Monthly Archives: September 2020

gear review: clug bike holder

From the manufacturer’s website:

The Eurobike award winning CLUG is the world’s smallest bike rack. Working seemlessly with your floor to store your bike, CLUG is used to store your bike either vertically or horizontally.

For the last few months I’ve been using a vinyl coated hook screwed into the wall to hold my front wheel and store my bike vertically like the first image in the graphic above. It wasn’t great though as the wheel had a tendency to tilt to one side making me nervous about it possibly falling over. In fact I haven’t used it at all since I got my new bike.

A while ago I saw an ad on Facebook for a better option. One of the comments slagged it off saying it was a rip off of the Hornit CLUG and it definitely looked like a solution for my situation. I bought it direct from the website for £14.99 but see it for sale now on Wiggle and other sites from £11.99.

CLUG comes in a range of different colours and 5 different sizes depending on the width of your tyres and therefore your bike type. It was a roadie for me and plain black on black.

Installation is pretty simple. The box has an integrated template to line up with your tyre and mark the wall. I was using a block wall so had to drill and use the provided rawl plugs.

The holder comes in two parts. The outside collar screws to the wall and the inner clip, that holds the wheel, clicks in to it.

Shane Millar has a YouTube video if you want to see one being installed.

Overall it is very simple, tidy and most importantly, very effective 👍

Value: 10/10 especially if bought at £11.99! It’s well made, well packaged and holds your expensive bike safely and securely.

Durability: 9/10 but only because I’ve only just started using it. Materials seem well made and robust. No cracking during installation and hard to see how it could break or wear out.

Effectiveness: 10/10 it simply does what it’s designed to do, holding the bike safely and securely.

Overall: 10/10 highly recommended.

Manufacturer’s Website:


Silverthorn (Riftwar Saga #2) by Raymond E Feist.

From Goodreads:

A poisoned bolt has struck down the Princess Anita on the day of her wedding to Prince Arutha of Krondor.

To save his beloved, Arutha sets out in search of the mystic herb called Silverthorn that only grows in the dark and forbidding land of the Spellweavers.

Accompanied by a mercenary, a minstrel, and a clever young thief, he will confront an ancient evil and do battle with the dark powers that threaten the enchanted realm of Midkemia.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The storyline is a familiar and simple one. The dashing young Prince has fallen for the beautiful young Princess and instead of living happily ever after she is struck down by a terrible poison. Close to death she is placed in a magical sleep and he embarks on a quest for the cure accompanied by a small band of friends. It’s old school fantasy at its best.

The writing is far from simplistic. The detail of character and location is really good and the simple story is nestled within the much more complicated overall story that was started in the first book.

Despite being set almost completely on Midkemia it was good to return to Kelewan close to the end setting the scene for the final book of the series but also briefly bringing back well liked characters from the first book.

The author has a great talent for writing standalone stories that are completed within the one book but also interconnect to form the bigger story. This is difficult to do and this is one of the very few middle books I’ve read that don’t just feel like scene setters.

It is the characters that really make these books so good. Arutha and Jimmy dominate here but we get to know so many others that develop further through the series of books and see a slightly different side of some we’ve already met.

dark hedges

I rode my first Audax in May 2015 at the Fermanagh 200 calendar event. On Sunday I rode my 9th but my first for almost two years.

(This developed into a very long post all about it!)

Audax is long distance endurance cycling with distances starting where most other events stop. The minimum distance is 200km with longer events typically 300km, 400km, 600km and even multi day events of 1000km and 1200km such as the best known Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) that takes place every 4 years and requires official qualification.

The ethos of Audax is that it is non-competitive, the challenge is to finish. There is a maximum time limit depending on the length of the event but it’s set at an average speed of 15km/h. To emphasise that it’s not a race there’s also a minimum time limit set at 30km/h although this is rarely used. The golden rule is “always finish and always finish smiling”.

Audax events take two forms. Calender events are set dates with a fixed start time and location. A group will gather and set off together. There will be a random mixture of abilities and therefore groups will form naturally as people find others at a pace they are comfortable with. In addition there will be those who prefer to cycle alone and while usually friendly will stay away from groups.

The event is called a “Brevet” and attendees are called “Randonneurs“. At the start you are issued with a Brevet card showing the designated control points, their distance along the route as well as the earliest and latest times you have to pass through them. As you navigate the set course you must stop at these control points, record your time and obtain proof of your visit. This may be a stamp or signature but receipts from shops, ATM receipts and photos have become the norm. Some controls will be manned but most are not. At the end of the event you hand in your card to the organiser along with your proof (photos are emailed or sent via WhatsApp) and once checked the organiser conforms your completion of the course to the governing body of your country. In Ireland this is Audax Ireland who then also register your completion with the world governing body called “Audax Club Parisien(ACP) who are based in France.

