Thursday, 30 November 2017

Hammerhead Karoo - They're only bloody shipping the things!

Hammerhead Karoo Shipping
Production spec Karoos before leaving the factory
Since the campaign for Karoo kicked off and people started giving their trust and wonga to the company, there's been a lot of chatter about whether karoo was real, if it is will it ever make it to production and will we ever actually get our hands on one or will we have to watch DCRainmaker using an early prototype another damn time!

See here folks:

Lots of lovely Karoos all boxed up ready to shipped
Boxed Karoos leaving China
They've only gone and bloody made a bunch and are shipping to the earliest risk-takers right now. These be exciting times people and I'm going to have to pull in the Tena Lady (or keep the bladder empty) because the moment I get a shipping notification with as much as a hint of Karoo about it - I'll probably let out a bit of wee...

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Hammerhead Karoo - On its way to a handlebar near you

The Hammerhead Karoo
Once upon a time, I loved my Garmin. I still use it nearly everyday and, running a cycling business, I rely upon it more than I really care to admit. The thing is though, the latest Garmin cycling GPS's have been....well a bit shit really haven't they. As a long-term user and customer it appears to me that Garmin has no fire in its belly.

This is just my not-so-humble opinion, but I feel the hardware has always been pretty sound but its the frustrating lack of quality control in software updates, the sloth-like movement towards supported apps and third party integration and the general lacklustre approach to innovation from the company is the crux of the problem - to my mind at least.

It was only a matter of time then until an army of other manufacturers would tip-toe in from the sidelines, design/build some units, learn some things and attempt to steal a bit of the pie whilst Garmin slept on the job. Fortunately for Garmin, nobody has really made enough noise to wake them so we are all still waiting for one company or even a partnership with enough software/hardware expertise to risk it all, run into that room (where Garmin are still sleeping) and shout a great big BOO in their faces.

There was a time when I thought Strava would do it given its overall success, the growing user base and masses of data they have been hoarding over the years. That, I reckon would have left Garmin for dead but alas it seems they they were happy just tucking Garmin in at night and going about their business quietly in the spare room. (Don't worry Strava, I still love you dearly, I was just hurt and disappointed).

Anyway, then out of the blue and at a time when we're all considering having to buy the latest buggy, ugly offering from Garmin inevitably with a touch-screen from the 1990's) along came little old Hammerhead. They knocked gently at the door at first with the H1 but the masses didn't really take notice and that wasn't really the intention (at least I don't think it was?) and as for Garmin, they probably didn't even stir. If they did, it would have only been a brief disturbance and just enough for them to come up with the next iteration of the Edge. You know, like tweak some layouts, pack the same old components into a smaller device and all with a touchscreen that doesn't like to be touched. That done, they promptly spent the next 6 months sleeping off all of the tiresome work they hadn't really done.

Meanwhile Hammerhead had been busy on something new so this time around they are knocking a bit louder, have dug deep into their pockets, put everything they know and subsequently learned into a product that could, quite possibly, huff and puff and blow the house down.

Routes, maps and data screens
So, what's different about it? What makes it appear to be better than a Garmin or any other cycling GPS around? Well, some of this subjective, and some is out and out improvement. I feel the biggest leap ahead is the fact that finally someone built a unit around Android and better still, Hammerhead appear to have done that on hardware that is a step up from anything else I've come across. It can house its own sim card so can be a truly independent device. From what I've seen its snappy to navigate around and the ability to create routes easily on the device itself is something we've all been waiting for. The fact Hammerhead's own web portal brings another dimension to grabbing routes whereby you can just grab a route from a strava activity page URL seems obvious but nobody else has done it!

Looks a touch large on the bars owing to the sheer size of the screen

This product, on paper at least, has the chance to really shoulder-barge that Garmin off of the handlebars of a lot of cyclists and I sincerely hope they do - not least as I've taken an early-adopter leap of faith and pre-ordered months before the device was ever even finished being designed!

I'm not saying it's all going to be peachy from the off and it hasn't entirely been a seamless process to date from design to production, with a few unforeseen delays that we and they (Hammerhead) have had to contend with. Recently the communications team have been on the ProPlus and there's been a lot more in the way of updates, production timelines, product stories on the birth and journey of Hammerhead and some juicy sneak peek videos too.

There are a couple of other Facebook videos floating around too: Hammerhead Web Portal Demo

Take a look guys, see what you think and as soon as my unit arrives here in France (hopefully in a few weeks) I'll get down to a full and frank review. I hope my Garmin 810 is listening because you can bet Garmin themselves aren't....yet.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Ariegeoise 2017 - My First French Sportive.

Ariegeoise 2017

Yep that's right, I've finally signed up to the Ariegeoise sportive in June 2017! The only problem I have now is having to wait so bloody long for it! Some cycling friends on Facebook presented the idea of the Albigeoise in May but with cycling tours booked during that week it meant the Ariegeoise was the next best fit despite not being quite as local and more than double the amount climbing.

