Time in between by María Duenas

El Tiempo entre costuras (English translation: Time in between)

EL TIEMO ENTRE COSTURAS 2There are times when you find yourself wanting a book to finish. The story has stalled on you, the characters have lost their mystery, the plot has become too tortuous…..in other words, the narrative has outstayed its welcome, and you are counting the pages to the end.

Occasionally, you find yourself so engrossed in the narrative of a piece of fiction, and you have unwittingly entered the lives and personalties of the protagonists to such an extent that you are happy to stay with the story to the end and, indeed, may be unhappy when you have to turn to that final page….

El tiempo entre costuras (Time in between) fell into the latter category. Although a little short of 700 pages, and a first published novel by María Duenas, for me this proved to be a literary tour de force. Set in the years of the Spanish Civil War, it proved to be an effective piece of historic narrative set in the context of fiction. The clever use of the first person narrative helps to draw the reader into the character and perspective of the protagonist, as she progresses from the humble beginnings of runningTime in between errands for a dressmaking business in Madrid, to setting up her own haute couture outlet in the Spanish Protectorate of North Africa, to eventually becoming a leading player in the British Secret Service during WW2.

The connections may seem very obscure, but Duenas has a thorough knowledge of the period, especially of the British involvement in espionage in the post Civil War years. Churchill desperately wanted to keep Spain out WW2. If Franco had opted in, it would most definitely have been with the Axis powers, given the help and support both Germany and Italy had provided the Nationalists during the Civil War.

This piece of historical fiction provides an illuminating insight into the little known machinations of MI6 on the Iberian peninsula. A very good read.

Reflection1: The waiting room

I walked into a crowded station waiting room.

Complete silence.

The world stood still….

…..everyone concentrating on their mobile devices.

I resolutely left mine in my pocket

….and studied the faces of the assembled crowd…..one by one

….without being observed.

77 miles through 4 counties…

Only in a small country like ours can you spend a handful of hours on the bike and actually dip in and out of four counties. And do you notice differences between counties? Of course. Some of them will be so subtle that they will go unnoticed by the casual visitor, but ask any local resident, whose family has lived in the community for several generations, and they will keep you entertained with a host of differences “with them folks across the border”.

On a mid-November day, when the morning greeted me with a prolonged all-enshrouding mist (until I realized my specs had misted over!), which later broke into a golden glow of sunshine peeking through the falling leaves, my route took me from Cambridgeshire, through Bedfordshire, into Northamptonshire, and finally into Buckinghamshire. It was a route of winding country lanes, gently undulating roads that frequently followed river valleys, through woods and open countryside, past historic houses and ancient dissolved monasteries…….what more could you ask for?

(Ignore the artistic licence of Googlemaps. You can seldom embed the map you have designed. This was 123kms/77 miles, 4hrs 54 mins on the bike, at an average speed of 25kph/15.6mph).

Increase your annual mileage: lap 6

Be a Billy-no-mates

The phone rings. You answer it. “Hey Bob” (if your name is Bob) “that ride we were going to do tomorrow…….sorry, I can’t make it now. The wife’s booked me in to go visiting family. Can we leave it till next week?”.

You put down the phone. You feel a bit deflated. You’ve been looking forward to this ride all week. And tomorrow is going to be a fine day……..It would have been a perfect day for a 70-80 miler, with a stop for lunch, in the company of your best cycling buddy. It won’t be the same without him. Yep, better to leave it till next week. Let’s hope the weather is as good……

Is this a familiar scenario? Does it happen to you from time to time? How much does riding your bike depend on other people going out with you? Do you ever envisage yourself going out on long solo rides? Have you ever tried it?

Image: lyricsdog-eu

Image: lyricsdog-eu

In my own case, solo-riding is my ‘default’ option. I’ve lived in a small village for nearly 35 years. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve joined up with local clubs and groups, but the nearest is over 20 miles away. Even so, more than 90% of my riding is still solo. I often ride out to cafés to meet up with buddies but, because we all come from widely different directions, we don’t always get to ride together.

But, the objective of meeting up at the café has been the greatest incentive to get out on the bike. It provides a purpose to the ride, and you spend an hour in the company of like-minded buddies, chewing the fat. For me, some of the cafés have been as much as 40-45 miles away, which has often meant an 80-90 mile ride for a cup of tea! But then, applying the principle of “value-added miles”, I would inevitably round up the mileage to 100 before getting home.