The main difference between Audax and a Sportive is that Audax riders are expected to be completely self-sufficient. You must carry all your own food and water or resupply along the route using shops and cafés. If you have a puncture or other type of breakdown you are expected to be able to repair it yourself or be able to make your own way home. There are no organised food stops, no broom wagon and no roaming mechanics to get you out of trouble.

The second form of Audax event is called a Permanent. These are routes that can be ridden at any time and you can start at any point along the route. You just need to contact the organiser, register your intention to ride and pay the registration fee, usually €5. Permanents are mostly a calendar event that the organiser has agreed can be ridden as a permanent but some permanents don’t have a fixed calendar date. Also many calendar events are not available as a permanent.

There are a number of different challenges run by Audax Ireland that Irish Randonneurs can take on:

Randonneur Round the Year (RRTY): complete a minimum of one Audax event each month for 12 months in a row. These events can be a mixture of distances and calendar or permanent events.

Super Randonneur (SR): Complete a full series of at least one 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km event in the Audax calendar year that runs from Nov 1st to October 31st. Permanents cannot be used for this challenge.

Four Provinces (FP): Complete a calendar event that starts in each of the four Provinces of Ireland within the Audax calendar year. Normally permanents cannot be used but for 2020 an exemption has been made due to Covid19 restrictions.

In 2017 I completed the Four Provinces Challenge and made a start to RRTY. I made it to 4 months but missed out on December. My cycling decreased significantly during 2018 but I did get one 200km event in April and restarted RRTY in October but only managed two. 2019 saw a further reduction in cycling but this couple of months I’ve managed to jump start my cycling mojo with 31 Days of Biking and buying a new bike.

My fitness has steadily improved through the Summer and August has given me my best cycling fitness for a few years. I’ve decided to take on the RRTY challenge once again to keep me motivated and keep improving my fitness as well as justifying my bike upgrade. Sunday was my starting point.

My closest Audax route is the Dark Hedges 200 and it can be ridden as a permanent. I’ve ridden it a few times now so it’s a good choice as the route is familiar. In general it’s one of the easier Audax routes. Navigation is pretty straightforward and the first 40km is pretty flat before you have to deal with the first climb which is ironically from Downhill beach.

The day was forecast to be dry with little wind and sunny for the majority of the day. At this time of the year that means fog for the early mornings and it lasted for the first 40km before being treated to a fabulous view out to sea.

iconic mussenden temple above downhill beach

Over the hill into Articlave and the first control at a petrol station. It was also time for my first food break but unfortunately they didn’t have a tea option from the machine and I had to repack and head down to the next garage before I could eat.

The next section follows the main road through Coleraine and on to Bushmills which is famous for its whiskey distillery which is also the second control.

official selfie

After Bushmills it’s on to a variety of rural roads that eventually take you through the third control at the Dark Hedges which is how the route gets its name. This has always been a popular tourist destination but has become even more famous since it appeared in the second season of Game of Thrones.

dark hedges

At this stage I was starting to feel hungry again but being in the middle of rural farmland I decided to keep going on a mini Snickers and a few jelly babies until I could reach Ballymoney.

The last few times I’ve always had route issues with Ballymoney but not this time. Last time I figured that the route left the road and went through a riverside park using cycling paths. This spits you out on a main road in the middle of town and this time I realised how the cycle path picks up again across the road and through a small housing area. Another riverside park that conveniently brought me out close to a small retail complex including a shop deli with 105km done.

couldn’t resist the £2 cowboy supper 🤠

The third 50K is always the most difficult for me. This is when tiredness kicks in, both physically and mentally. On this route it also coincides with the least enjoyable section from Ballymoney to Maghera. It’s a combination of busy secondary and primary roads with a few diversions on to hilly rural roads. The final 15km along the busy Coleraine to Maghera road is a slog and it’s almost a pleasure to see the Maghera town limits. The fourth control is yet another petrol station but the bonus here is a large toilet open to the public that gave me a chance to use the bathroom, wash my face and reapply chamois cream before having another food break.

The final 50K is where the real work begins on this route. A rolling ride into Moneyneany is followed by a tough and steep climb up over the mountain to Feeny. The toughest part of this is a 3.2km segment rising 200m with a 6.2% average and a number of 10-14% sections. The payback is a fantastic and very fast descent before the final short climb into Feeny, the final control at the local Spar shop and a final food break at 170km.

fresh as a daisy 😆

The last 30K includes one of my favourite sections of road I’ve ridden. A few km out of Feeny the route returns to rural back roads that snake along the back of Claudy and follow the river valley into Derry. The road wends its way along the valley through wooded areas with steep slopes on both sides. The terrain is a mix of short, sharp climbs and descents that, despite tired legs, encourage a strong effort to speed through this last approach to Derry. It’s fab!