Interestingly, I understand from the lads here who have a few of these French events under the belts, that unlike in the UK there is usually a very large contingent of participants who take these events very seriously, basically like an all out race, so there is a competitive atmosphere that I'm very excited about.

I've wanted to do something like this in France for years but for one reason or another just never got around to pulling the necessary things together to organise it. Since moving to France in June the logistics of taking part in a French sportive got a whole lot easier so I really don't have many excuses not to do a couple.....apart from our first baby and running a new business - obvs!

Col d'Agnes Ariege
The Col d'Agnes
I've chosen the XXL and the guys I'm riding with will most likely go large too - which means 149km and 4300m of climbing.  I've always been captivated by the mountains and a few years back I took a brief interlude during our summer holiday to spend 2 days cycling in the Pyrénées so I've some idea of what to expect from the body on long climbs but I've got some work to do if I'm to counteract the attritional effects of multiple ascents but I'm quite excited to give them a bash:

Profile Ariegeoise xxl 2017
I've not climbed any of these cols previously and looking at the Strava segments for each I'm not expecting an epic performance on any! Depending on the legs, I might have a concerted bash at the Col de la Core and the Col d'Agnes but that's me saying that on a lazy Sunday afternoon and not having cycled (at all) in over a week.

Col de la Core
I don't need to worry though, as we've got a lots of great roads and climbs near us to help prepare the legs and the mind before attacking the Pyénées. Also, when you come from Coventry in the UK, you don't get much chance to do any big climbs without a fair bit of travelling and effort so I'm much better placed to give it go now we're in France permanently. We also have some cycling guests in for a week in March on one of our training camps and then our season of road and leisure cycling holidays kicks off in April so I'll have plenty of cycling under my belt by June!

If you've done the Ariegeoise already then I'd be interested to know a bit about your experience of the event or, if you're doing your first French sportive this year, let me know which.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

My New Job: Cycling Holidays in France for 2017 - Tours Du Tarn

The Tours du Tarn headquarters at Espinas, France.

Bonsoir! It's been another stupidly long period since I posted anything here but it's pretty safe to say that life has been insane since July 2015 and got progressively more bonkers up to now. Take a look at our Tarn Cycling Holidays blog for a more detailed view of what we've been up to here.

Tours du Tarn website

Before I get started, it's going to be very hard to write about this stuff without sounding like a pompous show-off so apologies from the off...

I write this as I'm sat in our kitchen with the the fire roaring away and two sets of guests staying the weekend in our barn and our cabin. When I last posted I was sat in a cafe on a business park during my lunch break in May - frantically trying to post something before an afternoon meeting! Things now couldn't be more different. 

Earlier this year I quit my job of 11 years (a comfortable, secure job in University administration), sold our house and in June we moved everything to the Midi-Pyrénées in south west France. If that wasn't bad enough it turns out that a 4 year engagement is long enough so in May, 4 weeks before the big move, Charlotte and I snuck in a small wedding.  Unbeknown to me though, the madness had only just begun as Charlotte then went on to tell me she was pregnant almost literally as we were about to move out!

Since June then we've moved in, finished converting our barn (La Grange) and our log Cabin (Le Petit Hibou) into holiday accommodation, reclaimed what Mother Nature had taken over since the place had been empty, built a new website, launched a cycling business and filmed a TV show! No really - they have made a TV show about our new life in France and airs in February 2017. I'm already dreading watching myself on TV but it was a great opportunity to promote the business and it was a great experience to be part of. 

We've met and made friends with the neighbours and locals, worked hard on our French language skills and even managed to get a few guinea pigs friends over to stay in the newly finished accommodation to help is get a feel for being hosts and test out what we've got to offer. A special thanks to all those who risked it with family and friends - not really knowing whether we would be finished or what sort of state the place would be in! Thankfully we were finished right on time - in a Carol Smillie and Changing Rooms kind of way!

It won't have gone unnoticed that in amongst all of that, there wasn't a mention of cycling. That's because, whilst there was some cycling in the mix, there wasn't anywhere near enough of it. I did manage to squeeze in a few really nice rides over the summer and most of them were "recce'ing" routes/roads for our cycling holidays.

We did take some time out to spend the day in Saint Antonin for Stage 6 of the Tour de France when it rolled through our local roads - taking with it all of the best Strava segments! The "côte de Saint Antonin" segment became more of challenge the instant the pro's hit it! That aside, there was a real buzz in the town and it was a great day all round and we were back in time to catch the sprint finish in Montauban on the TV.

Since the first guests returned home and the summer slowly turned to autumn there's been more time to take in some of the roads and do some exploring - especially since the weather has been gloriously warm and dry. I have to admit that I've missed cycling in a group so I'm just about to check out a club up at St Projet with some local lads and I'm hoping that will get me back in the swing of things and introduce some new roads too. 

I'm hoping the winter will be kind so I can get out a lot more regularly and some longer day rides - I have a couple planned in: One over to the Lot valley and a hilly one up to the volcanic plateau of Aubrac. Should be "good" for the legs!

I think that's about enough for now but will be posting more frequently now about cycling related stuff and gear. For now though, a bientôt!