Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The PZ Wheelers

I’ve been a member of the Penzance Wheelers since my son took up cycling at twelve, a few years ago now. I joined to help out; when my son moved on I just seem to have stayed. I’ve been Chairperson for more years than I care to acknowledge. As I can’t or don’t ride a bike I miss out on all the Sunday rides and the fun of competition. I make up for this by helping at or organizing many of the events we put on. Many of the active members love time trials, a somewhat alien form of bike racing to me, and the club runs a club events (open to all comers) every two weeks and several ‘open’ events each season. The club is good at time trials; we are the proud holders of the prestigious Cornish Cup, a season long tt competition, and lead it this year. We also have five riders in the National 25 TT this year which I think from a small club in the far reaches of west Cornwall is a good turnout. We also run a number of criteriums and when we can, a few proper road races. Fewer of our riders seem enjoy to the road racing compared to time trials.

Our membership is around fifty, mostly male, of which I must know half well and the other half less well. We do have a few women members, more are very welcome. We no longer have any under 16 riders as we decided by a vote that there is too much arsing around to be done, with endless paper work and courses to go on. It wasn’t always the case but the modern world has made it just too difficult. Fortunately Tom, my son, joined when things were normal and he was initiated into the club in the time honored way by being taken for a ride and then dropped on the way home leaving him to find his own way back. I have to admit I didn’t think this a very smart thing to do at the time but on reading Barry Hoban’s autobiography realized it was the way. This practice ceased shortly afterwards.

We meet once a week for the Sunday ride and again for a social evening on Tuesday night at The Star, Crowlas, and our official HQ. On these evenings up to a dozen or so members turn up to discus, reminisce or yarn about an ever widening range of subjects and drink the excellent beer brewed on the premises by the landlord. This is way better than when we met at the Longrock Institute, a draughty World War1 wooden hut, brought back from France in 1920, with no heating, where we sat around freezing for many a winter evening, drinking cups of black tea or coffee because someone had forgotten to buy the milk.

We have a healthily informal attitude to officialdom. We occasionally have official meetings. To make these seem different we move to the opposite end of the pub. At the moment the big debate in the club is whether to include a skull and cross bones to our club kit, everyone appears to be in favour but I guess it should go to a vote as pirates were very democratic. We don’t do much paper work; we like to keep it simple. If you want to ride a bike come and join us. However, when we do organize a race or charity ride everything is done extremely well. We aren’t complete fools. This highlights a paradox about the club for although there is this air of informality our organization is top notch and the various events we arrange are always successfully run. We seem keep this fact well disguised.

We also have a very healthy disregard for petty politics that seem to blight many clubs. We don’t strictly adhere to the rule book as I don’t think we have one. There are a few unwritten ones but they are more a wish list or advice. Due to this, in the eyes of a few people we don’t do things correctly. In the past we’ve had a few people join who want every thing to be run properly. The trouble for them is no one takes any notice, we carry on the same. They soon leave. It’s this air of informality and the friendly nature of the club that I so like. It feels very egalitarian.

The club has a very long history being started in the late 1890’s.You used to be able to read about its long history on our website but it seems to have gone missing.( it’s now back) There were a few low points but the club has never gone away, I don’t think it ever will. It has one life member, who never appears. Nobody knows why he was made a life member but he is. Our most famous member must be Tom Southam who was the first Cornishman to make it into the pro ranks. Since then another rider who was in the Wheelers, Steve Lampier, has also made it to Elite level.

We have a club website, www.pzwheelers.co.uk and an active facebook page where a lot more banter ensues.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Italian Skies

I was leaning on a farm gate, idly watching two donkeys as they watch me. I’m trying desperately to drum up a reason to support Sky in the Giro which I think is a far better race than the Tour. The French do it well but the Italians have that extra panache. The trouble is two fold. However hard I try I can’t overcome my loathing all things Murdoch, and secondly I lost my interest in the top echelons of my favorite sport some while back. The levels of deceit and corruption are just so astronomic that I however hard I try I can’t believe in them. I quite like Contador, especially his style of riding but who seriously believes that beef steak story? I know its not just confined professional cycling but this is the sport I’m involved in.

After a while I realize that I’m more interested in observing a pair of donkey’s ears. They were very hairy and covered in a thick layer of powdery dust. I was now thinking how a pair of ears like this would enhance my birding skills. Due to a back injury I can’t or don’t use binos, instead I rely an enormous amount on indentifying the birds by their calls. These ears I was staring at would greatly assist me, not only are they huge but they work independently. The left ear is facing forwards possibly listening to me but the right ear is roving through a 45 degree arc behind it. Just imagine how they would not only increase my hearing a million fold but I could listen in two places simultaneously, audio location skills would be amazing as well. Then I thought about Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s dream, he didn’t appear to enjoy the experience of having donkey’s ears and I broke off the reverie.

So it was back to the Sky cycling team, but I have to admit the task is hopeless. All those years I waited and dreamed about a British team. The hours from school boy right through to being a parent spent analyzing just who I would have in the squad from whatever crop of riders that were around at the time and what happens? Sky and the Murdochs turn up. I’ve tried, I’ve tried very hard but my prejudice is too deep. I won’t buy into anything Murdoch. Neither will I watch any of the Giro, it won’t be hard as I don’t own a television. I’ll just keep the vague eye on the result. Instead I’ll enjoy cycling a little further down the pyramid. There’s plenty of it and just as exciting even down in the lowest categories.

I stir from the gate and head on along the path. It’s a blinding Cornish day, brilliant sunlight and a strong south easterly wind have combined to create the most wonderful seascape as I head across and down off the headland.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A new place to race.

