Thursday, 31 May 2012

Halfords profits plunge

A report in the London Evening Standard today (31 May 2012) states that Halfords – which sells one in four bikes sold in the UK – has had a very disappointing start to the year. The high street retailer of bikes and camping equipment saw it's profits plunge by 27% and shares slide 24.5p to 251.4p.

Halfords: the saviour of NoVisibleLyra on many occasions has experienced
a few financial problems, which CEO David Wild believes will pass.
Following the wettest April on record, writes Russell Lynch, the company is hoping that sales will pick up. According to Halfords CEO David Wild, the fact that the 'blip' involved sales of outdoor goods, such as bikes and camping equipment, means the problem should be short-term rather than long haul.

For the year to March, Halfords posted £92.2 million in pre-tax profits, down from £125.6 million last year.

Lynch explained that car maintenance products were down 4.5% as motorists drove fewer miles. Cold weather products, such as de-icer, screen wash and batteries were also down due to generally warmer weather conditions.

Halfords' big seller on the bike front is the Apollo, which sells for £100.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Helen Pidd on the Pilen Sport

The big question is why? Why has Helen Pidd moved from Berlin to Hackney? Personally, I'd have stayed in Berlin. What a great city! Surely a million times better than (ahem) Hackney. Still, each to their own and I'm sure she has her reasons.

Helen's writing in the Guardian's Weekend Magazine (26 May 2012 edition) and this time she's reviewing a Swedish bike, the Pilen. It costs £995 and is made of an 'indestructible' Chromium-molybdenum, not stainless steel.

The bloke's version of the Pilen Sport. I'd love to test ride this bike.
Pidd quite rightly points out that 'it's always dangerous to advertise something as indestructible'. The Pilen, however, is a handmade bike that's supposed to last forever. One of Helen's friends, we are told, managed to snap a Le Creuset while making a moussaka (God! she must be posh, Helen's friend. I can't afford Le Creuset cookware) proving that there's always somebody around to disprove the indestructibility of anything. Good point. But can Helen succeed in destroying the Pilen?

Well, she left it out in the rain (sinful!). She abused the paintwork (bikes have rights too, you know, Helen) and she dares to admit that she treats her partner better than her bike! She even confesses that her bike has never slept in her bedroom and that she treats her bikes like workhouses, not ornaments, but secretly enjoys cleaning them.

The Pilen sounds like a great bike: expensive steel frame, zero-maintenance brakes, an Abus rear-wheel lock, a dynamo instead of battery-powered lights (now that would do me fine) and mudguards (ooh! a luxury!).

It all sounds great but Helen's not happy. Perhaps, she suggests, a Swedish bike is for Swedish terrain in the same way that a Sarah Lund sweater (who? what?) looks better in Copenhagen than Croydon. Well, at least NoVisibleLycra's hometown gets a name-check! Yes, we're based in sunny Croydon. It's not that bad, but Copenhagen's probably a little better.

Mind you, if I lived in one-bedroom flat like Helen, I too would not like to hump an 18.1kg bike up two flights of stairs. I too wouldn't fancy leaving it outside either – it might be indestructible, but that doesn't mean it's thief-proof.

I liked the sound of it. An indestructible bike with unscratchable paint and a Brooks saddle. Helen describes the bike as 'Scandy' and it probably is (I'd love to ride the bloke's version, see above). Mind you, if I bought a bike that I thought was made in Sweden and discovered that the forks were made in Taiwan, I  too would be a little pissed off...but not for long.

For more details on Pilen bikes, click here.

For Helen Pidd's article, click here.

In addition to writing regularly for The Guardian Weekend, Helen Pidd is also the author of Bicycle. For a copy, visit the Guardian Bookshop webpage by clicking here.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Loads of gardening, but no cycling

My dad used to love gardening. When I lived at home, he tried to encourage me to like it too. In fact, throughout his life he tried to get me into gardening, but he never really succeeded. I used to tease him about it and say things like 'gardening is futile'. Why? he would ask and I'd say something like, well, you weed the beds and you mow the grass, but those weeds just keep coming back. There's an element of King Canute about it, I would say and he would, of course, dismiss my thoughts.

I always talk about keeping fit. Don't get me wrong. I'm not some kind of fitness nut. I don't visit the gym or anything inane like that, but I do like cycling. And walking. But dad would always look out onto this garden or mine, depending on where we were whenever we had the conversation, and he would say: "There's your gym. Out there." He would point at the garden and I would get his drift, but still not really believe him. Gardening, I figured, was just too boring. But then so, of course, is 'keeping fit'. Unless you're riding a bike. And by that I mean a proper bike, not an 'exercise bike' or a 'stationary bike'.