The point I’m making is this: unless you are prepared to be a “Billy-no-mates” from time to time (or even often), you will not be maximizing your chances of increasing your annual mileage. And I could write volumes on the pleasures of riding solo…..but not now (phew!).

Increase your annual mileage: lap 5

Whether the weather be hot, whether the weather be cold

We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather

Whether we like it or not

A couple of years ago, I joined some of my clubmates on a spring training camp in Majorca. The island’s roads were heaving with thousands of cyclists from the northern countries, all getting themselves fit and trim for the coming racing season. My own personal training objectives were the next café stop and piece of chocolate cake and (incidentally) adding some distance to my total annual mileage.

Of course, the reasons for going to Majorca were twofold: plenty of mountains and good weather. One day, however, the skies

Image: Cycling Weekly

Image: Cycling Weekly

clouded over and the rains came down. The forecast was very bleak for the rest of the day. It was then that I realized that I occupied a different cycling hemisphere to my clubmates. In their droves, they decided to hang up their cycling shoes for the day and head off to the local bars and cafés. So, I set off on my own, battled through a very wet morning, waving at other solitary souls as we passed each other (but very few), eventually cycled into an improving afternoon, and arrived back at the hotel in sunshine, having completed over 60 miles (100kms), only to find dozens of my riding pals moping around the hotel grounds, kicking tin cans, wishing they hadn’t wasted a whole day.

Now I ask: is this an unfair image of the racing confraternity? Do they all wimp out at the least sign of inclement weather? Are some a bit touchy about getting their ‘pride and joy’ (ie. bike) wet and dirty? At the first signs of cold wet weather at home, I know a lot of them retreat into their caves, and spend days and weeks in the virtual world of turbo-training, peering at their iPAD animations through sweat-blurred eyes, huge fans whirring or A/C blasting away to keep them from melting into a little pool on the floor.

Sorry to say this, guys & gals, but adding serious distance to your annual mileages means going out in some inclement weather from time to time. Unless you live in Canada, northern USA, central Europe or similar, if you want to make the most of your opportunities, you’ll just have to grin and bear it. Get both yourself and your bike properly kitted out, and just go for it. Hail, rain or shine…………. and don’t forget to smile  ;0)

Increase your annual mileage: lap 4

When you deal with the nitty-gritty of any subject, you will inevitably tread on a few toes. But it can be done with good humour. The following observations may seem to carry a few digs at one or two cycling friends…..but honestly guys, no malice intended! It’s all good banter for the coffee stops.

How many bikes are enough?

Image: andy-matthew.co.uk

Image: andy-matthew.co.uk

Ah, good question. The ever popular answer to this little conundrum is N+1, where N= the number bikes you already have, plus the next one. Now, I love the humour behind this but………some cycling guys (and it’s always the men) take this literally. I mean, not only are they compulsive bike-buyers, but they can’t bear to get rid of the unused steeds in their stables.

I once visited a friend who took me to see his collection of bikes. I expected to go out into the garage, but no, he took me upstairs, opened a bedroom door and there, to my astonishment, was a collection of some one dozen bikes, filling the available space. The curious thing was that, whenever I saw him on a bike, it was invariably on his much-loved old fixed wheel…..his favourite and the one he habitually rode. The rest seemed to be just part of a collection……including an expensive titanium model.

So (you might ask) what has this got to do with increasing your annual mileage? Well, I read a number of cycling blogs, authored by fellow roadies around the world, and many of them take great pride in their collections. They are smitten with some kind of deep affection for their varied machines, and each machine will have a specific use. For them, there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’….in other words, one bike (or even two) will never be enough.

The minutiae of different riding conditions, of different weather patterns, if it’s hot or cold, if it’s wet or dry, if it’s icy or snowy…..every circumstance should have its nominated bike, which is equipped specifically for a clearly-defined job. Now, of course, I don’t buy into any of that. Because the question that really should be asked is: how many bikes are too many? And the answer is: N = >.

