Singlespeed European Championship 2010

The 2010 Singlespeed European Championships were held in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. This isn’t too far from where I live and, never having raced at a European Championship before, it would be awfully rude of me not to have a go. The entry criteria fo this event were nice and simple, first come first served until it’s full.

For those of you unfamiliar with the SSEC, or indeed it’s bigger cousin the SSWC, an explanation: Yes, there is a bike race going on, and a fairly big one at that with a couple of hundred competitors from all over the continent, but this is very much a secondary activity to the beer festival which takes place before, during and after the race.

I had a singlespeed but it was really just a hack-bike for pootling to and from work on, so a much better one was hastily cobbled together out of my hardtail with the added addition of some plastic water pipe to space out the freewheel around the lone sprocket.

We all gathered in the field next to the pub which had been brave enough to host us and had our evening meal and a lot of beer there. Probably a little more beer than I really should have done, but I was just trying to enter into the spirit of the event, and I was still some way behind most of the others. 

Numbers were slightly down as Eyjafjallaj√∂kull had erupted in Iceland and brought most of the flights around Europe to a stop. A number of competitors were already in the UK by the time that happened so they were fine, although getting home again may have been tricky… Those already booked on ferries would also have been OK but anyone forced to change plans at the last minute would have been in trouble. Quite a few didn’t make it all although I did meet a bunch of Italians who had driven for about 20hrs from southern Italy after their flight was cancelled and got the ferry from Blibao to Plymouth, realising there was no point even attempting to get to Calais.
On the Saturday morning, for those who had only drunk too much beer the night before rather than far, far too much, there was a guided ride around the forest, which was a lot of fun, although as I found out later showed us none of the course at all.

We were back at the pub in time for dinner and even more beer. I’m a complete lightweight as far as drinking goes and was already starting to struggle.

There was roller-racing in the pub itself, which I think the crowd enjoyed much more than the competitors. Sprinting as hard as you possibly can, even for 30 seconds, really hurts if you do it properly.  There was also an enormous cheeseboard, everyone attending had been told to bring 
some cheese so there was a vast selection from right across Europe.

It was of course another late night.

There was beer for breakfast and then we were all taken to where the race would begin, somewhere deep in the forest.

It was a running start, half a mile or so, down to where we had left the bikes. This favoured me as I can run reasonably well and so I was 4th when I found mine and set off on the course proper. This wasn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds as while we had been making our way up to the start line the organisers had been busy moving everyone’s bikes around and no-one had a clue where theirs was.

The course itself was a lot of fun, all rideable even on a singlespeed, although there were a couple of tough hills, but the swoopy singletrack was a hoot to ride.

This was the first time I had raced a singlespeed and I got on fine with it, on a course like that I don’t think there would have been that much of a difference to a geared bike, I found racing a bike without any suspension at the back much odder than riding one without being able to change gear.

There was also something which I had not seen at a race before, a bar on the racetrack. This was located next to the finish line but was serving right from the outset rather than after the race had finished. It was mainly populated by spectators to begin with but every time I came around to start another lap there were more and more competitors there, drinking yet more beer.

I’m not sure how many of us actually made it around the stipulated four laps, and how many succumbed to the temptations of the drinking and merriment as they passed the makeshift pub. I did make to the end before I stopped to join in, taking just over 3 hours. I knew I was 12th, from keeping track of who I had passed and who had passed me. I had only been doing this to monitor my progress as I would in any race but it turns out this was the only way I would get a true result, the organisers only counted the first 3 in and then called everyone else ‘Joint 4th’. Matt Page and Mel Alexander were our new champions

So what did I think? I was joint 4th in first ever European Championship. I’m happy with that. Time for a celebratory beer I think. 

Stories From Last Summer - 2014 Manx 100

With the imminent approach of this year’s Manx 100 I thought it was about time that I gave you a brief run-down on last year’s event, I know Nigel will be keen to get as many people over for the next installment as he can. He seems to be pretty successful so far, in 2014 there were about three times as many entries as there were for the inaugural event of 2013.

