The Flying Scotsman

While reading about something totally unrelated, I came across information about a film starring two of my favourite actors, Jonny Lee Miller and Brian Cox, and one of the most pleasant celebrities I have ever met, Billy Boyd, about a guy whose book I have recently been reading, Graeme Obree. I was interested immediately but when I saw that the movie has actually had pretty decent reviews, I had to see it.

johnny-lee-miller

For those not in the know, Graeme Obree decided to build his own bike and take on the heavy hitters of the cycling world. I’ll not give too much away but I highly recommend you see this film. It’s an amazing enough story made all the more amazing by being true. What he overcame and the way in which he did it is as funny as it is inspiring and touching.

Check it out here or order the book.

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 7: Hammarsundet to Motala

And then we were off on the final leg. Just 40 km to go but there was still a serious chance of a couple of team mates dropping out. The pace had dropped significantly but the morale of the lead group was high as we realised we were going to make it. The ones who were struggling were in real difficulty so that every time we came to a hill they got dropped. The pace dropped even more to make sure we stayed together. Suddenly in front of us was a beautiful, the first sign to Motala and it was only 20km away. What we didn’t know then was that the route did not follow the shortest road to Motala so we actually had about 30 km left :)

As we got clsoer to town I began to recognise things and knew we only had a few minutes left of our ride. We organised ourselvse into two perfect columns and rolled into Motala’s waterfront area to cross the finish line in 11 hours and 48 minutes.

Mission accomplished!

Vätternrundan, finish

My family were there to greet me and my little boy was very proud of his old dad.

Welcoming committee

Vätternrundan, medal

My butt was killing me and my legs were tired but I’d made it and didn’t feel nearly as bad as I’d expected. The team sat down for some food then it was hugs all round as we headed off to see our friends and families. Here I am in my final moments in team kit as I got back to our camp site.

Finished

Part one of my svenskklassiker was done and I was feeling very good about myself.

Here are the bare figures from the ride (viciously stolen from my team-mate’s Garmin Edge since my iPhone lost GPS contact and thinks I cycled across lake Vättern rather than round it)…

The full route

Vätternrundan, route

Speed

We needed to average a moving speed of 27.3 kmh to make our goal. We had included some stops as well to refuel and rest.

Vätternrundan, speed

Altitude

Considering the race goes around a lake (usually pretty flat things), you’d think that it’s a pretty flat course. Not at all! There were actually very few flat sections.

Vätternrundan, altitude

In the final part of this report you’ll find out what I learned before and during my first (but probably not last) ride around lake Vättern.

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 6: Karlsborg to Hammarsundet

As we neared the end, the stints were getting shorter. Just 53km this time but a lot of the team were hurting so that was a good thing. Things had generally gone very well. We’d had a few people feeling not so great and one or two minor mechanicals but no punctures and, most importantly, we were all still rolling and still together. Then came our scariest moment.

For large parts of the course we were sharing the road with cars. There weren’t many and all of them were very considerate of the cyclists. On all dual carriageways the left lane was for cars and the right was for bikes with plastic dividers between each lane. As we approached one of these divided areas something went wrong. I don’t know if the people in front didn’t see the divider or if they didn’t warn those behind early enough but several people hit one. They were made to bend so there were no injuries but Magnus, one of our best riders, hit the base of a divider and his bike leapt into the air. Everything went into slow-mo and all I could think was, “If he doesn’t sort this out then I’m not going to be able to avoid hitting him and we’ll both be down!” I’ve no idea how he managed but he landed, got the bike under control and we all continued on slightly shaken but totally injury free.

Hammarsundet
Picture from Vätternrundan 2012, Christer Hedberg

Again my energy levels started to drop so I was very happy to see the honey to line our bread rolls with when we got to Hammarsundet. You were only supposed to take one at a time but I took three or four and drowned them in honey.

After a quick rest and bottle refill we had a final check to see how everyone was feeling. We decided that the ones who were struggling would stay at the back of the group while the rest of us did the work at the front. We made sure everyone was ready and then off we set for the final stretch into Motala and the finish line…

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 5: Fagerhult to Karlsborg

Only 70km between these two stops so I figured it was going to be an easy time. Man, was I wrong! The actual course wasn’t too bad, one nice descent of 80m over less than 8km and hardly any climbing but around the 180km mark I hit the wall big time. I had no energy and every turn of the cranks felt like a major achievement. When I was at the front or in the middle of the group it wasn’t too bad but as soon as I got to the back I got dropped. Every time! Totally demotivating and I was feeling very bad about it because I had to keep asking the rest to slow down.

Blueberry soup

Karlsborg was planned to be a long stop so I rolled in and got off the bike as fast as I could. I then shovelled as much food and drink into me as possible. Two cups of blueberry soup, two cups of coffee (I don’t usually drink that much in a year), four or five cups of energy drink, a stack of semi-sweet bread rolls, about three bananas and a mound of salty gherkins. I then got my shoes off (very sore feet) and lay down on the grass for as long as possible.

