Still biking? Definitely…

“Still biking Grant?” is a question I’ve been asked many times throughout my life, by friends or different people that I’ve met along the way. Riding a bike has been such a big part of what I do, it’s hard to imagine it not being the case. I think it’s the momentum, freedom and just being outside, that I love so much

The Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra – Q&A with Chris Beattie


Some of the most enjoyable cycling I do, is inspired by people who challenge themselves to ride what seem huge distances, cycle across mountain ranges, or both! This may take place in the form of an event, or solo ride.

Learning about such accomplishments has certainly encouraged both myself and partner Emma, to increase the distance of our rides, or add extra climbs, Cols, or Passos when cycling in the hills or mountains.

I came to know of Chris Beattie, through his role as an ambassador for Q36.5, who produce high performance cycling clothing. Whilst learning about their products, I was also able to gain an insight into Chris’s cycling exploits, which range from riding fast time trials, placing high in various Gran Fondos and more.

On reading that Chris was racing in the 2017 Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra, I was keen to find out about his experience, and was really pleased when he agreed to a Q&A. 

The Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra is an event in which either solo riders or teams take on a course which is 555 km in length. The participants have up to 40 hours to complete the distance, but some of the riders are finishing in approximately half this time. Chris is one of these people.


1) The setting of Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra looks extremely picturesque, but very challenging. When did you decide this was an event you would like to participate in, and what were the features that drew you to this race?

A large portion of Donegal is still untouched when away from towns and villages and is stunning on a clear, sunny day! The roads are undulating and indeed relentless even between the climbs! Traffic is normally light and therefore a perfect place to ride!

This year was the second running of the Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra 555 race, and I became aware of the event about one week before the first edition. After seeing the quality of the riders lining up, the parcours and the finishing times, I knew straight away I had to tackle the event in 2017! I had ridden long rides in the past, but I knew this event was really going to challenge me physically and mentally, and that it would also be a challenge logistically. The professionalism of the event organisers and the chip timing with live tracking was a big bonus and I knew this event was going to be world class. I was committed!

2) On choosing this event, what adjustments did you make to your training to be both physically and mentally prepared?

The main focus for me was maintaining pace over distance in training. During the last couple of years my focus had been Gran Fondo events so around 100/110 miles, and about 7500 ft of climbing. This event would multiply that by three! The distance in my long training rides would increase regularly, but interval work and hill repeats were still included to raise the threshold and keep the high end topped up for the efforts on the climbs. On these long rides efficiency is key but recovery is essential. Mentally I break the ride down into segments so instead of thinking 180 miles today I say 60 miles x 3 and I know 120 miles is fine so only the last section dwells on your mind! Sleep deprivation comes into play when pushing for quick times in ultra events, and I did blocks of training on greatly reduced sleep, so the body would adapt, and not want to shut down after long durations on the bike.

3) Passionate sports people frequently juggle the challenge of working full time and training for events. How did you go about achieving this?

My 9 to 5 is based at a University Campus which has its benefits! Firstly, holidays are good, so I get time to do big training blocks and to travel for big climbs and good weather! On a day-to-day basis, I commute to work on the bike, which is a bare minimum of 10 miles each way (but typically around 20 each way on average). The commute negates wasted time in the daily routine and maximizes riding time so even with an extended evening training session I can still be home with enough time to eat and rest….just! I am currently logging around 18,000 miles a year, so anything is possible when you plan your schedule.

Continue reading “The Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra – Q&A with Chris Beattie”

Mountain Essentials

By Grant Williams

The highlight of my cycling is riding in the mountains, both in the UK and Europe. Every year, my partner Emma and I spend our summer holiday cycling in spectacular areas such as the Pyrenees, the Dolomites or the Alps.

As this is the focal point of our year, a large amount of effort goes into searching out places to visit, choosing the right equipment, training, and nutrition.  Mountain Essentials gives an insight into some of the things which have been added to our cycling to make the preparation more effective, and the time spent riding even more enjoyable and rewarding.

