Talking Chang With The Braes City Rouleurs
Described, in their own words, as “an online peloton for creative, curious and adventurous types,” the Braes City Rouleurs seem to really match my philosophy with respect to this life behind (handle)bars. Based in Central Scotland, they’re physically distant from Los Angeles, but there’s a certain kinship nonetheless given my Scottish lineage. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Darren reached out and mentioned that he’d like to feature me on the website.
Here’s a link to the article on their website, and I’ll re-post it here as well.
Big thank you to Darren for taking the time to put this together! It was a lot of fun talking about how I got into cycling and what it brings to my life day-to-day.
I hope to be able to ride with Darren and the rest of the crew in Scotland sometime soon!
Ten blocks of ice are attempting to make perfect circles in a jerky dissociation from my limbs as my motor functions rapidly slow with the wind chill. A wind chill so fierce it will strip any remaining layers of dermis exposed. Head down I advance, meter by meter, shielding myself from the whiplash and turbulence of passing vehicles. Like an Olympic swimmer, I’m rhythmically twisting my head in search of pockets of life-supporting clean air to sook in. Through the road spray, every breath is dual purpose- Filtration and oxygenation. Car headlights are creating a dazzling, yet blinding ‘Aurora Crash-e-alas’ of flashes in my field of vision. This is no longer about the journey. This is purely about the destination. A destination I eventually reach in a cold-suffering hypnotic daze. A daze that I’m broken from by a single life-affirming question. That question ” What Ice Cream Cone would you like?” asked the Igloo Ice Cream Van Driver ‘two cones, One scoop each, both with Nutella drizzle please my man” I mutter without my lips or face moving. I have twenty minutes before I undertake another Zwift training session and I have just made the perilous 50m expeditious winter journey from my front door to the parked ‘Igloo Ice cream Van’ down the street. Yes, regardless of the weather this Ice cream van does the rounds in rain, hail, snow and on the odd occasion, in the sunshine. I might be racing the volcano circuit soon but the ice cream is for the kids..honest! I trudge back to excited children, handing over their windswept and diluted ice cream, before disrobing the winter garb and heading to the man cave.
I would like to be outside riding my bike but yet another bad weather protocol has forced it indoors. We are blessed with many things in Scotland but Winter riding is not one of them. It generally veers from one extreme: Wrapped up like Scott of the Antarctic, to taps aff 1 stripped down to your bib shorts and heart rate monitor for another totally tropical turbo session.
I clip in and start my warm up. With the fan blasting my face and my better looking virtual avatar on a pootle around Central Park, my mind inevitably wanders. I look to the cocoon of four walls and dream about winter riding in the glorious sunshine. As the clock counts down but my speed and heart rate picks up, I scroll my Strava feed to fire a few obligatory Kudos into the community. Keep the motivational spirit strong before I start. A logged ride piques my interest. The profile carries a St Andrews flag. The sun-kissed pictures capturing shore line’s and panoramas that are most definitely not Ayr beach but a portal into a beautiful parallel universe 5,126 miles away from here. I need to know what this cycling winter wonderland is like. Curiosity and the seed of an idea for a guest feature Q&A on the BCR takes hold. I decide to reach out to the Strava Athlete. He may be on the other side of the world but nothing ventured nothing gained eh. I receive some very’ good vibrations’ in return(couldn’t help myself with the beach boys nod and wink) and this is where our story takes flight across the Atlantic pond
Enter stage left Mr. Latha Duncan.
Latha hails from Beverly Hills where he lives with his girlfriend and is of Scottish descent (gone yirself). He studied Law and Political Science. When he is not cycling he is an acquisitions lawyer for Lionsgate, one of Hollywood’s major entertainment players. He is a true force of nature in the Strava community with over 10K followers, a benchmark many a World Tour pro rider has yet to amass. Latha is going to give us a little snapshot into his cycling life in and around The City of Angels. Along the way, we dive into wine, music, his own cycling website and a surprise ride with Geraint Thomas, current Tour de France Champion.
Grab a glass of the good stuff and get prepared for a healthy dose of Vitamin D with our Q&A With Latha Duncan.
Latha, we see on Strava that you carry the St Andrews flag and recently had a whisky filled hippie on a Burns Day ride. Tell us aboot yir Scottish connection?
