Consumer News

Kent, of his bike blog fame, got some free Accelerade to review. He was underwhelmed:

In theory you could make a carb+protein drink by taking something like a trout and running it through a blender with some orange juice. This would probably taste better than Accelerade.

I did try to come up with a scenario where I’d voluntarily choose to drink Accelerade and I think I’ve come up with it. I imagine a super hot day. I’ve just ridden the Issaquah Alps 100K loop four times without taking a drink. I stagger home, open the fridge and see two bottles. One contains Accelerade and one contains goat urine. In that instance, I would slam down the Accelerade.

I’d save the goat urine to wash the taste of Accelerade out of my mouth.

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Poor Sickly Me

I went to the doctor with a dodgy knee last week, and along with a referral to a special knee doctor he advised that I switch to swimming instead of rowing and cycling. Makes sense, of course, but I hate swimming; it’s boring, I find it almost impossible to remember how many laps I’ve done, I don’t like getting wet, and despite being a solo sport it still involves other people. Nonetheless I signed up at the local pool and have been swimming most days since (and yes, it’s every bit as loathsome as I remember).

Why am I whining on about this? Well I just wanted to caution you about medical advice. Since starting my shoulder has hurt almost constantly, and am seriously considering a return to the doctor. On the upside I’ll be able to fulfill a lifelong ambition by holding my arm in the air and saying “Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this”.


One of the problems of cycling longer distances is taking on sufficient levels of energy. You can’t eat too much at any one go because it will slow you down, so high-level cyclists graze quite a lot (not literally; stopping to chew grass would slow them down unacceptably). The most common snacks split into short-term, basically sugars, and long-term, mainly complex carbohydrates with some protein and fat. The idea is to eat the long-term snacks consistently, and when you’re flagging or in need of a boost you go with the sugary stuff. All sorts of formulations have ben developed to ensure that the athlete can absorb as much of the energy as they can, using different types of sugars for example (a mixture of glucose and fructose is taken up more quickly than the same amount of glucose, though fructose can cause, um, gastro-intestinal issues).

All that’s a little more trouble than I care for (on my few longer rides I’ve tended to favour cookies at the aide stations and m&ms in between), so you can imagine how pleased I was to discover a way of constantly micro-dosing with protein, a method that requires literally nothing from the rider. All that is required is to cycle past a nature reserve in the run-up to dusk with your mouth open, and you’ll find enough micro-packets of protein to keep you fully fueled until you throw up or fall off in revulsion.

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Necessary Hell

The Tour de France* bike race is going through something of a bad run at the moment. The pre-race favourite, Alexandre Vinokourov (spelled from memory, so be gentle with me) has been removed from the race following a positive** drug test, along with his team; Cofidis, another well established team, is out following a failed drug test for one of its riders; T-Mobile lost a rider but so far are still in the race; and now Michael Rasmussen, climbing supremo and current leader of the race has been sacked by the team and won’t be starting today’s stage.

Clearly, then, cycling is so riddled with drug abuse it’s a wonder that, um, the riders don’t end up in an amusing situation linked to taking too many drugs, like when somebody eats so much garlic it’s a wonder they don’t speak French.**

Well, not so clearly. Cycling has perhaps the most stringent testing for athletes in the world – Rasmussen has been fired not for taking drugs, but for not making it sufficiently well known where he was so that he could be tested – and as a result it’s finding more cheats than other sports. Imagine if baseball were subject to compulsory drug tests for the winning team after every victory, or if you could visit a strongman during the off-season. Cycling undoubtedly has a problem, but it’s the fact that it is taking that problem so seriously that makes it so prominent.

The press at the moment is going nuts over the disaster that is this year’s Tour, with such prominent riders and teams being ejected. I think it’s a good thing; it’s hard to imagine a clearer way of saying “If you cheat, we’ll catch you, and you’ll be finished”. If the same thing happens in 2-3 years time that would be a disaster, but this cleaning house exercise is a good thing, not a bad one.

*Note for US readers – France is a small country in Yurp whose inhabitants are perhaps best known for being called ‘cheese-eating surrender-monkeys’ in The Simpsons. They also have a bike race.

**Oh, they eat garlic, too.

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Saying versus doing

The government wants to improve the health of its citizens, reduce congestion and pollution, and not impose burdensome taxes. You’ll notice I haven’t yet said which country I’m talking about, and yet it’s true isn’t it? Those things are so self-evidently what a government would want to do that it’s true of just about any country; the arguments would be on how to do it, what counts as burdensome, etc.

Every bicycle imported into the UK (there, I gave away what country I’m talking about) has a 14% import duty applied. This isn’t a protectionist measure, because we don’t have a domestic bike industry of any size. What’s left of the glory days is a number of specialist frame builders who are in competition with each other, but not with imported bikes built in bulk. It isn’t a general revenue raising measure, because any number of items have little or no duty applied; in duty terms, for example, it’s cheaper to play Pro Cycling Manager (0%) on your PSP (2.2%) than to actually go cycling (the aforementioned 14%). What it is, is that most pernicious of government actions – a tax that once served a purpose (back when we had a domestic bike industry) but now serves as an unnoticed source of revenue and creator of admin jobs.

Well no more, I cry lustily, no more! I’ve taken the ultimate step that every brave citizen in a democracy must do when pushed to breaking point – I’ve signed an official online petition complaining about the situation. What happens with these petitions, briefly, is that the petition eventually closes, a flunky for the PM’s office tosses off a dismissive response thanking us for our input and explaining that as a result of our feedback nothing is going to change, and we work on our flexibility to make sure we can reach our ankles with both hands.

In this case, though, I’m really curious about what that response will be. This tax (‘duty’ is a weasel-word) actively harms the government’s stated aims, in all the areas I mentioned above, and is demonstrably unfair to boot. So what could be the defense? I’m guessing something along the lines of “part of a complex network of revenue streams, can’t pick on one aspect in isolation, upcoming review of import costs, European constraints, thanks for your comment”.

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