Monday, 31 August 2009

MTB trip - Corrour to Spean Bridge

'A wee jaunt' I think I called it. Little did I know.

Donald and I (check his blog out, it's in Gaelic and he's just blogged about the same trip!) took the train from Spean Bridge to Corrour station, the most remote mainline station in the UK. Our route was to take us back to Spean Bridge via Loch Treig and the Lairig Leacach, stopping off at the bothy along the way.

A stern warning from Network Rail........

... Unfortunately Donald forgot his glasses

Corrour Station

The first few miles were great, a touch boggy at the start but this soon gave way to a good track leading to the lodge at the head of Loch Treig.

Creag Uaineach Lodge (Loch Treig)

After that...... boggy! For the next few miles it was matter of pushing the bikes through bogs. The views were cracking though. Well worth all the effort we were having to make.

Heading towards Lairig Leacach

After a couple of hours of swearing and slogging we reached the bothy in the Lairig Leacach. It's a great wee spot with views across to the Sgurr Innse, the bothy itself is pretty good and has a decent sleeping platform, one to be revisited at a later date I think. Luckily the path is in great nick from here back to Spean Bridge, a short wee uphill section was followed by a great sweeping downhill run pretty much right the way back into Spean Bridge. I think my bike may be in need of a service after all that though, it was making a few distressing noises by the time I got it back to the car.

The last stop before the dowhill run to Spean Bridge

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dave Gorman - cycling the four Corners

The comedian Dave Gorman will this morning be setting off on his challenge to cycle to all 'four corners' of the UK AND do a gig on each night:

"I'm cycling between Britain's four corners. From the southernmost point of the mainland to the easternmost to the westernmost to the northernmost. If that wasn't hard enough I'm going to be doing a full on one man show each night. I can't help thinking that after 50 or 60 miles in the saddle I should be lying down in a darkened room with a drip feed of carbs and protein."

It's great to see people coming up with different ideas for cycle trips (or challenges!) and whilst part of me thinks 'bugger, by the time I set off in May everyone will be sick of hearing about them' , I reckon that this can only be a good thing for cycling and will encourage more people to get on their bikes.

I sent him a message asking him to let me know if he fancies any company between the Fort Augustus and Inverness leg of his trip. Hopefully he'll use the south road on Loch Ness rather than cycling up the A82 - he'd be taking his life into his hands!

Sod all training for me this week, a combination of laziness and crap weather has meant that I've really done very little. I'm hoping to make amends for this today with a wee jaunt on the Mountain bike between Corrour and Spean Bridge.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A new milestone!

Just a quick post before bed.

I took the 0900 train from Inverness to Strathcarron yesterday morning with the intention of cycling back home to Inverness. It was to be my longest trip on the bike totaling 60 miles. A flurry of texts on Friday night managed to persuade my workmate Ben to come along (although to be fair he didn't need much persuading, he's very keen!) for what promised to be a clear day with a stiff tailwind to help us along.

As promised the weather was good and the tailwind did it's best to make life as easy as possible, the odd impatient motorist tried to put a dampener on things by driving too close or beeping at us for having the audacity to cycle side by side... For the record we were on a mile long straight with no traffic coming towards us and visibility was good, the Highway code states that it's safe to cycle side by side 'when it's safe to do so'...

Ben is a lot fitter and lighter than me and when it came to going uphill would leave me behind, this was a bit frustrating but just makes me more motivated to train and lose weight. I don't find that the hills are particularly harder it's just that I've just got more weight to get up them! The one benefit of having to spin at a lower speed was the fact that I was able to take the time to admire the scenery. I feel privileged to live in the Highlands of Scotland and yesterday was definitely one of those days. On the pull away from Achnasheen I was lucky enough to spot a Golden Eagle making its way towards the Fannaichs. I'm not so sure that Ben was particularly impressed with my poo identification skills when I spotted what looked like fox poo beside the wall at one of our rest stops. If I call correctly the response was "well.. thats very interesting.." followed by a strange look!

The whole trip took three and a half hours and an average speed of 17.7 miles, much faster than I expected us to take. Not only was it the furthest I'd cycled in one trip but it was my first coast to coast, starting at the sea loch of Loch Carron and finishing up in Inverness on the Moray Firth!

