He has logged over 32,000 miles on Strava. He rode Paris-Roubaix Sportive on a single speed. He has ridden over 27-century rides in a calendar year including the toughest Sportives this fair land has to offer. He has more badges in his Strava Trophy case than a 75-Year lifelong Scout has on his sleeve (not too mention a Santa list of bagged KOM’s). This rouleur is a true cycling advocate and rarely does a day pass without him either riding his bike, advocating or promoting cycling. So without further ado, It gives us great pleasure to introduce to you our friend Graeme Cook- The Ultimate Cyclist
We met Graeme on a figure of 8 around Arran a few years back. A ride arranged by mutual friend Graham Mcqueen that also included Graeme’s partner Iona who featured in our last post. ( If only I was good at drawing I know which dynamic duo I would base my comic on)
So without further ado, charge your glasses, coffee cups or sports bottles and let Graeme inspire you to go out and get some joyful miles under your wheels
BCR: Where do you call home.
I live in the southside of Glasgow and have lived there for the majority of my life, with only a short spell in Falkirk and some work-related time in Asia – mainly Singapore. I trained as a Chartered Accountant and my day job is as the Finance Director of a construction and property development group, based in Glasgow city centre. We recently moved house to be closer to the city centre so I have needed to get a little creative in route planning the commute to make donning the lycra worthwhile.
For me, Scotland is hard to beat for the variety of routes available and the dramatic scenery that is on our doorsteps no matter where we live
BCR: Graeme can you give us a general background of your cycling life
Cycling really started for me in April 2010 when I changed jobs leaving behind a company car and I made a decision that for a 6-mile commute cycling was a much better idea than buying another car. So I rooted around in the garage and found an old mountain bike an old helmet and started commuting to work every day. The added incentive was that with no other car it was bike commute or walk or worst of all bus it to work. I had been a bit of a runner for a few years but was starting to get some knee trouble from an old rugby injury so cycling also became my main exercise. For the next four and half years, I basically biked every day that I was in the UK – come rain, hail or rarely, shine. In that period I went from the original mountain bike to a hybrid and eventually a single speed for commuting and also bought my first cheap road bike. Commuting was really the extent of my riding with only the odd Eaglesham Windfarm loop of 20 miles, but in early 2014 I bought a better road bike – a Cannondale CAAD10 and started doing a few more rides but nothing ever much more than 30 miles. I changed jobs again in late 2014 and the bike commute became challenging and less regular; so in early 2015 I decided to start trying more regular weekend rides and began going out with a local club based on Meetup and from there I started riding more and more and finding more interesting and exciting routes to ride.
Commuting has become possible again after my firm moved our office into Glasgow city centre, so cycling for me is now commuting every day and long rides at the weekend. My partner and I have also initially started some bike packing which opens up the adventure possibilities.
in reality my favourite cycling item is the Pantani tattoo that I have !
BCR: Favourite places or routes to cycle ?
For me, Scotland is hard to beat for the variety of routes available and the dramatic scenery that is on our doorsteps no matter where we live. For a local route, I love heading south of the city towards Neilston and riding around the back lanes around there. It’s not for the faint-hearted as its one short sharp hill after another but great fun for packing in some elevation in a short distance. Couple that with some amazing views over the city and towards the Campsies and it’s a regular route that I love. If it’s a little further afield then the Ardnamurchan peninsula is a favourite. We stayed in Strontian last year and did a couple of loops around there and the scenery is spectacular with great roads and limited traffic. There are also some of the most beautiful beaches you would ever hope to find with golden sands and views to die for.
Any event organised by Alan Anderson is always a great day out on the bike
BCR: Favourite Cycling event that you have participated in?
Any event organised by Alan Anderson is always a great day out on the bike, so it has to be one of his events, probably the Dunoon Dynamo that he runs sporadically around mid-summer. It’s a through the night ride from Glasgow to Dunoon, so the views are amazing as the daylight comes up on the Cowal peninsula.
BCR: Favourite piece of cycling gear or kit you own under £100?
I am a huge fan of Marco Pantani and have a replica Maglia Rosa top with his name on it, but in reality my favourite cycling item is the Pantani tattoo that I have !
secteur 29 of the pave told me immediately how bad it could be…29 secteurs later I was broken but the bike was intact
BCR: Favourite cycling Cap?
My partner and I have done both of the Struggle events in Yorkshire. We did the Struggle Moors last year and the Dales this year and the cap from them is a current favourite as a reminder to never sign up for one of their events again – they are brutal. Any sportive that has a climb within it called The Horror should be avoided.
BCR: You recently rode Paris Roubaix sportive. Obviously not happy that the challenge would be tough enough, you chose to do it on Single Speed! How did you come to this decision and why?
