Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Velotech Platinum - The Love Of Learning

I'm pretty handy with a set of spanners and have always found a deep enjoyment in the problem solving nature of fixing bikes.  I spent my teenage years and beyond working out how to perform sometimes complex mends on less than perfect components using tools that I made or adapted for the job.  Usually that meant a block of wood, something heavy and metallic and some hefty force applied in various terrifying ways, always fearing the destruction of the very bit I was aiming to fix!

In recent years maintenance has got a lot easier.  Luckily I've now got access to a pretty well stocked workshop through Tollymore National Outdoor Centre which means my mole wrench, massive adjustable spanner and small chisel don't get so much of an airing.  The internet has also proved its worth beyond epic edits and pointless memes by providing all sorts of geeky tech docs that can tell you if you're turning something the wrong way before you destroy the internal threads and junk your frame.  I was given the opportunity to formalise my knowledge a couple of years ago by undertaking the Velotech Gold course at Glenmore Lodge, the National Outdoor Centre for Scotland.  It was a really well put together qualification that allowed an in-depth look at the kind of fixes I was already performing but on some unfamiliar machines and componentry.  Ever since passing that course I was itching to complete the top level Velotech Platinum course and a few weeks back I got that chance as part of my job at Tollymore which involves maintaining their fleet of bikes.

There are a few aspects of bike building that I've never really done.  A combination of fear, lack of knowledge and requirement for speciality tools have prevented me getting stuck in to wheel building and frame preparation, leaving frustrating gaps in my knowledge.  The Velotech Platinum covers those subjects and so after thirty years of spannering I was finally able to enter the mystic world of Spoke Tensioners and Head Tube Reamers.

'The Lodge' has several major advantages as a course venue.  Firstly it's located in the stunning Cairngorm National Park with easy access to the forest trails and mountains.  Secondly, it has a purpose built workshop/teaching area replete with the most exhaustive array of tools and finally, possibly most importantly, the food is amazing and cake abundant!  For an off-season athlete it's like being a kid with the keys to the sweet shop.
If you needed any other reason to head to the Cairngorms!
Joining me on the course were John, a professional bike coach and all round two-wheeled expert and Brendan, an offshore rig engineer with a new suspension tuning business.  Combined with my knowledge and the vast experience of course tutor Alex it meant that there were bound to be some interesting conversations and learning opportunities.  I'm glad to say that unlike some courses with ongoing assessment the atmosphere was very laid back and the pace perfect with ample opportunity for learning from mistakes and asking as many daft questions as required.

Day one focused on wheel lacing and building, breaking down this voodoo art into a simple process of repetition.  We ended the day sat in the bar finalising the spoke tension on our straight and round wheels whilst enjoying a chat and a couple of pints.  Day two continued this theme with wheel dishing in the morning before we cracked out the real torture tools in the afternoon, cutting and cleaning threads, chasing headsets and bottom brackets and reaming head tubes.  This was the only time that the room quietened and the beads of sweat began to form on our temples as there truly is no room for error when cutting into frames, one cock up away from a very expensive mistake!  That stressful element complete, day three had us back on the wheels looking at different lacing patterns and reasoning behind them.  I really can't emphasise enough how enjoyable the course was.  As a bike related tutor myself I really appreciate the complexities of creating a casual learning environment whilst also subtly assessing candidates.  Alex did a great job and continually imparted fascinating nuggets of knowledge whilst not being intimidated by technical questions or the sizeable knowledge of us participants in various related fields.
I built this! Straight and round

For me, the course was only half of the reason I wanted to get a few days up in the Highlands!  With the Ragley in the van and the lights fully charged it was my definite intention to get out training and exploring on the plethora of surrounding trails.  What I hadn't banked on was John being not only keen to get out twice a day but also being Scottish National Time Trial Champion over distances from 10 miles up to 100 miles!  So my days began at 5:30am with a pre-breakfast tempo session up to the ski station before squeezing in a longer ride in the couple of hours between course end and dinner. With John on his beautiful carbon Focus Cyclocross bike and me on my Bigwig with 2.4 inch tyres at low pressures I was always going to be up against it on the gravelly tracks regardless of the fact that John is a total machine.  Luckily, I've been training on the bike loads since being rendered unable to run six weeks ago and I managed to keep John chatting constantly, getting in the open ended questions on the steeper sections whilst I desperately gasped for air.  Being out for sunrise daily was a beautiful experience and by a total fluke the weather remained unbelievably calm and settled throughout the three days, only breaking as I headed home, guaranteeing some interesting driving and a choppy crossing back to Belfast.

Icy mornings and wooden boardwalks made a fun combo
It's easy to forget how enjoyable learning can be, getting complacent about generally having the knowledge required to do my job and share my abilities with others.  The Velotech Platinum really re-kindled my love of exploring the gaps in my abilities, even within a field where I already have masses of experience.  On top of that it was brilliantly delivered in just the right style using the proper tools and equipment.  As a total bonus I met some great people and even countered the 30,000 calories of cake and biscuits consumed by getting beaten round the hills by a dauntingly fit bike coach.

Oh, and I passed too!

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