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Rest Less Success

  • Posted by alex
  • 27 March 2012

Last weekend the Rest Less Ride took riders across the whole of Wales from beach to border overnight. The roads were riddled with pot-holes, sheets of gravel and barrier-less hairpin bends, dropped into deep dark valleys, through forests and over 25% climbs in a race against the sun on the night the clocks went forwards.

The ride was born out of a story that writer - and friend of howies - Rob Penn, shared from a chance meeting on the road with a passing cyclist, reminiscing over night-long club rides in the late 1950's; the quieter roads, the lack of traffic, and the peloton pushing one another on through dawn.

The roads back in the 50’s aren’t too dissimilar to the country lanes in Wales, so only one question remained; "When shall we do it?"

On Saturday, 16 riders set off from howies HQ to Abergavenny, all that led the way were small road markings, the faith in the peloton and the promise that no-one would get left behind in the wilderness.

The pack was made up some of Rob's and our riding friends, who had come from across Britain, to take on this incredible adventure. A last supper gave time to go over the route, fettle bikes and exchange names with the riders who would help carry one another across the entire country in the dark.

Barely 10 minutes into the ride, a disturbed badger darted into the pack, causing a tumble. The sound of bikes hitting the ground and cries in the night halted riders in front. Once turned upright, we re-grouped and pressed on. What other dangers waited for us in the dark?

Winding out of the Teifi valley, the stronger legs set a steady pace along the undulating road to Lampeter. The hills began to get steeper, breathing deepened and gears simultaneously jumped in the dark to bigger cogs.

The descents made up for the climbs and soon everyone seemed settled, taking to the 40mph bends, down over humpback bridges, free wheeling to allow the legs to rest for the next inevitable climb.

At Lampeter we left the safety of the A roads and towns, heading into the wilderness. The quiet back roads were brown and green down the middle, with fractures to test skinny tyres and fords to test nerves; a surface barely ideal in daylight, let alone in the dark.

These country lanes were bound for the lake at Llyn Briane, up winding valley passes and through pitch-black, potholed hairpins. Chatter in the pack slowed as concentration increased to keep wheels in line over the rough surfaces and spotting markers to keep on course - we had not seen a house or car for miles and rumbling over cattle grids. There would be nowhere to go if you gave up here.

News of the coming halfway stop for hot soup refreshed tired minds. Eager stomachs wound up the pace and soon everyone was huddled around a 2-ring gas burner awaiting some real food. Passing round bread and stretching, we noticed the time, 3am. With darkness all around, we were halfway from nowhere and nowhere near somewhere with an handful of hours 'til dawn. The race against the sun had begun.

The climb past the lake, invisible in the dark, led to fantastically smooth tarmac lining the valley as it wound through the hills and over barrier-less summits with steep drops into the dark.

Approaching the pine forest, a broken chain tore apart Alex's derailleur, demanding some roadside repairs. Stopped in the silence, it was obvious the damage was irreparable. Cut down to a single speed, the best attempt to limp on, wasn't going to get the bike over the 25% climb of the Devil's Staircase and certainly not onto Abergavenny. It was game over for Alex.

The Devil's Staircase is famed for it's 25% walls levelling out briefly before the next step upwards. The set of short, sharp climbs marked the midway point through the wilderness. A series of sketchy but exhilarating hairpin descents to the valley floor followed. Mist collected between the hills as the road bounced along, mimicking the bed of the river until finally a junction and another short rest.

Signposts pointed through a dark forest to Builth, where the pack regrouped. The dawn chorus had begun, and the promise of daylight was in the air. The quiet A-roads were smooth and wide, with street lighting easing the dependence of lights which would surely be near the end of their battery life. These roads gave the pack their best chance yet to work together, forming a train of tired legs each taking turns out front to break the cold air.

Crossing the river, heading for Hay-on-Wye, the B-roads were foggy and felt chilly without the climbs to keep the body warm. Staying together for company and warmth, the pack pressed on in the mist.

Leaving Hay behind, daylight finally broke over the hills of the Black Mountains where the final - and hardest - climb of the ride came into view.

Every rider stopped to shed weight, jettisoning surplus layers and water bottles. Feeling sore and empty, the beauty of the scenery laid out in the early morning sun was enough to make the riders forget their tired legs. The end would soon be in sight, with a 15 mile whooping descent though the Llanthony Valley to breakfast. And it would be the best breakfast ever, in soft chairs with hot food.