My grandmother on my mom’s side of the family was born in Scotland, as was my grandmother on my dad’s side. It’s a lineage that I’m really interested in exploring. Last year, I actually joined the local Los Angeles chapter of the St. Andrew’s Society, and look forward to learning as much as I can about the history and traditions. Growing up, my family would go to one or another Highland Games most years – my dad’s mom loved to go. Unfortunately, I’ve only been to Scotland once. During law school, I did a study abroad program and was based in London. A couple of friends and I took a long weekend trip and drove up to Glasgow, eventually making our way to Fort William. We climbed Ben Nevis, and also stayed in Oban on our way back down to London. I can’t wait to get back to Scotland. I’ve connected with a couple different Scots by way of Strava, so I’ve got a place to sleep when I get there.
When did you start getting passionate about cycling and how does it creatively manifest in your life?
I started cycling around the beginning of 2015. My dad has been cycling for his entire adult life and used to race, so I had always been exposed to the Grand Tours through him. Though I was always aware of cycling, I’m not sure why it took so long for me to take it up myself. I think a big part of it was that I was looking for something to get me out of the gym. I was working out in the gym 5-6 days per week, going through the standard cardio/weights routines, but my fitness had plateaued and I was bored. I did a bit of research online and found a great entry level bike, a Specialized Allez, that I was able to buy at a discount. After a few months of riding, I was hooked. I bought new wheels, swapped the groupset…all the standard upgrades. I ended up putting nearly 10,000 miles on that bike before I sold it and upgraded. I then put nearly 16,000 miles on my Ritte Bosberg before picking up my current bike, the Canyon Ultimate.
I’m drawn to cycling for a variety of reasons. It’s a huge mental and emotional outlet for me and integral in maintaining my mental health. It’s a sort of meditation for me. I love getting out on a ride by myself as it’s usually the only time during the day that I’m able to clear my mind and block out most of life’s distractions and stresses. I also love getting out with friends, whether a couple of friends or larger group rides. Faffing about, hammering, or going for an easy spin…it’s never dull riding with friends. Most of my friends are through cycling and the vast majority of my social life revolves around cycling…there’s a great cycling community here in Los Angeles.
With respect to creativity and cycling influencing creative outlets generally, I think there’s a natural connection between the two. I’m partial to photography and notwithstanding my novice status, I do enjoy looking for creatively composed shots and playing with different lenses. Cycling provides endless opportunities for great shots.
The composition and quality of your ride pictures are exceptional. What is your ‘out for a ride’ camera set up? Also, do you have any hardware recommendations and tips you are willing to share as I’m in the market for a jersey pocket-able camera that I don’t mind getting smeared in energy gels.
I wish I could take credit for the majority of the pictures on my Strava, but most of them are actually taken by my friend Leo. He’s mastered the art of on-bike-yoga in order to get some fantastic angles. He makes us all look as Pro as we tell ourselves we are in our heads! As for the photos I take myself, I almost always just use my iPhone. I have the XS model at the moment. The camera is fantastic. I also have a mirrorless DSLR, the Sony a6000, with a couple of different lenses. That’s a great camera and has taught me quite a bit about photography. With the right lens, it’s easy enough to take on rides – I have a great strap for it that’s easy to use with one hand. I just get a bit worried about wrecking it in a crash or something similar, so don’t bring it out all that much. The phone is just by far the easiest thing for me and fits easily in my Bellroy wallet. That said, I have a few friends who use the Sony RX100 cameras and they’ve been very happy with them.
You also recently started out on your own blog, for those yet to lay eyes on it, can you tell us the inspiration and premise of it?
I started the blog as a simple way of combining some of my photos with some of my cycling stories. I’ve yet to build it out as much as I originally intended, so will need to follow through on that this year. I called it Look Pro // Go Slow for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s inspired by the tongue in cheek Velominati Rules. Second, it sort of represents the two different ways I approach cycling. ‘Look Pro,’ because I care about sock height, slam my stem, line up my logos with my valve stems, etc…it’s all in good fun, but I do enjoy reading about all the newest gear, following domestic and World Tour racing, and trying (in vain) to look #Pro at cafe stops. In the end, I’m just a weekend-warrior hubbard out for a good workout and some banter, but I do take cycling seriously. ‘Go Slow,’ because I don’t want to take cycling…too seriously. I don’t race, I don’t have a power meter…of course I’m always looking to get stronger, to tackle bigger rides and bigger climbs, all of that. But, in the end, what keeps me riding so consistently is the simple pleasure of turning the cranks. There’s a tremendous sense of freedom on the bicycle, and it’s hard not to enjoy a ride (even if you get dropped!) when you get the exercise, the views and the comradery time and again.
In the theme of Look Pro Go Slow, which apparel is currently your go to?