Hopefully I can start to build on this, my total mileage on the bike for last week was 94 miles, if I can increase this to about 100 miles on a regular basis then I'll be very happy indeed. I need to up the miles on the longer weekend trips as the Ullapool Mor sportive is in 4 weeks time and as it stands I am nowhere near fit enough to complete it!

Oidhche Mhath,


Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Halfords..... the nightmare..

Boardman Team Comp - great bike, awful distributor

Avoid. Avoid at all costs. Do not under any circumstances shop with these people!

I've mentioned in previous posts that I've had issues with the bike I'm using for training for next years trip. It's a bit of a saga but bear with me!

Back in January my employers decided to introduce the cycle to work scheme, unfortunately the scheme they went for meant that we could only use Halfords and not our Local Bike Shops. Halfords have a reputation for poor service and in particular the Bike Hut side of their affairs is treated with derision by most cyclists. Boardman bikes are only supplied via Halfords but they have been getting great reviews in the cycling press. After many hours poring over reviews online and magazines I decided to go for the Boardman Team Carbon (details in the review link).

The first visit to the shop ended up with me sending this email to Halfords customer service:

To whom it may concern,
'd like to inform you of a rather poor experience I had in your Longman road store in Inverness on Saturday 3rdJanuary.

My company will be using Halfords for the Cycle2Work scheme and being a keen road biker I am very interested in signing up for the scheme and had gone along to the store to make enquiries about what bikes you stock.

As I was waiting to be served I noted that the service that the gentleman in front of me was very poor. He'd come in to get a bike for his son (who was with him) and had picked one out for him. At no point did the Customer Service assistant make sure that the bike was the right frame size for the boy, the bike was not checked to make sure that it was road-worthy and the customer had to point out that the tyres needed inflated. During the sale of the bike the Assistant proceeded to make derogatory comments about a customer he'd been dealing with earlier on in the day. Apparently she had complained that she's had to wait for over 3 weeks to get her bike serviced. This led to a diatribe about how impatient women were and he claimed that he'd told her all along that he had no intention of the servicing the bike till January. Sharing this information with other customers is completely unprofessional!

The quality of service was poor and unprofessional, I'm very concerned that a child was allowed to leave the shop with a bike that hadn't been properly checked or sized up. I'm concerned that a member staff thinks that it is appropriate to talk about other customers in such a manner and I also found his attitude to be rude and dismissive when I had cause to talk to him about the Cycle 2 Work scheme. He wouldn't entertain the fact that I may want to try any other bikes other than the Boardman road bikes and said that it wasn't worth my while checking out any other brand. He seemed to be utterly oblivious to the fact that getting a bike (especially one that I hope to use for Sportives as well cycling to work) involves trying out different makes and models to make sure that the right 'fit' is made.

So that was the first visit to Halfords. I eventually got the bike (after emails from the customer service department advising it had been looked in to and sorted) and after a week or so had to send this email:

Thanks for your initial reply and during my follow up visit to the shop things seemed to have improved and I ended up buying the Boardman Team Carbon midway through February.

However when I recieved the bike it hadn't been set up correctly. The front brakes were not properly set - the brake block was loose on one side (I could spin it with my finger) and on the other side the caliper seemed to have been set so that the block was continuously rubbing on the wheel. The indexing was not brilliant and it wouldn't shift up the gears particularly smoothly. The seat post had been secured so tightly that when I went to adjust it to fit me properly I thought I was about to snap the bolt due to the amount of pressure I had to use on the allen key to loosen it.

Due to the snow I wasn't able to get out on the bike for any length of time but I finally managed to get out last week. During the trip I noticed that the chain seemed to rubbing against the front derailleur and this was a cause of some concern as I didn't want the chain or the front mech to be damaged. This got worse as the day went on before I decided to return home early as I couldn't fix it on the road.

I took the bike to the Halfords store in Stirling on Saturday as I was supposed to be using it while I was down visiting friends. We weren't able to stop the chain from rubbing so I popped in to see if the staff in Halfords could help. Once the customer advisor had it in the workshop she advised that she had found the following problems:

- The front brakes were not straight (this is after me trying to sort them)
- The Bottom bracket had not been properly greased
- The Front Derailleur had been positioned too low and this was why the chain was rubbing.
- The gear cables hadn't been properly greased.