All too soon it was time to get up and go again. Normally I was near the front at the start of each stint. Not this time but I felt much better and had gotten over my lowest point.

Falu red cottage, bicycle & bread

If you ask Swedes where they’re going to spend their next vacation don’t expect to get a list of 196 different countries. There are basically two answers to that question: Spain1 or “på landet”.

You can’t blame the Swedes for wanting to escape for a sunny weekend away but you sure can’t blame them for loving their countryside either. “På landet” is like a country within the country, a place where one can live without electricity and running water less than an hour drive from Stockholm. In cycling lingo “på landet” is also just another word for paradise.

Sure the lack of running water can be an issue for some – especially after long rides – but there’s always a lake nearby for those who insist on hand washing their bibs. And for the rest of us… well… that’s part of the experience. Can the cyclist (the one not too concerned about laundry) in you imagine a better resort than a wooden cabin in the middle of close-to-nowhere with great riding all around? Can you imagine a better way to start the day than a 30 kilometre cycling round trip to the grocery store so the family can enjoy fresh bread for breakfast? I can’t.

Cycling in the Swedish countryside is pure pleasure with beautiful landscapes (classic Swedish red houses, forests, lakes & fields of rape seeds), pretty good roads and almost no motorized traffic (I met one car during that trip to the bakery). You pretty much get the whole pavement for yourself and, once you’re cruising at whatever speed you think is fast, you can just let a “yeeehhhaaaa” go (even two if you want to since no one can hear you anyway).

A Falu red cottage and a bicycle is what I would choose over Spain if you asked me (I could import a few extra degrees from down there though) but if you still don’t believe “på landet” is the place where you should spend your next (cycling) holidays, just see for yourself.

Sweden countryside cycling

Doesn’t she look happy? Does she look like she’d rather be in Spain or in the shower after that long ride she just took to the nearest shop? I think she’s doing just fine… “på landet”.


  1. In 2013, Swedes took 2.04 million trips to Spain. – http://www.thelocal.se/20140603/swedes-top-travel-destination-revealed 

If America can do it, so can anyone

For a long time, Memphis has been looking at ways to better connect the city and the waterfront. One suggestion was to remove a couple of car lanes and convert them into bike and pedestrian areas.

Riverside Drive

The idea is that it would make the area more attractive to people who weren’t in cars. The good news is that it seems to have worked.

[...] for the price of some plastic bollards and new street coloring, Memphis has opened one of the best streets in the mid-South for biking, walking, skating and playing.

Read all about it here.

Surely if America, home to the biggest gas guzzler cars of them all, can do this, then anyone can!

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 4: Ölmstad to Fagerhult

With the wind at our backs and some good downhill sections we really picked up the pace. Heading towards the southern end of the lake and the turn north at Jönköping we were hitting our maximum speed of just over 60kmh several times. When we got to Jönköping we were forty minutes ahead of schedule but it was not to last.What had been a tailwind had turned into a headwind and a very strong one at that. We were also heading into several long uphill sections and the pace dropped considerably. Two major uphill sections of over 5km each were killing us. In fact, over the next 50km we lost all the time we had made up and were only just keeping up with our schedule.

Morale in the team sank a bit and it became very quiet. Nobody was chatting anymore, everyone was totally focused on just keeping going. To make things worse, the group got slightly separated from each other and some outsiders forced their way into our lines. This made it difficult to rotate the team and keep the guys at the front fresh. I was stuck right at the back and in the end I had to just sit there and watch everyone else suffer while I had it easy stuck out on the tail. One of the girls was also starting to feel sick. She couldn’t eat or drink without becoming nauseous and, of course, that just made things even worse. This really was our low point.

Luckily it wasn’t too far to Fagerhult. We got a rest some food into us.

blueberry-soup

We also took the chance to reorganise the group. One guy stayed at the back making sure those who were struggling could keep up while those of us who still felt strong rotated at the front a lot faster to keep everyone feeling in top condition.

So far it had been a struggle but we’d had no mechanical issues. That was about to change.

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 3: Motala to Ölmstad

And so we were off. We headed south out of Motala towards our first stop. Unlike most people we did not plan to stop at all the pit areas. We had planned four stops totalling just 45 minutes. Our first goal was Ölmstad which was 83 km away.

There was a huge board telling us the start time of the next group and counting down to our start time. One group departed every two minutes so it was important to pay attention.

vr-start

As we left Motala it was a lovely day, blue skies and, most importantly, the wind at our back.