Wet Bag


This bag is such a useful piece of kit. Whether cycling at home or abroad, we frequently travel by car to the start point of our bike ride. For this arrangement to work out, all ride essentials must be taken along.

The Wet Bag is an item of luggage which really assists clothing and equipment being organised and easily transported. This is achieved through a number of great design features.  Before owning this bag, there has been at least one instance of driving several miles before realising my cycling shorts were still in a drawer at home!

For me, the labelled storage compartments are just so helpful in ensuring the kit I want to take is packed, and the process of locating certain items when getting ready for a ride is made so much easier. Then after the ride, it also feels a little more organised, and the potential of forgetting something is reduced by simply using the bag labelling as a prompt.

I have found that the labelling on the bag may not completely match your kit, but a familiarity regarding what is where, soon develops. The bag measures approximately 36cm long x 24cm x 24cm. Although its size is quite compact, it is actually quite cavernous.

The bag I currently use (pictured within this feature), was sold by Rapha, and is no longer available, but Scicon offer a similar bag. Castelli’s wet bag is also worth checking out, although it is of a slightly different design.

Equipment for Hot Weather

White Kit
L1 Gloves and Ultralight Socks by Q36.5

I love riding in the mountains when the skies are clear and the sun is warm, and use equipment which is designed for this. There are a number brands who make kit specific for hot weather, which provide high levels of UVA and UVB protection. This is something well worth checking when you are choosing the clothing you will use.

To complement the hot weather jerseys and shorts now available, I also choose lightweight, well vented, breathable, accessories to minimise heat absorption, and assist comfort. This ranges from helmet, gloves, socks and shoes. I have found Oakley’s Polarised, Black Iridium lense especially good for the bright sunny days in the mountains of Europe, and generally switch to this from my usual choice of Oakley Prizm Road.

I can certainly vouch that on a really hot day, a glove, sock, or shoe designed for riding in higher temperatures can feel much more comfortable when the sun is beating down, and there is a long way to the top of the Col. Continue reading “Mountain Essentials”

Product Review: Torq Recovery

Review by Grant

Although I am not a competitive cyclist, I have a desire to ride frequently, and be healthy. Part of achieving this is to eat good foods which complement an active lifestyle.

I have used Torq nutrition for many years. This is largely due to the amount of effort the brand puts into formulating each product, and the type and quality of ingredients they use. Their range has become very comprehensive, and covers the requirements of energy, hydration, and recovery. Each product is generally offered in a number of different flavours, to cater for differing taste preferences.

Torq formulate their nutrition on scientific research data, and the ingredients they select are natural, and where possible certified as Organic, some have the Fairtrade mark. No artificial flavours, chemical sweeteners, or colours are used.

When the process of recovery is made as effective as possible, the potential to maximise your training or feel good during exercise returns more quickly. I use Torq Recovery as part of achieving this, and consume the product after each bike ride. This also includes after an active recovery ride and stretching, which follows the weekend. Continue reading “Product Review: Torq Recovery”

Shack Wrap Frame Protection Review

Blog Post by Grant

Many of us are passionate about our bikes, and like to minimise the effect of either wear and tear or accidental damage. A further plus point to this, is the resale value may remain higher.

Products to protect the finish of a frame and fork are offered in a number of different forms. These range from small pre cut plastic patches, to a larger sheet of frame protection which can be cut to the required size. These options tend to be applied to areas where cable rub, chain slap or other areas of predictable contact or abrasion occur. Products of this type are widely available, and perfectly fine for this purpose.

The potential to protect our frame, forks, and crank arms, has now been taken to another level, as they can be professionally wrapped with clear protection. This can be achieved on either road or mountain bikes.

I was keen to learn more about the system of whole frame protection, and visited Shack Wrap to achieve this. Nick, the owner of Shack Wrap talked me through the frame protection options he offers, and I was able to watch a frame and fork wrap take place.

