I hadn't ridden my bike in any seriousness for a month when I visited Ultan Coyle in South East London. I rode across the city to his house, expecting to take a few shots then head home, but he was insistent I should join him on a forty mile spin out into the hills. He was kind enough to wait for me on the climbs, and when I hit the wall coming back through Crystal Palace, he nursed me back with the promise of sugary coffee and food when we got back.

Ultan's something special on a bike, a late starter who's gone on to become a national 24hr time trial champion and a finisher at Paris-Brest-Paris, the pinnacle of the long distance audax scene. Just how do you train for events like that whilst living in London?

Name: Ultan Coyle
Age: 34
Which area of London do you call home: South East
Sport: Long distance cycling

What came first - living in London or being an athlete?
Living in London. I came down here to go back to college after seven years in Glasgow. It took me a long time to figure how the hell to get out of the city. Many times I just ended up feeling my way around the maze of the suburbs. I got in with Dulwich Paragon for a few rides and they showed me some routes. Cycling is always something I’ve done: I grew up in the country so the bike was key to having a bit of independence.

Where’s your favourite place to train in London? 
I love the A24. From an engineering point of view I think its fantastic – the pitch and curves of the road make for a beautiful ride. When I’m riding it I imagine whoever designed it driving along and feeling really pleased with themselves. The traffic on it feels quite local and not so frantic as the A23. In the run up to 24hr TT that's where I head. Late at night. Epsom Downs is also quite magical after dark. I also ride around Kent, roaming around Danny The Champion Of The World country. The book made a big impression on me as a kid and I swear that Quentin Blake’s garage illustration is based on the petrol station in Penhurst. Five years I’ve been passing it and wondering. Someday I’ll pop in and ask. Then there is the Ashdown Forest too, where Winnie The Poo lived. A daydreamers paradise.

London is dirty, noisy, congested and full of distractions. Do you find it difficult to avoid those distractions and concentrate on training and competing?
There is always something better to do than sliding up and down on a foam roller so it can be quite hard to make the time. I try and go to the gym to do this as I never seem to get it done at home. Riding wise, It's a bit of a schlep to get out into the lanes. An hour either side of your ride is effectively wasted. If your doing 15hours a week then all those traffic lights add up. The turbo trainer comes in handy when you just can’t be arsed with traffic.

What do you do for a living? And does your employer understand what you do as an athlete and allow you time to train?
I’m a freelance graphic designer and do a lot of work for Rapha. They are the reason I got more into cycling. There is always someone hovering around in there, scheming and planning a ride. Graeme Raeburn is the guy who nonchalantly slipped the 24hr TT application under my nose when I was in there one day, and that was that. The demands of all day riding are a great test bed and breathing ground for developing new products that ultimately aim to make your life a little easier. I couldn’t ask for a better company to be involved with for doing this kind of thing.

Is it hard to balance work, family and your athletic career?
Very but life generally is and if riding wasn’t the reason I’m sure I’d have something else to complain about. Career is a little strong a word. Keen amateur is closer to the mark. I started working with a coach back in August and this has been a great help to apply some structure to the week. Before I’d just ride when I could, when I couldn’t I try and do it all in one day. That’s the way I went about it in 2011 as I had a load of other commitments. 

If you were mayor for the day, what would you do to make life easier for athletes in London?
Not sure if I could achieve this in a day but I would run bike lanes along railway lines. A friend, James Bowthorpe, told me that and I’ve never got beyond a better solution for commuting.

Which London based athletes do you most respect?
Anyone really who gets in about it and makes it work.

If a fellow Londoner wanted to try your sport, how would you advise them to get started?
Get on the bike and ride it. Don’t look from the footpath and think its too frightening. Whenever I’m waiting for a bus and look at all the mess of cars, taxis, buses and bikes it looks terrifying. With regards long distance cycling, join Audax UK and go do some gentle events and figure out what you need and more importantly what you don’t. It might be a shock and not suited to everyone but after a year of Audaxing you’ll have a good fitness and knowledge base to build on.

Anyone you’d like to thank?
Basia, my girlfriend, always cheering and loves the craic.


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