

It started in January when Robyn rode her push bike up Mount Buffalo. This was a 20km climb with 1,000m of climbing and could be seen as an achievement, even if it did place her 1467 out of 1492 on the Strava leader board.

For those of you not in the know, Strava is a website that allows you to compare your bike data to others. Don’t join, it’s a pain in the arse. What used to be enjoyable rides, where you just appreciated being out on your bike, become drag races as the red mist descends and you pursue PB’s over a range of different segments. It is an addiction that once you start you can’t give up and I noticed the other day Robyn had that glazed look as she took off up a hill for what looked like no apparent reason, the look of a person with a Strava habit!


A couple of weekends ago Strava was not on our minds as we turned up to Stromlo Forest Park near Canberra at 6.30am to participate in the Fitz Challenge. A sportive of various distances and a challenging ride. We had selected the traditional 165km route with 3,000m of climbing and though there weren’t any real mountains, there were some steep hills with 9-12% gradients. This was the culmination of all those hours on our bikes. It’s fair to say that we had done our homework, in fact we were so prepared we had ridden the bigger climbs twice that year. It really does make me wonder if we have too much time on our hands.

The course was not going to be a surprise, riding in a big group ride would be a first for Robyn. The people who turn up at these events always fascinate me. Predominantly there are a lot of middle aged men of different sizes. There are a few ladies but they are definitely in the minority.

The bike is a great leveller and the styles range from those dressed like professionals in their club outfits, the Rapha poseurs trying to look cool in their overpriced kit (we fit in here and all I can say is it is very comfortable and washes so well!), to those still getting good value out of their cycling kit bought back in the 90’s! This crowd are my personal favourites as they are the hard core of the cycling community, often riding some old steel bike, they are the purists and normally display a large amount of facial hair to go with it (the men and the women).


This chap was not playing by the same rules as the rest of us. Dressed in a safari outfit he could climb, he put many Lycra clad warriors to shame.

So after a safety briefing that talked about the perils of going too fast down the hills, telling us that the police would be on the course and that there was an 80kmh speed limit of the Fitz Hill descent, to which he also remarked “good luck with enforcing that”, a gun was fired and we were off.

There is always lots of nervous chatter at the start of these events as the bunch sorts itself out. It’s only when you hit the first hills you get to see the different levels of rider, those who can climb take off and those who are a little underdone start to puff. We were in the last third of the pack, a deliberate effort not to go off too fast and then have to limp home. It was going to be a hot day so we were going to try and pace ourselves.

It was all going very well, then I had a puncture. We had only been on the road for 45 mins so by the time I had fixed it even the slowest riders had passed us. We were now the last pair on the road. Like the seasoned domestique that  I am I hit the front and with Robyn tucked in behind and we set off to catch the field. By the time we hit the first real climb of the day we had collected a few back markers and by the top of the climb had found our rhythm.


In the middle of nowhere the devil appeared

The big challenge of the ride is Fitz Hill after about 75km. Its steep at a 10.5% avrg for 2.5km and it was getting close to 30oC when we arrived. We knew it was going to be tough and as agreed I took off to see if I could get a PB (damn you Strava) and I would wait for Robyn at the water stop at the top. Half way up people were already off their bikes, having to push them the rest of the way as they couldn’t physically manage it. I got to the top and watched as every shape and size of Lycra clad looney summited. I didn’t expect to see Robyn as soon as I did and as she came towards me I could see that she was literally towing half a dozen very red face blokes behind her. Clearly a little challenged by being out climbed by a woman they were clinging to her back wheel as if their life depended on it. A few even put in a supreme effort to go past her at the top so they were not beaten. As they fell in a heap at the water stop, Robyn just sailed past them and kept going.


And so it was for the rest of the day, starting literally from the back meant that we spent the rest of the day riding through the field. The joy of riding your bike over 6km, 16km or 160km is that you always get to test yourself. All the hours of training were paying off and as we rode beyond the 100km mark Robyn was riding at the same pace as when we started and hovering up the field as we made our way around.

The organisers of these events go to great lengths to tell you it’s not a race and then give you a timing chip and publish your position. Robyn was 253rd out of 479 starters. A great effort and a demonstration of her endurance, strength and her all round ability to ride a bike.

Robyn was rightly pleased with her achievement and the discussion on the way home was around what her next challenge was going to be. I had wondered if she would stop riding her bike with such commitment after this event, it goes to show after 20 years of living with somebody you can still be surprised and delighted.