One notable absentee was defending champion Richard Rothwell, who, having survived the West Highland Way ‘Race’ intact then broke himself quite badly during a gentle pootle on the road bike. He was ‘quite cross’ (my words, not his! He used slightly different ones…) to miss not only this but also the European 24hr at Finale Ligure. This left the race wide open, although the smart money was on  Jason Miles

Signing on the night before was in the commentary box of the TT race. Even for those of us who are not huge motorbike fans it was pretty exciting to have backstage access to this prestigious venue. It was also pretty exciting to start the race in the pit lane right in front of the Grandstand before we were lead out onto the course and along the start/finish straight.

We followed the police motorbikes along the TT route for a couple of miles before we turned left and left that race-track and head out onto our own. 

In keeping with the previous event this first turn basically found a very big hill and pointed us straight at the top. This sort of thing carried on for more less the whole race, straight up, straight down, then straight back up again. The Isle of Man isn’t huge but it is mostly hilly and as you can see from the course profile there are not many flat bits in the event. In fact at 16,000ft there was over 1,000ft more climbing, and of course descending, than last year. 

I was riding with a good bunch early on, including newly-crowned European 24hr singlespeed champion Jon Hobson and my nemesis from last year Stephen Kelly, but two punctures meant that I lost touch with them after a couple of hours.

I wasn’t the only one struggling though, I was quite surprised about 6hrs in when Jason Miles came hurtling passed me to take 14th place. I had no idea he was even behind me at that point, I wonder when I had overtaken him?

I caught him and Jon again where the course split, the men being separated from the boys as the riders faced the choice of the full 100 miles (actually over just over 104) or the shorter 100km routes. I set off down the route taken by the real men, or at least those who still had plenty of time until their ferry departed, while they finished eating and then took the shorter option. It was nice to be able to make the decision at this point, rather than having to commit when entering the race weeks before, full of bravado about the distance and climbing and uncertainty about the weather.

 As far as I know Jon is the first, and so far only, person ever to attempt this race on a singlespeed, and he had intended to do the full 100 miles. The fact that he took the 100km option means that the title of first person ever to complete it on one is still up for grabs.

There are time limits on various sections to prevent riders still being out in the middle of nowhere long after darkness has fallen so anyone trying this will need to be pretty rapid, it’s hard enough on a geared bike.

My race took a turn for the worse shortly after the split. Coming down a particularly difficult narrow rocky descent into St. Johns I performed an unplanned frontal dismount and landed on my head and my knee, the latter hurting considerably more as this didn’t benefit from a helmet. The bike landing on me also hurt rather a lot.

It was when I picked it up and climbed back aboard that I realised that I had smashed the screen on my GPS. This didn’t cause any immediate problems, I had a map, although stopping to look at it would of course cost time, but most of the route was signposted.

Something more of a problem came later when I was trying to be clever and save time by not stopping to look at the map. I missed a turning off the Glen Mooar road at Arrassey and instead of turning down into the Lhargan plantation I found myself wandering around some old mine workings. It was quite interesting, looking at the old buildings and the winding gear and suchlike but it was costing me time. I could see other riders on the opposite side of the valley overtaking me at considerable speed as I elected to carry my bike down the sheer sides and up towards the correct path rather than retrace my steps.

I had recognised quite a bit of the course, from the brutal climb of The Baltic to the twisty singletrack of Archallagan and the fantastic descent down from Cronc ny Arrey Laa. However, a lot of the route was new and so my experience from the previous year proved to be of much less help than I was hoping, as my impromptu mine exploration demonstrates. 

In common with last time I had Jo helping me again, meeting me with the car every so often to resupply me with food and drink, although we had brought the small car over as it was cheaper on the ferry than the van so I had no spare bike available.

One thing which was very noticeably different to last year was the weather. We had been very lucky last time and done most of the race in the dry, but this time it started raining heavily shortly after the half way point and then just didn’t stop. The sheltered foresty bits weren’t too bad but the exposed moorlands and hilltops were a little bleak, to say the least.

The route had been very well planned and remained completely rideable, the rain didn’t cause any problems with sinking into bogs and quagmires at all, although it may have made things quite miserable for the helpers and supporters stood out in it waiting for their riders.

