Remembering what’s important

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Earlier this week we were invited to take part in an interesting art and design project at Middlesex University.

The project, called I Am A Magazine, invited a group of art, design, photography and fashion students to create something interesting on the theme of magazines. One of the ways the organisers came up with to help the students find inspiration was to line up a number of guests – including us – to give talks about various aspects of magazines and publishing.

We gave the students a guided tour of Simpson’s conception in 2012, its birth in 2013 and its steady growth ever since. We talked about how the magazine is an expression of our passion for cycling, design and print journalism. We told them how Simpson has become a platform for emerging photographic and journalistic talent. We explained how our independence has enabled us to steer clear of the product-pushing clichés of some other publications we could mention. We shared our excitement about the opportunities Simpson has given us – to travel to places we’d never otherwise go to and meet people we’d never otherwise meet. 

We also talked about the growth of something bigger than just the printed magazine. We talked about our online presence, the Simpson team, the kit, T-shirts and other merchandise, the club rides and, perhaps most importantly, the sense of community and shared purpose that’s gradually formed around the Simpson name.

Delivering this talk served to remind us how far we’ve come in the last few years. It encouraged us to step back from the day-to-day plate-juggling exercise of work and family and cycling and everything else, just for a few hours, to reflect on how fulfilling it’s been and how lucky we are to be involved in the wonderful world of Simpson.

Christmas and what it means to a cyclist

 Forget the concept of having a white Christmas: snow rarely graces the UK until at least February

Forget the concept of having a white Christmas: snow rarely graces the UK until at least February

Whether it's the most eagerly awaited public holiday of the year is another topic for debate but the Christmas period for cyclists is a mixed blessing.

Like all public holidays the same amount of work is compacted into fewer days leaving us having to write off a day in order to catch up on sleep. Traditionally a time for family get togethers, of giving, receiving, of sharing and an excuse for overindulgence Christmas is a strange bedfellow. 

Thanks to the changes in the jet stream the only snow we now see at this time is found on greetings cards. You can safely say that, at least in the UK, Christmas Day will be mild, damp affair with a flat greyness to it. A perfect climate to try out all your new cycling related presents but shouldn't you be at hand to help with reading user manuals, topping up sherry glasses and making sure the children's new toys have there batteries fitted correctly - what do you?

The irony of it all lies, in part, in the temptation to over do things on the food & drink front. With every combination on the menu from gastro finger food to the traditional three bird roast it's difficult to retain any restraint. The same goes with alcohol consumption. The time you've spent finding the lightest frame/saddle/groupset/handlebars etc. those precious gram saving present ideas all go to waste as you pile the pounds on. Any benefits now lie in ruins. 

Our perspective is that you have to earn your freedom to cycle, create an environment where Aunt Vi enquires why you haven't been out for a ride yet. Be a martyr, be seen to abstain, refuse that extra mince pie, sausage roll and can of beer - publicly be seen to suffer for your cycling. 

At the end of the day it's all down to the individual as to how your Christmas pans out with your cycling. You're the one that needs to find the right balance between family and self at this time but from all at Simpson magazine we would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy healthy 2017.

 

In Defence Of: Running With Riders

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Aside from their disastrous/cataclysmic failure to spot and remove a bollard from in front of a garage door on Stage 5, it’s hard to deny that, when it comes to road management, the organisers of La Vuelta did all they could to keep the riders from coming a cropper. On the steeper climbs especially, burly, boiler-suited young men kept crowds at bay, deterring any behaviour more energetic than polite applause as the riders grind past.

One effect of this was that the sight of “runners” - fans scampering alongside, behind or just ahead of riders - became a rare one, certainly more so than at either of this year’s other grand tours.

While many armchair/Twitter spectators and pundits, applauded the fans being kept in their place, not all did. The Cycling Podcast’s Richard Moore observed that the police were “slightly heavy-handed in dealing with spectators who encroached into riders racing line.”

I’d go even further. From the comfort of my living room, the Spanish Guardia Civil seemed, at times, to have more in common with American college campus police at a civil rights sit-in, than stewards of a simple sporting event. 