The final approach to Derry should be a chance to relax but this route has a final sting in the tail. At 190km there is a horribly steep climb up Church Brae to Glendermott. It’s not long at only 0.5km but it’s unforgiving with a 9% average and hitting 18% for one short section. With all of the day’s distance it’s one hell of a final challenge.

Dropping back down into Derry to the Foyle I was treated to beautiful views along the river as the sun was setting.

Arriving back at the start I was delighted to see an average speed slightly over 25km/hr meaning I was coming in just under my target time of 8hrs. I had a second target to get finished in less than 10hrs total time but I was happy to finish with such a good time!

click the image to view on strava

I guess that will also qualify for my 2020 Metric Challenge 😊

el camino: a breaking bad movie

From IMDb:

Finally free from torture and slavery at the hands of Tod’s uncle Jack, and from Mr. White, Jesse must escape demons from his past. He’s on the run from a police manhunt, with his only hope of escape being Saul Goodman’s hoover guy, Ed Galbraith. A man who for the right price, can give you a new identity and a fresh start. Jesse is racing against the clock, with help from his crew, avoiding capture to get enough money together to buy a ‘new dust filter for his Hoover MaxExtract PressurePro model’, a new life.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This story picks up immediately from the events of the Breaking Bad finale and Jesse’s escape from the crime gang. It follows his attempts to put everything behind him and start again. But to move forward he must look back and confront some of his own demons.

I really enjoyed this as it gave Jesse a chance to become more than just the sullen teenager that he is for much of the original series. He’s changed by his captivity and it’s great to see him do more than get stoned and say “yo!” and “bitch“. We see a deeper character in this movie.

I also loved seeing so many of the old characters back for one more spin. Todd’s weight change and Joe’s rapid aging are a bit jarring but apart from that it’s believable. Mike was always one of my favourite characters from both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul but I absolutely loved Badger and Skinny this time around. They, Skinny in particular, proved themselves to be Jesse’s true friends.

This is a fitting end to Jesse’s story and a project worth doing. Felina was Walt’s final chapter and I’m glad Jesse got to finish his story too.

the winter king

The Winter King (The Warlord Chronicles #1) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

Uther, the High King, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos – threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade. As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the enemy at the gates, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere. Will the old-world magic of Merlin be enough to turn the tide of war in his favour?

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A very original take on the story of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s written as a retrospective from the point of view of Derfel, a young British orphan and eventual friend of Arthur, now in his latter years.

This is similar to the author’s Last Kingdom novels and the similarities don’t end there. In fact it took me a while to shake the feeling I was reading another chapter of Uhtred’s life.

Once over that this was a great read. There are a number of great characters and just enough of the Arthur legend to make it seem familiar. If this first book is a true reflection of the rest of the series then it should be a cracker!

Header image by Ricardo Esquivel from Pexels

new bike day

Yesterday evening I collected my new bike and had it fitted having handed over my old bike. Today I was off work and got to ride it for the first time. It was fantastic! There’s nothing quite like riding a brand new bike.

It’s an Orbea Avant M20 Team that comes with Shimano Ultegra disc brakes and 11 Speed groupset. I upgraded the wheels and went for the optional FSA Powerbox power meter.

This is a big upgrade for me and has some new tech for me to get used to. I’ve gone from an entry level aero styled carbon frame to something more mid-range but with endurance geometry that will better suit my riding style and preferences.

Disc brakes are a change I’ve been looking forward to for a while now but especially over the last couple of weeks as the weather turned wetter and I was riding every day. Lots of times I’ve yearned for the control and stopping power of disc vs rim brakes.

The Mavic Cosmic wheels are tubeless which is a change I was less sure about until experiencing the incredible comfort of them today. I was nervous about the ability to seal punctures and I’m still concerned how easy a roadside puncture repair will be but so far the feeling of them is winning out.

The final piece of tech is the power meter. Changing from riding by heart rate to riding by power will take a bit of getting used to. I did do a Zwift FTP Test back in April so I have some information to set training zones but I’ll have to complete a road test and do some more research before I really know what I’m doing and get a score that is up to date. For today I was pleased to see power data and pleasantly surprised to see my average power output.

© strava

To get a feel for the bike I kept my maiden spin to 50km, long enough to know how it feels and short enough in case anything feels off. Nothing did! It was pretty much perfect and such an enjoyable ride.

It’s wonderful to ride a brand new bike, everything just works perfectly and it’s so quiet. The change from 105 to Ultegra is really noticeable with smooth, sharp gear changes, 105 is good but Ultegra is great. The smooth, comfortable feel of the tubeless tyres combined with the improved shock absorption of the frame was amazing. Virtually no discomfort or numbness simply allowed me to enjoy the ride.