Me on a rug about to enjoy some tea.
This weekend, however, I'm beginning to see what he meant about the garden being a kind of green gym. I was out there all weekend, mowing the lawns front and back and cutting back a helluva lot of brambles at the back of the rear garden; and then I started bagging it all up, cutting it first, then shoving it into bags. I filled six of them and there's still another two out there waiting to be packed away. Then, after that, I started turning over a bed near to the house, digging out a few weeds and pulling some roots.

Last night I slept like a log. It was that strange but amazingly enjoyable tiredness that comes from being out in the air all day. A bit like after a long ride. And then, today, some more gardening.

Right now I'm sitting in front of the television, writing this and watching The Road. I've read the book and it's one of those movies where, if you've read the book, there's no point in seeing the movie other than to work out whether it's captured the mood of the book or not. I think the answer is yes, it has captured the mood, because the mood of the book was bleak and the film is bleak too. Although not as bleak as the BAFTAs, which were on BBC 1. What a load of old rubbish. Television comedy that's just not funny, actors wheeled out to say something funny that's on the autocue, but hardly raising a laugh and awards recipients I've never, ever heard of – apart from Rolf Harris. And then, after Rolf, they did a brief run-down of other awards presented, they rushed through them, but they turned out to be the interesting ones. So I switched over and watched The Road – far more light-hearted.

The Road is depressing and I should really go to bed, but I've got to stay up, even though I know how it all ends. Don't worry, it ends on a hopeful note, but I won't spoil it for anybody.

I was going to go for a ride today (Sunday) but I hadn't gotten round to fixing that puncture. The bike's still out there with a flat rear tyre, but I feel as if I've had all the exercise I need.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Chopper inventor dies

Alan Oakley, the man who invented the Raleigh Chopper bicycle, has died aged 85.  Click here for more.

The original Choppers, like this one, had the gear changer on the crossbar.

Saturday, 19 May 2012


Riding back from Godstone is tough for yours truly. After bidding farewell to Andy at the top of Slines Oak Road, there's an initial downhill run followed by a minor hill and then a major one: the ride from the junction with Halliloo Lane or Halliloo Road to the Warlingham end of the B269. Still, for some reason, I had the energy and the determination yesterday to climb the hills, even the big one after leaving the farm shop caff. It must have been that almond croissant.

Anyway, I was doing fine, I even managed to cycle the length of the Limpsfield Road, into Sanderstead High Street, around the pond and down Church Lane towards home. But then I noticed it. Doing my traditional 'no hands' trick half way down Church Lane, I noticed a wobble, but ignored it – although I did place my hands back on the handlebars. Then it happened again so I stopped and noted that the rear tyre (which I'd pumped up hard for last week's Black Horse Ride) was soft. I carried on and got the bike home safely, leaving it padlocked in the garage as usual. Later, the tyre was (and still is now) completely flat. Whether I got the puncture on the road near Sanderstead or whether it was one of those sleeping punctures, ie punctures that occur earlier but are prompted to 'come out' later, I'll never know. It means I'll have to pay a visit to a bike shop and buy some leeches and, of course, it's a good excuse to clean the bike as I'll have to take the rear wheel off.
Michael Dembinski's Cannondale Caffeine - my Kona looks very similar.

Mind you, not as bad as this guy from Poland, click here for more.

The shot on the right is of Michael Dembinski's Cannondale Caffeine and shows his third puncture in one day.

Michael, born in the UK in 1957, lived here for 40 years before moving to Poland from where he blogs about the country.

If you want some insight on Poland, check out his blog.

Two years ago

Flowers Farm Teashop, Godstone...

We've been promising ourselves a trip to the teashop at Flowers Farm for some time, but the thought of the hill on the return trip has always put us off. Either that or time has prevented us from visiting the place. But not today! Andy texted me yesterday while I was on a train travelling home from work and suggested we headed out there, I sent him a message back saying 'yes' and this morning, off we went.

We headed up towards Slines Oak Road in Woldingham and then slung a right, whizzed down the hill and cut across a dirty and muddy-puddled track that linked us with Butlers Dene Road. It was a straight road from there, through the golf course, another right turn and then down Gangers Hill towards the A25. Easy! All down hill and quite fast.

Inside the Flowers Farm Café, Saturday 19th May 2012.
As you ride down Flowers Lane and join up with the A25 you can see the farm shop on your right. We thought for a minute or so that the caff wouldn't be open but it was and it was amazing. There was a woodburning stove, a bit of railway memorabilia, a great view of the fields surrounding the farm and a lot on offer in the cake department: teacakes, carrot cake, a lemon sponge cake, almond croissants, not forgetting the usual caff fayre - I was tempted to indulge myself with a scrambled egg on toast but, like Andy, opted for tea and an almond croissant.