Of course, I understand where it came from. The French laissez-faire approach to crowd management came in for a lot of criticism in July, particularly on Ventoux and in the incident that saw Chris Froome lamp a Carlos Valderama lookalike waving a flag perilously close to the lead group’s front wheels.

But as high profile as they might be, in reality these occasions are so rare, and the risk of incident so small as to be negligible. In my experience, the supporters that decide to run, rather than being inconsiderate idiots, do so having put a good amount of thought into how to do so without interfering with the race. 

My single favourite memory of this year’s tour was watching a group of Irish chaps, wearing either Etixx jerseys or football kits, conducting a relay between themselves as Dan Martin went past on the second time trial. I spent a wonderful day in their company and while they had, indeed, partaken of a couple of Heineken while waiting for their hero, they had nonetheless planned the run with military precision. They watched as the other racers passed through our corner, carefully measuring how much room and time they would need so there would be not the slightest chance of getting in Martin’s way. They pulled it off to perfection, having bought themselves a few extra moments of entertainment and given me my favourite photo of the week (above). At no point was the rider in danger. Despite what many believe, this was not an act of narcissism, but one motivated by love for the sport and adoration for “yer man”.

One anecdote does not make a summer, of course, and this is not meant as a blanket defence of all who run. It is, however, intended to remind those who will unequivocally condemn that cycling fans are, on the whole, a good sort. Of course the racing must come first and be allowed to proceed without interruption but you're crazy if you think those on the roadside don't realise that too.

It can be easy to lose sight of how important the fans are to bike races but we are occasionally reminded when we see vacant roadsides, devoid of atmosphere or excitement. To crack down on fan behaviour risks deterring ordinary fans who, having spent who knows how many hours, travelled countless miles and spent god knows how much money, just want to have a bit of fun. They've waited for hours by the side of the road only for the race to pass by in a matter of seconds. Who would begrudge them a couple more?

Man to child

It’s no massive revelation becoming a father. It’s been happening since the beginning of mankind but its impact on individual’s lives is quite frankly, as we’re constantly being told, a life changing event. On one level it’s like having a permanent guest coming to stay. Everything that you once held sacred and which had a value greater than material wealth, has now been cast aside, downgraded, your life becomes an altered state, one that is occupied by a plus one. Your time is no longer your own and spare time just doesn’t exist.

During the early stages of parenthood very few can honestly say that cycling as an activity can truly exist in their lives. What once had its place in your routine will now be taken over by a new presence, a new demand on your time. But with this comes other non-cycle friendly factors - things that destroy your concentration, your eating patterns and ultimately the way you function on a daily basis.

By far the worst casualty with the most impact with the arrival of any newborn is lack of sleep. It doesn’t matter what age you are, although older parents will suffer worst, the effects of sleep deprivation will reduce anyone to a zombiefied half-life state: an existence in the shadow of your former self. Sleep becomes a thing of the past and you have to re-educate both mind, body (and life) to accommodate for it - or lack of it. You’ll learn to survive on three hours of undisturbed slumber instead of the recommended eight.

For the next few months the front room sofa becomes your bed - it’s the only way you’re going to reasonably function at work. The term ‘Baby Brain’ does exist and has a massive effect on all new parents. Your physical environment also gets violated. What was once unused floor space has now become home to playpen or an infant rocking chair. Where you once were able to leave kit out for an early morning ride, that space has now gone - it just doesn’t exist anymore.

When Ian Curtis wrote ‘When routine bites hard and ambitions are low’, the lyrics from Joy Division’s ‘Love will tear us apart’, he could have been describing the early days of parenthood. Any routine you have will disappear for several months until you establish a new baby-friendly one. Timescales will totally alter, you'll find yourself becoming nocturnal in order to fit everything into a day.

But what in effect is happening is the cycle of life. In the not-to-distant future you’re be teaching your son or daughter how to ride a bike in the same fashion your father handed that skill on to you. The rotation of life, generation on generation, this ritual is at the very core of what we do - how we get introduced to cycling. What you’ve temporarily lost will blossom again but this time round you won’t be alone, you’ll have your own flesh and blood cycling buddy. For Eddy think Axel, for Stephen think Nico, the list is endless but who will your son or daughter become? 