The clear polyurethane film is available in both Matt and Gloss finishes. It can be applied to road and mountain bikes, although any type of bicycle can be wrapped, with the only exception being, the protection can not be applied to an anodised finish. The thickness of the film is normally reduced for road bikes.

A feature of the protective film Nick uses, is that it has the potential to self repair. Should an instance arise where the film surface gets scuffed, and marking occurs, this will disappear. I have watched a short YouTube video on this. The video demonstrates an area of the protective film being intentionally scuffed. The scuffs are subsequently removed by washing the film with warm water. Continue reading “Shack Wrap Frame Protection Review”

Cyclefit Manchester: Bike Fit and Saddle Pressure Mapping

Cyclefit Manchester: Bike Fit and Saddle Pressure Mapping – Blog Post by Emma

I’m lucky in that my partner Grant does a lot of reading around cycling, and its many facets. Bike fit has been a topic of interest, leading us to make several adjustments in the last year or so.  However, neither of us had ever had a professional bike fit, until my visit to Cyclefit in Manchester, in June.

During the last few years I’ve had an occasional niggle with saddle discomfort on my left side, and I’ve never really got to the source of the problem. When it flared up, I would experience a gnawing, dull discomfort, which would kick in after around 2 hours, always worse on flatter rides.  Changing to a Selle Italia Diva saddle a few years ago helped, along with a sports massage every few weeks from our good friend Maria at MC Sports Services in Stoke-on-Trent.

I’d not had any problems for a few years, but then after a change in bike, which resulted in a different position due to the frame size/design, this niggle became apparent again. We’d visited the Cyclefit shop in Manchester a few months before and had learnt a little about their services.  So in June, with our 3 weeks cycling trip looming, I booked a full bike fit including saddle pressure mapping.

The booking process was simple, you can do it online or over the telephone, and slots are available throughout the day. Although it’s not essential to take your bike with you, it is helpful as it allows any changes to be made on the day, by the Cyclefit team.  So I took my bike with me, along with cycling shorts, jersey and shoes.

When we arrived, we had a quick cuppa before being introduced to Jess who would be doing my fit. I’ve got no stats to back this up, but I suspect that there are not many female bike fitters around, so this was great, and I felt at ease straight away, as Jess explained the format of the session.

To begin, there was an interview, to get a clear picture of me as a rider: the type of cycling I do, frequency of riding, any specific reasons for having the fit, injury history etc. After that, we moved onto the physical evaluation, which involved taking measurements (eg leg length, hamstring length, hip flexion etc), and being asked to perform certain subtle movements, to assess core stability, flexibility and posture.  My feet were also closely examined.

Then it was onto the rig to start the bike fit. By this point I was dotted in stickers, which are used to track your movement during the assessment and fitting process, which uses Dartfish 4-Camera HD Motion Analysis.  The rig was set up to replicate my current bike position, and Jess asked me to start pedalling.

cyclefit-em-on-screen Continue reading “Cyclefit Manchester: Bike Fit and Saddle Pressure Mapping”

Veloforte: Q&A with Founder, Marc Giusti

Blog post by Grant


I believe good nutrition forms such an important part of our lives. This encourages me to find ways of eating well when cycling, and learn about healthy foods which can be included in meals when not on the bike.

I had the good fortune to discover Veloforte just before heading to the Pyrenees on a cycling trip with my partner, Emma earlier this year.

The energy bars they offer are made from 100% natural ingredients, and are formulated to provide a sustained source of energy.  The bars sounded exactly what we were looking for. Having used the Veloforte bars throughout the bike trip, both Emma and I found all three flavours to be delicious, and the energy provided by them really suited our cycling. The Veloforte bars will certainly be part of our future ride nutrition.


I was keen to learn more about the brand and the products. On contacting Marc at Veloforte, he welcomed the idea of an article and I was fortunate to have a fascinating conversation with him and his wife Lara, about the brand and their love of cycling.