The race had two finish lines, which is a little unusual. The timings and results were taken at the end of the track at Kevraigue, where I just beat Guy Whaley in a 5 mile long sprint finish but we then had to ride from there, in a non-competitive fashion, through the centre of Douglas, rejoining the TT course at the famous Quarterhorse Bridge and then finishing at the Grandstand on the start/finish straight with a huge sense of achievement.

We had backstage access to the paddock area again for the post-race tea and cakes and a chance to catch up with everyone else and hear their stories of what had happened out there in the hills.
This year’s event is scheduled for 26 Juy There isn’t much else in the British Isles which is comparable, the West Highland Way ‘Race’ is probably the most similar event, but that isn’t really a race, and the Kielder 100 no longer happens of course. I much prefer the Manx event to Keilder, although the distance is about the same it has over 4,000ft more climbing and takes about 3-4hrs longer, but without feeling like it’s longer if that makes sense, it is so much fun that it takes your mind off the distance. It is physically harder than Keilder was but without the relentless grinding grit much easier on the bikes. It’s just a shame it’s such a pain to get to. This time I did it in a long weekend but if you can make a week of it like I did last time it’s definitely worth doing, it’s only a little island but there is plenty of riding there.
 Scott, Mark and BIlly with Nigel on the TT podium
1.  Scott Cornish
2.  Mark Carey
3.  Bily Stelling
4.  Christopher Purt
5.  Julian Corlett 
6.  Stephen Kelly
7.  Ed Wolstenholme
8.  Ian Wilmshurst
9.  Saul Muldoon
10. John Venables
18. Andrew Howett

Something Exciting To Torq About

New and exciting things are happening at XCRacer/Scimitar, we have a new sponsor.Torq is probably a name which will need no introduction for most of you so I’ll skip that bit.
Matt Hart, who founded the company way back in 1999 can be found at a very large number of races all year, from the Gorrick12hr, Torq In Your Sleep to the National XCSeries. He should be easy to spot, the massive orange motorhome and gazebos tend to stand out reasonably well, and he is always happy to explain his wares and, even better, usually has a few samples to try.

However, if you find yourself at a race at which he or his staff are not present come and have a word with one of the XCRacer team and we can offer a wee sample and a much less in-depth explanation.
Of course, whenever some new and exciting happens something has to give and so it is time to say a fond farewell to Accelerade.
Everything else remains unchanged and we will continue to be helped by the lovely folks at Mt Zoom, USE/Exposure and Scimitar.

It's Not A Bike Race Without A Van Incident

The title is a quote from Mr Richard Rothwell, who knows a thing or two about bike racing. He said it to me in a text message when I was 1,000 miles from home in a country where I barely speak the language watching oil pouring out of the bottom of my van.

It set me thinking. Am I especially unlucky with vehicles at races or just rather clumsy? Sometimes these things are clearly not my fault, such as when my friend John crashed into the back of me on the way home from a race in Falkirk but others, such as tearing the rear bumper off on a rock in a field in Wales, might be.

There is also the time the windscreen wiper flew off in the pouring rain on a Belgian motorway, the time I burnt James’s foot with a coolant leak on the way to Drumlanrig, steering failure on the way to a criterium in Leamington Spa, the demise of a head-gasket near St. Andrews, getting lost and ending up in the wrong country (Luxembourg) and the enormous clouds of black smoke which billowed from under the bonnet when I eventually got my car started after the Corrieyiarack duathlon I have also been stopped by the police 8 times in the last 3 years, including by the French police twice in the space of 15 minutes. This is despite having committed no offence at all, one particular occasion was just because they wanted to search my van to look for rustled sheep, but of course failed to find any. 
Something missing?

Some of my other highlights include getting stuck in the gateway immediately that I arrived at Rhyadder at about 1am. I had made it less than 6ft into the venue before I was unable to go any further. I was mocked, and then rescued, by some very helpful people returning from the pub.
I also managed to get stuck in the campsite at Keilder, right down at the far end. That took a lot of getting out of, some other helpful racers found a few old plastic fertiliser bags and, having failed to move it at all by pushing, we filled them with gravel from some nearby roadworks and pilled it up underneath the wheels, which worked much better.