Robyn FItz 2014 Data

Bland, Dull and Boring

Robyn’s mum and dad’s farm is at a place called Ungarie, in Bland Shire, NSW, Australia. I love our escapes to the country and had never really registered the Shire’s name until the Bland Shire was recently twined with the towns of Dull (Scotland) and Boring (US).

We are back for a week over the school holidays and with time on our hands we have been following and inspired by all our Northern Hemisphere friends who have been enjoying summer and their bikes. There are people cycling the Tour De France route, others spending their leisure time climbing big mountains and a few new recruits to cycling riding further than they ever had before for very good causes.

It doesn’t matter what they are up to the photos always look fun and inspiring.

Rural NSW,  is so different to where I grew up, open spaces, great big skies and normally hot. We do have winter in Australia and it can get cold,  yesterday Robyn and I ventured out into it.

Robyn has been training hard over the last 6 months and we are taking every opportunity to put some km into her legs for her big ride in October. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt, we had ridden our planned 200km route 10 weeks ago when we were last back on the farm. At that time it was a significant achievement for her, this time round it was not quite so daunting.

This part of “The Bush” is relatively flat and uncomplicated. Our route needed us to make a mere 6 turns in 200km of cycling! Not a navigational challenge, but one of mental stamina as you basically just sit on your bike for 8 hours pedalling.

photo 3 july14

Just Like the pro’s

In warmer weather this is quite pleasant, yesterday the Tour De Bland, as Robyn christened it, lived up to its name. The novelty of having a short winter means that I don’t normally mind rugging up in my winter cycling paraphernalia. The reality is that if it starts off cold it will normally warm up and you end up stripping everything off as you get too hot. It can be difficult to plan for this as temperatures can go from just above freezing to 18oC in a couple of hours. You don’t want to be carrying too much gear so you layer well and if anything prepare to be a little cold first thing as compensation for not having to lug it all around for the rest of the day.

Yesterday’s forecast was to start out just above freezing and peak at 16oC. Well they got the temperature for the start right. Greeted by cold dense fog we set off at 7.30am. I felt great waves of nostalgia for all those winters growing up in the UK. Robyn and I pedalled along deserted roads side by side discussing this and our time we lived in Dublin, concluding it was a tad too dry to be what the Irish call a “soft day”.

Ungarie High Street

Having just made this observation the grey mist surrounding us turned into drizzle. Half an hour later and I was secretly questioning if we should just give up and go back. Nostalgia is only good for remembering not re-living.

Cold hands and toes now reminded me of why I moved 10,500 miles in the first place. I had a good look at Robyn, if she was thinking about going home she didn’t show it. So I did what any dutiful domestique has to do, I hit the front, took the pace up a little to try and keep warm and we rode in a grey cacoon for the next 80km.

90km on a flat straight road in a wet mist, staring at my arse demonstrates Robyn’s commitment to the cause. We arrived at Condoblin just after 11am. The local cafe had the fire going so we took up residence in front of it.

photo 7 July 14

One for the Rapha catalogue
Condo Cafe, roaring fire and City meets Country.

It was  obvious the temperature was not going to get out of single digits for the day. Everything had warmed up but our toes were still a problem. I concluded we needed oversocks. The $16 we spent on two pairs of Size 12-14 workman’s socks was the best money we have spent on any cycling kit. We squeezed them over our cycling shoes and sat on the floor in the newsagents using a borrowed knife cutting holes for our cleats.  The locals were very interested by now and what followed was a quick demonstration of cleat technology to a small collection of the Condo women’s institute before we were waved off into the mist.

Back on the road, now with warm toes, life was getting easier. A tail wind for the next 70km and we flew to our next stop, Tullibigeal.

photo 2 July14

Best $16 we ever spent

Tullibigeal has a cafe and seemingly the only spot of sunshine in the whole district. We refuelled and headed for home. No sooner where we back on the bikes and the sun disappeared, the low grey cloud appeared and we made our 5th turn of the day into a headwind.

I had recently noticed that Robyn had made the final transition into a tragic cycling bore when she started to get interested in her cycling data. We had made good time, we were 1.5km per hour faster than last time we rode this route. It may seem insignificant but over 200km ride this adds up to big chunks of time. The headwind was going to threaten this.

Now was Robyn’s chance to learn to draft properly. The idea was for her to sit as close as she could on my back wheel to keep out of the wind while I bought us home. I was to keep the pace up and as an added incentive I wasn’t going to stop if she couldn’t keep up.  She could either work hard, hold my wheel and fly home or work hard and pedal into the wind on her own as her average speed plummeted.

What an incentive! Robyn now has no qualms about drafting, she was so close she could see the stitching on my shorts.

A final right turn and the 3km finishing straight had the Tour de Bland nearly completed.