1) Does cycling and creating food form part of your family history, or are these passions individual to you?

My family are from Italy, near Florence. Creating delicious food, family life, stylish products and high quality ingredients all form a large part of Italian culture. I have many fond memories of family meals, recipes being passed down through generations and always discovering amazing Italian brands and specialities. Add to that mix my wife Lara, (a multiple award-winning chef) and the food thing is pretty well covered!

Cycling came into my life later on. Since then it has become a dominant backdrop to everything we’re doing personally and professionally. I discovered cycling initially through a close friend who’d been riding for years, and it formed part of a long recovery process I had after a major operation. My love of being on the bike, and my understanding of the importance of building up endurance and strength, grew from there.

2) What inspired the creation of Veloforte?

A whole host of different things seemed to come together all at once. Firstly, I was training for the Rapha Manchester to London challenge in 2015 to try and regain my strength. I was looking for the right nutrition and yet everything in the shops was synthesised “gloop” and just tasted disgusting. All I wanted was something real, delicious, high quality and natural, not processed, dehydrated sludge.

Secondly, Lara was getting serious about developing her culinary success, having just been nominated for three awards at the Great Taste Awards. We should mention that prior to becoming a multiple award-winning chef, Lara was a Heart & Lung Respiratory Specialist.

So, when you add my training ambitions and frustrations, Lara’s medical and physiological experience and culinary success together, the idea to create a natural, hand-made nutrition brand seemed the obvious thing to do. So we created Veloforte.

3) Within the Veloforte website there is reference to an ancient Italian recipe called “Panforte”.  Can you tell us a little more about this, and how it influenced the energy bars you offer?

Panforte nowadays is just seen as a speciality food from Sienna, in Tuscany. However, its history is much more rugged and intriguing. It’s an extremely old Italian recipe, dating back before the Crusades. It was used to power Roman Legions and fortify the Aristocracy through its use of herbs, spices and fruits. It was carried, stored and constantly updated with new ingredients and herbs from the growing Roman Empire. It’s as if it was the first energy food.

Continue reading “Veloforte: Q&A with Founder, Marc Giusti”

Favourite Climbs: Luz Ardiden

Favourite Climbs: Luz Ardiden, French Pyrenees-Blog Post by Grant

The climb of Luz Ardiden, within the midi Pyrenees, is firm a favourite of mine.

There are many reasons why I love to visit the piece of road which twists and turns it’s way out of the town of Luz, up to the ski area high above. My first visit was during 2006. The climb formed part of a ride, which featured the Tourmalet as well as Luz Ardiden.

I was relatively new to riding the climbs of Europe at the time, and Luz Ardiden had come to my attention when it featured in the 2003 Tour de France.

This was the year Lance Armstrong had struggled to achieve his usual dominance, and holding on to the Yellow jersey looked doubtful. Some of the drama of the race was played out on Luz Ardiden. When launching an attack, Armstrong snagged a spectator’s musette, which brought him and Iban Mayo crashing to the ground. Armstrong managed to continue with the attack, and there are numerous photos of him crossing line, ashen in colour, eyes bloodshot, but he retained the Yellow Jersey and his lead.

As I climbed Luz Ardiden for the first time, I tried to find some indication of where Armstrong had crashed, and imaged the intensity of the moment, as well the effort required to race up a climb like this. For me, part of what makes cycling so fulfilling and rewarding, is how readily we can immerse ourselves in it. We are able to experience the roads or trails which form part of its history, and there are even instances where the drama of a race plays out as we watch at the roadside or on screen.

The views from a climb can be so rewarding, but I believe it’s the whole experience which make some a little bit special.

