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…


It’s a long way to the top…




I have cycled my way around France and in the process I have ridden over 1,000km and climbed 20,000 meters. All of this and I can still sit down without wincing!

Joining the Tour De Force group, 2 weeks into the overall tour, was a bit like going to a new school. Everybody who is part of it knows the routine and the way things are done. For the newbies working this out and getting the rhythm of tour life was our initial challenge. The fact that the whole thing is so well organised and that the other riders are supportive made it easy to feel that you were part of something a little special.

In all honesty I didn’t really know what I had let myself in for. Without a reference of what an Alp looks like I think I benefited from a little bit of “ignorance is bliss”. It wasn’t until the first evening and we got a briefing of our first days ride, 243km finishing with a climb up Mont Ventoux, that I began to think I may be a little out of my depth.

Even if you were a “lifer”, riding all the stages, or if this was your first stage like me there appeared to be a certain degree of nervousness about riding stage 15.

It was a baptism of fire, a 220km ride in hot weather across a very picturesque France and then the 20km climb. Up until the bottom of the climb I had really enjoyed the day, and then it just got a little silly.

It was hot and very steep. No amount of training around the hills of Sydney could prepare me for this type of climb and it was all I could do to keep the pedals turning. Periodically the body gave up and I would have to stop, slump over the handlebars and started wishing I was elsewhere.

Then some other Lycra clad loony would go past, shout some encouragement and I felt obliged to get back on and try again. This was the process I followed all the way to the top of my first HC climb.

As an added bonus I also got to descend the mountain in a full on thunderstorm. As hard as it was going up, coming down in torrential rain, cramping and wobbling all over the road as I shivered my way down is more memorable. I am sure that having completed one of the slowest ascents, I then followed it up with a prize winning performance for the slowest decent.


Having achieved this I took a degree of confidence into the other days. The body held up and even with some long days riding and some seriously challenging climbing I can honestly say I loved every minute and it was a truly great experience.

If I was to summarise what made the week so great, it would be…

  • The scenery and the weather, it was perfect  and just made the whole country look stunning
  •  The organisation of the whole event was great. If you want to feel like a pro and just worry about riding your bike and very little else, this is the event for you. You also get to raise some money for a very good cause
  • The people you got to ride with. I met some great people and had lots of laughs. Doing something like this creates a great feeling of camaraderie.
  • Riding up some iconic climbs, I can now boast to have ridden up Mont Ventoux, the Col du Glandon, the Cold de la Madeleine and to top it all Alpe-D’Huez, twice in the same day.
  • Getting to ride around Paris on Bastille day in a big bunch and with the mates that you have made over the week

All great experiences, if you were to ask me for one memorable moment?

Well it’s a little bit left field.

I could wax lyrically about the stunning vistas, the scary descents or the overall sense of achievement. For me the best moment was on the final climb on stage 20 going up Annecy-Semnoz. This is a steep climb, 10.7km @ 8.5% gradient, and what I shall remember it for is being involved in some of the slowest overtaking manoeuvres in cycling history.

By this stage I was cycling so slowly that it was remarkable that I stayed upright. If we had been on the flat people would have marvelled that you could actually ride a bike that slowly and not fall off.

So there I am doing my thing up the hill and a number of riders came past me. What made it memorable was that they were going only marginally quicker so it took a couple of minutes for them to draw level , nod or grunt some encouragement in my direction, then fix their gaze on the road ahead and it would then be several more minutes for them to pull ahead. It was like I was part of the Tour De France, only doing it frame by frame. All the same drama and intensity just done incredibly slowly.

It was only then that I realised how daft I must have looked.  I may have felt a sense of achievement and satisfaction but the reality is if you had driven past me you probably would have wondered why that daft middle aged bloke had nothing better to do with his time.

I was taking on the course of the professionals in my own unprofessional way and this really made me laugh. As I continued to grind the long way to the top, the only rock and roll was me going all over the road as I made it up another bloody big hill in France.


Go on, make a donation at  to a very worthwhile cause The  William Wates Memorial Trust 

Out and about


One of the joys or riding a bike is that it gets you outside and allows you to see and experience the countryside in all its glory.

Riding around the South of England over the last week means I have seen a fair bit of a very green England. I have loved riding down single track country lanes that are covered by trees. The weather has been good , the sun has been out and it has been warm enough to just about make a contrast to the Australian winter. I’ve seen genuine village fates, been paced by tractors and have concluded that the drivers of Fiat vans are a little bit madder that your average white van men.

I dropped Edna off today to be taken over to France where the fun and games will really start. Having a week to get over the jet lag and to catch up with friends and family was a good move. My only challenge is making sure that I am not overdong it so that I don’t arrive in France needing a rest rather than feeling up for a few days of challenging cycling.