I think with hindsight what seemed like a good idea at the time was not! We had booked to do the ride a year in advance and I spent that time prevaricating about whether to buy a new bike that would suit the course. I looked at CX bikes and gravel bikes and in the end took so long debating about what type of bike to buy to use ran out of time and thought – well how bad could it be if I use the single speed? The bike of choice was a steel frame Genesis Day One with disc brakes, which had 28mm tyres and was and still is my main commuting bike. Well, I duly had the trusty Genesis serviced and double wrapped the bar tape still thinking how bad can it be. Well, secteur 29 of the pave told me immediately how bad it could be…29 secteurs later I was broken but the bike was intact. After 172km I realised the error of judgement in using a single speed. Paris Roubaix is a race all about raw power, which is why you see the big powerful pros riding it and very rarely the lighter climbers. I am fairly light and combine that with only one gear and the challenge was putting the power down on the pave. You need to keep a good speed across the cobbles or you just start to bounce all over the road, so it’s a power output game. I thought the worst moments were falling off twice but with hindsight, the actual worst moment was being overtaken by our pal Tank on one of the secteurs! The shame of it!
BCR: To what extent are you involved in promoting cycling and cycling activism
It was after a few years of commuting and riding more and more miles that I decided that I should try and give a little back to cycling for all the great fun and memories it had given me, and at the same time try and make cycling more accessible to everyone. I knew when I started commuting that I found it quite intimidating on the roads with the close passing traffic, poor road conditions and general poor cycling infrastructure; and that only with pushing these issues to the forefront with politicians would any action ever be taken. My partner was involved with Pedal on Parliament so I initially assisted with that joining the marshals in Edinburgh in 2016 and then assisting with the inaugural Glasgow ride in 2017. PoP is a great organisation as its goal is to petition to our politicians for a greater focus on cycling. In early 2016 I also joined the Board of the Glasgow Bike Station – now Bike for Good. They are a charity based in Glasgow’s West End aimed at encouraging greater cycling for all ages and abilities and provide a range of outreach programs within Glasgow to achieve those aims. Their core activity was originally refurbishing second-hand bikes and selling them as “first” bikes to new cyclists but this has now developed to also offering health and well being focused cycling activities in partnership with other charities and health providers within the City. What they have achieved since they started in 2010 has been amazing and I was thrilled to be involved with them for 2 years. More recently I have been involved to a small extent with GoBike and the campaign for better infrastructure on Byres Road. I think its important that as many of us who cycle try and push the cycling agenda to politicians as we are against the power car and oil company lobbyists with their agendas that do not sit well with cycling. For all of us, encouraging cycling is to the greater benefit of all – cleaner air and a healthier population.
BCR: What one ride or challenge have you still to do?
I am interested in doing one of the longer unsupported races that exist and am considering the TransAtlantic Way as one to start with. Our recent foray into bike packing has somewhat resolved me that this is something I would like to achieve, but it will require some detailed planning and a good bit of training, so we will need to see how that all goes
Whetting the bike-packing wanderlust
BCR: What or who inspires you to get out on the bike?
Trying to stay fit and healthy has become the main motivation to riding and keeping at it. I sit all day at work so its good to have the commute in the morning and then an extended one home to both set me up for the day and also de-stress after the toils of the day.
BCR: When I first met you/ cycled behind you, your goal for that year was to cycle 12000! A distance greater than most people ( including me) drive each year. Why did you decide to set a goal for 12000 miles and how did you find the time and motivation to keep going?
I had a look back at a spreadsheet I have of my cycling miles – typical accountant – and I think it was back in late 2015 that we did an Arran loop together. I had started riding more and more miles that year and I think around August I realised that I was going to rack up a fairly high mileage for the year. I initially thought 8,000 miles and then 10,000 seemed possible, and finally, I thought I could maybe achieve 12,000. At the end of 2015, I managed 11,277. Like most cyclists for the following year I had to do more and 2016 was definitely the target year for 12,000 miles right from the start of the year. I joined the Yearly Century Challenge on Strava with a goal of achieving their first milestone of 25 centuries in the year which I thought would help greatly towards the annual target.
BCR: Were the majority of these solo rides or did you design your weeks around group rides, events etc?
I had planned from late 2015 to ride the Tour of the Highlands sportive and also the NC500, which between them were nearly 900 miles. These rides were with others and great fun and throughout the year it was a mix of group rides with pals and solo rides. Most days I extended my home commute so I kept on track to 1000 miles per month. Throughout the year I pretty much kept on this plan with only a couple of minor setbacks – mainly involving trying to include some running, and in the end, I rode 27 centuries and a total of 12,149 miles. To this day I don’t really know what motivated to start this, but once I was set on the 12k path I just kept plugging away at it. There were a couple of guys that I followed trying for the world record at this time so watching their herculean efforts always made by miles per day seem easy in comparison. I am also very lucky in my life to have a partner who is almost as insane as me about cycling so a lot of these miles were done with her as the greatest riding company I could ever ask for.