N is the number of bikes you own and > represents the exponential increase in time spent maintaining, fixing, cleaning and preening, and re-equipping

N+!? Image: dailymail.co.uk

N+1?
Image: dailymail.co.uk

those bikes. Meaning that the greater number of hours you spend on looking after your growing collection, the fewer hours you have to actually ride them. And yes, I know of guys who spend hours in their workshops tinkering with bikes, and they say they haven’t had much time for riding because they’ve been sorting out their bikes for the coming season, upgrading their TT bike, swapping saddles and handlebars between bikes…….and the list goes on.

If you are really serious about increasing your annual mileage, you may have to consider thinning out the stable or, at least, putting some of your steeds into temporary/permanent retirement. If you are time-starved, you will simply have to ‘keep the main thing, the main thing’…..that is, focus the few hours you have on what you really want to achieve……. riding the bike.

QED.

 

 

Increase your annual mileage: lap 3

If you’ve bothered to follow the ‘drift’ this far, you’re probably serious about increasing your annual mileage……or merely curious. But one thing you will gather from these musings is that, essentially, you’re not learning anything new. The ingredients of the recipe are well known and well documented, but the quality of the end result can vary enormously, depending on the end-user.

Cycling as a mode of transport

You all have neighbours, friends or work colleagues who can’t go anywhere without jumping into the car. Even if it’s just a few

Image:http://hkcyclingalliance.org/

Image: hkcyclingalliance.org/

hundred metres down the road, to buy a newspaper or get a coffee. The irony is that walking or cycling could be as quick, or even quicker, and certainly better for the environment and for their health.

Now, don’t get me wrong…..I am not ‘anti-car’. I am both a cyclist and car driver but, over the years, I have come to regard the car as a last resort for doing shorter journeys. This has included both my short commute to work (many of my pupils thought I didn’t own a car) and longer journeys to outlying towns to do errands……even towns as far as 30 miles away.

The astonishing thing I’ve found is this: taking the car does not save you a huge amount of time, or even any time at all (as you might expect). Let me give you an example.

If I have a few errands to do in Cambridge (30 miles away), I can leave home at 9am (after the rush hour), spend an hour or so doing the errands in Cambridge, and be back home by 2-3pm. Having the bike in Cambridge allows me to get around quickly, I have no parking issues, I don’t get held up in traffic, and my route there and back is along quiet country lanes.

cut-the-mustardFor more local towns, the time-saving can be even greater. When you drive, never underestimate the time spent in traffic queues, at traffic lights, parking up and then walking to all the places you need to get to. Park & Ride is even more time-consuming, when you add in the time spent waiting for buses at both ends, and the laborious journey through the town’s suburbs.

For many roadies, riding the bike is no more than a sport, unfortunately. Something they do at weekends with their club mates, or at the mid-week time trial or ‘chain-gang’ or, even more sporadically, at racing venues or mass events like sportives or audaxes. The annual mileage seeker must go beyond that…..they must see their bikes as an essential form of transport.

When you are doing more bike-miles than car-miles in the year, you are just beginning to ‘cut the mustard’.

 

Increase your annual mileage: lap 2

So, you’re still with us, eh? Intrigued to find out more…….?

Nothing of what I say is rocket science……..in fact, not even science. I seldom dwell on statistics, and certainly not on the so-called finer statistics covering cadence, heart rate, wattage output, route contours……all of that, for me, is an unnecessary distraction. My focus will simply be on increasing your mileage, and changing some habits and self-beliefs in the process.

When I had a full time job, my goal for several years was to ride 100 miles per week, every week of the year. Now, I knew that was not going to happen without a huge degree of flexibility on my part (bearing in mind that my commute to work was only 1 mile each way). There were going to be days, and even weeks, when I couldn’t get out on the bike regularly…..but I had made a commitment to myself. Committing to yourself (and to no-one else) can be the weakest link in this whole process. There is no accountability to anyone else, no questions to be addressed if you fail. But I had decided on January 1st to ride 100 miles per week, over 5000 miles per annum. If  there were to be some 20-25 weeks of the year when I couldn’t get much riding in, then I had to ‘up the ante’ in the remaining weeks, and increase my mileage. And this often required imagination and creativity.

Cartoon credit: http://www.fotolibra.com

Cartoon credit: http://www.fotolibra.com

Value-added miles

Most roadies would never admit to this, but they do it. I do it. You probably do it from time to time. You get back home from a ride and notice that you’ve covered some 46 miles ……wouldn’t it be nice to round it up to 50? So, you either go ’round the block’ a few times, or you head past your street and do an extra loop.