It’s the past looking back at you. You’ll experience for yourself the joy and pride your father felt when he handed on the gift of balance and movement called cycling. Now you’re in charge of that next generation of cyclists in your family but remember we’re all individuals, don’t force your passion and addiction on a youngster who’s growing up in a totally different world to the one you experienced as a child. Cycling may come later in life for them or not figure in it at all. Your mission is to plant the seed and then step back and see what happens next. You may be nurturing the next Froome, Cavendish, Wiggins, Armistead, Trott or Barnes.

What you may lose today will be repaid ten fold in the years to come so you should embrace and enjoy every aspect of it while you can.

 

 

TdF 2016: now the dust has settled

 Image courtesy of @BrakeThrough Media and @TDWsport

Image courtesy of @BrakeThrough Media and @TDWsport

  Image courtesy of @BrakeThrough Media and @TDWsport

Image courtesy of @BrakeThrough Media and @TDWsport

'All the world's a stage,' or so it seems every July as the Tour de France barges into our consciousness for 23 days. The race gathers together the finest teams and riders to do battle across the backdrop of France and its bordering countries. For these first three weeks in July the world is treated to all the drama, comedy and farce that professional cycling has to offer. Every stage can be considered as a scene, complete with its heroes and villains, as the plot twists and turns (like stage 15's descent of Grand Colombier) culminating in its own unique finale. 

The sheer scale of this Grand Tour never ceases to amaze us – the organisation required is epic. Year on year, issues like security become more demanding as political unrest fosters extremist violence. Crowd control (or the lack of it) gave this Tour one of its key moments when on stage 12 - the shortened Ventoux stage - a group of three chasing riders were brought down by the sudden braking of a camera bike having to avoid spectators in the road. What followed was farcical - Chris Froome, the yellow jersey holder, running sans bicycle up the road towards the finish line, desperately radioing for assistance and another bike. And who could forget the collapse, on stage 7, of the 1km inflatable banner that caused Adam Yates and (yet another) camera bike to crash?

Here come the men in black. The dominance of a single team remains bitter-sweet for us. For a while it's a mesmeric spectacle to watch, like a spider eating a fly, but ultimately it reduces the GC race to a battle for second position. As with so many other sporting super teams with big budgets it tends to dampen enjoyment and removes some of the unpredictability of the competition. At times it felt like we were back in 2002/3 watching US Postal suffocate the opposition in order for their team leader to win. Of course we acknowledge that this time round there are no drugs involved, just sheer hard work and natural ability, but that doesn't make the spectacle any better to watch.

One aspect of this year’s race that has remained with us is the fragility of cycling when pitted against the changeable nature of the elements. On stage 19 the overall standings were thrown in the air as wind and rain turned the race and the peloton on its head. To see two previous Tour winners taking each other out in a single crash highlights just how fragile cycling can be. The elements and the terrain give any bike race a delicious uncertainty, levelling out the racing and introducing a certain randomness that we all love. It reflects the human condition and exposes each racer’s depths of determination.

We relate directly to the suffering involved in pro cycling. When we witness two riders out in front on a 100+ km break battling not only a head wind but the chasing peloton we know, at least in part, how this must feel. Chapeau to the sufferers.

TdF 2016: the Simpson verdict

Best team: Movistar

Best rider: Adam Yates/Jarlinson Pantano/Romain Bardet

Best kit: Cannondale Drapac

Best stage win: Mark Cavendish x 4

Best breakaway rider: Ion Izagirre of Movistar stage 20

Best crowd chant: Bardet, Bardet, Bardet

Worst kit: Bora-Argon 18

Worst weather: Hailstones on stage 9

Worst haircut: Peter Sagan

Worst wheel/bike exchange:  Etixx-Quick Step/Marcel Kittel on stage 21

Luckiest rider: Nairo Quintana