Robyn held my wheel as I gave it everything, then like Mark Cavendish she pulled out and rocketed past the finishing line, doing its best farm gate impression.

Cold, grey, damp and miserable is how I had described the Tour De Bland when we were in Condo. A warm shower, a few beers and all the downsides of the day are being forgotten about. Sometimes the journey itself may not be the most interesting,  what you do along the way, who you meet and the final destination make it all worthwhile.

photo1 july14

Normal Service has been resumed. The view from next day’s recovery ride


200km does not look like much of an effort given the size of Australia


Early Morning at Dee Why

Early Morning at Dee Why Beach


42 is Douglas Adams answer to “The Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.”

Having just turned another number, which takes me a year further past this milestone,  there is no doubt that the older I get the more I find myself pondering what it’s all about?

I have jokingly called running and cycling my midlife crisis, but it’s not the by-product of some deep psychological issue to recapture past glories (I didn’t really do anything for the first 40 years) or because I feel my life lacks something as I am getting older.

It all came about due to a rather indulgent drinking and eating session that went on from December 2009 to March 2010. I ran to compensate for my over indulgence, then like Forest I didn’t stop until I couldn’t run and then I started cycling. I haven’t stopped since.

So I was a little flummoxed the other day when somebody asked me, “What are you training for?” Their rational was that, given my time and commitment to riding my bike, it must be to achieve some goal.

Shortly after I started running I decided that I was going to run certain distances, 1km became 5km, which became a 1/2 marathon which became a marathon. First it was the distance, then it was the times. I have never achieved anything beyond stunningly below average for my times but the motivation has always been to go a little further or faster.

On the bike it was similar. I first rode because I couldn’t run and wanted to keep active. Then the distances increased, plans for longer and more challenging rides were made, which culminated in me riding over some long distances and up some big mountains.

This year I have no plans, apart from getting Robyn ready to ride further and up a few big hills. So why do I spend so much time on my bike?

Well a benefit of investing the time on my bike is that I do get to think things through. So the other day on my Friday ride I was trying to work out what I needed to do to stop myself from behaving like a teenager. See the joys of getting older are that you find yourself with teenage children. Milly is a good kid, she just happens to have the behavioural traits from my side of the family. She has an opinion, wants you to agree with it and likes the last word.

So I had become aware that we were not bringing the best out in each other. I had effectively been arguing with myself on a number of occasions and rather than be the adult,  I had very easily degenerated into an  older looking version of my 16 year old self.  This involved refusing to acknowledge that anybody could possibly be right, and when things didn’t go my way throwing a tantrum and sulking.

I gave myself a ride to work out what to do. My brilliant idea was to challenge Milly to talk to me, to stimulate a conversation, to discuss what she wants. I would afford her the courtesy of listening to her if she could give me a compelling reason to. If she wanted to change my opinion then convince me, present her thoughts in a way that I would want to see her side and we can discuss things like adults.

I have since explained this to her and it has had some impact. She hasn’t adopted the exact approach I may have I hoped but she has embraced our new approach to “dialogue”. The highlight has been her response to long and eloquent speech I made about what she should be doing and how she should be making the most out of the opportunities afforded to her.

“It’s really great that you know so much about what I should be doing Dad, but remind me, when was the last time you were a 13 year old girl?”.

She asked this with a genuine curiosity and with only the faintest hint of sarcasm, in fact done so well I had to concede she did have a point. It’s all in the delivery.

Anyhow back on the bike, having worked out how to bring the best out in Milly (and myself) , one train of thought led into another. What is the compelling reason I spend so much time on my bike?

Well like the answer 42, it’s quite simple – It makes me feel good!

I am fitter and healthier than I have ever been and it helps me appreciate what I have and what’s around me. Maybe the secret is not to think too much about these things, to just find ways of enjoying yourself. That’s as compelling as it needs to be for me.

Ben and girls jan 2014

Milly and Alice

Crash, Bang, Wallop

Ben and Robyn Dec 13


There is a saying that there are 2 types of cyclists, those that have fallen off and those that haven’t fallen off, yet.

Well after a summer of riding successfully alongside the missus all this changed on Sunday. Too much chat and a touching of wheels and we were both on the deck. We weren’t traveling at warp speed (we can’t) but were going fast enough to make it significant.

I went over the handlebars and Robyn ended up surfing the bitumen on her backside.

So with both of us lying on the road, luckily it was 7am on Sunday morning in a quiet residential area, I was faced with an interesting dilemma. What do you attend to first?