Other times you head off to a café to meet up with some cycling cronies, and notice your outward ride was 30 miles. Do you go back the same route? Perhaps not. You could find an alternative route that adds 5-10 miles. So, instead of riding 60 miles, you’ve possibly covered 70, that took you an extra 30-45 minutes.

Even the ‘sad’ little trick of rounding up your total to the next whole mile when you get home, could have the impact of adding some 50-100 miles over the entire year. My wife has often seen me doing a little loop around the street, and knows exactly what I’m up to. But it all adds to the grand total. ‘Value-added miles’ that don’t have a heavy impact on your routine, and may not disturb the peace at home!

Why not try it. It could be an easy way of adding 10% to your weekly average.

 

Increase your annual mileage: lap 1

So you want to increase your annual mileage? Or even just to start riding your bike more? One thing is for certain, neither of these two objectives will happen by accident. Even if you come up with a personal pledge that you will ride your bike more, if you are

Cartoon from examiner.com

Cartoon from examiner.com

realistic, you know it’s not going to happen……unless, of course, you are S.M.A.R.T. about it. So, let’s get the pseudo-business, jargon-laden, bottom-line focused terminology out of the way……..and make it simple.

Be Specific about what you want to achieve, have a reliable way of Measuring it, Assign yourself (ie commit) to the task, make it Realistic, and put a Time limit on it. Does this sound like a fancy way of making a New Year’s resolution? Dead right……..the only difference being that you’re not going to ditch the project before the end of January (as most people do with their resolutions).

So, where do you start? What is a realistic and achievable goal? Well, only you can decide that. But here are a few markers to help you:

1. what kind of daily/weekly mileage are you doing already?

2. do you have time/energy  to increase those numbers? If so, by how much?

3. where will you find the extra time? Will you ride solo or with others?

4. can cycling enter into some of your weekly commuting arrangements?

You can now begin to make some tentative calculations. It is psychologically easier to think in terms of percentage increasescycling-fast-icon rather than specific mileage increases. In other words, on top of whatever you are achieving now, can you increase it by 10%? Or even 20%?

In the following posts, I will make some suggestions on how you can ‘steal time’ from a busy schedule, and how you can add those extra miles without too much impact on your timetable.

Some of my suggestions will be debatable, even contentious……so watch this space.

Increase your annual mileage

Cut your food shopping bills…….become a mile-eater! Or, perhaps more accurately, cut your fuel bills by driving less. Now, this is a dream that many have, but the reality is frequently out of reach. The fact is, we have all developed lifestyles that fundamentally depend on access to a car. But can we do anything to reverse that trend?

Over the last few years, my annual cycling mileage has increased significantly. Now most of that is down to an indisputable truth: I enjoy a privileged state of retirement, which means I don’t have a job and, therefore, have more time to pursue things like ‘annual mileages’. What (you may say) has that got to do with the average Joe, who invariably has a job or business, and may even have the responsibility of a family to boot? Good question……

Commuting to workWhen I did have a job, because I lived only 1 mile from my place of work, my commuting rides only added about 400 miles to my annual total. Now, I’m not complaining about proximity here, I’m just stating a fact of life. If my commute, on the other hand, had been 10 miles each way, this might have been 4000 miles. But then (and here I surmise) I may have been less tempted to add leisure miles at the weekend, which is where the bulk of my mileage came from during my own working years.

Now, I know a lot of roadies out there are always looking for ways to increase their annual mileages, sometimes just for the heck of it, sometimes as the base training for the racing season, or sometimes to challenge clubmates or even pit themselves against cycling heroes via the plethora of ‘Strava Annual Distance’ award schemes that exist.

But how do you increase your annual mileage? Is it simply a question of spending more hours on the bike (hours which are frequently in short supply)? Or are there a few tricks of the trade? Things that might be viewed as clever cycling ‘prestidigitation’ that can creep into

Image courtesy Endless Cycles

Image courtesy Endless Cycles

the routine almost by ‘sleight of hand’, and not starve the already time-poor?

