Alan Gray has been producing sparkling articles at Ribble for more than TWO DECADES so he’s officially part of the fixtures and fittings. What better person to get to know a little better in this week’s Staff Rider Stories.
Alan, Alan, Alan, you’ve been here at Ribble for a few years haven’t you, but just how many? Errrr, forever?. This year will be my 24th at Ribble I think? I’m the longest-serving employee of the company, I started packing orders and gradually progressed through various roles in the warehouse, before moving over to customer service and then my current role of copywriter.
With plenty of time to get to know each of the bikes inside and out, which did you opt for? Until the start of the year, I rode a Ribble Azzurro carbon (a predecessor to the current Endurance SL carbon range) in the summer and a Sportive 365 carbon winter bike. I commute into work in all weathers though and felt that the extra braking power of disc brakes would be more beneficial. So, I took the plunge and upgraded to a CGR 725 steel gravel bike with 2 sets of wheels, one for road and one for gravel. It’s the first steel bike that I’ve ridden since I was in my teens and wow, just wow. We’ve been inseparable ever since, gravel, cycle track, road you name it.
What is your general riding like, how many days per week do you get out? By nature, I’m a very lazy person so only tend to put in a longer ride 2-3 times a week. Pre-lockdown there was also the 6-mile each way daily commute too, come rain or shine. There is always the scope to extend the commute of course so in summer tend to detour or after work to boost the mileage.
Where is your favourite place to ride? God’s own Lancashire of course! Seriously though, with the Bowland Forest on my doorstep why do I need to go anywhere else? I’m not into climbing as I’m not built for it (too much chocolate and beer – my kryptonite), but I would definitely like to try a few of the climbs in the Alps. Just seeing images of those endless hairpin bends, I’d take that pain for sure. They’re definitely on my bucket list.
Who do you mainly ride with? I’m a bit of an introvert so tend to ride solo, but fully intend to embrace the ride outs from Ribble HQ when they restart.
Any events you plan to do? Nah, see the introvert bit, I’m happy to just log the miles riding the roads I grew up riding on as well as exploring those lanes you have always wondered where they lead to.
Do you have any cycling goals? To ride the Alps, and increase the mileage again to get my weight back down to where it was approximately 5 years or so back. Unfortunately for the last dozen years I’ve suffered from Atrial Fibrillation and have undergone 4 operations to try and improve things. It tends to make me feel prematurely tired, since lockdown I’ve been gradually building up the mileage to improve my stamina.
Who is your favourite pro rider and why? I always like to see Team Ineos do well being the British team in the peloton and I also cheer on the British riders in the big races. But I would have to say my favourite rider of the moment has to be Mathieu Van der Poel, the guy’s a beast. I’ve watched him competing in various road and cross events and he just has that star factor. He’s going to be a dominant force for the next decade or so I’m sure of it.
If you could have the skill of any rider who would it be and why? See above or Sagan. Watching Peter Sagan pulling no-handed/one-handed wheelies whilst ascending the Alps in the Tour de France was just mind-blowing. Some serious skills, he’s a natural entertainer.
What does cycling mean to you? I’ve been cycling now for 30 years or so, it’s the freedom to get out and explore the countryside. To leave the rat-race behind and just enjoy being in the now. If I didn’t ride, I’d be a couch potato hiding away at home. Cycling improves both my fitness and state of mind.
You’re an interesting chap, you must have loads of fun things about you we don’t already know. Come on, tell us just one. That’s a tricky one really as I think I’m pretty boring. But, how about this? In my youth, I attended nautical college where I learnt some essential survival skills, like how to overturn a liferaft in a storm. Being dressed in a boiler suit and lifevest in a purpose-built storm simulation pool trying to overturn a liferaft like you see onboard ferries and cruise ships is not my idea of fun. It’s not all bad though for I also found out that I have a real flair for dead-reckoning navigation. If you are unlucky enough to ever be stranded in the sea or ocean with nothing but a life vest, life raft and some other poor unfortunates for company feel free to give me a bell. I’ll share my tips for staying alive and finding your way to safety.
What has been your proudest cycling moment? It would have to be the cycle tour my dad and I went on when I was in my early teens. We took the overnight sleeper from Preston to Glasgow then headed over to Mallaig. From there we proceeded to tour the Inner and Outer Hebrides and some of the West Coast of Scotland. There is some absolutely sensational scenery to be enjoyed on those isolated coasts. In particular, I remember looking out from the climb out of Seilebost on the Isle of Harris and thinking that if you just cleared your mind and looked you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a Caribbean beach scene. The sea and beach were such breathtakingly contrasting hues of Blue, Turquoise and Gold. That trip was also some seriously hard riding, 550 miles+ over 9 or 10 days, but fun and when we finished, I was beyond proud of myself. I also happened to have legs like Robert Forstemann….possibly.
And we’ve all had them, what has been the worst ride of your life? There’s been a few, but the winner has to be another trip to Scotland. The overnight sleeper again but this time we stopped slap, bang in the middle of the highlands, a place called Tyndrum. The train stopped at this single short platform for us to disembark, but not on the platform side….. no that would be far too easy. Nope, on the trackside and maybe as a premonition of the horror film-like plot that was to follow the guard only had keys for that side of the train. So, there we were in rural Scotland stood by the side of the railway tracks having our bikes passed down to us, whilst god know how many passengers were left wondering why their train had stopped. It was then that I became aware of the surroundings, a Little Chef and a road… that’s it.
Our destination was a Cyclist Touring Club Bothy where we would spend the night. Situated just off the only road for miles amidst a first of trees I had just turned off the main road when wham! A bee or wasp slammed into my neck and proceeded to leave me a little parting gift of its stinger as a memento. That was about as welcome as a chocolate teapot and I had to ride the last few hundred metres in some discomfort. You see it had lodged adjacent to my windpipe and as all kids do at that age I was fairly convinced I would drop dead on the spot.
Upon entering the bothy my spirits were not lifted one iota when I viewed the furniture with undisguised horror. And the spiders……I had never seen any so big or so many of them in one place before. This was not helped by the fact we only had torchlight to see by projected each spider into ginormous proportions on the walls and ceiling. I slept badly that night….. on a table, no way was I sleeping on the floor or on a bunk! Needless to say, the multi-day adventure trip became an overnighter as there was no possibility of me enduring another minute in that hut from hell!
Ribble CustomColour, what is it, how does it work, and how do I order it? Read our in-depth guide to all things CustomColour here.
A good set of wheels will improve your riding experience enormously, read about the benefits offered by the Level range of wheels here.