It was great to discover that the tea offer involved what is known as a bottomless cup; in other words, you get free refills. Andy and I took advantage of that and had another cup, and Andy had a teacake too. We could have sat there all day but, as usual, there were things to do, so off we went back up Flowers Lane and one of the steepest hills of our rides. We rode past Marden Woods and up towards the Woldingham Golf Club, parting company at the top of Slines Oak Road.

I can't go cycling tomorrow and Andy will be in the Lake District next week so we're not cycling for a couple of weeks.

The weather was good today, nice and warm, but it's looking a bit cloudy out there now, although I don't think we're expecting rain.

What's happening in the news: well, the Olympic flame arrived in the UK yesterday, the Euro crisis continues and Facebook has been floated on Nasdaq, making its founder Mark Zuckerberg and multi-billionaire. Perhaps I'll put NoVisibleLycra on Nasdaq, I could do with a curry and a pint.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Black Horse Ride 2012 – no rain!

Andy's bike and a pint of Harvey's Best Bitter
Andy and I met up at our usual place: a rather derelict-looking Indian restaurant on the A23. It used to be a pub and it looks ripe for demolition, but somehow survives. When I arrived, having cycled along the rather dangerous A23 from Croydon, we chatted briefly about Andy's nightmare weekend riding off-road from Winchester to Eastbourne in the mud and how despondency set in for one of his companions who almost gave up and took the train. Despondency in the ranks can sound the death knell of any trip plagued with severe weather issues. Fortunately, bar some fine stuff, it didn't really rain, although Andy admitted that had any of them met with a puncture, things might have taken a turn for the worse.

We cycled along the A23 through Merstham and past Hungers End and up past Redhill college where we turned off and headed towards Reigate. The weather was fine and we knew the ride would be pleasant, which made a change from previous years when rain had taken its toll.

Arriving at the Black Horse, where other riders gathered, we parked our bikes and registered and then found a cup of tea and a bacon baguette – just what you need before a long cycle, although, once again, it was a welcomed 36 miles and not the 50 miles of past rides.

David, our friend with the Harley (which he's since sold due to cashflow issues) arrived. He's always a marshall. We chatted about this and that, mainly work and how things were generally tough and uncertain and then, after a bit of loitering about, it was time to go.

This year, the route had been reversed, making it not so hilly and rather pleasant. Andy thought we were dawdling and believed, at one point, that we'd covered less ground than we actually had, which caused a spot of despondency to set in until we checked the map and, to Andy's surprise, we'd covered 29 miles. I was elated. The weird thing about long bike rides of this nature is that, while they're good fun, they're also a bit of an ordeal and if you don't watch it, the old despondency will creep in. I always hate it when I'm told by a marshall that I'm almost 'half way' or that I've got so many miles to go. All I want to do is finish the ride and drink a pint of beer. But good things come to those who wait and sure enough, it wasn't long before Andy and I were climbing Trumpet Hill, the last incline before the home straight through Reigate Heath and back to the pub.

Mine and Andy's bike taking a well-earned rest. Note the burger stall!
We enjoyed a couple of pints of Harvey's Best and I had a burger and a hot dog plus a bag of sweet chilli-flavoured crisps. It was a good ride and a great day out, especially as the weather held out for us.

There was, we heard, one casualty. A woman somehow fell off her bike and was taken to St George's Hospital, but we understand that she's alright, which is good as the ride is normally free of casualties.

When I reached home I sat down and enjoyed The Great Escape and then tucked into an excellent roast chicken dinner before hitting the sack.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

At last, the sun, in our 'time poor' society

It's been raining so hard and so long over here in the UK that some areas of the country, notably in the South West, have had their hosepipe bans lifted. Right now, at 0715hrs on Saturday 12 May, there's blue skies and bright sunshine. It was one of those mornings when I regretted drawing back the curtains before going to bed.

The Black Horse Ride is tomorrow and I think the weather's going to hold, so all is well. I'll be meeting Andy at 0930hrs on the A23 and then we'll cycle down to Reigate from there, adding around 20 miles to my distance. The ride is 36 miles (they've reduced it from 50) and that means I'll be cycling a total of 56 miles.

Traditionally, we don't go cycling the day before the Black Horse Ride, although checking the weather out there now, it looks like ideal cycling weather. Which reminds me: I must nip outside today and check out my bike. I might even clean it!