However, I then compounded the error the following year by getting stuck in exactly the same spot. Trying to keep one wheel on the hardpack hadn’t helped at all. Luckily the second time there was access through the mud for another van to tow me out.

Nearly rolling my van at Newcastleton the night before the European 24hr was by far my scariest van incident, and the one which is still talked about the most, at least by those who helped right it again. The full story of that is here if you want to read it.

It seems that I can’t even go for an afternoon at Glentress with my girlfriend without having to stop and tighten some loose wheel nuts on the return journey.

I’m going to go into more detail about three particular van incidents as these happened abroad and are therefore more exciting, in my mind anyway.

In October 2010 I flew out to Australia for the 24hr World Championships. The first few days of that trip were pretty much one big long van incident.

I left the airport terminal, got attacked by a small green parrot and made my way to the taxi rank. I found a taxi which could carry my bike in it’s flight box and gave the driver the address of the campervan depot. He dropped me there, I gave him $50 and off he went. I went in, introduced myself and said I had come to collect my van.
“We’ve never heard of you.”
Bugger. I rang the agency I had booked it through.
“Oh no, you should be at this other depot on the other side of the city.”
I called another taxi, and he took me to the other depot. I gave him $100 (Sydney is a big place and it was a very long way) and asked him to wait, just in case.
I went in, introduced myself and said I had come to collect my van.
“We’ve never heard of you.”
“Which agency did you use?”
“Allday Travel”
”We stopped dealing with them ages ago, they’re a right pain in the arse.”

This was true. I should also just point out in case any of you have seen pictures of me with a camper from Juicy that that was on my second Oz trip in 2013 and that they were both much, much better and slightly cheaper.

Anyway, back on the phone.
“Sorry, you were right the first time, it was that depot, just a breakdown in communication.”

Back into the taxi, back across Sydney, give the driver another $100. Getting the $200 knocked off the hire fee proved not to be too easy either.

They had clearly panicked a bit when they had realised their mistake and dug an old truck out of the back of the yard. It was basic, but it would do. Well, I thought so at the time.

 Top quality motoring here

I drove it around Sydney that day so it was only the following morning when I attempted to get it above about 50km/h on the freeway that the problem with the engine cutting out became apparent.

I rang them again.
“Just pop it into a garage and get them to fix it, we’ll pick up the bill.”

I was expecting the Aussie version of the AA but maybe that’s how they do things there and I didn’t want to be a whinging pom. I took it to the nearest garage thinking that they must have customers booked in and surely they won’t have time to do this there and then? I went surfing for the day and returned in the late afternoon to find that they had indeed had other customers booked in and hadn’t had time to do my van there and then.

Back on the phone, demanding the AA. They eventually relented and a mechanic was dispatched.
I described the problem to him, it felt like a fuel –starvation issue. He agreed and so began the hunt for the fuel filter. The engine was underneath and so it took some finding, although we did come across various other things first, including a massive hole in the floor.

Apparently this hole in the floor is fine. The vehicle was registered in Queensland and their Pink Slip is nowhere near as strict as the New South Wales Blue Slip, which in turn lags someway behind an MOT.

He cleaned the fuel filter and then the carburettors and was clearly the first person to do this fairly basic servicing in a very, very long time.
“Go for a drive, I’ll follow you for a bit and we’ll see how it goes.”
It was definitely better. It would now only cut out when I tried to go up a hill.
Back on the phone, trying to be firm but without loosing my rag.
“It still doesn’t work. I need a different van.”
“We haven’t got any others.”
“I don’t care. Hire one from another company for me.”
“We can’t do that.”
”Of course you can, it’s not difficult.”
“We can’t get one at such short notice.”
”There are dozens of hire places in Sydney, one of them will have a van. I will be at your depot at 9am tomorrow morning and you will have a new van ready for me.”
“Talk to the breakdown man.”
”The van’s dangerous mate, he needs a new one.”
There was a disgruntled noise of resignation from the other end.

I thanked the breakdown man and set off. It was early evening. My plan was to go and park in the gateway of the depot overnight and make sure that they could not conduct any other business the following day until I had my new van,

Coming off a roundabout the road turned slightly uphill. The van stopped dead and simply refused to start again.