The ride forged friendship through adversity; sharing the experience of digging deep when you’ve got nothing left, feeling sick, delirious and weary but pushing yourself and fellow riders further than you could possible ride on your own.

Despite the grueling climbs and rapid descents over tarmac laced with gravel and pot holes, 14 of the 16 riders completed the challenge - 124 miles, over 3000 meters of ascent with only one final question remaining; "When shall we do it again?"

A short video of the ride is here.

Mountain biking in Brechfa

  • Posted by howies
  • 14 March 2012

Here’s your chance to win a weekend posh camping in the Brecon Beacons and ride the trails on your doorstep at Brechfa.

You and a friend could be off on an amazing weekend of mountainbiking and posh camping from the kind people at Canopy & Stars. We’ll join you to ride some of the most famed trails in the country and throw in some howies performance Merino baselayers for you both.

And the best part is you get to pick which weekend we go

To enter, simply submit your details below or over on the howies Facebook page to win a place for you and a friend.

Good luck.

Thanks for all your entries, this competition is now closed.

Getting vertical

  • Posted by hazel
  • 14 March 2012

Riding downhill on any bike is always fun, but add in 180 mm of travel, full body armour and a full-face helmet and yer laughing.

I rode Cwm-Carn on Saturday with a group of local shredders who made me push myself and laugh until my ribs hurt. We managed to get 10 solid runs in which was brilliant, but painful on the old fingers. I had permanent claw hands for the majority of the day. I felt pretty rusty riding the DH rig, but after a few runs down I soon got into the swing of things and was loving the rhythm section at the bottom of the course. With one particular hip jump that just felt awesome with the wheels off the ground.

After a long winter it was just what we all needed and has given us the motivation to start organizing more trips and begin digging our local trails.

Here’s a small edit by Jon Becket at Descent World of our Saturday Uplift session:-

Cwmdown Cwmcarn DWR from descent-world on Vimeo.

Follow Your Front Wheel.

  • Posted by hollie
  • 8 March 2012

Tomorrow is my last day at howies.

I joined howies after moving back home fresh from graduating from university in Cardiff, with the plan to ‘work for a little bit, to earn enough money to move back to the city’ ….. that was almost four years ago.

This weekend marks a big change with a permanent move to the dazzling lights of Bristol – so not too far away, but far enough away to feel a bit of a culture shock, that may sound strange to most people as it’s hardly New York, but when you’ve lived in a tiny little town with the same faces for most of your life it is. I’m not a town mouse by any standard.

The fact buses still run services past 6pm in some places still outstands me.

I’m leaving Cardigan on a reflective note, growing up in a small town you have a sense of “I can’t WAIT to move away to some civilisation!” - or even the fact that the nearest McDonalds was over an hour away always seemed so unfair - kids eh!

But now, whether it’s just a sign of growing older, or the fact that since graduating I’ve developed a passion for photography so appreciate the area’s beauty a little more, I look back on growing up here and remember the long summer holidays at the beach and everything else in between that makes me realise this place isn’t quite so bad after all.

I have quite a lot to thank howies for, as a student my main focus for buying anything tended to be money orientated - rather than where it was from and how it came to be, but working here has taught me the importance of provenance- whether it be food, clothing, fabrics, whatever – I’d like to think I’m a bit more clued up on how the world works so can make better consumer decisions as a result. Also I’ve been lucky enough to help out on the past few photoshoots which has been an amazing experience, working with talented buggers like James Bowden and Paul Calver , then seeing some of my work on the shiny new website, which felt like a pretty sweet moment, so thank you for that.

Of course the other main reason to thank howies is also the reason why I’m leaving howies – When the Bristol shop opened a couple of years ago, they employed a young man named Will.

The rest, as they say, is Gavin & Stacy-esque history.

