Archive for November, 2012

OK, this is a BIG question… and bigger if you’re not a particularly good mechanic!

My feeling is there is room to have a good relationship with a LBS and take advantage of savings online; especially when it comes to junior cycling.  I say that because of the peculiarities with junior cycling; with the restricted gears, small saddles, narrow handlebars, short cranks, small frames… things that LBSs don’t tend to stock and often don’t even know where to get.

Wiggle, eBay, ProBikeKit, Competitive Cyclist, Velodrome Shop… the list of online cycling retailers goes on… always look for the sales!

I think it is ideal to establish a relationship with a LBS.  Maybe the one closest to your home or your office, or one you’ve been referred to.  Bring your child in and explain that they are racing and would love advice.  See if you can get the LBS to buy into the development of your kid.  Even buy one of their kits and offer for your kid to wear it if they’d like to pay for registration… a sort of beginning sponsorship, but at vary little cost to the shop (at least for now!).

Build the relationship.  Buy your medium sized items from the shop.  Also buy cheaper disposables like tubes (by the time you pay for shipping there’s usually not much in the price of a tube!).  Save online for the unmissable bargains; the frame sets, wheel sets, pedals, computers, etc and for the overprices local items like tyres and shoes. You have to own up to maybe 30% of your online sales, the rest, you attribute to being from other parents, the club, etc.  Oh, never buy a a helmet on an overseas site… it doesn’t come with Australian standards stickers…  you’ll only make that mistake once!

Try and find a shop with a knowledgeable proprietor who buys into your child’s development.

I’ve had a long relationship with my LBS.  I reckon I’ve bought six bikes off them (often end of season run outs) and referred at least another six.  My wife tells me there is always something on the credit card statement each month from them (and that doesn’t count the cash purchases!).  For this loyalty, he services all my, and my son’s, bikes for free; provides bike-fit (and with a growing kid this is pretty regular); and gives me a flat 20% off everything I buy.  I think its a beautiful relationship that works both ways but you need two people prepared to make it work.

You can’t take-take-take.  You need to recognise that your LBS is probably not a big business and the margins on bikes, components and accessories are ever shrinking.  You need to be active in recommending your friends and family to the shop, knowing they’ll be looked after, and you need to give them enough business to keep them sweet.

Another good way to build the relationship is to provide them with regular updates on your child’s results and sending in photos of their kit in action.  Get your child to do a monthly report for the proprietor – this is excellent training for them in the use of technology and how to service their sponsor.

At the end of the day, if you pick a frame set on Wiggle, a wheel set on eBay and crankset from a mate, you still need all the other bits and pieces and you need someone skilled at putting it all together.  Be honest (to a degree) give them advance notice that you heard of this small frame set that so-and-so bought for their wife and they’re trying to get rid of because is was too small (or some story); ask the LBS what they think it might be worth if you could buy it?  Then, when you turn up with it (and the other gear) it isn’t a surprise, and you’ll find they are only too happy to pick up the sale of the remaining components and put it together for you.

I’ve got say I’ve been amazed at the sort of traffic this humble blog has been experiencing.  In just a few weeks it has had over 1500 views!  I far from know it all so would encourage more comments and ideas and opinions.  If you’ve got any topics you’d like me to have a crack at, please let me know.  Thanks for the support so far… 

We all want the best for our kids.  We all want them to become to the best cyclist they can be.  We enjoy seeing them compete and do well and we love seeing them win.  This is cycling, so they lose a whole lot more than they win – but that’s what I think is one of the best things about this sport!  It teaches them to become good  looses.

So, when is the best time for your kid to get a coach?

It was a question I struggled with for some time.  It is especially relevant if your club doesn’t have an effective junior coaching program.  If it does, I think the ideal pathway is to stay coached under your club’s structure for as long as possible.  If it doesn’t, you, the parent, either needs to step up, or you need to find a coach or program that suits your child.

The first chance a junior has to make state representation is under-15 track nationals.  For most, depending on the talent and level of development of the kid and the depth in the age category in your state, this won’t be a realistic chance till second-year under-15.  So… my thinking is to start them being coached with this in mind… start them off sometime into their first-year under-15 racing.

