2021 – Restoration of Healthy Habits

It’s been sometime since I have written, but My hope is write a blog once a month again. As much to inspire myself as give helpful tips and insights on a range of cycling subjects.

My little inspiration

Towards the end of last year, our old workshop, which many of you had been to became unusable due to building work on the house opposite. A move to another workshop space became unviable. We tried running mobile for a little time, but with the setup we have that was very difficult to effectively manage.

A New Chapter

The good news is that with a little bit of help from family and friends we found a shop. Best of all it’s not too far from where we had been based. On Monday 4th January 2021, this next chapter of our story will begin. It’s going to be a bit of a work in progress as we wanted to get the workshop open first. Hopefully by the end of January we’ll be organised. Subject to availability we are looking to expand our offering into more brands.

Being a small independent shop, we need the help of our family, friends and cycling community to continue to support our cyclists of whatever ability. We all have the love of bikes in common. We only ask that you help spread the word and help us to keep providing a good quality service.

200k, you must be mad

Last year, pre COVID-19 myself and a friend of the shop entered the Dirty Reiver 200 gravel event. This takes place in and around Keilder Forrest in Northumberland. We both had a mountain to climb in terms of preparation, but hey we had 6 months at the time we entered. Piece of cake, no problem. Wrong. You see the thing about being immersed in cycling, fixing others bikes, means that we don’t make the time to ride ourselves.

As 2020 started it became apparent that this would not be a normal year. By February we were snowed under. Time was ever more scarce and I lost my mojo. The Covid-19 hit and pretty soon the event was cancelled. Great, more time to train. Well dear reader, the rest is history but enough to say that my mojo didn’t return.

Here we are 2021, Dirty Riever rescheduled for early April. We have just over 3 months to get into something that resembles fitness. Can we do it……..of course we can.

First I need to build my bike……..

A new hope……

The reason for writing this is as much to get me motivated and with a bit of luck it might persuade you to get out on that bike you managed to get your hands on during lockdown and keep up those healthy habits in 2021. Set yourself a goal maybe it’s to cycle a few times a week, maybe it’s to enter your first sportive. Enjoy it, appreciate what a fabulous county we live in.

Whatever it is Steel Town Cycles will be here for you.

Covid-19 – A few changes to what we do

Steel Town Cycles respect the right of people to responsibly ride their bicycles following this guidance. If you are not self isolating and wish to continue getting out in the fresh air please be sensible and ride solo or keep the advised distance of 2 metres in mind.

From Monday 23rd march we’ll be asking you to respect the 2 metre distance at all times. We always wear gloves while handling your bikes. If it is possible please bring your bikes in reasonably clean condition. Please don’t be offended but we’ll disinfect your bike for yours and our safety. We’d ask respectfully if you would wait before entering the workshop. It may be possible to assess your bike outside, weather dependant.

Also from Monday 23rd we’ll be open for drop off/collection between 10-12. Most of our workshop time will be in the evenings to further protect our customers and ourselves. Be assured we are open as long as we are permitted. In these challenging times think about supporting the small independents as the larger shops will get much more in the way of financial support for them and their employees. It is uncertain at this point if the self employed will.

We’d like to thank our customers old and new for your continued support. To you and your families stay safe and look after each other. This will all pass quickly if we stick together as a community. Look out for people you know may be vulnerable. Lastly, if this is the end of our journey we’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Hopefully its not though and we’ll enjoy our bikes all the more when this is over.

Still not quite there……

A few weeks ago I took the notion to ride 100 miles. As someone who has been very active in the past I was quite certain the miles were still in the legs. The thing about cycling is unless you completely stop the speed and speed is the first to go followed by endurance. If up to this point you’ve ridden fairly consistently over a number of years it’s quite surprising what you can achieve by slowing down a little.

What if you’re not or have rarely been consistent in riding your bike? Set yourself a challenge to ride a distance in a day you think it’s impossible to do. It’s not. Join a group of friends or similarly minded folk and set about training for that challenge distance. Be realistic. We all have other commitments on our time for example Jobs, family or friends. I’ve always found consistency to be key. If you have 3 hours a week but you could spare 6 build up to that. Find yourself with extra use it well.

I made my ride with help from my friends. We stopped a couple of times for refreshments. It doesn’t have to be 100 but the sense of achievement is great. My next challenge will be 200miles in a day, I will have to train for that! It may not be this year, I’m working on a challenging but interesting route. My enjoyment of cycling is now far nearer to the touring ethic. I do still like the comfort of Lycra though. My next bike will far nearer to a touring bike with lots of bags to enable me to take supplies and camping equipment.

When I take some time off in the school summer holidays I want to ride 30-40-miles a day with my 8 year old son and camp somewhere. That’s the plan for now. It may sound like a big ask but he cycled 10 miles last summer and has done that again twice already this year. The answer was snacks and regular stops. With the Derwent Walk on our doorstep it’s quite easy to create some routes without having to ride on the road. I’m not against that in fact quite the opposite. He needs to understand how to ride confidently and safely on a road. Keep calm at all times. Small amounts of experience before they encounter this in Bikeability, at a slightly older age.

The rise of Gravel/Adventure bikes has got us very much closer to a bike that will do most of what the typical cyclist would need. I like to think of them as the natural evolution of touring bikes. Lots of extra frame mounts allowing multiple bags and additional water bottles to be frame fitted. A true multi purpose bike. Touring bikes are very much still around and are a s capable as any adventure bike, particularly Dawes Cycles excellent Galaxy. When I have my Kinesis Tripster AT built I’ll write about our adventures. With a bit of imagination these frame sets can be built into many different bikes.