It’s a Wednesday evening and I’m almost back on my home turf. I’m usually in the far off reaches of the western tip of Cornwall but tonight I’m off on a new venture. I’m setting off to a new location for cycle racing; a go kart track near a village in mid Cornwall called St Eval. We have set up a series consisting of thirteen races to boost road racing in the region and this includes using different venues around the county. It seems to be going well as the number of riders in the previous races has all but doubled.

 I thought I already knew where the place was but fortunately had a quick look at a map before leaving and discovered I was completely wrong. I now had a rough idea and when I saw a signpost which said, ‘St Eval 5 miles’ turned off the main road into a narrow country lane. A very short distance later another signpost said ‘St Eval 1 mile’. This could appear as odd but Cornish miles can sometimes be very short and at other times very long. The next mile was a very long one. We kept driving seeing nothing for many English miles, any signs or village, just narrow, high banked lanes leading or forking off to unknown places. We eventually passed what looked like a totally deserted army camp that had been blown in on a tornado and then in the far distance I spied a church tower. Churches mean villages I thought, so drove towards it, but in this case a church meant just that, a church and nothing else, one lonesome, solitary church, amongst miles of green scenery, but it was St Eval church and a short distance later we found our destination. I later heard that numerous cars with bikes attached had been driving around the lanes. One lot on spying a car with bikes going in the opposite direction quickly turned round only to see that the other car has done the same on seeing them and passed them once again, both lost.

The St Eval circuit is on a disused second world war aerodrome, therefore positioned high on a rounded hill, a few miles from the sea, so exposed to every breath of wind that blows, a strong and cool southeasterly tonight, and every drop of rain that falls. I’ve heard that some riders are dubious about this new venue as it’s rumoured to be small, the surface rough and covered in oil as it’s used as a go cart track. As I walk around it’s evident that the rumours are totally unfounded; it’s a tight, smooth, 1.2km circuit, better than the battered tarmac they usually race across at Portreath, and which would encourage good bike handing, in particular cornering. I couldn’t see a single drop of oil anywhere.

Forty plus riders arrived, a fair number coming down from the Plymouth area. A few local west Cornwall riders are noticeable by their absence, which makes me wonder if they are afflicted with that Cornish travelling problem. South Africa, Mexico, Australia, no problem we’ll dig a hole anywhere but go past Truro? Why? What’s on up there? No thank you boy.

 I’m chief judge. I’ve been doing this and organizing all the events for the last fifteen years down the road at RAF Portreath. I choose a good spot just outside the changing rooms and cafĂ© and chalk on a finish line. The racing is fast and furious, there’s little time for my mind to wander as a bunch of a dozen or so riders fly pass every couple of minutes battling it out, half desperately hanging on while the others are trying to drop them, a number are out the back toiling away not willing to give up and hell bent on beating the riders they are with. A few of the riders have found the cornering difficult and have been dropped but if they keep coming back they’ll learn. The shapes of some of the riders intrigue me as do hairy legs but this is the essence of grass roots. These are people with everyday jobs who love cycling, training in the evenings and weekends, juggling family commitments with racing, who somehow all have discovered a love of physical pain and suffering which this sport above all demands and are all experiencing by the bucket load right now.
The owner of the track is impressed. He stands next to me as the 2nd’s and 3rd’s charge past, with an odd 4th cat, who’s in the wrong race, tenaciously hanging on the back, and mentions that ‘these guys are fit, I wasn’t expecting these speeds.’ I often hear these sentiments; Joe Public has no idea that racing is quite different to piddling along a road. I was at the finish of a stage in the Tour of Britain in Barnstable when a rotund family beside me remarked that they didn’t realize it was a ‘motorbike’ race they were watching when the riders came into view across the estuary. They were genuinely stunned when they realized it was ‘pushbikes’. How are they going so fast?

I’m pleased, it’s been a good night’s racing and I can tell from the informal conversations that I earwig on that the riders have found it enjoyable. Now that we all know where it is and what it’s like it will make a very suitable venue.

Out of curiosity I looked up St Eval on the internet. The village of St Eval was demolished in 1938 for the construction of the airbase; only the church was left standing. It’s now an ‘area’ rather than a place, no wonder the sat navs had their drivers confused.

Monday, 2 May 2011


 PZW Open sporting 19 mile TT.
I’ve never been a fan of time trials. I’ve never understood their attraction. Pound away all on your lonesome for ten or twenty five miles, for a time. Big buttocks and massive gears.
So here I am back from the highlights of Doonhame in Scotland standing on the side of a B road that runs from Praze to Leedstown shouting out the numbers as the riders go by. (Shouting them to the time keeper that is, I’m not completely mad)
It’s sunny but the north easterly wind is bloody freezing. It’s always bloody cold up here; thank god I brought a thick shirt, fleece and hat.
There’s me and the timekeeper. Every minute or two so a rider passes by. Minutes can take long time to pass.
Cars drive past, drivers staring. Some drive like idiots, some are fat, I think, ‘you ought to ride a bike’.
For something to do when there’s no traffic I cross the road.
I listen to the evening bird song, two blackbirds, a chiffchaff, robin, two chaffinches, one crow and some woodies and two swallows in the far distance.
Some riders take the wrong route.
’20 and 19’
Sometimes riders go through close together but usually means it’s a longer wait until another appears.
I watch sycamore trees turning to bud
I don’t mind helping out, a club is only as good as the people in it. It’s just that I don’t understand the appeal of this side of the sport, but I’ll always lend a hand.
There are some clouds.
Some riders are fast. The other side of the road looks enticing, I cross again.
I stand on the white line in the middle and stare down the road. I think about a blog I can write.
Some riders are slow.
Very slow.
A rider from our club wins the event, hurrah, I was pleased with that, third too, excellent. Can I go home now?