I am no sports scientist, nor even an expert in the world of cycling. I class myself as a ‘keen enthusiast’ who has simply learned a thing or two during more than 36 years of spinning cranks ‘in anger’. And why not share some of my findings with the information-hungry masses……well, at least a tiny percentage of the few that stumble into these pages.

What I have to share will be a mixture of personal practice and, sometimes, amusing reflections on the antics of fellow-roadies that may stir some to make comment, for better or worse. Roadies are a diverse bunch of characters. We have our little foibles, our routines and our strongly held opinions. There are frequently no right answers to prevailing cycling issues, but we love to engage in debate (even argument) about which is the best bike, the best way to record rides, ideal tyre pressures, how many spares of anything you should carry…..in fact, the list is endless.

If you’ve read thus far, you may just be interested enough to stay tuned over the next several posts, none of which will require any level of reading stamina……….(did I hear you mutter “thank goodness for that…this post has already outlasted its welcome”!).

Amen, I say to that.

The Virgin & the Gypsy by DH Lawrence

Virgin and gypsyAs an A level student studying English Literature back in the 1960s, I found myself immersed in the rich offerings from DH Lawrence. I remember the set text on my syllabus was Sons and Lovers, but the national debate that had been raging over the Lady Chatterely trial, when Penguin had published the unabridged edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, only served to excite the interest in young testosterone-driven teenagers, who could easily secrete small Penguin copies into bags and pockets, and find some quiet corner to assuage their curiosity.

All of a sudden, semi-literate and reluctant readers found their interest stirred by the closely printed pages of the paperback, and dog-eared and well-thumbed copies were circulating amongst the masses until they fell apart from overuse. Of course, now in the 21st century, with all that we are exposed to by the multi-media, we wonder how we could have been so excited by such developments. But the Lady Chatterley trial was a key moment in literary history when literature that had formerly been labelled as ‘pornography’ (ie. the sort that you wouldn’t want your wife or servants to find in the house) was formally sanctioned as a serious art form. In other words, it heralded a new age………

The Virgin and the Gypsy is a novella from Lawrence’s later years, and was only discovered after his death, and explores the burgeoning sexual curiosity of a young country vicar’s daughter, Yvette, who tries to break the chains that have locked her into the conventional existence that she despises so much. Like many of Lawrence’s women, she is wilful and headstrong, and her attraction to a local gypsy causes her to strain at the leash. This short story is a powerful insight into Yvette’s struggle to break free from the Victorian mores and unforgiving rigidity of her upbringing.

 

Life’s twists and turns

Hardly serendipitous, more a question of misadventure. Life throws up many happy chance encounters, but some encounters are a little less welcome.

My wife, Jenny, recently had the dubious honour of requiring the services of the blue-flashing-light taxi service to our local heart hospital. The initial ECG readings taken by the paramedic flagged up enough concern to call the ambulance. Further checks in our local A&E prompted a quick phone call to Papworth Hospital……and without more ado, the blue-flashing transfer took Jenny to the HDU of our local distinguished heart hospital.

We had to wait 12 hours for the blood test that would reveal the critical enzyme pointing to a heart attack. And yes, it was there, and a heart attack was confirmed.

But behind every misadventure, there will be a few positives. We had caught Jenny’s condition at the very early stages, and didn’t make the mistake of imagining the pain was just heartburn or indigestion. The blockage turned out to be in a minor artery, too narrow to take a stent, but which can be unblocked through medication. The prognosis is very good, too. With the aid of continued medication and a gentle return to exercise, she will be able to return to most of her previous activities.

And given that in the few days previous to her mini-crisis, she had attended an exercise class, ridden 33 miles on the tandem, and had been swimming and nordic walking on the morning of the mishap………. we all have to come to terms with the certain knowledge that, however secure we feel about our own lifestyle and health, life will always be full of twists and turns.

History’s worst decisions by Stephen Weir

There are times when the barriers to starting yet another 400-600 page tome seem insurmountable. One of the great attractionsHistory's worst decisions of newspapers, periodicals and magazines is the ‘bitesize’ nuggets of information, easy to read and digest, requiring no long term commitment on the part of the reader. In musical terms, it’s like listening to the ‘sound bites’ of Classic FM compared to the full, unabridged, pieces of Radio 3.