If you’re after a custom build this season drop us a line or call into our workshop in Blackhill, County Durham.

My Cobbled Classics

It’s the time for the Pros to shine in the hardest races in the Calendar (IMHO). Cycling coverage on TV has improved over the years and we are now able to witness the thrills of the 1-Day Belgian Classics including the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix, although both races have actually been in existence since the early 1900’s.

The reason these races are so close to my heart is the formidably strong riders that win them; the race is incredible to watch, the endurance and suffering is visible in equal measure, the falls excruciating with the most brutal timing – I love it. As fans, we always look forward to a wet/muddy race. It makes these races more challenging for the riders and far more exciting to watch. Flanders runs out today and my personal favourite, the Paris-Roubaix, next Sunday.

As an inconsistent racing cyclist, I always did better in a race when the conditions were a little more challenging; my early motivation would be at its height, with wet, windy, muddy roads in the early season races giving way to the brighter summer races later in the year. This is perhaps why I’m drawn to Cyclocross. Occasionally racing around a muddy field gets the heart pumping, my inner-critic shouts at me a little louder and fires up the motivation to dig-in and finish. For most involved, it seems the the wetter and colder the better. So, I identified a lot with these tough riders, considered 1 day specialists, and a great inspiration to me since I was young.

Going back to the golden era of cycling in the 1950’s Fausto Coppi dominated most races entered. He’s one of the reasons I love Italian bikes and equipment. If you come into the shop, I’ll happily tell you about the benefits of Campagnolo over Shimano – but that’s for another Blog perhaps?

These days I’m getting soft with my advancing years and, like many, find it very easy to put off when the weather is a bit pants. Last year, I did a pitiful 1000 miles (annual mileage). In the past I had ridden 4-5000miles. While being realistic, I have family and work commitments now, I would like to triple this in 2019. At Steel Town Cycles, we hope to build a community of cyclists of all abilities and help you plan, set and achieve your yearly goals. Whether it’s riding 10 miles or 100miles, getting fitter or stepping up to race in whatever discipline you choose, we’d like to help.

So if you have access to Eurosport, book your seat on the sofa for next Sunday and experience “the Hell of the North – Paris-Roubaix”. Be inspired to get out on your bike in any conditions…….. I intend to…… honest.

…….Turbo Trainer Sunday.

As I finished my blog last weekend “Showroom Saturday Turbo Trainer Sunday”, I was reminded that I hadn’t actually written about turbo trainers at all but focussed on our new Showroom Saturday event that we will be running throughout Spring & Summer.

I am a person who thrives on a plan, and a goal, and I am trying, with varying degrees of success, to increase my 1000 mile total ridden in 2018, to the 4-5000miles ridden pre 2016. As a lifelong cyclist I wasn’t too happy with my 2018 achievement.

Over the winter I invested in a JetBlack Whisperdrive Smart trainer with the notion of testing the current crop of training apps, such as Zwift, Sufferfest and TrainerRoad. Having not been an avid gamer for years I was very sceptical about Zwift which feels quite immersive with its 3rd person view as you pass competitors or seeing others riding by.

It’s like being part of a very large, virtual club ride. I didn’t complete their fitness test which would have set training zones for me instead choosing to start on the Bambino Fondo plan – 3 hours a week for 4 weeks. I did notice a significant improvement in my fitness and during the few outdoor rides I did during this time, I felt stronger than for some time.

At the end of the programme I tried to complete a medio fondo. It has to be said – these are not as their friendly title would suggest “Fondos” or “Sportive” events, and having raced in different disciplines over 15 or more years, my experience with the Zwift Fondo was quickly more race-like. I found myself at the back straight away! I had not experienced this since racing the Tour of the Derwent Reservoir in 2009 – l finished 2 off last!

I gradually moved up the field until I was in the top half, somewhat due to finding my pace and sticking with it. It wasn’t the best 2 and 3/4 hrs I’d ever spent on a bike and I bailed 3 kilometres from the top of the finish 15 kilometre climb.

Zwift engages you in a game-like atmosphere and did work to encourage me to do the workouts which I managed just fine. In that sense, it does what we at Steel Town Cycles are encouraging you all to #getoutonyabike. What I feel it lacks is a logical progressive structure – build phase, consolidation phase, rest/recovery. It’s a scientific approach and there are already other apps and many books on the subject. For most users, that won’t be the end of the world and it will rapidly improve your fitness. The workouts are short – typically 45-60 minutes – and after the initial trial period it will cost £12.99 per month. I would recommend it to novices as it will improve your fitness and it’s possible to ride alongside your friends using the companion app, though I would suggest using a short training plan, rather than just free riding, as it will keep your interest. This approach also fits in well with our modern time-crunched lives. We have other commitments, families, work and friends.

More details can be found at

I’m trying Sufferfest next and if this topic is of interest I’ll give my impression on that when I’ve spent a month or so using it. Zwift wasn’t for me, but if you give it a go drop in to the workshop or drop me a message to let me know what you think. I encourage all of you to use an indoor trainer when it’s not practical or just not safe to ride outdoors; a cheap magnetic resistance trainer might be all you need to get started.