Logic and good manners would dictate check nothing is broken, make sure the missus is alright then worry about the bikes. Well I seemed to bounce up off the road and could stand despite the blood and chunks of bitumen stuck to me, so I knew I was OK.

Robyn was upright, “are you OK?” I asked.

“I think so, what about the bloody bikes?” she answered.

“I don’t know about the bikes, but I think I am OK, thank you very much for asking”, I replied.

At least I had the decency to check on her before the bikes!

Now for those of you that pursue leisure activities to get some time away from the family, you may find it strange that I chose to ride my bike with my missus. Well her response is the very reason that she is a worthy member of any peloton. Not only did she deal with the pain she focused on the most important things, the bikes.

She’s tough my missus and clearly loves her bike. The toughness has something to do with her upbringing on a farm, from what I have observed country girls don’t complain much. The love of her bike is a relatively new thing bought on by seeing what can be achieved when you set out to ride further than ever before, over hills higher than you thought possible and setting PB’s on your regular rides.

I think my missus has the cycling bug.

The Great Escape

I have been off my bike for the last 6 weeks.

I did something to my back whilst on tour with Alice’s school band. It can’t be directly attributed to my bike riding, more as a result of neglecting  to do anything to strengthen my core (I didn’t even know I had one!). Seemingly a finely tuned athlete like myself should not take his ageing frame for granted and shifting a multitude of brass instruments and a full set of percussion was not what the doctor ordered.

Cammeray School COncert Band 2013

As frustrating as it has been, it has made me realise that I can get a little too focused on my sporting pursuits. As much as I thought I understood what balance and a sustainable training regime looked like, clearly this is my bodies’ way of saying, “Stop it, you are a silly Lycra clad man and I’ve had enough!”

Apparently its nothing structural, just a “mechanical niggle” that won’t go away. Now I have full movement back I am allowed to get back in the saddle. My Physio did point out that I should be happy that I made it around France and it was best for this to happen now rather than last July or to have a major issue later down the track.

He also got excited when I talked of a more balanced program next year and maybe re-introducing some running and asked if I had another marathon in me!  (He is a sports physio so his goal is to get you back out there! I hope its not so we end up back here?)

I am considering the last 6 weeks my “Great Escape” from anything too serious and it has been quality time to plan for 2014.

Here is Alice’s School Band playing the theme from The Great Escape. Give it a listen you’ll be impressed, they range in age from 10-12 years old

01_The Great Escape – R.W.Smith mp3







Vanka Velo

Cape Crusader 1


What do you buy the middle aged man that has everything?

We know you take your cycling seriously, we also know that you want to stand out from the crowd, so how do you inject some fun and style back into your cycling wardrobe?

Have you ever considered wearing a cape? No, not the traditional rain cape but a glamorous “Vanka Velo” cape. The cape that turns you from sad git into instant superhero.

The cape has proven powers of recovery just watch the videos of the founding members of Vanka Velo trialling the cape after a gruiling few days riding through the French Alps

Cape Crusader 1

Cape Crusader 2

Vanka Velo is a new concept in cycling wear. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, in fact we acknowledge that most of society thinks we are in fact “Vanka’s” . To register your interest for a cape and other products to signify to the rest of the peloton that you are that little bit special, drop us a line…

Even superheros have bad days

Even superheros have bad days





It’s been a few days since I got back from riding my bike in France and today I make the final journey back from sunny England to Australia.

Being at my mum and dad’s this week has effectively been a half-way house before I re-integrate back into my normal existence.

Prior to my return I have noticed that there are a few habits I have picked up whilst on tour that need to be broken.

Clothing – It is not polite to eat breakfast, and indeed any other meal, just wearing snug fitting shorts. (Unless you are a German on holiday then it is your national costume so perfectly acceptable).

Dining – What’s the rush? Is the food going to run out before you get your fair share? I have discovered this week that if you eat slowly you can actually taste what you are eating. Also there is something to be said for quality over quantity. If you are not burning all that extra fuel then be careful because you’ll be carrying it up the next climb.

Conversation – Read the signs, when the eyes glaze over you have lost your audience. Apparently it is a lot harder for the people who didn’t spend hours on their bike in France to relate to the thrills of the descents, how to grind your way up 20km of mountain, the stunning scenery or the merits of different gear ratios. The normal daily conversations you had living with other bike nuts are not seen as normal in other parts of society.

I’m looking forward to getting home and seeing the family. I know that they will indulge me for at least a few hours.

Then once the presents are handed out, the pictures explained and the clothes packed away I will work my way through the mail, check my diary for next week and finally iron a few shirts to complete my rehabilitation back into society.

time gentlemen please...

time gentlemen please…