So thanks howies – thanks to the office, to Lou & Hazel for sticking pins in me and drawing on me with biro to alter clothes for production, To Tomos for sharing my love of Karl Pilkington podcasts, to nathan and julia for double checking my sums, To Ruben & Alex for ANYTHING system, camera or computer related (and believe me there were a lot of questions) the caffitiere for making mornings and late night overtime shifts go a little easier, PG for lacing important emails with humour, to the warehouse for putting up with the all parcels I’ve flung at them, to Tidy for Bristol pep talks and massive laughs on staff outings, to the creative boys – Pete for his HILARIOUS on going joke & Aron for mutual family guy love and laughs, Ade for giving me the push I needed, and finally of course thanks to Emma & James, you guys are basically just donuts.

hollie x

 

Anyone who knows me may be glad to hear this, but I am about to embark on a plan to quit smoking cigarettes. Forever. I have to do it to be in with a chance of winning that £500 in our little 10K run bet, or to ever be able to run further than to my local Londis (you can read more about the bet here).

Tut tut, I'm sure a lot of you dissapproving sporty-types will be quoffing into your mungbean salad about now. Well save it. Yes, smoking is stupid, trust me I know. I'm a smoker. My comedy lung capacity and the mahogany hue of my fingernails says so. But I'm not writing this for you (haven't you got some workout stats to go analyse, or something?) Not many of you howies fans do smoke, anyway. So I'm writing this for anyone that does, in the hope that it could nudge just one of them to get off their arse and do something, one day, soon.

We know smoking is disgusting, we know it's wrecking our health and we're all fully aware that if we carry on, it will probably be the death of us. But when you're addicted to nicotine, you go into ostrich-mode at the fear of never being able to smoke again – convincing yourself that you aren't slowly dieing on the inside and that your hacking cough is just a tiny tickley cough, caused by the ickle Marlboro pixies ballet dancing on your windpipe.

So, I've read the books and I've listened to the tapes and they can all be summed up in 100 words, rather than 100,000 – smoking is brainwashing. Remember your first cigarette and how utterly foul it tasted? Well, every single cigarette you ever smoked after that is exactly the same. They are clones, all made the same way, on a production line, using the same cocktail of rubbish and they all taste pretty much the same and are equally disgusting, should you happen to light them on fire. The pleasure you think you get from puffing on them and how you think you now enjoy the taste, is just your brain tricking you. It needs the nicotine that's in them and it will do all manner of Derren Brown-ery on your senses to get it. That includes habitually fooling you into thinking you like the taste of hot burning chemicals and that yellow teeth look cool. Knowing this, gives you an advantage over the bastard.

But you need some sort of emotional trigger, a wake-up call to pull your head out of the sand and realise that this drug owns you and you need to do something about it. My trigger was the bet and how my running has progressed so pathetically. It is also the fear of having to cough up £500 and possibly a lung in the process. You just need to find your trigger.

If you're like me, then it's probably fear stopping you from doing something. All I'll say is give it a go. Connect your brain back to your body, go for a long walk or something and just feel how unfit you are (probably). That alone could be your trigger to make some changes. Maybe then we could all be happy, healthy, lycra clad endorphine junkies, nodding at eachother across the park.

Or don't bother. Maybe you like smoking? Who am I to preach? My goodness, I've become one of those worthy plebs I dislike so much... Carry on.

Prof. Peter Davies

Rest Less

  • Posted by alex
  • 7 March 2012

At the end of March the clocks go forward to mark the start of British Summer Time – losing us one hour in bed, but gaining us extra daylight to do more of the things we love.

So on the night of the 24th, a group from howies will be joined by writer and cyclist Rob Penn and friends for a night-long bike ride across Wales, from beach to border.

The 115 mile race against the sun begins in the early evening in Cardigan. Riding east through the night on dark back roads, over rolling hills and alongside lakes, the route will take us over some of the country's most infamous peaks, before descending into Rob's hometown of Abergavenny, in time for the sunrise.

Some of us will be fast, some of us will be slow, some of us may not even make it to the finish. There will be flat tyres and deflated souls, mud, blood, sweat and struggle – the stuff that makes strong hearts and legs.

But whatever happens, there'll be no time to rest.

The Brenin jacket

  • Posted by alex
  • 6 March 2012


For the past few months we've been putting a prototype of a new howies jacket through it's paces.

The Brenin is our new lightweight biking jacket for Spring. Actually, it does a whole lot more than that. We've designed it to be windproof, breathable and packable. We've also added in stretch panels on the arms and torso – making it a perfect-fitting outer shell for either bike or run.

