Category Archives: cycling


… I started hearing the phrase “riding paniagua.” Sometimes it was delivered in a slightly depressed tone, as if the speaker were talking about riding a particularly slow and stubborn donkey. I might’ve finished higher, but I was riding paniagua. Other times, it was mentioned as a point of pride. I finished in the first group of thirty and I was paniagua. I came to discover that it was really pan y agua– “bread and water.” From that, I made the obvious conclusion: riding without chemical assistance in the pro peleton was so rare that it was worth pointing out. Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle – ‘The Secret Race’

I’ve recently finished reading Tyler Hamilton’s revelatory book ‘The Secret Race’ – the hidden world of the Tour de France. It’s well worth a quick read.


Like many cyclists, I’d lost faith in the pro peleton. Even to this day, I struggle to watch the near super-human achievements of the professional cyclists without a massive question of doubt in my mind. For all those that say the days of doping are over, I’m reminded of some that have only just returned from bans, and others that continue to fail drug tests. I can’t help but recognise the faces and names of past riders that now work on the team administration side of the sport whose performance was at best questionable in the past, and at worst proven to be performance-enhanced. The sound-bites of the present winners don’t help regain my confidence, either. Chris Froome (who I desperately want to believe rides the race clean) said in one interview “time will tell that I’m clean” – why will time tell? What will the future reveal that you can’t say now? You’re either clean or not…

I suspect I’d been duped by the question avoiding tactics of Lance Armstrong in the past – “Have you ever taken performance enhancing drugs?” – answer “I’ve never failed a drugs test” – isn’t technically the answer to the question posed, but left me with a shred of belief – if he wasn’t clean, how could he beat the drugs tests?

With all of this at the back of my mind, it was fascinating to read Tyler Hamilton’s story. How the sport was awash with drugs, but not talked about due to the cyclists ‘omerta’ – or code of silence. The systematic doping and transfusion programme the riders participated in, in order to beat the drug tests and maintain an artificially high advantage over their rivals. The underworld and suppression culture that presented to the world one image, whilst living a total lie underneath.

I was left wondering about the notion of ‘pan y agua’ – only on bread and water. I love the similarities to Occam’s razor that this brings out in my mind. If you were to strip back all the things we add on in life, to try to return to a simple way of life, could you manage it? In a competitive world, would you still be able to keep pace with your colleagues or competitors? Think about all the assistance you get to perform simple daily tasks. To do the things that you do on a regular daily basis – could you perform ‘pan y agua’?

You can get Tyler Hamilton’s book on Amazon – I’d recommend it as a good quick read.

Image credit: markb120.

One for the road…

I love cycling, and I love social technology, so something that brings the two of these passions together for me is instantly going to grab my attention. A few months ago I was introduced to – for technological reasons, it’s taken me a while to get into it, but I can now say with certainty that it’s changed my life disastrously for the better!


Let me be clear about this from the outset – I’m a very mediocre cyclist. I love cycling, but I’m not particularly fast at it, or indeed very able when the hills get high. For many competitive cyclists their aim is to see how fast they can get over the hill – my aim is simply to make it over the hill without having to get off and push! I try my best, and love every minute of it, but I don’t think Sir Chris or Sir Bradley have anything to worry about from me!

A long time ago, I used to be in a cycling club. Now, virtually all of my cycling is done as a commute to and from work in Glasgow city centre. Quite a number of people cycle the same route, or indeed parts of the route I take, and you can’t help but wonder how many others cycle it at different times from you. This naturally gets you thinking about how long it takes them, and I suppose how you compare?

Enter Strava is a social network for sporting activities. Armed with a gps device (or your smartphone) you simply record the details of your ride or run and upload it to their site. It then shows you the details you’d expect – route on a map, time taken, average speed, maximum speed, altitude climbed etc. If you run or cycle and carry a smartphone in your pocket, you’ve now got to wonder why you use any other means of tracking your activity. With the advent of bluetooth 4.0, you can now effortlessly connect cadence, power and heart rate sensors to your smartphone too, so getting detailed stats of your activity is pretty simple.

Here’s the clever techie bit though – is a community of people uploading information about their activities. You can see how you fair in relation to others covering the same ground as you. Users have defined ‘segments’ of routes that they (and you) travel on, so you can easily compare how you did on various sections of your ride in relation to other people that ride or run the same route. For the competitive, there are even league tables for each section, so you can be your very own local ‘King of the Mountain’ (KOM) compared with the other cyclists that have ridden the same route as you.

It’s social too – you can follow other people on the site to get updates on their adventures, or if you’re into the competition then you can track your nearest rivals whenever they post an improvement. Despite riding to work over the winter, I’ve only started using the site last week, but if you’re interested in seeing my progress you can find me here.

Sounds good, eh? So why did I describe it as changing my life disastrously for the better? Well, looking at the league tables for most of the segments that I ride, I place between 100th and 198th – the KOM needn’t worry there then. Tragically for me though, on some of the segments I seem to do a lot better – 9th in one, and 6th in the other – which got me thinking – could I claw back a few seconds on my nearest competitors…?

Game on. 

Image credit: m.aquila.

Footnote: if this can be done for cycling or running, imagine what this could do for other avenues of life too?  I know a lot of educators read this – imagine a social network for curricular progress and achievements?


On yer bike!

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I’ve been commuting to work by bike. For the cycle nerds that may be interested, I thought I’d add in some stats and interesting observations (well, interesting to me!) each week on a Saturday. Once I’ve returned to a phone that has a data tarrif, this will become far more automated and technical, (yes, I have joined strava, and have a phone full of apps, but without a data tarrif, these are proving worthless) but for now, it’ll serve as a way to keep track of things for me.

I used to cycle a lot, and was at one time a member of Glasgow Ivy Cycling Club. Aside from the odd ‘sunny day’, I’ve had the past 10 years effectively off a bike, so it’s wonderful to get back on a bike, and enjoy the fresh air, exercise and sense of well-being that cycling brings. I also re-joined British Cycling, which for £2 a month seems like a great cause to support. I’d love to say my return to cycing is part of the renaissance that British Cycling is undergoing that the moment, but I’m afraid my return is prompted by two hard facts – trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle/work-life balance, and a change in income!

For those interested, I’m presently riding my ‘cycle to work’ bike courtesy of the Scottish Government. It’s a hybrid – Giant Seek 3 (which I’ve changed the bars, seat, pedals and tires on, and added mudguards, lights and a rack)

My daily route to work takes me along the A814 to Dumbarton, where I pick up the Sustrans route 7 which I follow to the junction with the A814 again at the Beardmore in Dalmuir. There, I join Dumbarton road and take it as far as South street, at the end of which I rejoin Sustrans route 7 into the city centre. Google tells me this route is 22.7 miles, and should take 2hrs 25mins.

This week:

Tuesday – 45.4 miles – in 1hr 42mins, out 1hr 23mins (hybrid)
Wednesday – 45.4 miles – in 1hr 39mins, out 1hr 42mins (hybrid)
Thursday – Train! (sorry…)
Friday – 45.4 miles – in 1hr 38mins, out 1hr 32mins(hybrid)

Image Credit: Roderic Page.