In addition to getting to ride my bike over some spectacular scenery I can’t think of a better way to experience a little bit of French life. All I have to do is remember to ride in a way that is appropriate for a man of my age, to take the time to look around me and to occasionally get off my bike and enjoy France.



Cycling is a world of brands, from the names of the bikes people ride to the names on the clothes that they wear and the accessories that they carry.

How refreshing was it to find a bike box named after itself and the bloke who makes them. The love of my life is safely packed into my “bikeboxalan” (that is its name!) and is currently being loaded onto the plane for my departure to the UK.

I found it strangely more emotional giving my bike over to the baggage handler than saying goodbye to Robyn. I have justified this by saying that I know Robyn will be OK, we have been separated before, the bike and I haven’t.

Having grown very fond of my bike I think she deserves a name. I know of other blokes who have had their bikes named by their wives, as they felt that the object of their husbands  affair needed to be named and shamed. Robyn has yet again demonstrated why she is the right women for me as she has been encouraging me to give it a name (I still don’t know if she is chuckling away behind my back at these indulgences , or if she really has bought into the whole lunacy)

So with more thought and conjecture than naming either of my daughters I have decided to call her “Dame Edna”. I needed something that was suitably Australian, and apart from the obvious, Sheila or Matilda, the only other option was to call her Kylie. The thought of throwing my leg over Kylie at 5am was a little too much for me to handle, I don’t encounter any problems thinking about the name Edna.

So  my Cervelo R3 has been christened Dame Edna, the boarding pass has been signed and I wish her well for the flight and a loving reunion at Heathrow.

I am going to attempt to blog a little more regularly during my trip so you can keep upto date with the progress I am making. You can  check out the TDF website at


This calendar year I have cycled 6,379km  (most of them around Sydney), spent 254 hours on my bike and climbed 75,000 vertical meters.

I have been spending on average 42 hours per month pedaling, or the equivalent of one full working day per week.

All of this and I still don’t know If I feel ready for the 1,000km that lay ahead of me through The Alps.

As my departure date is getting closer there is not a lot more I can do. The Tour de Force  kicked off this weekend and I will join it in 14 days.

The first pictures from Corsica look warm and sunny, my ride today was in the cold and the wet. I hope this is not an omen of things to come.

So a few more rides (weather permitting) and I will be heading off to the UK on Thursday. I have a week of catching up with friends and family, a few rides planed and then it is on to France.

In the past I have been accused of talking a “good game” but rarely getting out onto the pitch. Well there is no backing away now.

Could I have done more training, probably, could I have held off on the red wine a little more to assist in my ascent of the bloody big mountains, absolutely.

Could I have spent more money buying equipment and cycling paraphernalia, no way. When you add it all up I think it may actually have been cheaper to have gone with the more traditional mid-life crises of buying the sports car!

I just keep reminding myself that the ride is for a good cause, nobody made me do it and to enjoy every km, hour and vertical meter that I ride.

Go on, make a donation at  to a very worthwhile cause The  William Wates Memorial Trust



The Best Laid Plans…

The view down to Wisemans Ferry

The view down to Wisemans Ferry

The plan was simple, get up, spend Friday riding 200km then enjoy the weekend.

The weather was warm and the ride out of Sydney to Wisemans Ferry, along the Hawkesbury River and up to the Central Coast was great.

As I spend more time on my bike and cover greater distances my confidence for my trip to France is building.  My goal is to go over and enjoy the challenge of climbing up big mountains, every minute I spend on the bike is working towards this.

I was feeling very pleased with myself, until 123km into the ride  I noticed a problem. A spoke had worked loose and had buckled my rear wheel. A closer inspection and this was not something I was going to be able to fix to ride home. Fortunately I could limp to a nearby cafe to work out what my next move needed to be. As it turned out my only option was a $70 taxi ride to Gosford Station and an hour’s train trip home.

Now confidence on the bike is one thing, confidence in your Lycra off the bike is a different skill set. Let’s face it  those of us who wear Lycra are largely tolerated by others in society. When you are on the bike it makes sense, if you are off the bike as long as you are on a beaten track you are not that much of a novelty.

Standing on Gosford train station, smelling a little ripe in your Lycra, you are to be avoided at all cost. I don’t think the passengers waiting for the 12.48pm to Sydney Central  really cared about my Three Peaks Jersey and  how I had earned the right to wear this.

I have written about my dalliance with White Lycra before, and after today I think unless you are a member of the professional peloton you should give it a miss. Feeling confident when I set off I opted for the white Lycra shorts. You have to have a certain degree of confidence in yourself to wear white Lycra in the first place. On the bike I was comfortable in them, it never entered into my realm of consciousness that I would have to enter back into normal society and catch a train with other folk.