If your child is a late developer, it might even be better to hold off for longer than this as no matter how much work a coach does with an under-developed junior athlete, they are not going to be competitive with a junior whose hormones are racing ahead!  This is hard for some kids to accept, but is a simple fact of life.

Once you’ve worked out the timing, how do you select a coach?  This is a very important decision.  It’s not difficult to become a coach.  A one-day ‘CycleSkill’ course, then a two-day Level 1 coaching course and you’re qualified.  For this reason, I think you need to be especially careful when making your choice and don’t go with the first ‘coach’ that shows interest.

Australian sprint coach, Gary West, is one of only a handful of level 3 coaches in Australia – you ideally want to find a level 2 coach for your child!

I think it is important for a coach to have cycling experience at the highest level possible.  That’s not to say, someone dedicated to coaching can’t become a great coach, but cycling is such a tough, complex and unique sport that if a coach has been there and done it, I think it places them in a better position to be able to teach it.

These are some of the things you should look for when choosing a coach:

  1. Are their athletes performing?  This doesn’t necessarily mean winning, but are the kids they coach improving?  Are they moving onto the development pathway or have they made their reputation off one or two outstanding athletes?
  2. Do you and your child feel a connection to them?
  3. Do you share their coaching philosophy?  Ask them what it is.
  4. Do you feel they will give your child individual attention or do they just offer a ‘one program fits all’ type service?  BTW, this might be all your child needs initially and will no doubt be more affordable.
  5. Do they have a handle on sports science?  A lot of old school coaches don’t make the most of todays technology and training theories.
  6. Does their training take place in a convenient location?  Last thing you want to be doing is driving for hours to get to the start of an early morning training ride!
  7. Ask around – both parents with kids with them and try and find parents who’ve maybe moved kids away from them.
  8. How much they charge?  You generally pay a monthly program fee (somewhere between $50 and $150 per month – depending on the reputation of the coach and how much time they spend on your program).  There are often charges on top of this for one-on-one rides, testing, velodrome hire, etc. so be sure about what you’re signing up for.

When you finally make a decision, I think its a good idea to agree to a ‘trial period’ with a coach.  Maybe three-months, and then reassess how things are going.  By doing this upfront it makes it easy to move on if you feel the fit isn’t right.  Whatever you do, don’t stay with a coach when it isn’t working for whatever reason (personality, program or you just don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth).

There are often coaches that offer group sessions.  This is especially true for track.  Some coaches may have regular bookings and you can contact them to join in.  This might cost $15-$20 per session, which is the only fee you pay.  Also keep your eye out for camps and holiday programs that your state federation or clubs might run.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you chose your coach and any advice you can offer…

All for now


Junior Records

Posted: November 21, 2012 in Opinion

Unlike other junior sports, it is nigh on impossible to work out what a lot of the underage junior records are in cycling.  Not only that, but different states feature different distances for junior championships – even on the track!?!  It’s a real shame that, from what I can find, no state federation has up-to-date junior records.  Neither does CA have any records for the younger categories and only has limited records for the under-15 and under-17 categories from National Championships.

Championship winners from last years Junior Track Nationals… but where are the records for the under-11s and under-13s?

Someone needs to take on the roll of archiver in each state to collate results and clarify records.  CA (via its Track Commission) also needs to mandate state junior championship events and distances so we can start have some uniformity.  It’s not rocket science!

Why are records so important?  It allows kids (and the parents) to see how they’re going; see where they fit in on a state and national level and compare themselves with great riders past.  They act as a motivation and as a measuring stick.  It also allows the sport to measure its health and identify potential champions at an earlier age.

CA has come from the dark ages when it comes to servicing its members.  It has failed miserably with its attempts to update entry and other member services through its deal with IMG (the new entry system, that VIC, NSW and TAS still won’t use because of the inflated fees and lack of functionality).  It needs to allocate resources, and assist its State Federations, to archive their records.

It also needs to continually improve its junior pathway – especially for the younger juniors.  Again, learn lessons from other sports that identify kids as young as 8 or 9 and let them know they’re on the radar.  In cycling, you’re lucky if you’re identified as a second-year under-15 rider (so at 13 or 14) – up until then it is unlikely that anybody from cycling has said anything to you.  And unfortunately it is unlikely that anyone in cycling has even heard of you even if you’re winning races!