When I came across Stephen Weir’s History’s Worst Decisions, it looked like an ideal text for filling the reading vacuum, without the need of long term commitment to a lengthy narrative. His text is made up of some 50 short ‘vignettes’ of what he claims to be the most disastrous decisions made in the past: beginning as far back as Eve’s seduction of Adam, through Hannibal’s disastrous march over the Alps, to the European introduction of rabbits to Australia, and the missing hyphen that caused NASA to abort the Mariner space mission.

Fortunately, the author assumes that his readers are not fully informed about any of the incidents. In fact, some may appear a little esoteric to the non-historian (for example, Johan de Witt’s exchange of Manhattan for some small Indonesian island, where he thought he could grow nutmeg), but Weir makes them accessible to the lay reader by describing the background of each incident, before exposing the catastrophic nature of the action taken.

An ideal book for reading on buses and trains, or those late few minutes at night before your head hits the pillow.

Don’t ‘medal’ with the ‘peddle’!

I don’t regard myself as a pedant, and I try to avoid conversations that begin with “now, when I was a lad…” or “in my day…..” or even worse “in the good old days……”, when English was written and spoken properly…….but I have to confess that I am frequently amused by current uses and abuses of language.

We’ve all seen, by the roadside, garages that advertise “MOT’s while you wait” or signs that warn you a road is “Unsuitable forApostrophe HGV’s”. Now the abuse of the apostrophe is so gaily rampant these days as to prompt a group of language conservationists to form the Apostrophe Protection Society…….I kid you not. If you are guilty of abusing an apostrophe in a public forum, they will hunt you down, ridicule you in public, and make an example of you before the international English-speaking community. If you get away with just a life-sentence in a high security lock-up, count yourself lucky!

Now, as some of you know, I take a ‘moderate’ interest in all things cycling, and I read a lot from a variety of periodicals, memoirs, travelogues, reviews and biographies. Cyclists, in general, are a relatively literate bunch. Some may lack imagination when it comes to writing about their reflections on a route or journey they have enjoyed but, generally, they can form sentences and

Photo by Hakeem Photography

Photo by Hakeem Photography

paragraphs, know roughly where full-stops, commas and apostrophes go, and get most of their spellings correct…….

Now, I did say only “most”, because there are a lot of pedallers out there who still can’t distinguish their ‘peddle’ from their ‘pedal’, or their ‘peddlers’ from their ‘pedallers’. I have just this minute read the following in an article: “….a tandem does really need two peddlers”. Now I really want to know if a pair of tandemists “will peddle their tandem to a car boot sale, so that they can pedal their wares”……or is it the other way around?

Excuse the unintended puns, but I hate tinkering with people’s (or is it peoples’) thinking, because to do so can mess with their ‘cycle-logical’ equanimity, but I really do need to know, when I climb on my bike, am I ‘hawking’ or ‘spinning cranks’?

Elsewhere in the world of cycling, there have been other developments in the use of???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? language (and not just in cycling either). I’ve always thought of ‘podium’ only as a noun, but I now have to bow down to the superior intellect of our celebrated TV commentators who will quite happily say things like: “….now has Chris Froome done enough to podium at the end?”.

And if you always thought that ‘medal’ was only a noun……well, think again. It does actually exist as a verb meaning ‘to decorate with a medal’, but its usage has now been stretched to mean ‘ to win a medal’. Throughout the 2012 Olympics, we kept hearing things like: “….Wiggins is approaching the finishing line, and it looks as if he’s done enough to medal…..”….or is that to meddle? (Now I’m really confused).

So, what would the BBC’s erstwhile Brains Trust (or was that Brain’s Trust?) have said about all this?

 

The Cane Creek Thudbuster…

“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live”(Mark Twain)

Harsh words from the pen of Mark Twain, but even if you do live, you may still have some regrets.

Evidence that women may have special problems with saddle comfort was amply demonstrated at the recent N.E.C. Cycle Show when they staged a special teach-in, addressing comfort problems for women. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was interesting to see that many in the audience were men….. no doubt, gathering important information for their wives and partners in absentia.

Fittingly, the talk was led by a knowledgeable lady from Trek Bicycles who had personal experience of everything she referred to, and was not timid about employing all the appropriate vocabulary for describing the nether regions! She got into those ‘dark corners’ of the human anatomy, and called a spade ‘a spade’.