I was cutting it fine on entering the ride this year, not for any particular reason, just generally pre-occupied with working. Normally I fill out the forms, send them off and get all the stuff through the post; this time I had to resort to driving over to the organiser's office in Coulsdon and posting my entry form through the letterbox, with a cheque for £20 attached.

Now, I would call my lateness pure disorganisation. Others would say it's all part and parcel of our increasingly 'time poor' society. I think they're talking rubbish, but it's amazing how, if you say something for long enough, eventually it becomes gospel.

Lunch! There's no time for lunch!
I often attend press conferences about this and that, notably the launch of new food products, where the latest trends are rolled out by marketing directors in an effort to explain the rationale behind the new product. A common 'finding' is that we're living in an increasingly 'time poor' society, meaning we don't have time to do stuff anymore – even eating is being done 'on-the-go' and 'lunch' as we know it, is becoming obselete. More and more people are sitting at their desks with a baguette rather than get up and take in some fresh air.

The big question here is why? Why are we time poor? We have the internet, which makes life surprisingly easy, especially for journalists and, indeed, for everyone else as we no longer have to visit a travel agent to book flights or holidays, we can shop online and save the journey to the supermarket, there's email instead of 'snail mail' so we don't need to visit our local post office and queue to buy a stamp. Technology, in other words, has made life a breeze and it means that we have more time to do the things we wouldn't normally have the time to do.

Why, then, are we tied to our desks, skipping lunch? Now there's a phrase. "Skipping lunch". It used to be something we did once in a while when somebody was away and we found ourselves doing the work of two people. "Oh, I'll have to skip lunch today," we might say to one of our colleagues. "Pete's away and I've got to write up his product pages by 5pm." But no, Pete's not away - he's not having a holiday this year because he can't afford it, so what's wrong with a spot of lunch?

I'm starting to feel guilty when I go to out to lunch. We're allowed one hour and I like to use the time to take a walk, even if it's raining (I'll take an umbrella). I don't want to be sitting at my desk ALL DAY, I need a break, I need to stretch my legs, get a bit of exercise and a change of scenery; but as I leave the office, I notice that my colleagues have a sandwich on their desks and they're still sitting there, sandwich half-eaten, when I return, refreshed.

What, I ask, has changed? Why are we time poor? I've already alluded to the internet and how it's supposedly made life easier for us all, so what's changed, why can we no longer afford a proper lunch break? Why do we work late? Ironically, we're all earning less money so it's not as if there's an incentive.

The worst thing, of course, is that if everybody keeps doing it – skipping lunch or having a 'working lunch', which is even worse in my book – then it will become the norm and lunch breaks might suddenly disappear from contracts of employment. Even more annoying is the fact that if we're all putting in the extra hours, 'skipping lunch' and working through, what exactly are we achieving? Despite ALL of our 'hard work' the country is back in recession? In other words, it's not achieving anything, but then you might sit back and start thinking: somebody is benefitting from all this unnecessary hard work, but who is it?

I was watching Question Time last Thursday and I noticed, in amongst all the rhetoric being spouted by a bunch of useless MPs and political commentators, that the 'coalition' wants austerity, because that's the way to get the country back on its feet again (it hasn't worked) and the left wing politicians want less austerity but still want to achieve the same goals; except that they would prefer to tax the rich (the people gaining from the masses skipping lunch). The right wants the masses to suffer, the left wants the elite to suffer.

Yesterday, at around 1845hrs, I was on a train coming home from work. Next to me, across the aisle, was a man frantically tapping out an email (or something) on a laptop. Like me, he'd been working all day too, but obviously not hard enough. He figured he could still cram in some work while sitting on the train. But how misguided! He won't be thanked for his hard graft. He'll probably be made redundant, but he thinks that, by working really hard, he might avoid the axe. Think again, my friend. Put the laptop away and enjoy the ride.

My wife mentioned to me the other day that the country seems to be reverting back to Dickensian times: an increasingly poorer population working long hours for less pay while employed by the equivalent of the wealthy, unscrupulous mill owners of the past. There are more rats on our streets as local councils cut back on refuse collection and who knows, perhaps one day the plague will return and then, perhaps, another Great Fire of London. How exciting!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

It's still raining...

Is the rain ever going to stop? I think it's been raining all night and it's been raining all week too. Now it's looking as if we'll definitely get a soaking on the Black Horse Ride this coming Sunday. I can't say I'm looking forward to the prospect, but rain or shine, the BHR has to be done – even if the pub isn't offering us a free beer at the end.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Guardian: Britain's Best Bike Rides

'Urban routes, family rides, long-distance tours, art trails and hill climbs'

Once again, the Guardian champions the cyclist with it's guide to rides. There's 20 of them in total in Part one of the newspaper's homage to cycling which, it claims, is officially cool again. If you bought today's Observer you've been lucky enough to pick up the second part, but as I've been busy doing 'stuff' today (going to M&S in Redhill to buy some much-needed clothes) I missed it.