Young juniors need records not rabbit suits to motivate them and to give them, and their parents, a way of comparing with champions past.

Track and road don’t have to look far to learn about how to manage junior racing.  BMX has state, national and even world championships for riders as young as 6!  I’m not suggesting that needs to happen for track/road, but there does need to be better structured pathways for young kids, as well as recognition when they’re going well.  It doesn’t need to be much, just someone official coming up and saying, ‘we’re keeping our eye on you… keep working hard.’  That would mean the world to the kid, and keep the parents motivated to keep driving them around and paying for gear and race entries.

Come on CA and the state federations… I reckon you could even get a volunteer into to do the archiving!

This is a hot topic in the pits and in the stands around junior racing at the moment. CA mandated a change to under-17 rollout (or gear size – equating to one full rotation of the cranks), increasing it from 6.5m to 7m (see their formal announcement here) from 1st October this year. To paraphrase, their simple argument is based around the jump between under-15 (6m) and under-17 (6.5m) being small and the jump between under-17 and under-19 (7.93m) being large. Nothing about the physiological development of kids and what age this happens.

They provide some rationale and background to why we have gear restrictions (pulled straight from the CA announcement document):

  • To ensure a fair and equal competitive basis for all involved
  • To limit the competitive advantage of athletes who mature early
  • To increase the relative importance and thereby development of racing tactics
  • To encourage development of technique and ability to produce power at high cadence
  • To reduce the risk of overuse injuries

I argue that the change to a 7m gear for under-17 riders goes against every one of the above rationale! A first-year under-17 rider, who could be as young as 14-years-old if born in the backend of the year, has to compete with a much more developed 16yo who now has the added advantage of being able to push this huge gear. The 14yo might decide to try and push the big gear and risk injury, more likely he or she will be so frustrated with no longer being competitive that they quit the sport.

Kids come in all shapes and sizes and develop at different rates, increasing the under-17 gear just gives the bigger, stronger kids an extra advantage they didn’t need.

There was nothing wrong with the old restrictions – why try and fix it? Our junior world’s teams (under-19) have dominated for many years (because of the old gearing restrictions). Our under-17 racing was the closest racing in the world (because of the old restrictions). Our conversion from good junior to successful elite athlete was the envy of all (because of the restrictions).

It was the coaches of the top 2% of athletes who made all the noise and led the call for the change (and the weak hierarchy at CA who caved in), and really for what benefit. Those same coaches train their top-2% under-17 athletes on gears way bigger than the new 7m rollout. Surely, making them spin when they race provides all the benefits of the above rationale… it makes them better racers, not prematurely muscled – and it keeps things more even for the those less developed athletes.

The other unfortunate side-effect of this, is all the under-17 junior records are now effectively irrelevant. Juniors con no longer compare their times and performances against the likes of Stuart O’Grady and Michael Rogers… or even Cam Meyer or Jack Bobridge… or the sprinters against Perko or Anna Meares… who all raced on the old gears.

IMO, the decision marked a sad day in the sport. It seemed to be rushed through by a handful of individuals being cheered along by some elite coaches and pushy parents. Bring back the old restrictions ASAP.

At the heart of each track season is the Christmas Carnivals.  In Tassie, they’ve been going for 120-years and for much of that time they represented the pinnacle of track cycling in terms of depth of fields and value of prize money.  Victoria and NSW also have their carnivals, all of which offer great racing for junior cyclists.

In many respects the Chrissy Carnivals are the antithesis of the National Junior Track Series (NJTS), which is held on the five indoor velodromes around Australia.  The Carnivals are generally held on regional outdoor tracks and mix junior and senior racing along with running and wood-chopping (yes, the axe men take centre stage during the carnival as well).  There are hot dog trucks, rides and jumping castles for the little kids and even musical entertainment at some.

