Where does Hack Cycling come from?

For some time, the blog has been dedicated to cycling and usually my cycling exploits. At one time, I wrote on topics of psychology and politics, but I have not been motivated for such things of late. Cycling has taken over my life and is my current interest. The quest for a name for the site has lead to different ideas. The name Hack Cycling came from a conversation I had with an almost pro cyclist. He placed well in provincials and nationals and has been cycling since I was in diapers. He called most of the people that do the local ride called the Donut Ride hacks - for their lack of skill. Given I am relatively new to the sport of cycling, I thought I must be a Hack. Thus, Hack Cycling was born. The blog is dedicated to all things cycling; for all things learned in the sport.

I've also been called Thundercalves by the Mike Mandel, from the Real Deal Racing team...and then name stuck. More recently, I garnished the name, Mark Breakaway because the announcer at the 2014 Provincials crit didn't know my last name while he was announcing and I was off the front of the front of the pack from the start off the race. The Breakaway name seems to stick now because it has become my mantra in racing: get off the front into a break away.

Who am I?

I am a 47 year ameteur cycling racer. I used to live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada but recently moved to Miltonl, ON to get out of the big city. I have two children that are both in their early 20's. I am a student of York University and I am studying part time towards my degree in Psychology.  While I work in the computer industry as a software developer, my passions is for learning on how the mind works and getting faster on the bike.

2008: How I got started

In Feburary 2008, I took up cycling as a means to lose weight. I started at 265lbs with a high cholesterol rating. Months earlier I had to attend a funeral for a friend that died of a heart attack at age 45. His only failing was his love of food. Many years before this event I used to ride to work and back as a way to save money. However, my job was now in Oakville and it was a 40-60 drive in each way. I had not been on a bike in years.

I bought a bike trainer that would fit my mountain bike. I road a bike trainer for 30 mins each morning, five days per week. I can remember trying  just to spin for 30 mins each morning and how hard it was. When it got warm enough to go outside, I moved outdoors to cycled a whole 8km each morning and congratulated myself on how hard I was working. I can recall how hills of grades of 5% were a huge challenge. I think bought a new bike that spring: a hybrid with disc brakes. I was religious about this workout. I would get up early from work to do the ride, come home, shower and head off to work. It was not long before the 8km ride extended to 15 km....then to 18km, 20kms, 25 kms, and 30kms. I always felt great after a ride and my weight steadily declined. I was also eating better and laying off the snacks at work. That fall, a friend, Ron, a former mountain bike racer, invited me to do a fall colours ride in and around Aurora. It would be the first time riding the "hills" of north Toronto and cycling 50km. I was hooked. This was fun. Ron and I rode just about every weekend after that until it got too cold out. He introduced me to bike clothing (arm warmers, jackets, leg warmers, etc.) and aerobars - yea, I put aerobars on a hybrid - at the time, I didn't know any better. It was the rides around Aurora that made me want to race a bike. I do not remember why I wanted to do that, but I did. Ron told me, and I did not believe him; "That it takes three years to build the fitness to race." I would later find that out the hard way.

In Jan. 2009, I was 230lbs and slowly getting into shape. At that point, I bought my first real road bike from the D'Ornellas Bike Shop. Carbon frame, Ultegra groupset, clipless pedals, and the works. I immediately joined the D'Ornellas Fitness Factory and took to riding indoors with the club. I thought I was really "good" and really "fast" until I joined these "pros". Eon D'Ornellas, on that first day, said two things to me: "Ride like that!" while pointing to the coach at the front of the class; "You need Aubrey" - the club coach. So, I hired Aubrey Bryce,  did a fitness test and immediately got a training plan which included weight training. So, within two weeks I had bought a new bike, joined the club, was riding and training on my bike at an indoor training center, had a coach, was doing intervals and going to the gym. None of which I had ever done before. The most athletic I had ever been was lifting the remote control for the TV set. Climbing stairs was hard (oddly, it still is).

The Big Crash

After several months of riding with the club and having fun trying to keep up with them, I managed to get the point where I could climb hills like the fastest riders in the club. I had been doing the Learn to Race series put on by the Midweek Bike Club as directed by my coach. My intent was to race so I had to learn to handle a bike in race conditions.