Having said that, it's probably worth checking out the Guardian's website to see all the routes available to cyclists looking for a bit of fun. For NoVisibleLycra, the best one (and I think we should ride it) is the 12-mile Wandle Trail, which takes us from the south bank of the Thames to Wandle Park Tram Station in Croydon. The Guardian reckons it'll take two hours to complete and points out that 'much of the pleasure of this route comes from the multiple green spaces it crosses'.

According to The Guardian, 'Cycling is officially cool again – and not just for spandex warriors'.

For further details, go to

Andy's pix from the South Downs Way...I don't think he escaped a soaking

"You can leave that outside, mate!"
Andy's Kona Blast – in perfect condition for a trip to the bike shop.
I'd get the hose out when you get back, Andy.

Mud pie anybody?

Andy's been away for the weekend riding the South Downs Way from Winchester down to Eastbourne. Judging by these photos, taken by Andy, it looks pretty muddy out there so I'm guessing that he got a bit of a soaking. 

There's been one helluva lot of rain over the past two months, which doesn't bode well for next week's Black Horse Ride. In other words, I won't get smug about the fact that I've been nice and cosy in the warm while Andy's been out in the elements on the Blast. Why not? Because, as I write this, it's only a week away from me being out in the rain, with Andy, on the Black Horse Ride – and this time there's no free pint at the end of it! Still, mustn't grumble!

Another day of fine rain... once again I didn't go on a ride, although it looked as if it wasn't raining when I woke up, but, on closer inspection, it was raining! So I didn't go. I wonder what the Bank Holiday Monday holds in store.

Andy has sent through some photographs of his off-road journey from Winchester to Eastbourne. The shots depict his bike covered in mud (and will be posted here soon). I can only assume that he's enduring a rain-sodden hell that is (ahem) cycling in the rain – except that he's got a whole weekend of it!

Yesterday's post was written in a John Lewis store on Croydon's Purley Way. I was messing around on one of the Macs on display, logged in and posted. How nerdy and obsessive is that? Anyway, I'm rambling again. Better go.

Next up, Andy's pictures.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Rain stops play once again...

Here I am in John Lewis on the Purley Way, playing with an Apple MacBook Air. Didn't go cycling today. Hopefully tomorrow. Andy's riding the South Downs Way this weekend. Might well have been soaked through earlier today.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Charity bike riders ask: What? No free beer? after Reigate pub stops offering its free pint!

A free pint after a long charity bike ride? Not this year! Shame on Reigate's
Black Horse pub.
Times must be tough! The Black Horse Ride, which starts and finishes at the Black Horse pub in Reigate, Surrey, has announced an end to its free pint of beer for riders who complete the course.

NoVisibleLycra has learned from the ride's organiser that the most welcomed pint EVER – the pint consumed AFTER cycling 35 miles for charity – is no more. There's still a free burger, but what's a burger without a pint?

And what's more, how tough have things got for the Black Horse, long-time supporter of the charity ride, to give up the ghost and make the ride LESS attractive for those considering raising money for charity – in this case for a multiple sclerosis therapy centre for MS sufferers in Croydon and Sutton.

Alright, I can afford to buy my own pint, but a free pint of bitter after completing a charity bike ride is all part of the incentive to get out there and get back to base again.

It's not going to stop NoVisibleLycra, but its not good news, that's a fact.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A total wash-out...

Just in case you were wondering, the weekend – last weekend – was a total wash-out. It rained almost constantly throughout Saturday and Sunday so there was no cycling. Andy wasn't planning on going Saturday, but it was pouring down outside so I didn't go either. Sunday? Rain. On and off all day. The weather has been like that: one minute sunshine, the next rain and it's set to continue. Outside now (on 2 May 2012 at 0713hrs) it's grey and a little blustery. Compare this year with last year when we had summer-like conditions throughout April and May.

That's it. What's in the news? Briefly: Rupert Murdoch has been described as unfit to run a huge media organisation like News International. I agree. There's loads of other news, but right now I've got to go to work.

Andy's not going cycling (with me) this weekend. He's off to cycle, largely off road, on the South Downs Way. Expect photos soon. I'll endeavour to drum up the enthusiasm to go alone, or I might meet up with Jon. Or, of course, a mixture of the two.