Back on the phone.
The van was to be collected by the breakdown company at 8am the following morning and there was a new one waiting for me at the depot. In the meantime I would have to just stay there.

I tried pushing it away from the roundabout but as soon as I took the handbrake off it would roll backwards, towards the roundabout and into oncoming traffic, I wasn’t strong enough to shove it up the hill.

I saw a lady emerge from the house at the end of the drive I was blocking and she came over to say hello. I asked if she was going to need access to the drive before 8am, and she said that yes she was, she had to go out for dinner with her mother in about an hour. That could be a problem…

However, we discovered that if I went around the rear of the vehicle and leaned against it with my back it wouldn’t roll backwards when she removed the handbrake and we could slowly move it up the hill, away from both her driveway and the roundabout.

She asked what had happened, so I told her everything I have just told you. She then asked what I was going to do for the night.
“I guess I’ll just sleep in the van here and wait to get towed tomorrow”
”You can’t do that! Come with me.”
She lead me to the bottom of the drive and to a small annex next to the house. She opened the door to reveal a bed and a sofa inside and another door at the far end.
“The bathroom’s through there, here’s the key, but I have to go now, bye” and she was gone.

I spent a very comfortable night in the little room and awoke at 7am the following morning. There were already signs of life in the main house so I knocked on the door to say thank-you, but I wasn’t allowed to leave until I had been given a rather large breakfast. With the exception of the man at the van hire place everyone I met in Australia was lovely and helpful, all very friendly, much like the lovely lady with the spare bed, who's name I have forgotten. I think the van man may have been an ex-pat Brit… 

Anyway, a truck arrived to collect my van, I suspect to take it to the scrap yard rather than back to the depot and a taxi came to collect me and my bike. It took me to a depot run by another company where a very helpful man gave me a new van, which worked, and so I set off towards the race.

Luckily this didn’t become a van-incident. I was the first to board the ferry when heading over to France for the Meagavalanche and so was given the front middle position on the ferry. What I didn’t realise until I saw it from the lounge window was that they approach the dock in Dunkirk with the bow door already open. I have never had a vehicle with a fully-functioning handbrake so I watched with trepidation as I tried to remember if I had left it parked in gear…

In May 2012 I was to race at the 24hr World Championships at Finale Ligure in Italy. Being Italy, I could take my own van, so it should be much less problematic than the Aussie trip.

I gave it a quick once over on the Thursday before my departure. There was very little coolant in the radiator, it must have a leak somewhere, not good timing. The local garage said I would need a new radiator, which they could get in about a week. Bugger. My ferry was on the Sunday.

They strongly advised me not to attempt any long journeys.

I upgraded my breakdown cover to the best (a lot of) money could buy, stocked up on Rad-Weld and a twenty litre jerry can full of water and set off.

It was actually fine, in the whole two week trip it used only three bottles of radiator sealant and only two litres of water, although I was driving along with one eye on the temperature gauge.

More of a problem was the ant’s nest which appeared in the vehicle in the second week of the trip. One night just after the race I was lying in the bed in the back when I thought I saw movement in the moonlight, I assumed it was a small spider so I tuned on the light so that I could see it and evict it. It was instead several dozen ants making their way along the side of the bed. There were several hundred more underneath it and loads in the boot and especially the dirty washing bag. I removed as many as I could but it was weeks later, long after I had got home, before I stopped finding them every time I got into the car.
Despite there being about three and half million of them the ants don't show up very well in this photo

Anyway, after the race I set off to La Colmaine in the French Alps to do the Transvesubienne. It was the Monaco Grand Prix that weekend so I decided not to take the most direct route along the coastal motorway but instead to drive through the mountains. This took a lot longer than expected and so it was dark as I got to the top of the Col de Turini and set off down one of the most famous stages of the Monte Carlo rally. This was made very, very scary by, in reverse order, the fact that there are no barriers on most of the corners near the tops, the fact that there had just been a hail-storm and the whole road was covered in ice, and the fact that the ABS ring on my front right brake had chosen that moment to explode. The brakes would sometimes work, but the front right would occasionally disengage itself for no readily apparent reason whenever it felt like it. I think the inconsistency and unpredictability was far worse than having no brake at all.