When they tried to change the height of the front derailleur they found that the bolt had been stripped and they will have to replace the whole front mech. If the person who had fitted it had tightened so much that the bolts had been stripped then I have to worry if there's any damage been done to the Carbon frame.

The Halfords store offered to replace the front derailleur and to strip the bike down and properly set it up again which I am happy for them to do. The part will take a week to order. However this means I'm without the bike for a week when I should be training for Sportives and I'll have to go back to Stirling to pick it up next week. I had no faith that the Inverness store would be able to do the a good job of it, so I would rather spend the £40 in petrol in driving to Stirling and back next week if it means I'll get the bike back in proper working order.

I have to say that I've been left feeling very angry by the whole episode. The process of buying the bike was difficult and the staff unhelpful and I've now got a bike that hasn't been set up properly and needs to be repaired before I've even had a chance to get a decent ride on it.


I got another email from the customer services dept assuring me that it was being looked at and I eventually recieved a phone call from the store manager explaining that he had recently taken it over and was working on sorting out the customer service.... until:

To whom it may Concern,

As you can see below I had ongoing problems with the Halfords store in Inverness at the start of the year in regards to a bike I had purchased on the bike to work scheme. The manager had contacted me and assured me that these issues were being attended to.

Last Friday (10th July) I had to return to the store with another issue with the bike. In short one of the pedals had come off and the threads were stripped in the hole on the crank. This means that the whole chainset will need to be replaced. I can only presume that this was caused by the pedals being put in with either no grease or incorrectly fitted. I was advised by a staff member called Michael that he would order a replacement part for me and would contact me by phone to let me know when it when it was in stock. I’d then be able to take the bike in to have it fitted. He couldn’t tell me when it would arrive though but assured me that he’d phone me ‘next week’.

After hearing nothing further from the store and getting no response to any phone calls I decided to visit the store yesterday to find out what was happening. I was told by the mechanic that he didn’t know anything about it and asked me to leave my name and number and they’d get back to me. I politely declined and asked whether it would be possible to speak to the manager so that this could be cleared up. He called for the manager to come upstairs to BikeHut and advised that he’d be up shortly. After waiting a further 10 minutes I asked the mechanic whether the manager was coming and was told that he was downstairs dealing with some other customers. I’d actually spotted the manager when he’d been called and he had not been dealing with anyone at that point. He’s obviously chosen to help people choose a sat nav system instead, a job that I would guess any other member of staff could do. After waiting a further five minutes I decided to leave as I had to get back to work.

I tried to phone again today to get this resolved and got put through to Bikehut but again got no answer.

I’m afraid to say that I’ve had enough of Halfords consistently poor standard of service in Inverness. There has been absolutely no improvement in service standards that I can see and I feel that the staff in the shop have absolutely no interest in the needs of the customer. Responses to queries are cursory at best and rude at worst.

This matter now needs to be resolved in a timely fashion, I have had the bike for 6 months and in this time it has been unusable for almost a full month. I would like a guarantee that the bike will be fixed with the next 7 - 10 days and assurances that the shocking service in this shop will be looked at seriously. I am incredibly angry with the way I have been treated and would appreciate it if someone from Head Office or an area manager contacts me as soon as possible.

and then....

I have now been in contact with manager at Halfords Inverness. He has assured me that they will do their best to have the repair carried out this week.

However it was explained to me that legally they have between 4 and 6 weeks to carry out any repairs, whilst I understand that from a legal standpoint this is acceptable, in regards to customer service this is in my opinion very poor. This was not explained to me when I ordered the part on July 10th. I was told by Michael at hat he would contact me during the week to let me know when it would arrive. This did not happen. It wasn’t after 4 calls to the customer service department, one email, a visit to the store and numerous phone calls that I finally got a phone call from him. This was only in response to a call from customer services. When Michael phoned this afternoon he was rude and dismissive and seemed to think it was acceptable to give an answer of ‘it will turn up when it turns up’ when I asked when I could expect the part to be delivered.