Most tandem stokers (ie. the one on the back) know all too intimately the challenges of being at the rear end…..and no, I’m not just referring to the monotonous view of the pilot’s back, nor being able to steer and brake. I am, of course, referring to the amplified bumps and divots felt much more by the stoker than the pilot. Exactly the same as sitting at the back of a long bus…..except much more painful.

So, among the various issues being addressed, we have recently invested in a Cane Creek Thudbuster which, according to what it says on the tin, should make a significant improvement to stoker comfort. Watch this space……..

Cane Creek Thudbuster

Cane Creek Thudbuster

Fat birds don’t fly….

If you had been wondering why I should come on an idiotically flat route across the Fens, spend two nights camping in early October (which, incidentally, has so far been pleasantly warm and dry), then now you know…..solely because (of) fat birds don’t fly. And only here in Hunstanton, nowhere else. Still intrigued and bemused…..?
Well, there is a niche business, in a niche market, called ‘Fat birds don’t fly’

image

….to be found in a simple industrial-looking building on the outskirts of Hunstanton. Unprepossessing in almost every respect, but they happen to be the best titanium bicycle retailer in the country…..bar none.

image

The N.E.C. Cycle Show last weekend had further whetted my appetite regarding titanium bikes, and I was ready to dip my toe in the water. Fat Birds carry an almost comprehensive sample of the best on the market, so where better to go to trial several on the same day? Especially reassuring was their willingness, not only to indulge me, but to set up each of the three bikes I trialled to my own specification. So, numbers and measurements featured heavily in the day’s proceedings, as I first trialled a Van Nicholas Yukon

image

…followed by a Lynskey Sportive

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….and finally, a Kinesis Racelight Grand Fondo

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I’d like to say they all performed impeccably, and that a final choice would go down to the wire (based on minor aesthetics, perhaps), but there were important differences to the feel, surety of performance and levels of long-term comfort. Most of the differences were down to quality of build, but some could be the result of micro-adjustments to the set-up. It was an intriguing day of scrutiny and analysis.
Of the three I tested, if I were to make a choice, my money would go on the Lynskey…..which happens to be a little known American brand which, I was told, attracts a niche market here in the UK.
Well, there’s a first in my life…..I’ve never thought of myself as a niche buyer. So here is a closer view of the Oscar-winning machine….

image

I now go home to spend (probably) several months in deep meditation……backed up, of course, with extensive research ……..in other words, the joy of the hunt.

Flat, flat, flat….

Savvy cyclists have now guessed where I am…..yes, you’ve got it……the Fens. That infamous swathe of land that shouldn’t exist, were it not for the ingenious engineering skills of the Dutch, which now sees the majority of their population living on land that once lay beneath the waves.

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The biggest elevation threat to any cyclist are the bridges going over drains and railway lines….well, you can imagine the challenge they pose. I might have changed down a gear all of half a dozen times crossing this vast flat expanse

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So, a delectable campsite near Kings Lynn is where I will rest my weary head tonight, but not before checking out the nearest “watering hole”….which I believe is called The Gate….and before you second-guess me, it is (of course) primarily for food! Banish those unkind thoughts……

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Now I haven’t come over here just for the ride. If that had been the case, I would have chosen a route that might have seen some grinding of gears (and teeth)….somewhere like the Peak District or the Chilterns. But no, irrevocably, I have had to come over this way. Yes, on a bit of a mission……..d’yuh wanna find out why?
Stay with me for the next post…..;0)

The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

There is no escaping this man Bryson. Everyone’s bookshelves will eventually reveal at least one copy of his books. And I have aThunderbolt-Kid fatal weakness for his style of writing, even though I find myself occasionally getting impatient with some of his flights of fancy, with sentences that suffer from over-intensive verbiage, and the knowledge that his memory can’t be so sharp as to remember, in box-camera kodachrome detail, all the nuances of his childhood. I know he makes some of it up…..but what the heck!

Staying in a friend’s house on the Yorkshire coast recently, I found a copy (amongst others) of The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and I had all of 36 hours to read it before we left to go home. But a great blessing in Bryson’s writing is that it usually makes for quick reading, and missing the odd detail here and there makes little difference to your appreciation of the subject matter.

It goes without saying that the Thunderbolt Kid was a childhood comic hero of Bryson’s, and whenever anything went awry in his life, he simply applied the powers of his super hero to solve the problem……which usually meant exterminating, in some prolonged and painful way, the person (or persons) who had caused him grief.

