The Hardmen (and women) – book review

From the same authors who wrote The Rules: the Way of the Cycling Disciple – in other words, the Velominati –  this book is, in effect a demonstration of the rules in practice within professional cycling.  In fact it is one rule (Rule Five) that drives much of this book, although Hardmen contains a concise list of the all “the Rules” as an appendix.

I loved it. You might expect this, given the religious language that peppers the Velominati output.   I’ve not found a link yet between Luther’s 95 theses and the Velominati’s 95 rules, but I bet it’s there somewhere.  But as with ‘The Rules’, the subtitle of this book has a spiritual nod:  the legends of the cycling gods.

It’s often laugh-out-loud funny.  Great for me; not so for my wife when I’m quoting lines from it when she was trying to get to sleep.    The language can be ripe, though – I didn’t quote those bits to her.  It seems to ride against the feel of our times, too:  there’s not much that’s feely-touchy to the book; it’s all about shutting up and letting your legs do the talking.  In Hardmen, quitting is most certainly character failure too.  Overall there’s a gritty machismo, albeit something also seen in a few female riders.

Like much cycling lore, the golden era of this book centres on the 1970s and 80s,  perhaps because it was a time of perceived – but not actual – doping innocence.   It splits riders into five groups, few of whom are the three-week tour specialists.  Of course Eddy Merckx is there, but no Anquetil or Indurain, and certainly no Armstrong.  The greater bulk are those whose results might not be so spectacular (Merckx notwithstanding), but those riders who would grind out a victory over a single day’s classic ride.  Drugs are not lauded, but neither are the riders condemned absolutely – Tyler Hamilton gets a mention for instance, as does Marco Pantani.

As ever there’s a gospel story here.  Books like this feel good because they recognise human culture for what it is: messy, but with a higher aim; grubby, but focused on some honourable glory.    The cycling gods here are human and fallible,  prone to character flaws and failure, but still loved and lauded.  It recognises that suffering is part of the whole story and through such suffering comes glory: “suffering is about taking care of ourselves mentally so we may be each a complete person”.  Redemption here is found in suffering, and that of the rider.  That may be true.  But one day, every cycling god has to climb off the bike one last time.  And where then comes redemption?



In a little over two months, I’ll be slogging myself over the Pyrenees.  I am so looking forward to it , and yet at the same time, I’m so not looking forward to it.    Keep you posted.

Kaffenback…get it?

It’s been a while since I posted.  Flu, a baby, a tough old workload and procrastination were the general factors.  My cycling has been woeful, but then the weather has hardly been conducive.   A look at last year’s cycling and book reading plans did not make for pleasant reading – some of they way in both, but not really very good. Good thing my eternal security does not lie in my fitness or education, I reckon.

So I’ve been out tootling along on what is becoming my trusty Kaffenback. I never quite knew why it was so called, and given Planet-X/On-one’s propensity for naming their other bits of equipment, I was concerned that it was some vile euphemism.  Happily, I discovered why it is called the Kaffenback – nothing hideous, and not some Belgian cobbled climb either.

Last Saturday, I was heading gently on my own from Hassop to Great Longstone in the Peak, when I ran into my cycling colleagues from the Common Lane Occasionals as they were heading in the opposite way to me, en route back home (if you wondering why I wasn’t with them, I’m taking things gently at the moment!).  The conversation went something like this:

“Good to see you Rob – how’s it going and how’s the Kaffenback?”

“Great Tony – good to see you too.  Where did you get to this morning?”

(Pointing to my bike) “We’ve been there!”

‘Eh?  Where?”

“There!  You know – to the caff and back.  Kaffenback!”

Truly an Acts 9:18 moment.

The deeper meaning of Le Creuset

We’ve just had, praise God, a third daughter.  Unlike the other two, who arrived during the afternoon, and allowed us (a) to have a civilised lunch, and (b) an unbroken night’s sleep before the birth,  this little one arrived at 5.40 in the morning.  She did have the grace, however of only requiring a short labour.

One of the joys of being part of a church family is that most of our evening meals have been delivered to us. (since No.3 arrived, of course. I’d hate you to think this is our experience day in, day out.)  Of course I am very thankful to those that have provided, and we have eaten like kings, but I have been surprised at the way the food has been delivered to us.

Why? Well, it appears there are only two types of container in which food has arrived: ice cream tubs, or Le Creuset cookware.

I can understand ice cream tubs; they are handy things that you don’t mind if you never see again.  But the surfeit of Le Creuset got me thinking. How come so much among Christians?  Why is it so well rated? Far be it for me to actually then concentrate on answering this great know.  I came up with two more essential, yet strangely irrelevant questions:

(1) Have I missed some Biblical commandment along the lines of ‘thou shalt have at least one piece of le Creuset cookware in thi’ house’? (do you like the mixed use of Old English and Yorkshire for the third person singular? I feel a new Bible translation coming on).

(2) Given that Le Creuset stuff is nearly bomb proof (actually I suspect there’s an idea for a weekend project right there), and given bomb-proofedness is the holy grail characteristic of winter biking kit, is there some kind of application for just that sort of cycling?