For a challenge, I joined the D'Ornellas club century ride to Niagara. It was a ride to Niagara Falls and back. It was a fast ride into St. Catharines. However, that night my bike was stolen along with another rider's bike. A bike I had for 6 months was gone and I had to ride back to Toronto in the D'Ornellas' van. The bike was covered by insurance. So, I bought a new bike and upgraded in the process.  However, lady luck was not on my ride. I had the new bike two whole weeks before I crashed during a sprint in the Learn to Race Midweek Crit series. Someone crossed my front wheel during the final sprint to the finish line. I can only guess my front wheel locked up (I don't really know because it happened so fast) and I went flying over the handlebars and landed some 3m in front of my bike. I had been travelling at 40km/h at that point. I finished the race but the bike did not. Everyone screamed at me not to get up. I had landed on my side. I knew something bad had happened. Something was wrong with my leg. The ambulance was called. I had broken my leg. I never really understood the extent of the damage until I saw the X-Ray about a month later. I had broken my right femur in two places (snapped it) - the biggest bone in my body! It took me six months to learn to walk again, although I was able to ride my bike again three months later. I still have the plate in my leg with some 10 screws holding it in place. I will always have that plate in there unless it presents problems. It amazes me when I tell people this fact that they think it is amazing I got back on the bike and I am racing. To me, it is what one does. If you fall off the horse, you get back up and do it again. One of these days I expect I will end up damaging my other leg.

Other noted things:

  • completely my goal of riding to Niagara Falls on my own: 210km. In fact, I have done it many times now. The second time I did 210km averaging 32km/h. I've done the TBN Hairshirt ride (Toronto->Niagara Falls->Toronto) three times now - and then was only 324km.
  • cycling 160km in France including two Cols.
  • arranging a Blue Mountain Gran Fondo recon ride and getting some 80-100 people out, then breaking the frame of my bike and completing the entire ride with the brakes rubbing after falling off the back of the pack (yea, I arranged a ride for which I wasn't able to ride)
  • riding the Blue Mountain Gran Fondo several times with a best time of 5hr22
  • Finished 10th in the Niagara Classic Road Race the first year of racing (and I would have been on the podium if I were a faster climber). To this date, I still don't know how that happened.
  • travelled to France three times to ride the mountains and drink espresso
  • travelled to the US to race including Buffalo for the Larkinville Challenge, and to Georgian to race Speedweek.
  • member of the Forest City Velodrome since 2010 and most recently competed in track nationals in the Milton Velodrome garnishing two PB's: Flying 200m and 3K IP.
  • Fancy myself a crit goon with the lot of speed on a short crit course. I could do road races, but 2.5 hrs or more of riding for one sprint? Na.
  • Looking forward to competing in Manchester, UK at the World Track Championships with I can get my 750m TT and 3K IP times down to world class standards. 
  • Completed the Ontario Cycling Association commissaire course for both road and track and working races I'd rather not ride.


Make sure the group knows you're forming an Echelon before starting one.
Echelon (aka Single Paceline) riding is a great way to maintain a higher then average speed with a reduced effort. If done properly, can be a similar experience to listening to Beethoven 4th with Bose headphones.

If it is not done correctly, it can be dangerous and the group will be all over the pace and create sling shots.

It is not about how fast you can go, it is about team work and everyone will benefit from coordination.
Most of our rides involve the rotation of riders by a simple echelon formation especially on the way back to the shop. This generally means the person leading on the outside right moves forward to inside left (and vice a versa if the wind is coming from the right) and the person behind them becomes the new leader on the right side. If you're not sure how this works then take note and watch the people in front of you. ASK, Always retire to the back of the bunch. Everyone can have a turn on the front even if only for a short time. Always change when it is safe, particularly when riding 2 abreast, safe spots may need to be found so to avoid getting motorists upset.

  • When you're the last wheel, call it out.
  • When approaching a hill, if it is steep, hold your spot till you reach the top. if it is a mild grade, you can rotate through.
  • If your at the front and cannot hold the hill, Call it out, let the rider beside you know and let those around you move through in an orderly fashion.
  • As always, when approaching a hill, back off a bit and hold the group together, if you're at the front, you are the leader of the peloton and it is your responsibility to keep the group together.
  • If you want to sit in the sweet spot. call it out so other riders know you're not in the formation. (we will soon know who you are)
  • Make a mental note of the speed of the Echelon so when you get to the front, you maintain that speed. Reduce your cadence slightly to fall into place.
  • When you are pulling into the lead, listen for riders who may tell you it is clear or to slow down or ease up. 
Keep the group together nice and tightIt is a group effort. If you are constantly getting yelled at, talk to the ride leader as there may be something you're missing and don't feel embarrassed as it does take practice.

If your bike is worth more than $1000, chances are your home owner or tenant insurance policy will only cover up to $1000  (check).

On a club weekend tour, two bikes were taken from the locked room where we were staying over the weekend - one was mine.  Security contents the door was forced open. Regardless, the tour was a great ride. I am not too concerned about the theft because my bike was fully insured, but it brings about a point that may be worth noting. Make sure your insurance covers the replacement cost of your bike. Most insurance companies require a rider on the policy to cover a bike more than $1000.


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