Bryson was a child of the 50s and 60s, and this volume is his attempt to paint a picture of life in the middle America of that period through the eyes of a child and teenager. Of course, being an adult when he pens the account makes him an unconvincing mouthpiece for his generation in the 50s and 60s, but Bryson is a word-artist, and the pictures he paints are both endearing and amusing.

If you like Bryson, this is worth adding to your reading list.

An N.E.C. encounter……

A major reason for going to any major product exhibition is usually to view the width and breadth of the product range, and to update yourself on the latest developments.

Our visit to the N.E.C. Cycle Show today saw us walk into a huge arena of hundreds of exhibitors, displaying everything from bicycle hubs and bearings to complete custom-builds costing £thousands.

Absorbing and distracting? Yes, absolutely………but we only spent imaginary money as we hovered around the stands, especially as I found my attention locking onto some of the titanium offerings from Kinesis and Van Nicholas. All very tempting…..

Van Nicholas Yukon

Van Nicholas Yukon

Kinesis Racelight Grand Fondo

Kinesis Racelight Grand Fondo

But behind the scenes, there were stories to listen to. On a stage in the corner of the hall, we heard first hand of the experiences of some of the riders in the recent Tour of Britain, both old hands and young ‘rookies’.

There was a technical session on how women can make the cycling experience more comfortable for themselves……but astonishingly, about a third of the audience were men (including me!…….but then I was only accompanying my wife….).

The most absorbing session, for me personally, was to listen to the inspiring story of James Golding. At the age of 28, he was diagnosed with cancer and, at one stage of his treatment, was given only a 5% chance of survival. His weight plummeted from 14 stones to 6 stones, and his treatment was long and painful. I won’t try to tell the story of the cycling endurance records he has attempted to break (and will break in the future) because you can read about them for yourself here, but he is a truly remarkable character. Not only is he a survivor of cancer (twice), but he has risen above his fear of death to push his body to the limits of endurance in pursuit of huge goals, and has raised in excess of £2m for cancer research.

In 2015, he hopes to set a new 7 day record, cycling in excess of 1,547 miles. And then to tackle the Round-the-World record of 108 days, riding in excess of 18,000 miles. As an endurance cyclist with much humbler goals, I was delighted to meet this man and listen to his story.

With James Golding

With James Golding

Slideshow Friday Sept 26th 7.30pm

I will be telling the story of the thrills and spills of my 2,500 mile cycle trek to Istanbul at the Mandeville Hall, Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire on Friday September 26th at 7.30pm.

You are cordially invited to come and join us if you live nearby…….and if you really have to fly in from Australia or the US, the welcome will be so much warmer…. ;0)

Entry is free, and refreshments will be available.

Bike and Istanbul

round cycler

8 years of laziness, ended with the desire to ride again

2lovecycling

Jan and Paul's cycling journey

Inner Workings of My Mind

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the adventures of Christopher Yardin - by plane, bike, through a lens, or the eyes of a child

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cycling, travel, and photography

THE SPORTSWOOL DIARIES

................."Cherry picking the nicest places in the world to cycle"

Northern Walker

Lightweight backpacking, hillwalking and bicycle touring adventures in Northern England and Scotland

Taking the road less travelled

Taking the road less travelled

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Cycling with heels

London on two (w)heels

The Rolling Adventures

Tales about bikes, cycling, riding, adventures, racing, training and being the unprepared adventurers!!

On Leisure

& other worthwhile endeavours

pilgrimdj1

Just another WordPress.com site

Gippsland Granny

Musings from Metung

Serendipities of life

Taking the road less travelled

Grumpy Old Men On Bikes

Taking the road less travelled

Pedalitis

Re: Cycling

I Do Not Despair

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

Tom Allen’s Bike Trip

Adventures and experiments in two-wheeled travel

iniriba's Blog

The occasional rambles of a writer in progress.

All Seasons Cyclist

Real World Product Reviews For Avid Cyclists

SpringfieldCyclist.com

"It's all good."

CycleTouring INFormation

A journal of new information received at CTC

Velo Richard

Riding around Cambridgeshire looking for some hills

machacas on wheels

Taking the road less travelled

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