The tailored body panels are designed to stop wind and chill from getting in, while the stretch sections let body heat out and give you greater freedom of movement. The jacket's cuffs and drop-tail have subtle reflective detailing too, making you visible to motorists at night. And these flashes are located so they won't be covered up if you're wearing a backpack. It's even got a hydrophobic coating on the body, to help splashes roll off.

Not bad for a jacket weighing-in at only 200grams (that's about the same weight as a banana). In fact, it's so lightweight; you forget you're wearing it.

Beyond the bike, we've also taken this jacket over the hills on foot. We've run it over a hundred miles of trail, slogged out a few ultra-marathons, not to mention plenty of lunchbreaks. And it did the job every time... right to the finish.

Teamed up with one of our long-sleeved Merino base layers, the Brenin jacket has already become a howies staple for those staff members lucky enough to have snapped up one of the samples. For the rest of us, we'll just have to wait 'til we launch the finished product in March.

But don't just take our word for it:
"The new howies Brenin is a fantastically well designed lightweight jacket that packs as much style as it does performance out on the trails in the British weather." – BikeMagic

"It’s the first time we can really say… one style fits all! Star Buy - 96%" – CyclingShorts

The Brenin jacket is available to buy here

The Bet

  • Posted by pete
  • 22 February 2012

Last week, my workmates bet me (an unfit chump) the princely sum of £500 that I couldn't run a 10 kilometre race in under 70 minutes.

£500 I thought... "That's a lot of money, think of all the fags and booze you can buy with that".

Of course I naively said yes and took the bet, without really considering what I was letting myself in for. It wasn't until my first training run the other night that I realised exactly how pitifully out of shape I am. Or indeed exactly how far 10 kilometres is. And that I should probably start saving the £500 I'm going to have to cough up, when I fail.

The basis for my self-doubt is the fact that I've been a smoker for nearly half of my life. I'm also partial to a bit of beige food and I enjoy a drink. A lifestyle, I think you'll agree, not really conducive with a the sport of running.

Sure, I can skateboard for hours on end and I can do 20 miles on my bike without too much trouble, so I am active and I'm not overweight or anything. But I haven't run any kind of distance for a long time. Not since being made to do the dreaded cross-country in school. I hated it and I hated being forced into doing it. And that instilled a fear in me – a fear of running and a fear of failing at running, which lives with me to this day. So I never ran again.

But £500 is a good motivator. It's just the kick up the backside I needed to make some changes to my lifestyle. To quit smoking, eat healthier, to forget all the negative crap and just run.

So if you seen a thin, wheezy man trudging around the streets of West Wales, in what look like shoes of lead, don't be alarmed, It's just me... training for my 10K.

I'll be uploading my progress over the next few months, with stories, photos, disappointing stats and maybe a video or two. I welcome your comments, tips and mickey-taking. So please feel free to chip in. Thanks.

Riding in circles

  • Posted by alex
  • 21 February 2012

Over the winter we've watched record-breaking heros racing at the Manchester Velodrome in the Revolution track series.

And since my first visit to watch an event, a certain excitement surrounding track cycling has made me keen to give it a go.

The track at Newport is much the same as the one in Manchester, albeit crowd-less and silent when we turned up for our session yesterday. The silence drew my attention to the steep banks at either end of the track (45° banks, to be precise), which have been the only real niggle in my mind since first realising how steep they are. I have been reassured that if you can ride fast enough to get round on the lines, you're going quick enough to make it round at the boards.

Winding up the fixed gear approaching the first bend, I started to wonder; will my tyres grip at this (low) speed? Will I make it round? Or will I slide down it on my face?

But as the pace picked up all I could concentrate on was keeping on the back wheel of the bike in front, lap after lap, trying to pull into his slipstream and keep a good pace.

Before I knew it, I was flying. The rushing air lapping at my ears while shooting up the bank towards the advertising banners, then timing a descent to glide tidily to the back of the pack for a rest.

When your head is down and your speed is up, you don't worry about being clipped in, or remember you're on a fixed gear bike with no brakes and no freewheel. Fear vanishes and soon all that matters is going faster, catching the bike in front and absorbing every minute, while ignoring burning legs and lungs or anything else telling you to slow down.

We certainly weren't breaking any records, but track cycling is even more exciting to me, now that I've had a go.

Thank you Welsh Cycling - I'm sure we'll be heading back for another fix soon.

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