And so I set to work.    The first question is a little easier to answer.  As far as I could see, there was no Biblical instruction to receive Le Creuset, so I assumed (as we’re Anglicans) that it must be Canon Law somewhere.  But, of course, le Creuset is French, and there it is indeed Biblical!  Look here:

Proverbs 27:21 “Le creuset est pour l’ argent, et le fourneau pour l’or; Mais un homme est jugé d’après sa renommée ..”

Or in English, I think it says something like this: “Le Creuset costs lots of money, and you’ll need gold to buy furniture, but the man is judged after such things…” *

There you go. So after having found out that one is judged by the level of Le Creuset cookware in one’s house, as well as the satisfaction of finding a Biblical precedent for heavy duty cast iron, I set to task on the second question: can cycling  find a use for Le Creuset?

Let’s look at the qualities of Le Creuset cookware: heavy, brittle and made of cast iron.   Let’s also look at what’s required from  bike parts: light, robust and made of forged aluminium. Carbon fibre will do if you don’t have any forged aluminium.  Not much going there, I reckon.    I’m heading towards the conclusion that  cycling is probably not biblical, if we use the proof of Proverbs and Le Creuset…unless you count using Le Creuset for cooking food to provide sustenance for winter riding.

*I admit I’m being flippant almost, but not quite, I hope, to the point of ungodliness – but this proverb does have something to say about how we are judged!  The text actually says “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.” (ESV)

Effort and power

In our staff meeting this morning, we wrapped up our study of Phillipians by looking at the last chunk of Chapter 4.   Phillipians 4:13 is a famous verse: ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me’.  It’s commonly used amongst sportsmen and women, and it’s one of my favourite as a cyclist, not least because Pinarello named one of their bikes after the passage a few years ago.   It got me thinking about one of the most maddening things about cycling; you can go out one day and apply a given amount of effort, and ride powerfully.  A few days later, same route, same effort, same conditions, and the power seems to have evaporated.  Why?  The strength doesn’t always seem to be there.

Isn’t it the same in the Christian life?  As partners in the gospel with the Creator of the Universe (it’s like being asked by Steve Jobs if we could help him with creating the next iPhone, only better) we know that we are to put effort into His work, but that it is only His power that gives us strength and gets results.  It’s helpful to think about it that way, and avoid (1) the lazy trap of thinking that we need put no effort into God’s work, or (2) the megalomaniac trap of thinking that it’s our power that achieves things.

Soli Deo Gloria!

The Sheffield 100

Last Sunday I rode the Sheffield 100 cycle ride with some of my “Common Lane Occasionals” mates.  My legs have only just resumed their usual function.

Well, let’s take that apart a bit.  The plan was to ride 100 miles of the Peak District with the rest of the riders.  Unfortunately as soon as the gradient went remotely upwards, gravity kicked in and everyone else disappeared into the distance. At around 40 miles into the ride a signpost gave me the opportunity to switch from the 100 miles route to a 100 kilometre route; my wheel moved unswervingly towards the latter.

Every now and then you get a decision that you can almost immediately review and be utterly convinced you made the right one.  This was one of those decisions.   Here’s some other thoughts.

The Peak District is extraordinarily beautiful. I can’t fail to look at it and see the craftsmanship behind it.  I was slightly less impressed with His craftsmanship regarding the wind on Sunday; a gusty headwind made every gentle slope feel like an 1-in-4 leg breaker.

Doping doesn’t work. I was stung by some wasps on the Friday before the ride and my left arm blew up to resemble Popeye – but unfortunately the asymmetricness was not a good look.  Mrs Cyclista advised me to take a bellyful of steroids, and I hoped that it would have the useful bi-product of supercharging me over the hills.  Frankly it seemed to have the reverse effect, and I can’t imagine why the blazes any athlete bothers with the stuff.

Gravity and girth do not mix. This ought not to be a surprise, but somehow it seems worse on Peak District hills.  The area is hardly alpine – no climb tops out at more than 600 metres and few gain more than 400 metres in altitude. But they are steep and relentless – there’s little flat road and the short hills don’t give much time to recover.  Hauling twenty five kilos more than I need to over Mam Nick ought to prompt me not to go for the fifth cream cake next tea time.  It’s like cycling with my youngest daughter permanently wrapped around my midriff, but with less wriggling (she is a wriggler!).

Savlon is underrated. I’m out of Assos Chamois creme at the moment. It gives a little tingle (see Fatcyclist’s review of the stuff at the end of this article) but it’s not cheap. So this time I slathered Savlon (and I mean slathered) creme all over my ‘contact point’ and it was good.  No wriggling around on the saddle in a vain attempt to find comfort. No saddle soreness the next day. No angry patches of raw red skin.  Just be aware that a tube of savlon looks much the same as a tube of toothpaste. As I found out to my cost.

Sadly I missed the post ride BBQ – I needed to be at church to listen to a sermon as I’m teaching the next one in the series.  I do so love Sheffield, its cyclists and its surrounding hills though.