Of course, being April 1st and reading the contents of this, you might be thinking, “What’s he on about, has he lost the plot?” No, no I haven’t. I’m catching up on something that I meant to do at New Years on 2019 but it slipped since I was working on other projects, and it kept slipping. Then the pandemic hit and if you’re like me, the last year has just been a blur. So, you might be asking, “Why today?” Well dear friends, I’m doing this today because I’d be a fool to let it slip any further.
Coming back from Battle Mountain and having achieved my goal of two handcycling world records (and the arrest warrant from Officer Artem) and having fulfilled one of my childhood dreams of becoming one of the fastest cyclists in the world, part of me was a bit lost. This was slightly exasperated by having blown out my shoulder with all my efforts at Battle Mountain and needing to take a month off, staring at my bike on the other side of my living room, desperately wanting to ride.
Now, I’ve heard that some Olympic Athletes struggle upon returning from winning gold medals because they’ve hit the peak of their game, they’re the best they can be. Where do you go from there? Unfortunately, I will likely never be able to go to the Paralympics (my disability cannot be classified by the UCI) but I think I can relate to this: I’ve hit my long term dream; fastest handcyclist in the world. Where do I go from here?
Well, I’ve been working on a number of project and I’ve been doing a lot of planning and one thing I’ve realise about life is, it’s not just about the big stuff you do, it’s about some of the ordinary stuff you do. Sometimes it’s as simple as the connections you make and the people you meet and share a common bond with; the people you help, and those who help you.
So, now is my chance to have a look back from Battle Mountain and the World Human Powered Speed Challenge to see where I’ve been and where I’m going.
If you’ve read the rest of my blog, you’ll know that I did indeed set two world records. Happily in 2019 I received confirmation from the Guinness Book of World Records that these are indeed recognised world records and I now have the awards to prove it. Now, if only getting these into picture frames was as easy as powering Arion4
And if you’d like to read a bit more about the WHPSC have a look as some of these links, including the one from CNN who visited the race and got some footage and interviews (and the glazed interview of an exhausted handcyclist, trying to look lively)
In 2019 I was also amazed to be contacted by Lothian Disability Sport where I was notified that they had chosen me, of all people, as their Senior Sportsperson of the Year. I must say I was incredibly proud of this as I hadn’t sought to break the records for any sort of recognition or accolades, I simply wanted to push myself, to challenge myself to meet the toughest goal I could think of.
The best part of this award though was discovering the amazing variety of sports and activities that are available to disabled people in my area. Many of them I didn’t even know existed. Equally, what was amazing was all the other award winners, from the youth to adults, from swimming to rugby and everything in between. It was fantastic to see all the people who were getting out and getting involved and challenging themselves. And of course, none of it could be achieved without the help of organisations such as Lothian Disability Sports as well as Scottish Disability Sports.
Of course, I had the pleasure of being presented with the award by Jim Anderson; OBE multi-Paralympic medallist in swimming. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Anderson_(swimmer)
2019 also brought continued riding:
Just as I did in 2018 I took part in the time trials with one of my local cycling clubs, West Lothian Clarion Cycling Club. They are a great group of people who have welcomed handcyclists into their fold. In 2018 and 2019 I regularly too part in their summer Time Trial series along with a friend of mine, Mike. It’s a great incentive to be one of the lead riders, only to be passed by all the leg-powered riders, each one encouraging me to push harder and to keep up.
In late winter/ Early Spring I rode the Sportive Kinross again. This is a cracking ride through the great hilly part of the country that is Fife. It’s one of a number of Scottish Sportive hosted by great groups and attracting fantastic friendly riders. It’s early in the year and is often a bit cold, but usually mixed with a great deal of brilliant sun, so just the right temperature for riding. Of course, this being Scotland, it was also struck with a short burst of hail, just to get all weather options in. There’s nothing like lying on your back climbing a hill while you get pelted with hail. But, I had a great time with some fellow handcyclists and managed to improve my time from previous rides. Massive thanks to Paul Zarb for getting me riding on these in the first place, and for Trev Keer for setting me up for the ride. Looking forward to getting back to these post Covid!