IMO, the Tassie Carnivals offer a terrific experience for junior mainland riders.  It’s definitely worth the trip, but if you’re just going for the racing be prepared for five long-days (with a day’s break for NY eve).  Latrobe and Lonny offer good junior programs.  For the past couple of years Latrobe has offered two junior races early in the program – a scratch race and a wheel race (there’s qualifying for under-17s but straight finals for the under-13s and under-15s).  I’d love to see a third race on the program for the younger riders.  Perhaps they could offer an early handicap for the under-13/15s, in lieu of under-17 heats, and then the wheel race final about an hour into the program.  This would give the junior handicapper the opportunity to ‘tweak’ the marks as this is the first carnival and he won’t have seen a lot of the mainland riders.  Three races also makes the trip more worthwhile.

The Latrobe track and old grand stands – lots of history here!

Launceston is next up, held in the Silverdome, the first indoor velodrome built in Australia, in 1984.  The place really rocks with a full house for the evening session.  For the juniors, they get three races during the afternoon and then have their wheelrace final as part of the main evening program.  Prize money is good and while the races are just two scratchies and two handicaps (rather than mixing it up a bit), at least they’re getting four races.  They also get to share the pits with big names.  Over recent years the likes of Shane Perkins, Glenn O’Shea and Matt Goss have raced there along with a steady stream of international six-day racers.

A crash in a junior wheelrace final at Launceston last year made for a spectacular finish!

The next two days are the Devonport Carnival.  My recommendation would be if you want to take a bit of holiday, skip Devonport and look around, as it doesn’t cater very well to the juniors.  Each day offers only two junior races with a huge gap between them.  It’s a shame, because they have the opportunity to really offer good junior racing, but the organisers seem to take the previous years program and repeat it – something they’ve been doing for probably 100-years!

After a break for New Year’s eve, it all climaxes at Burnie.  A terrific seaside track where the wind usually plays a part.  Traditionally there are three junior races here – one scratch race, a 2-lap handicap and a 3-lap wheel race.  There is an extra qualifying heat for the under-17s again. While there is some gap between the races, it has the best ‘carnival’ atmosphere of the series with lots of food options and rides.  There’s also plenty of good senior racing to keep you entertained.

Racing by the sea! The wind definitely effects the shorter handicaps, its especially hard for the back-markers who must start into the prevailing wind.

If you are heading down, Launceston is a good place to base yourself – while not as central as Devonport or Ulverstone it’s a bigger city with more on offer; and make sure you bring your roadie as there are rides that leave the church carpark in Margaret St (betweek York & fredrick Sts) at 6am, 7am and 8am for a ride down the scenic West Tamar and Rosevears and everybody’s welcome!

In fact, Northern Tasmania arguably has the strongest cycling culture of anywhere in Australia; look at the current list of pros that stem from those parts: Matt Goss, Richie Porte, Will Clarke, the Sulzberger bothers, Cameron Wurf, Belinda Goss and Amy Cure to name a few.  Throw in emerging riders like Campbell Flakemore (although he’s from the South), Alex Clements, Ben Grenda, Lauren Perry, Macey Stewart, Peter Loft and Luke Ockerby and there must be something in the water down there.

Do yourself a favour and book your car on the boat now – with the bikes on the roof for a week to remember.  Latrobe starts on the 27th December, Launceston is on the 28th, Devonport on the 29th and 30th, then Burnie is on the 1st of January.  Check out the carnival website for a little more info and you now enter online via Cycling Tasmania.

This blog is intended for the beginning cycling parent and one of the things that will become a mainstay is your child’s cycling bag.  The bag they take to events thats holds everything from spare tubes to Opsite to end caps to basic tools.  This list probably isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start for what you need.  Let’s base it on track season, as there are some differences for what you need for track as against road.

  • Spare tubes (x2)
  • Basic tool kit (allen keys, wheel/pedal spanner, shifter) – won’t mention chainwips etc. here, will save for another post.
  • Insect repellent, sunscreen, lip balm, deodorant
  • Basic medical: Opsite + padding, bandaids, Panadol
  • Chamois Cream
  • Spare bar end plugs – no end plug, no race!
  • A towel – for rain or for sweat!
  • A couple of cloths/rags
  • Spare cleats (this is important and often forgotten)
  • A photocopy of your child’s license – I actually ‘accidentally’ lose my son’s license early in the year and get another one issued for a small fee. That way, he carries one and I have a spare in my wallet for emergencies.
  • Spare pins – for putting on numbers
  • Sandpaper – for bedding in new (or old shiny) tyres
  • Spare kit (jersey/knicks) – in case there is a fall and kit gets ripped.
  • Spare wheels – not essential, but I’ve seen lots of crashes where one of the two wheels are destroyed so if you’ve got a racing set and spare set, is good to take with you.  I’ve found you can usually borrow a wheel to keep racing if needed.
  • Definitely spare sox – because kids are forgetful
  • Empty bidon (waterbottle)  – for when they forget a full on!
  • Bonk Breakers – bars and other long-life food stuffs that they can eat when starving