It’s a beautiful bike and a pleasure to ride. I’m looking forward to many more rides and testing it on some proper long distance endurance spins.

click the image to view on strava

bicycle evolution

I’ve been able to ride a bike since I was about 10 years old and I used to ride a bike to get to work and college until I got my driving licence and my first car. A bike back then was a way to get around and was soon ditched in favour of the car.

Living in England my bike was stolen from the back of the house but I was riding it so little (never!) that it was gone at least a week before I noticed! It wasn’t until we were married and back home in Ireland that I bought a replacement but I think I rode it less than 10 times in about 10 years.

In February 2013, at the end of 3 months of unemployment I going stir crazy and decided to give cycling a go. 4km on that cheap, heavy MTB nearly killed me and I still had to cycle back home! I kept cycling on a reasonably regular basis but the bike was holding me back. For my 40th birthday I traded in the Barracuda and upgraded to a pretty decent hybrid Carrera Crossfire 2 from Halfords.

I celebrated my birthday by cycling the Great Western Greenway from Achill to Westport.

I put in a lot of miles on that hybrid working my way up to 50km in one spin by the end of the Summer and finally 100km by the end of August 2014.

At this point I decided that I had reached the point where a road bike was the next obvious step and thanks to the Bike to Work scheme I was able to buy a Giant Defy 3 2014 aluminium frame road bike while still holding on to my hybrid for rougher stuff or cycling with the boys.

It was at this stage that I also joined the local cycling club Finn Wheelers which was probably the point where cycling became a permanent part of my life.

In 2016 bits were wearing out and I was easily convinced that a bike upgrade was more sensible than spending money replacing parts. I’d gotten to know the Halfords bike mechanic quite well and he sourced me a great bargain on an end of line carbon road bike with aero styling and a much improved Shimano 105 groupset. The brand was 13, an abandoned experiment by Halfords to create a new brand, and the model was an Intuition Beta.

I’ve had some fantastic times on this bike. Over 4 years I’ve ridden almost 13,000km, got into long distance Audax, completed the Four Provinces Challenge and cycled 210km in my longest spin. Unfortunately through 2019 and the start of 2020 my cycling dropped away considerably but this last month I’ve rediscovered my cycling mojo and enjoyed this bike to the fullest.

Today however, was my final, farewell ride. Tomorrow, I collect a new bike and trade in this one as part payment. Today was about enjoying that final spin and saying goodbye to my old friend.

click the image to view on strava

challenge complete ✅

Week 4 was the toughest week so far. Week 1 and Week 2 I was really lucky with dry and calm weather that made the early mornings a lot easier. Week 3 turned a bit nasty with Storm Ellen and some pretty damp days. Week 4 was worse! Storm Francis landed on Tuesday and 5 of the 7 days were wet, not just damp but wet. It was hateful.

Storm Francis was well predicted and although we missed the worst of it we were still under an orange warning for most of the day.

I didn’t intend to even try going out Tuesday morning as this was the worst of the rain and wind. I did waken as usual but the rain was battering off the roof. The rain continued for most of the day while I was at work and I’d pretty much decided I wasn’t going to be able to get out at all. Once home though I decided it was starting to fair up slightly and decided to give it a go. Even a short run would have been enough to keep my streak going. In the end the rain was constant but the wind was bearable coming from the South and I completed my normal 25km circuit. Riding in the storm felt almost as big an achievement as the mileage and streak challenge!

soaked but still smiling

Wednesday was my day off and I was able to coordinate my spin with a dry weather window. It was still pretty windy but this was expected. What I didn’t expect was the heavy downpour between Convoy and Kilross that left me soaked through and killed most of the fun of the ride.

© strava

Friday morning was the end of the 4th week and finally the end of the rain. It was such a relief and as the forecast was good for a few days I was feeling good again and ready to push on for the last few days.

My Saturday morning 25km took me past my first challenge marker of 1000km for the month finishing with 1007km.

© garmin

Sunday was the best spin of the whole month. It was a Club event and completed a full lap of the River Finn. It was to replace the Covid19 cancelled Lap The Lough and called Lap The Finn. It was a really good social day, my first Club spin since February and at 128km my longest spin since November 2018.

click the image to view on strava

Setting out on my final spin of the month on Monday morning I was really feeling the day before and regretting the extra 23km up and down from home, all the turns on the front plus the few sprints and hard pushes up hills. It was a really nice morning and a perfect spin to finish out the month but boy was I glad to see home 😆

© garmin

I’m really glad I started this challenge. It’s given me back my motivation to ride again as well as helping me to build my fitness to a level that I haven’t felt for a few years now. I have a new, longer term challenge in mind but I’ll post more details on that over the next week or so.

Yesterday was a planned rest day. Today was forced rest as we’re back under a yellow weather warning again so I made myself feel better by going bike shopping. I’ve a deal done on a fantastic upgrade but until the Bike to Work paperwork is sorted I don’t want to jinx it by posting photos. Watch this space……