Monthly Archives: February 2010

Flights

1. 4/1 London – Frankfurt (Lufthansa)

2. 11/2 Frankfurt – Salzburg (Lufthansa)

3. 11/2 Salzburg – Frankfurt (Lufthansa)

4. 11/2 Frankfurt – London (Lufthansa)

5. 16/2 London – Belfast (BMI)

6. 16/2 Belfast – London (BMI)

7. 24/2 Luton – Berlin (EasyJet)

8. 28/2 Berlin – Luton (EasyJet)

Off to a good start then this year!  Berlin is amazing by the way.  Can’t believe it is my first time here.

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Europe’s biggest bike shop

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Europe’s largest bike shop. The massive Chain Reaction Cycles in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Like most cyclist out there, I have used CRC many times, their service being the area in which they mostly impressed me over the years. Availability of products not listed anywhere else, and the products being on your doormat the next day.

My reason for visiting though, is that CRC is one of the most often mentioned companies in my job as International Sales Manager for a bike accessory brand. The complaint normally is that local shops cannot compete, and that their pricing policy puts local shops out of business. They are seen as some sort of Tesco / Walmart -esque monster eating into and destroying the local shops. It is a view that I have heard again and again, and while it is one with which I do not agree (I firmly believe that there are both price sensitive customers, and customers who are less price sensitive and that concentrating on what someone else is doing is not the correct approach. Look at your own strategy and what you can do to win and retain custom yourself) it occurred to me that I had never heard CRC’s side of the argument.

For that reason I travelled to Belfast last Tuesday (wow, really slow updating when I am in the UK) to see what they did and how it was run.  I was massively impressed – not just by the size of their setup, but by their enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing.  I took a couple of minutes to stop and talk to a guy in their workshop.  He was a wheel builder, and told me that he builds somewhere in the region of 60 wheels a day.  I could instantly tell, as soon as ask him about them, that he loved his job.  His face and eyes lit up like a little kid when he started talking wheels with me.  Spokes, spoke tensions, etc.  It surprised me, not that someone was that passionate, but that he continues to be, despite the sheer number of builds that he does a day.

CRC is massive, let’s not mess about pretending that it isn’t.  It is a family business though, and it has been built up from a small bike shop in a town centre, just like the one you visit.  Through some brave moves they have built a large and recession busting business.  It is not the evil monster that many pretend that it is.  They are putting money back into the sport.  Sponsoring race series in the United Kingdom (Chain Reaction Cycles Marathon Series), and the have a race team.  They do CycleScheme, and have been known to pay for companies who buy CycleScheme bikes through them to have a shower put in at work for the employees.

Retailers state that ChainReactionCycles are ruining their business, but I simply don’t believe this to be the case.  Internet retailers in every area are growing the market.  Pricing policies are the problem, but those are up to the brands and retailers.  What is happening is that users are becoming aware of new brands, more choice.  It forces everyone to up their game.  More choice usually means that you spend more money, more money means more bikes, more bikes means that all of us profit.

Wish

I am so underdressed. It isn’t a big deal, but sat in a bar in London (in The City) I wonder if I would have made a good city boy?!

Not fun.

There are some things about my life that I know sound like great fun.  I will admit that I have a lot of run in a lot of what I do.  Even the story that I am about to tell you is fun in its own way.

On Thursday I got up early, and had a taxi sitting outside the flat in Germany at 5.15am.  I was off to the station and then the airport.  It is difficult dragging yourself out of bed at that time, particularly as it was snowing at the time.

Arriving at the airport I had plenty of time to go to the Lufthansa Business Lounge to grab breakfast.  I do not fly business, I should add, but fly enough that Lufthansa looks after me.  So cornflakes, fruit juice and a fruit salad, and off I went to the gate.

This was the smallest plane I have been on for a long time.  A Dash-8 owned by Tyrolean Airways, seating 50 people.  I was on my way to our distributor near Salzburg, just for a chat really, for the day.  The snow though was falling and there was a delay of 40mins.  Not too bad.

The visit itself was just the relationship part of my job, as the distributor here is one of the best that we have.  They understand the product fully, know about how to portray it to the retailers and the benefits of it.  They have enthusiasm for what we do (which we sometimes test to the extreme) and the day in general was a good one.

Business done, it was back to the airport.  Check in, and then sitting in the departure lounge.  It was then that it all started to unravel.  The flight was firstly delayed by an hour.  Heavy snow all day in Austria, and also in Frankfurt where I was returning to, before taking an ongoing flight to London.  I found a kindred spirit, also travelling through FRA to London.  Fairly obviously we were at the mercy of the weather, so we grabbed a beer and waited.

The flight left approximately an 1hr 30mins late, however, as expected the ‘connection’ but fortunately at that time, the ongoing leg was delayed from 21:20 to firstly 22.45 then 23:05.

My travel partner and myself made a line for the nearest lounge.  It was packed.  There were delays on every flight leaving Frankfurt, and many had been cancelled.  The staff though were still cheerful and helpful, despite a large group of disgruntled passengers and status flyers demanding unreasonable amounts of service.  This was the weather, nothing else.

I went to the buffet bar, grabbed a couple of gin and tonics, some food, and went and sat down.  We had a good hour and a half to kill, leaving the lounge at 22.45.