Most of my kit is either Rapha or Atout (a smaller Polish brand). Rapha is always consistent and I’ve been happy with their Core jerseys, so haven’t had to take out loans to buy their stuff! My Pro Team stuff has typically been bought on sale. Rapha can be a polarizing brand but they do make a quality product and the RCC community in Los Angeles is strong. We had a Rapha Clubhouse open here relatively recently as well. Atout makes some great kit for fantastic prices. I’ve gotten many compliments on their jerseys as I think they’re a bit lesser-known around here. I also think Pas Normal Studios is fantastic, but that tends to be another brand that forces me to wait for sale pricing!
You have created an impressive Strava following with over 10K followers. How has this evolved and what Strava segment would you most like to KOM and why?
My Strava following has really grown! It started slowly but has taken on a life of its own. I’m not entirely sure why it happened, but I’d like to think it has something to do with the fact that I enjoy interacting with people on the platform. For example, if you see that someone has done a century, and you click through to their profile, it doesn’t take long to see that century may have been their biggest ride to date! They may have been training for months with the goal of finishing the ride in one piece. It may be the only century they ever do, or it may be the first of many, but the point remains that it was probably a tremendous personal accomplishment for them. Throw them some kudos! Give them some encouragement. Comment on their ride and give them some kudos on a few of their other rides as well. The social aspect of Strava is a fantastic motivating factor. Personally, I’ve never been into group workout classes, as I always preferred to workout on my own. That being said, isn’t it a bit ironic that I love the social aspect of cycling and Strava? Anyway, I know how important it has been to me over the past few years to get motivation and encouragement from my friends and local crews, so I try to give a bit of that back. Cycling is such a beautiful sport because it can be enjoyed for a lifetime…I think that the community-building aspects of Strava do well to encourage that commitment over time.
As far as local segments I’d most like to KOM…the list would be long! And the list of segments that I’ll ever realistically KOM would be…very short! A lot of my good riding friends here are very strong racers who drop me all the time…and a lot of those guys are in turn getting dropped by the pro-conti and assorted other current / retired Pros who live and ride in the area. My typical calculus is as follows: take the KOM time for a climbing segment, add 50% and shoot for that!
A winter ride in Scotland includes adorning thermal full-length bib shorts, Jersey’s jackets, full finger thermal gloves and even *snoods( *but only in the most extreme of conditions) returning home caked in road salt, muck and in need of a healthy whisky to warm the bones and soul. Make us jealous, How does a typical winter ride in California compare?
We definitely don’t have to deal with that here! A *cold* winter ride here would be in the 50s. We don’t get all that much rain, which is unfortunate given the ongoing drought conditions here, but generally great for cycling! That said, a friend and I recently rode out to Mount Wilson and back. Mount Wilson is in the Angeles National Forest and has a nearly 6,000’ summit. The low temp at the top that my Wahoo recorded was 27°F and the wind chill was brutal!
If you were to jump on your bike right now with no restraints or constraints, which one ride would you do and why?
That’s such a tough question as there are so many places around the world I’d like to ride. My favorite place to ride to-date would probably have to be Mill Valley, which is just north of San Francisco. The scenery is majestic. One minute you’re rounding switchbacks lined by massive redwoods, the next you’re descending with incredible ocean views. The terrain is so varied and there’s a huge riding community there.
If I had to pick somewhere I’ve not actually ridden, I’d probably give two answers: around the Scottish highlands and somewhere with narrow, steep, cobbled climbs…I’m thinking of Siena and Wout van Aert’s huge ride in last years Strade Bianche.
What are the pros and cons of riding bikes in California?
This is a complicated question, but for me it comes down to a couple of points. First, the riding here is world-class and it’s all essentially right outside our front doors. Access to the Santa Monica mountains and endless opportunities for fast-and-flat or long, 10,000’ + climbing adventures makes this area a mecca of sorts. On the other hand, population density and traffic congestion can be nightmares. LA is a busy place, and busy places have lots of cars on the road. LA is regularly ranked as having some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. I, generally speaking, feel a bit like I’m taking my life into my hands when I go out for a ride (whether that’s commuting to work or going on a proper ride). Keep in mind I’m saying this with nearly 35,000 miles put in on these roads over the past few years. I think it’s incredibly naive to consider yourself “safer than most” when out riding just because you log more miles than the average casual cyclist…but I do think I have a good amount of self-confidence on the roads and in traffic, and I ride defensively and follow the traffic laws. If someone like me feels like I’m taking my life into my hands out on the road, imagine what it’s like for the casual commuter! It’s an unfortunate dynamic because the bicycle is the far superior mode of transport in the city, and we would do well as a city to encourage greater numbers of riders. As is stands, however, I think the infrastructure leaves a tremendous amount to be desired.