There was nowhere to stop on the narrow mountain road to wait for either daylight or the ice to melt and so I pressed on, hoping for the best, until eventually arriving at the bottom shaken but unscathed.

The second trip to Italy for the 2014 European 24hr Championship began much more successfully, other than forgetting the booking reference for the ferry, most of the tent pegs, the water carrier and any form of gels without caffeine in them (that’s a whole other story, and is still talked about nearly as much as the jar of pesto from about 2007)

Having done the race and watched the team race the following day it was decided that it would be a good idea to head down to the beach. Fellow British racer, and now both 12 and 24hr European singlespeed champion, Jon Hobson and our pit helper Carole Armstrong piled into my van.

Jon had already had a van incident of his own by this stage, smashing the wing mirror of his hire car somewhere between the airport and the race track while trying to avoid an errant moped. Actually, just getting hold of the hire car probably counts as a van incident, that didn’t go at all smoothly.

On returning to the campsite I decided to park near our pits to make packing up easier. I drove into the lower field, swung around, reversed and then pulled forward to straighten up.

There was a loud thud and a lurch as the van came to a very sudden stop.

An Italian chap at the far side of the field was waving his arms and shouting “Albero, Albero” very loudly but we had spotted him too late.

Looking under the van I could see that while it was not an entire alberro it was quite a significant portion of one that I had hit. I could also see rather a lot of oil pouring out of the front of the sump. Carole said later that despite all the various disasters of our trip this was the only time I had looked worried, which made her feel very worried.

We quickly discovered that both the oil and the engine block were far too hot to allow us to do anything useful.

My new friend Stefano, who had helped me fix my broken chain early in the race, appeared out of nowhere.  He then gave us an old water bottle off which we cut the top and used it to collect the oil which was still coming out pretty quickly.

Even better, Stefano then produced some cheese and some beer, which makes everything better. I had set myself the target of trying as many different kinds of Italian cheeses as I could during the trip but kept getting distracted by ice-cream.

With the engine still too hot to touch we left the van where it was and went to the pub, we couldn’t really do anything else.

The following morning we returned to the van. There was no longer any oil pouring out of the bottom of the engine and one thing at least had gone right, the oil in the bottle was less than a quarter of an inch from the top, it was the perfect size. I removed this and placed it very carefully by the side of the vehicle.

We decided not to try reversing the van off the log in case it did any more damage and instead jacked it up and removed the offending item that way.

The damage didn’t look too bad, I was sure we could fix it. I made a ramp, using the log itself as the major part, kicking over the bottle of oil in the process.

The sump was removed without too much difficulty, most of the remaining oil being caught in the washing up bowl. We had a look and realised how lucky we were. Had the damage gone two inches further back it would have hit the oil pump and three inches to the right the cooler. I had somehow missed all of the steering mechanism too. 

Mending the sump

The sump was cleaned and then we got the lid of one of the tool boxes to use as a flat surface and spent quite some time with the two hammers getting the sump as close to a sump shape as we could.
We were eventually satisfied and returned to the van to reattach it, Jon holding the Exposure MaxxD (yes, I have even managed to get a sponsor mention into this) and calling out bolt-tightening sequences and torques as I lay on my back underneath it. Due to a previous gear-selector problem, which I won’t go into here, I happened to have most of a tube of gasket sealer in the toolbox and used the lot on the still slightly distorted sump.

As good as new. Sort of.
These torque settings were in the Haynes manual. Carole was of the opinion that carrying it around in the van demonstrated a certain lack of confidence but I think that having it there was a rare display of me being organised.

We removed as much of the grass and dead leaves and things which had blown into the bowl of oil as possible and put as much of it back into the top of the engine as we could, then checked the dipstick. It was nowhere near even the ‘minimum’ mark.

 Putting it back again.

We piled into Jon’s only slightly damaged hire car and went back into town. We discovered there that it was a bank holiday and that there was nowhere in the whole of Finale open and selling oil, so we had an ice-cream and went to the beach.

The following morning Jon had to drive back to the airport and with 297km of his 600km allowance already used he was understandably reluctant to drive us into town again, he already a broken mirror to explain without going over his mileage (kilometerage? Is that a word?) limit. Carole and I therefore set off in the van, one eye on the oil temperature gauge and the other on the bright red oil pressure warning light. 