The roads were almost completely free of cars as everybody had been encouraged not to drive in the area unless they had to. Unfortunately we got stuck behind another group who were going slower than us but not slow enough to make it easy to overtake them. They were very jerky in their tempo, constantly accelerating and braking which made it difficult to be close behind them.

After about one hour there were suddenly shouts from in front of us. There had been an accident ahead and an ambulance was partially blocking the road. Rather than gradually slowing or just steering round the obstacle, everyone in the leading group slammed their brakes on. If you’ve ever done group cycling then you know this is very dangerous as we ride so close to each other, usually not more than about 20 centimetres off the back tyre of the bike in front. Luckily we were all able to stop safely and the chaos of the situation allowed us to get by the other group. Sadly, as we passed the ambulance, we saw that it was a Fredrikshof group that was down. We learned later that the sub 9 group had crashed but nobody was seriously injured. A few broken bones and a lot of cuts and bruises, 5 guys out of the race but everyone lived to fight another day and that’s the most important thing.

Once we had cleared the slower group we really started motoring. It was a beautiful day and the countryside was lovely, reminding me a lot of my home in Ireland but we couldn’t take the time to appreciate it. With the wind at our backs we set to it in earnest pedalling as hard as we could to make the best of the favourable conditions.

After just under three hours we arrived in Ölmstad for an all-too-short break (just five minutes). It was a real splash and dash. Run to the loo, refill the water bottles, grab as much food as we could and back on the bikes. As with everything else, the pit area was really well organised. Plenty of racks to hang the bikes on, lots of toilets and loads of helpful and friendly volunteers manning the food stations. We had just enough time to check our progress compared to the plan. So far we were about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

At this point I was still feeling great but could we keep this pace up?

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 2: Pre-race

Every year Motala hosts Cycle Week, a whole week dedicated biking and home to various cycle races ranging from 1300m for 6-7 year old kids, up to the blue riband 300km race around the whole lake.

My mother-in-law always rides Tjejvättern, a 100km race for women only. She’s in no way competitive and takes her sweet time about getting round to get the most for her entry fee. This year we decided to head down to Motala a week early to check things out, get all the last minute bits and pieces I needed and then wave her across the finish line.

The whole town really gets behind the event. All the taxis get fitted with bike racks, the town centre is blocked to all traffic except buses and official vehicles and stalls pop up all over the places selling everything you could possibly need at some very knocked down prices. I’d already bought most of what I needed but a last minute puncture left me needing some new inner tubes. Two Continental tubes for 200SEK, not bad. I also picked up some Grip Grab gloves for 150SEK and a Bianchi foot pump for 349SEK. I also sorted out my food needs by buying the Enervit Vätternrundan “loader” and race packages.

With that all done we cheered on my mother-in-law then headed back to Stockholm for the final training session.

One week later and we had the car packed up and were on our way back to Motala.

Bicycle on the rack

The team met up on Friday night to have some dinner and sort out the final details for Saturday. We then headed home for some rest before our early start the next morning. I needed to get up at 0400 to be in town at 0515 and ready to start at 0546. As you can see I was taking it very seriously…

Pre-race diet

Everyone arrived in time. A few people had forgotten things. One guy forgot his sunglasses, I forgot to put on sun screen and so on but nothing major. The time flew by and soon we were ready for the start of our 300km adventure.

Fredrikshof Sub-12

There were lots of Fredrikshof groups and most started around the same time. Every two minutes about 70 cyclists headed over the line. At 0546 it was our turn.

Next time we’ll see how it went on the first part of the race.

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 1: Prep

My main reason for getting back on my bike a year ago was that I have decided to try and complete the Svenskklassiker race series. I did Halvklassikern three years ago and the cycling was by far the hardest part, so I started with the cycling this time. That meant tackling Vätternrundan, a 300km bike ride around Sweden’s second largest lake.

I figured that I would never make it round on my own so I signed up for Fredrikshof’s sub-12 group. Put simply, this meant that our goal was to get round the course in a total time under 12 hours. Not a bad challenge considering that most people take 14+ hours. There were 11 in the team ranging from total noobs like me to very experienced guys who have done VR in sub-9 groups.

We met up most Tuesdays and Thursdays through March, April and May for 50-60km rides around the Märsta / Arlanda area. These usually took us about 2 hours. We’d then meet up on the weekend and do anything from 50 up to 170km. The one big struggle we had was synchronising everyone’s real life commitments with the training sessions so we never managed to get the whole group together at one time. There was a core of five or six who came regularly and the rest came as they were able. Fortunately we had a great team leader who knew exactly what we needed to be doing to be ready in time.

sub12-training

They say that to make it round Vättern you need to have covered at least 1000km. 2000km is needed if you plan to go any sort of fast and 3000km if you want it to be comfortable. From buying my new bike last June to the start this June I covered a little over 2500km of which about 1800 was done this year. Tune in next time to see how it went…