What has been your most memorable ride to date and why?
This would probably have to be when I rode with Geraint Thomas a few weeks ago! He was out in Los Angeles on holiday and was out getting some training in. I was heading north up the Pacific Coast Highway when he and Cameron Wurf passed me. I knew Geraint was in town because I had seen him the previous weekend (he had been climbing the canyon I had been descending). I couldn’t believe my luck as far as the timing went, so of course I had to catch up to them and introduce myself. We had a bit of banter and they were nice enough to let me hold their wheel up one of our canyon climbs. All in, we rode together for maybe 45 minutes. It was fantastic. As we passed people heading up the climb, I tried to stay as close to them as possible to try to make it seem like I was supposed to be there! Now, imagine how slowly Geraint was climbing in order for me to be able to keep up…nonetheless, a great experience with a real class act.
What or who inspires you to cycle?
My dad continues to inspire me. He has been cycling for his entire adult life and it has brought him so much over the years. To see that it’s something he can continue to enjoy as he starts to get a bit older is also inspiring to me because it reminds me that it’ll be a lifelong relationship with the pedal machine!
I also get a lot of inspiration from the local cycling community. I may have had a decent week on the bike, but then I’ll see some friends who may have had a huge ride or may have ventured somewhere new, and it gets me amped up to try something new myself.
Are you part of any local cycling club or crew?
Funny thing is that I actually just joined the local club last year, even though I’ve been riding with them pretty regularly since about 2016. The club is called Velo Club La Grange. It’s a great mix of people across age, skill level, discipline, etc. There are quite a few racers, but also a fair amount who just enjoy getting out on the bike. I fall into the latter category as I’ve never raced before. There are plenty of heavy hitters in the area, so chasing them around on group rides is racing enough for me!
What does 2019 cycling calendar look like for you?
I’ll be doing the Belgian Waffle Ride this year! It’s on Cinco de Mayo this year and should be a fantastic time. The Belgian Waffle Ride is nicknamed the “Hell of the North (County)” as play on the true Hell of the North (the BWR takes place in north-county San Diego, CA). The exact route hasn’t been unveiled yet, but it’ll be on the order of 140 miles / 13,000 feet of climbing / plus or minus 50 miles on dirt (a mixture of gravel and singletrack). It’ll be a long and incredibly challenging day on the bike, but the proper Belgian waffles beforehand and the wide selection of beers afterward should provide sufficient motivation!
So on a similar theme to the Belgian Waffle Ride, are there any Californian Wine Rides we really should know about and potentially become future patrons off?
I haven’t really done any of these rides before, but I know there are endless options, including a fair amount close enough to Los Angeles. In and around Santa Barbara there are a bunch of options and you can loop a fair amount of climbing in along the way. On the higher end of the spectrum, there’s the option of going with an inGamba tour. Totally out of my price range, unfortunately, but if I had the cash burning a hole in my pocket I would be there in a heartbeat! A true bucket-list sort of trip.
Favourite book, favourite music, favourite drink.
I’m an avid reader, so that’s a bit difficult to answer. Last year, I read the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn. The Showtime mini-series with Benedict Cumberbatch was fantastic, but couldn’t hold a candle to the novels. The juxtaposition of such personal tragedy and misery with such hilarious social commentary was truly enthralling.
Favorite drink would have to be a French red or a dram of Lagavulin.
Favorite music…again, varies so much…but it always comes back to classical. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Rachmaninov.
What about Californian wines, any you recommend?
It would be pretty difficult to pick a favourite, but my girlfriend and I have been loving the Pinots and Cabernets from Au Bon Climat. They’re based in Santa Maria, California, near Santa Barbara along the central coast. We went to the tasting room in Santa Barbara for my birthday last year and ended up joining the wine club. Their 2015 pinot noir is amazing.
What guilty pleasure, unusual quirk or trait do you behold?
Guilty pleasure…I’ve been watching more TV recently than I’d care to admit. But it’s been quality stuff. I’m finally caught up on Black Mirror. Fantastic show. Along those lines, I watch way too many YouTube videos dealing with artificial intelligence. I can’t get enough.
If you were to recommend one ride/route in California what would it be?
The Jens Voigt fondo route would probably be my choice.
The route takes you through the truly incredible redwoods of the Muir Woods and along the coast at the Marin Headlands. Doesn’t get much better than that!