Once the warranty repair has been carried out I will no longer be shopping at Halfords, I am also requesting that the bike to work scheme with Halfords is discontinued and that we use an alternative scheme using local bike shops. I will be undertaking a charity ride next year and I will be publicizing the fact that my training was hampered by the poor service I received from Halfords. This will be published on my website, blog and in the local and national press. I was willing to hold off on this but I am not satisfied that Halfords have taken my problems seriously. The lack of communication and the fact that I have had to chase this at every stage to even begin to get any kind of answer shows a serious lack of regard to good customer service by Halfords.

It has taken 17 days for Halfords to give me any kind of response in regards to my initial query. This is simply not acceptable. It should also be noted that my last email query sent on the 17th was not responded to within the time quoted on the email.

It eventually got sorted just in time for me to go on holiday.

The final email from Halfords went as follows:

Thank you for your email.

Your comments have been passed on to the Area Manager to take up with the Store. However,
this is a confidential process and you would not be informed of the outcome.

Please accept my apologies, once again, for the inconvenience caused.

Kind Regards,
Margaret Davidson
Halfords Customer Services

I've had enough now and I'm just happy to have it sorted. Although I did take it to Alpine Bikes to for them to check it. Guess what? They found some issues! The crank hadn't been properly tightened and they'd moved the front mech so that it was just rubbing against the top of the cog. Luckily the guys at Alpine Bikes sorted it for free! Great guys.

Halfords? Never again. Ever.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Cycle around England...

.....well the south coast..

I've managed a couple of trips over the last week from Paignton, both contrasting in the amount of sheer effort and will power used to get from point A to point B (via A1 - the ice cream parlour in Dawlish!).

The first was a 50 mile round trip out of Paignton and along the coast through Torquay, Teignmouth, Dawlish, Starcross and back via Newton Abbott. Blazing sunshine and hideous traffic was the main theme for the day closely followed by endless bloody hills! The south coast along Lyme Bay is lumpy to say the least and the roads helpfully take the most direct route rather than the easiest... this meant the delight at finding a fast downhill was immediately followed by a sinking feeling as the road promptly started to wind its way back uphill again. Usually I love fast twisty downhils runs, the hiss of the wheels on the tarmac and the whistling of the wind past my ears is music only ever bettered by the singing of the birds (or whatever is on the iPod at the time - I can recommend the new Oceanlab album). However by mile ten I had quickly figured out that the fast spin downhill would be quickly followed by a long haul back uphill, so any 'downtime' was viewed with suspicion and the expectation of pain to come.

A puncture just outside of Dawlish forced me to stop and replace the inner tube. Grappling with cheap and nasty tire leavers (the type with extra flex making it impossible to get them firmly under the beads of the tire without popping back out!) it took me the best part of half an hour to get the tyre off and the tube changed. All the time being heckled by 5 year old passers by.. 'look mummy that man has broken his bike' 'look mummy that mans bike is upside down' 'look mummy that man is wearing infeasibly tight lycra...' . I may have made one of those up!

I finished the route at Starcross where I stopped to take in the views across the Exe Estuary and Exmouth. The return route took me back through Teignmouth and then up the Teign river to Newton Abbott - a ferocious final hill almost finished me off. Good wide roads and cycle paths to put Highland Council to shame, got me back to Paignton in time for tea.

Yesterday's trip had the same midpoint as the route I took on the road bike. This was a slightly more leisurely 20 mile trip down the canal path from Exeter to Dawlish and bike. I hired a couple of bikes for my wife and I from the bike shop on the quayside. We just took our time following the canal down to the point where it spills out on to the Estuary. Sometimes it's nice to get away from the traffic and pootle along on something with a comfy seat and suspension!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Devon, Dartmoor and Cream Tea's!

Dartmoor Haytor Rocks (Hay Tor)

I've buggered off on holiday for a well deserved ((cough)) break.

The odd bit of bouldering, tor-bagging and spot of Shakespeare in the grounds of Cockington court has been the order of the week so far. I've taken the bike with me and I've managed to find a couple of steep hills to train on. They're fairly short but steep enough to make my legs feel like jelly! All good stuff and now that I'm getting out on a daily basis I'm seeing rapid improvements on my fitness.

Bouldering on Sheeps Tor - Dartmoor

Dartmoor Ponies

Illyria performing 'A Midsummer Nights Dream' at Cockington Court, Torbay