We stopped at the first petrol station we saw and put about 2½ litres of oil into it, then bought another 3 litres just in case. 

We decided to amend the route home slightly to pass through Albenga, which has a Ford dealership, and attempt to buy a new sump, the repaired one should at least get us that far.

For some reason the ‘Teach Yourself Italian’ CD I had been listening to for the last few weeks had not contained such useful phrases as “Ho un Ford Transit, anno duemilaquattro. Vorrei una coppa dell’olio per favore” but I was able to make myself understood well enough by the man in garage. He explained that he could get one for us in less than a week. However, Carole had to be at a wedding in Suffolk in two days…

We set off across the Alps, hoping for the best. Much to everyone’s amazement and immense relief between Albenga and my house near Lincoln the van lost less than half a pint of oil. Sometimes I surprise even myself. Actually, it was probably thanks to Jon’s mechanical skills…

I still fitted a new sump when I got home though.

The next trip to Italy is in May, I’m sure it will be fine…

I would like to point out that it’s not just me that this sort of thing happens to of course. I recall my XCRacer/Scimitar teammate Ant White sliding his van sideways into a ditch, leaving it beached on the fuel tank. Even the pro’s aren’t immune, I had to use my jump leads to get the British Cycling truck started after it died at Margam. Actually, that reminds me, I once had a flat battery after the National XC Championships at Hopton.

And just because you have finished the race and begun the journey home doesn’t mean you have escaped, Scott Swalling didn’t even make it passed North Ballachulish on the way out of Fort William after the 24hr World Champs last year. The recovery people had already been summoned by the time we found his broken down truck at the side of the road. He seemed remarkably sanguine about it. Maybe a van incident is just one of those things after all….

My First Product Review - Exposure TraceR

I’ve been writing here for over three years now and in all that time I have never done a product review, so I thought that it was about time I had a go at one:

I have decided to start small, very small, in fact just 39 grams. I was given my Exposure TraceR rear light last October for the 24hr World Championships at Fort William. The choice of lights which would have enough battery power to last all night at that event was quite small, but fortunately a couple of them were made by USE and the TraceR appeared to be ideal for the job, as indeed it proved itself to be.

Nearly five months later what are my thoughts on it? Well, having used it for commuting all winter it is still working. While this may not sound that impressive it is the first time that I have ever had a rear light which has lasted a whole winter, and I’ve tried loads from umpteen different manufacturers over the years. I’m not sure exactly what I do to them, but the problem usually appears to be water ingress around the seals and the TraceR seems to have been impervious to such things.

It is easy to use, the bracket is very simple and will fit almost anywhere and the button can be operated even when wearing big thick gloves.

 In-situ on my commuter bike. Not also the extra, accidental, 
product-placement for the handy Mt Zoom strap thingy

The battery life is excellent, more than enough for a 24hr in the Highlands in the autumn or a whole week of commuting, and it still carries on for ages even after the low-battery warning is given, a green, orange or red flash when the light is switched off. 

 Photograph taken leaning against the side of my van,
Camera in 'auto' mode, whatever that does, but with the flash off.

Of course, none of this would matter if the light itself wasn’t, erm, light. Not in the 39 grams sense of light but in the 75 lumens sense of light. Luckily it is 75 lumens so sticks out like a sore thumb from miles away. It has two modes, ‘constant’ or ‘constant with a slow flash being even brighter’ so it has the best of both worlds there. They claim up to 24hrs for it in the flashing mode, but mine seems to last loads more than that. I should really time it to do this properly but there is only so long I can sit and watch a light for and of course as soon as I leave it to do something else will be the moment when it finally goes out.

Is there anything about it I don’t like? There is one thing I would change. The battery is not removable, so you can’t carry a spare. This hasn’t caused a problem for me yet but could be a nuisance on multi-day trips without access to charging facilities but to be honest it’s light enough that you could just carry a whole spare light. Other than that it’s spot on.

Good bits
Battery life
Simple mount

Bad bits 
The retail price (£49.95) is a bit steep compared to most other rear lights, but you do get what you pay for.