The flight finally boarded (or at least to the bus) at 11.30pm.  I phoned The Pretty One to give her an update.  Relieved and tired that the flight was leaving, and that we might actually manage some time in each other’s company while we were awake.  It was at this point that we were told that the flight had then be cancelled, had to get off the bus and return to the terminal and head to the transfers desk to be assigned hotels.  This was to do with ‘night flying restrictions’ going into Heathrow.  These exist, but – and this is the point – you can still land if you pay a lot for the privilege.  At the desk there was about 200 people queuing.  I looked for the ‘business class / first class’ queue that my status with the airline allows me to use.  At this point, they changed their minds, and there was then another announcement that we should return to the gate, where the flight was going to board after all.  This caused problems as most security staff had left.  It also placed me at the back of the queue.  The fight eventually took off around 0.45am or later.

So there we have it.  Being part of ‘The JetSet’ as I am often accused of is not as glamorous as it seems.  Waiting for a taxi at 2.45am at Heathrow in the rain is not one of them.

Snow and delays

I am a fan of winter sports, but unless you are on a mountain, snow is generally a bad thing!

I have a busy day tomorrow, visiting one of the distributors before returning to England. What I am not liking is the weather forcast in any of the places, and the fact that one of the flights, is (I think) on a turbo-prop.

Looks beautiful though, out the window.

Photography

Those of you who know me, will know that I recently bought a digital SLR. As with all of these things, I did a little research before purchasing, and after a bit of deliberation I decided that I would just buy an entry level one. Photography, talking to friends such as Jonny Gawler, Yos and recently Charlie Waite tell me that it is all about the eye of the user.

One thing I will say about the camera is that digital photo will need a little enhancement to allow it to really bring out the best of what you saw. I use a freeware programme called Gimp. A digital photo usually needs a bit of colour work to saturate the colours properly, and if you are using a cheap lens (which most of you will be) then a little adjustment will sharpen it up.

I found a good little guide on the South African ‘Getaway’ magazine site that talked through ‘processing’ your own digital photos. It explains that this is no more than what a lab previously did for you, and if you are relying on the camera settings and compression and not shooting in RAW you will lose something.

Anyway, I have been taking a number of photos since and playing around with things. I thought that some of these might interest you (particularly as they aren’t much to do with bikes!).

Click on them for high resolution versions.  The look pretty as desktop wallpapers!



There are a lot of others that I am very proud of (perhaps more so than these), but I don’t wish to publish photographs of people without asking them first.

Frequent Flyer

In Germany this weekend, and to be honest I find it quite dull. The weekends aren’t that much fun despite good friends being nice to me. I suppose it is to do with home being where the heart is.

This coming week I have a little traveling to do, and this, and having recently seen “Up In The Air” got me thinking about Mileage Programs for airlines. Without going into too much detail, when you fly a lot you gain ‘status’ with the airline. There are different levels of this, normally defined as Silver, Gold and Gold Elite. Generally silver gives you privileges with the airline with who you hold the mileage account. Miles can be earned normally with the ‘alliance’ of airlines who club together to allow their reach and value to therefore increase. Silver Privileges are usually use of the Business Class check in regardless of ticket class, and use of the Business Class Lounge. It means that in general you can move through the airport more smoothly, board first (if you like) and not have to queue. Worth it if you fly a lot in economy. This is the card that I have with Lufthansa and is great flying backwards and forwards to Germany. If I am delayed, a free drink and a bite to eat does compensate a little.

The next level up is ‘Gold’. To get Gold on my flying schedule with Lufthansa I would need to fly about twice as much as I do. The alternative way to earn more miles is to fly in a different class. Business Class flights attract generally twice as many miles as (non discounted) Economy, and First Class attract three times the number. It takes me 9 months generally to ‘achieve’ silver.

Because ‘the majority’ of Gold card holders are flying business fares, then their rewards are also better. They get access to the First Class Lounges (I am told resemble restaurants and spa resorts – some with swimming pools!), First Class Check in and ‘upgrades vouchers’. Gold Elites are like royalty for the airlines. Limos to take you to the aeroplane instead of the bus etc, etc.

For Gold card holders there is another advantage too. When you are flying with an alliance airline, you get to use their business class lounge regardless of the class flown.

All of this relates only to status miles. Most programmes also give you purchase power with your miles that is separate from this. These are usually spent on free flights (although I used mine to get myself a nice watch last year).

My situation is this. My silver status with Lufthansa has been renewed once, meaning I have two years of status with them. It means that I have the use of their lounges, but can collect towards a different scheme. Having seen the film ‘Up In The Air’ it got me thinking about this.

Now, I don’t want people to think that this is something with which I am obsessed. However, when in Taiwan or The States, the use of a lounge when not flying with Lufthansa will save me money and hassle. If I can get that with minimal ‘work’ then great. So I have researched a little and found a different airline, that may be a better bet, without changing who I fly with.

What this post is about though is the world that I have unearthed as part of this research. There are forums, and experts, information and tables comparing everything. What I also discovered takes it all one step further. A group of people, who have made it their passion. They fly or the sake of flying. The lounges are the destinations and the status and upgrades not a by-product as they are for most business travellers, but the exercise themselves. There are things called Mileage Runs, designed to maximise and bolster the account. It comes as a bit of a revelation to me.

Click on the link below to be confronted with something you’ve never thought of.

Frequent Flyer from Gabriel Leigh on Vimeo.

Right… who is with me on a LHR, FRA, BKK, TPE, BKK, FRA, LHR run?