Luz Ardiden has always featured later in my ride, and I am normally starting the ascent by late afternoon, with one or two climbs already in my legs. Initially the road is quite tree lined, reasonably wide, and a river can be heard as it flows to the valley floor. I enjoy the slightly cooler temperature of this early section, and breathing in the humid air. Continue reading “Favourite Climbs: Luz Ardiden”

Pyrenees Triple Col Loop

Blog Post by Emma

We’ve visited the Midi Pyrenees in France five times now. On our first two trips, we spent just one week here, before moving onto other destinations in the French Northern or Southern Alps. However, every time we moved on, we both felt a deep longing to stay. Since then, we’ve extended our time here, and have certainly not been bored when spending three weeks in the Saint Lary Soulan area.

There are so many fantastic rides from Saint Lary Soulan, with many of the climbs made famous (or notorious) by the Tour de France, within easy reach. One of our favourites is a loop that comprises of three Cols: the Horquette d’Ancizan, Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin.

From Saint Lary Soulan, it’s only a few miles to the pretty village of Ancizan, much of which you can do away from the main valley road. The main Cols are signed for, so you can easily spot the left turn which indicates the start of the Horquette. Helpful markers will tell you how far it is to the summit, and the average gradient of the next kilometre awaiting you! I love having this info, but on occasions it can make you groan, when you keep seeing 10% average, marker after marker. This isn’t the case on the Horquette, but certainly can be on other climbs in this area.

This early slopes of the Horquette are tree lined, and it’s been very quiet on the occasions we’ve ridden it. It’s gradient is challenging but does not contain anything too brutal, but it’s a very constant climb, winding up and up, for around 10km.

After approximately 4 km, the gradient eases a little and you head out of the trees. A spectacular view of the snow tipped mountains opens out, and you can look down on the pretty towns below. This allows you to take a breather and enjoy the landscape, before the road takes you back into the trees, with the gradient increasing again.


The panorama at the summit is stunning, and we were lucky to experience a cloud inversion on our recent ascent of this beautiful mountain. We could just see the Pic du Midi, but the tip was only visible for a short time, amidst a wisp of grey cloud.


Horquette d’Ancizan looking towards Pic du Midi, hidden by cloud

Continue reading “Pyrenees Triple Col Loop”

Descending: My Road to Improvement

 Blog Post by Emma

Firstly, I must point out that the aim of this post is to give a little insight and a few tips to any women who might be new to road cycling or riding mountain passes, who find descending a little unnerving, or possibly even terrifying! I’m not a hugely skilful or fast descender, and doubt I ever will be, but I am definitely an IMPROVED descender since my first Alpine cycling adventure back in 2004. So anybody wanting to earn Strava kudos on the downhills……this post may not be for you!

I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to finding descending on the bike a little challenging and if I’m being honest, occasionally a bit scary! The steepness of Honister Pass in the Lake District will always be unnerving for me, even though I’ve ridden down it so many times! It’s been comforting to read on social media, that other women cyclists sometimes find riding downhill tricky too, and at worse traumatising. For example, when riding down Col d’Aspin recently, Grant chatted with a young Australian woman, who commented she wasn’t a fan of the descents, her exact words are not really repeatable! I’m NOT saying women cannot descend well, of course they can.  I know women who have no qualms about hitting 40+mph…..but that is something I’m not likely to achieve!! This is written purely from my own, personal perspective.

Back in 2004 I was very new to cycling, having only owned my road bike for a year, I headed to the French Alps with Grant, to take on Alpe d’Huez and a few other Cols. The ascents were incredibly hard, but I had (just) enough fitness and gearing to ride and enjoy them. The descents were a baptism of fire! I simply hadn’t a clue how to deal with those hairpin bends, but I made it to the bottom, clinging to the brakes, relieved once it was over! There was no real improvement in the few years that followed, I loved the challenge of the climbs, but often worried about the descents and simply “survived them”.


Classic switchbacks – Luz Ardiden,  French Pyrenees

Eventually, I took a conscious decision that I had to try and improve. Although I’m still slower and more cautious compared to others, I have vastly improved this last three years, and I no longer fear the downhill parts of our European cycling adventures. Here are a few things that have helped me on my way to becoming an “improved descender” ! Continue reading “Descending: My Road to Improvement”

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