In the late summer, I also took part in the ever popular Tour O the borders. It’s a fantastic Sportive that’s known for having and amazingly steep climb at the Talla Reservoir. So steep, in fact, that quite a few of the leg cyclists wind up walking it. Much like the Time Trails with WLCCC I did this ride with my friend Mike. It’s a brilliant challenge to be powering up this immensely steep hill at unbelievably slow pace with people walking by asking if I want a push, and saying between gasping breaths, “No, I WILL do this on my own, but thanks.” A huge thanks goes out to Rod Mitchell at Cycle Law Scotland, one of the Tour Sponsors, for helping Mike and I out on this Tour. https://tourotheborders.com/
Happily, I also managed to race the Jedburgh 10k and win it. It’s a great local race, though short, it’s as much about the after race dinner and socialising afterwards as much as it is about the race. One of the best things about it is that it’s not restricted to classified racers so it welcomes anyone who can finish it in a prescribed time. As a result, in 2019 we managed to get two riders on it, one who had only ridden a handful of times before and another wheelchair marathon racer who’d only been on a handcycle once. What’s rather unique about the race is that each handcyclist is met buy a leg rider from the local cycling club shortly after the start and I find this works well for that added push of, “can you outrun the rider using his legs.” I will admit that I didn’t break the course record but that gives me something to shoot for. Big thanks to Graham Cook for putting this on every year. Absolute pleasure to be a part of the Jedburgh 10k.
2020, the year that is a Covid blur and to the future:
I’m sure like many of you; I’m sure that 2020 and 2021 so far has been a bit of a blur. I know it has been for me, but it hasn’t stopped my progress and planning. I’ve continued to train throughout most of the year except when a chest infection came on just as Covid was breaking out, making me panic about having caught the virus. Luckily I hadn’t but it has made me exceptionally careful so that I don’t cause problems with future plans.
So, with a semi-quarantine in effect, I’ve spent the year training on Zwift under the guidance of my cycling coach in anticipation for an upcoming event. Unfortunately, due to the complexity and scale of this event, I’ve not gone public yet until I’m certain that all the foundation pieces have been set in place. But it’s big, and it’s exciting, and I more than anyone am itching to get the news out!
I’ve also joined up on another big ride that’s just taking shape now and hope to make an announcement about that soon as well. Both of these will likely be on a new website that’s under development. So, despite the null that much of 2020 and 2021 has been, there are still massive projects in the works.
But it’s good to stay grounded in these times as well and work on more immediate and real things. Dare I say real, given that this next one is quite virtual? Having spent nearly a year almost exclusively on Zwift, I realised that one thing is sorely missing, and that’s avatar representation of disabled cyclists. As a result, I’ve been in touch with Zwift to try to encourage them to add paracycling avatars for those of us who use different bikes such as handcycles, trikes, and recumbents, and to even encourage the use of avatars with amputations. I realised that it’s all well and good to ask, but sometimes the hurdle is seeing an idea in place, or having the parts to make it happen. So, as I’ve been getting back into modelling with CAD for a number of different projects, I decided to model a handcycle for Zwift and create some mock-ups. I’ve also offered to work with Zwift to make the models available to them as well as to create other variations for different paracycling types. The feedback I’ve received has been overwhelmingly supportive from both the disabled and able-bodied communities. Zwift tell me there are a number of technical hurdles that need to be dealt with but it is on their radar. Hopefully working together with the disabled cycling community, we’ll soon see paracyclists on Zwift. And if you yourself ride on Zwift, feel free to up-vote the request and add in a comment as to why you think it’s important. https://forums.zwift.com/t/handcycling-and-paracycling-avatars/537492
So, fool that I am for letting these thing slip for so long, I’m glad I’ve finally got this review and of post-Battle Mountain and future teasers out. And one last major thanks to everyone at the International Human Powered Vehicle Association (Alan, Alice, and many others) for running the World Human Powered Speed Challenge, as well as Steven Bode and team at the University of Liverpool and all the sponsors of Arion4 who helped make a dream come true:
University of Liverpool School of Engineering
MTC: Manufacturing Technology Centre
University of Liverpool Alumni and Friends Fund
Tygavac, Advanced Materials Ltd
Liverpool Hope University
Virtual Engineering Centre
Spokes of Bagshot
British Human Power Club
The institution of Mechanical Engineers
Advances Materials Laboratory