Apart from announcing to the world that you have arrived, another drawback of white Lycra is it shows the dirt, not a fashion statement, just a practical observation. So it was only after a few smirks from a few passengers that I realized that I had at some stage unconsciously adjusted myself and had a great oily black handprint on my shorts where my  “Crown Jewels” were located. Robyn has already accused  me of looking like a naked Crystal Ken in my shorts so it’s not as though I have much to draw people’s attention to in the first place.

Now , not only was I a sad man in Lycra on a train station, I was a sad man who obviously liked to touch himself in public, on a train station. At least I had a bike with me as some form of defence.

On the train I skulked in the front carriage with my bike. The only saving grace was that the plethora of school kids who use the North Shore line were still at school, I fear I may have made the 6 o’clock news otherwise.

Finally  on making North Sydney I completed my walk of shame through the last remnants of the Friday lunchtime office crowd to the safety of home.

I guess these things happen and it’s a good reminder not to start getting to sure of myself. The reality is that I couldn’t do anything about the bike, it’s just one of those things, I can do something about the shorts, the white Lycra is now can relegated to turbo sessions only.

Broken Bike

Broken Bike

You can support my foolishness in France by making a donation at  to a very worthwhile cause The  William Wates Memorial Trust

Where’s Me Jumper?

What makes you sign up to cycle 230km in one day, going over 3 challenging peaks and climbing just shy of 4,000 meters?

Is it to test yourself against the course, to see how you measure up against the rest of the field or, as superficial as it may sound to get a cycling jumper? A jumper that proclaims to the rest of the cycling community that you have completed “Australia’s most challenging one-day ride” (The organisers words, not mine, but it sounds impressive)

Obviously my motivation is more than a jumper, though I would point out that you have to finish the course within an allotted time of 13 hours to get a jumper.

Late last year I was riding up a modest climb when this bloke rode up beside me and we got talking. He asked if I was training for something and I told him of my impending trip to France to ride in the Alps. He then enquired if I had ever done anything like that before, I wasn’t sure if he was impressed with my climbing ability or if he genuinely thought I needed a dose of reality as he went on to explain the 3 Peaks Challenge. As soon as I got home I had booked myself a spot and was on my way.

The plan was to use this as a confidence builder before my trip to France. Despite all the cycling I have been doing, the one gap in my preparation has been to ever climb what can be described as a proper mountain. So with a certain degree of trepidation I headed off last weekend to Falls Creek in Victoria, to take part in the Scody 3 Peaks Challenge.

Strange lot cyclists! The 1,500 participants came in all shapes and sizes. In a predominantly male bunch, there were your stereotypical cycling whippets that looked like they belonged at such an event, a smattering of females and the rest of us. The majority in expensive outfits and on bikes which really scream midlife crises.

I felt comfortable enough with the distance, the unknown part of the exercise for me was climbing up 20km+ mountain roads. Strangely enough it’s the same as climbing a 6km hill, just longer. I’ve learnt that you just have to find your pace and stick to it. Resisting the temptation to up your speed as somebody who you think shouldn’t be passing you sails past, or finding that you have good legs so ignoring the urge to push on to the summit and holding back for the next big climb are more about mental discipline than pure physical exertion.

I completed the challenge in an overall time of 10 hours and 51minutes. I paced myself and rode within my limits, it was a hot 34c+ in the valleys, so I invested extra time at the re-fuelling stops and was encouraged by the fact that I did the course in 9 hours 45mins of actual cycling.

We did go over an “easier” route than the traditional course due to the fire damage on Mount Hotham. This means we did not tackle the notorious Back of Falls climb and its 9km at a 9% gradient. After 200km, the final 30km climb up the front to Falls Creek was challenging enough for me.

On Monday morning I was feeling quite pleased with myself and carefully packed my “you have to earn this” jersey and set out to drive back to Sydney. Halfway home I received a text from the organisers congratulating me on my achievement. The email then continued “it takes a lot of guts to face the peaks, despite your time you should be proud of your achievement in taking on the SCODY 3 Peaks Challenge 2013″

Despite your time! Are they messing with my head? Is this some strange psychological challenge to make me do it again next year, a challenge to come back and ride the proper course in a faster time? Does my 2013 finishers’ jersey carry less kudos than previous years? Did the winner, 7 hours 20 minutes (ex-professional whippet) get the same email?

Good job I cycle for the pure enjoyment, otherwise I could be offended.

As it is, I am already analysing how I could go a little faster, for pure enjoyment of course and ignorant to the fact that if you go under 10 hours you qualify for an extra special jumper to tell the world how serious a cyclist you are.

Glad to be off the bike! Richard my faithful Soigneur for the weekend had a cold beer ready. Top Man!

Glad to be off the bike! Richard my faithful Soigneur for the weekend had a cold beer ready. Top Man!


You can support my foolishness in France by making a donation at  to a very worthwhile cause The  William Wates Memorial Trust