As I say, this list probably isn’t exhaustive, but a good start.  When your child enters under-15 or under-17s it is likely they’ll want to play around with different gearing on club nights.  I’ve got to say I’m against the implementation of the new increased limits of under-17 riders for this year.  The rationale behind it was that we were falling behind the rest of the world (who are allowed higher gears for junior athletes).  Not sure how this could be justified seeing as we’ve won the most medals at the last four junior world’s?  Plus, internationally, the age categories they’re comparing us with, equates to second-year under-17s (their under-18s), not first-year riders who could be as young as 14 being asked to push a 90-inch gear!  Any how, will save that rant for another post also.

In terms of what sort of bag.  Something on wheels is good.  Something big enough.  A lot of people use a large carry-on style bag with wheels and a pop-up handle; others use a kind of large toolbox – again on wheels and with a handle; and some people just use large backpacks or other generic bags.  Something that can separate your shoes and protect your helmet also has its advantages.

If you’ve got any ideas for posts, please let me know.

Handling Handicaps

Posted: November 9, 2012 in Tips & Hints

It’s track season in Australia and handicaps, or Wheelraces, are a mainstay of the Australian track season. Each state has a junior handicapper and some work harder than others. In this time of online results, there really shouldn’t be an excuse for the handicapper not to get it pretty right.  I actually think that each state federation should in fact send all handicappers (senior and junior) ALL the results from their races.

In Victoria, the junior handicapper put out early season marks and called for comments.  Not sure how many he got, but the first handicaps for the season ran pretty well and were close to the mark (pardon the pun).  Junior handicappers, if they have a query regarding a visiting interstate rider, should be easily able to contact other state junior handicappers asking for advice.  In my experience, I’m not sure how often this happens.

At the end of the day, especially when you’re starting out, sometimes you’re going to get a good mark and sometimes you don’t.  In many respects you just have to cop it.  If the junior handicapper is present, then by all means introduce yourself and mention that perhaps your son or daughter’s mark is harsh.  But a warning here: don’t yell, scream or carry on with the handicapper.  They are a volunteer and are doing the best they can.  It’s not an exact science and that’s part of the beauty of the Wheelrace.

Often it’s best to have a word or send an email after the carnival or event with results demonstrating your child’s mark was wrong. But again, do it in a composed way, sympathising with the toughness of the handicappers job.

In my experience the other keys to handicaps:


  1. Give your kid a BIG push!  If you can’t, find someone who can.  You’re allowed to push, so use it to your advantage and make sure they get the biggest push they can.  A good push saves precious energy and moves them into the slipstream of the riders in front more efficiently and makes the riders behind have to chase harder.
  2. Know when to save your effort and know when to push past.  A handicap can be broken down simply: go hard for the first lap and make those behind you have to chase; try and get a sit for the middle laps; then go like the clappers for the last lap or so.  Simplistic, but at least it gives you a tactic to try.
  3. Further to the above, I’ve seen many back-markers relax just as they catch the mid-markers with the front-markers in sight, only for them to lose the momentum, and the race.  If you’re a back-marker, you can’t afford to relax and lose your momentum, you need to go around the mid-markers and keep going!
  4. Oh, and lastly, if your child is sharing a mark with someone, and you’re lined up next to each other, make sure you follow-through up the track, not down the track into the path of cyclists coming behind you!!!!! Very embarrassing!

So, get onto the track.  I know Brunswick is starting its junior clinic this weekend.  If your child hasn’t tried track, this the ideal way to start. Check out the Brunswick Cycling Club website for more details.

Also, check out your State Federation website for the Track Calendar.  Also check out your local club sites for weekly club racing.