BCR: I’ll assume you were referring to Steve Abrahams and Kurt Searvogels attempts? I’m hardly qualified to comment on this, but I’m gonni go a bit off-piste here anyway. Right, on one hand, I’m in total jaw-dropping awe of the mind-boggling miles covered; but the cycling romantic in me wants a HAM’r ( highest Annual Mileage Ride) to be about travelling the length and breadths of the land, crisscrossing mountain ranges, getting the bike out on snow-covered days to fetch Irn Bru for the kids and discovering and creating stories. Yet I’m left cold with the recent attempts and records, that has been all about recumbent bikes, excessive drafting and sterile hamster on the wheel laps of 7k Flatland park loops in temperate all year weather. Whats your take on this ( apologies for long-winded question)
As regards the HAM’R attempts, I was indeed referring to the attempts at the time by Steve Abrahams and Kurt Searvogel; which were great to track as they were both trying the record concurrently. At the time I always thought that Steve’s attempt was more in the spirit of the original record by Tommy Godwin as he had to also fight the vagaries of a British winter and also always had some hills to contend with. Kurt’s record breaking ride had a significantly less amount of elevation and much better weather, but I still think had at least an element of the original ethos as he was out riding his bike on roads and actually going places. It was still an adventure. Amanda Coker’s record in 2016/17 while still amazing as she averaged 237 miles a day seemed completely against the original spirit of the record and almost pointless – she went round in a big circle day after day after day in the the beautiful Florida sun. She may as well have done it in a velodrome for the amount of excitement it garnered.
BCR: So could and should the Ultra Cycling Association update the rules to align with the original spirit of the record?
I do think the UMCA should look at this record being maintained in the spirit of its inception. Perhaps they could look at something akin to Audax control points where they must go through a specific number of control points that are geographically a minimum distance apart – thus avoiding the looping theory and no control points repeats per week / month. No sure how that could be managed with GPS technology and Strava something like this could work. For me its a road bike or TT bike only – nothing else unless its a para attempt and certainly no drafting.
BRC: Like that idea, that would certainly arouse more interest and surely within the gift of current tracking available. Heading back to the original point after that off-piste sojourn. Any tips for a rider whom may want to achieve>10000 miles a year?
If you can commute every day that helps a lot – extend the inward one a little and the homeward one a little more and without sacrificing much time you can do 30 miles a day, almost without realising it. That becomes a great foundation. I found having the YCC challenge for the whole year a great assistance as it focused me on trying to do at least 2 century rides a month. When you do the maths, 10K becomes fairly achievable around other commitments – if you can commute every day – that’s 7,000 miles per year if you extend it to 30 miles a day – add in targeting century rides and 10k becomes quite doable.
BCR: How did you stay motivated and keep the cycling Gremlins at Bay on the long solo rides? Music/podcasts?
Strangely not really, I used to run with music but never cycle with it, as I like to be fully aware of traffic and also to enjoy the world around me more. Generally what kept me going on longer solo rides is the thought of getting home to curry and beer and sometimes mulling for hours what is for dinner and whether ice cream could be involved.
BCR: What were the biggest challenges you faced in riding to 12000 miles in a year?
Definitely the bad weather over the winter months – I still commuted but longer rides were difficult especially in the windy conditions that we frequently enjoy in Scotland. It was the bad weather in late 2016 really hit me and meant that while I had been ahead of target throughout most of the year it became a real challenge in November and December.
BRC: Was there any kind of catharsis or Spiritual release on reaching the goal?
Not so much – it was right down to the wire to complete it as it was on Christmas Day that I rode the 12,000th mile – and I was focused on completing the Rapha 500 challenge by that point so had to keep going.
Do you have other goals or plans to ride farther, higher, faster in a year?
Certainly not further than 12,000 miles as I think that anything beyond that level really begins to eat into your life balance and that’s not something I want to jeopardise.
BCR: One album, One Movie, and One beverage?
Radiohead’s The Bends is one of my all-time favourite albums, but also any album by The Smiths. From more recent films, I would have to say I, Daniel Blake. Its utterly amazing and everyone should watch it and THINK! Easy one…Peroni
BCR: Last but not least! When I’m’ not riding my bike I’m
…Recovering with aloo saag curry and Peroni
p.s: Since writing unfortunately Graeme has been the victim of some pro dopeage on Strava. Yes, he had to relinquish some of his Glasgow KOM’s to some pesky pros ( add pic) competing in the recent European Road Race. Boo you bad man Adam Blythe!! However, I’m sure he’ll rise to the top of the pernicious cock womble once again ( i couldn’t resist)
A massive thanks tae Graeme for taking the time and sharing his cycling life with us.
Tour of the Highlands sportive (our story)