Category Archives: Cycling UK
On a perfect spring morning, I headed out for my first meeting with the club and, once again, enjoyed the comradeship of miles shared along the road. There is something magical about the momentum created by a group…..compared to riding solo (which makes up the majority of my riding), your average pace can easily increase by 20-30%….but without a concomitant increase in your effort.
Which, of course, all goes to explain how the peloton in an elite road race will almost invariably pull back escapees who make an unrealistic bid to go it alone.
And, after several weeks of carrying 14kgs of luggage, it was good to be back on the road bike which, of course, felt pleasantly light and flighty.
Most people in the world of cycling will have heard of Steve Abrahams by now. He set off on January 1st to break the annual mileage record set by Tommy Godwin in 1939 of 75,065 miles.
As I parked outside our local mini-market, I scrutinized a bike that looked familiar. When its owner came out of the shop, I recognized him immediately to be Steve Abrahams. He seemed a little surprised that I should greet him by name, but his brain must be so befuddled from spending 12 hours in the saddle every day, cycling over 200 miles, that he hasn’t really taken on board the fact that he is probably being followed by millions around the world. His is a lonely world of rhythmic cadence and regular fuel stops, sometimes sitting on the unforgiving surface of a parking lot. There’s nothing romantic about this world record attempt. It is a year-long physical and mental struggle, buried deeply in a world of his own.
There is scarcely a gathering of cyclists anywhere where his name doesn’t crop up in conversation at some time.
If you’re interested, his current total for the year so far is 13,757 miles (some 2,300 ahead of Tommy Godwin at this stage). If you live within a 100 mile radius of Milton Keynes, look out for him on the road. Check his website here:http://oneyeartimetrial.org.uk/
….be ever at your back!
Fat chance that will happen on a circular route……I headed off to join the club at Wimpole Hall, a noted stately home in Cambridgeshire administered by the National Trust. It has a fine, spacious café that can accommodate a lot of cyclists descending at the same time.
After half an hour of banter and refreshment, I set off with the B group (the second quickest of the three groups) and we headed up the steep hill out of Wimpole and into the 25mph wind. The pace was a bit grim, set by one of the strongest members of the group, and we lost a couple off the back. Another guy was complaining, but managed to keep with the pace…….and a young lad in his teens, with the physique of a climber (ie. zero BMI), climbed the hills as if they weren’t there. He led the way, dragging the rest of us to the top.
But there came a moment when I had to peel off to make my own way due west, to get back to my village. And guess which way the wind was blowing? You’ve got…….right into my face. It was cruel…..
But having said all that, you have to remember, a grumbling cyclist is usually a happy cyclist……. :)
2. Your 40 year old black leather cycling shoes, despite their age and wear, shine from recent polishing, and are kept pinioned to the pedals by toe straps.
3. Someone has a puncture in the group, and you are the only one with a frame-fitting, high pressure pump.
4. While others are sporting the latest in aerodynamic helmets, you fervently eschew pressure and continue to wear that tatty old CTC cap.
6. You’re out with a new group one day and, half way through the ride, you shout out: “Anyone for a drum up?”. Everyone looks at you questioningly…….. Click here for an explanation.
7. That tatty old saddlebag, covered with old cycling pennants and turning a rusty grey colour, has been hanging from the back of your saddle since 19…. And the sandwiches in it are equally old.
8. Somebody (dressed in sleek lycra), but older even than you, rides up behind you and chats for a while, obviously slowing down to your pace. He speaks to you as if you were an old doddery from a nursing home.
9. ….talking of lycra. “What’s that?” you say. “Oh, is it something like that spandex stuff they use in bondage movies?”. You resolutely continue to wear woollen tops and khaki shorts.
10. Joining a new, and younger, group one day, everyone is puzzled when they hear you shouting “Oil up!” and “Oil down!” Click here for explanation.
11. Someone in the group suffers a broken chain. Everyone looks to you for assistance. You open your saddlebag and pull out a large greasy bundle wrapped in an old oil rag. You open it up and, before everyone’s eyes, you display a huge array of tools and spare parts that would service an entire TdeF team. They are glad to have you in the group…….
12. You may appear old and dowdy to some modern roadies, but you’ll catch people admiring the finely painted lugwork of your much loved Curly Hetchins.
13. When asked what you are training for this season, you look vacantly at your questioner and eventually say: “For the
next piece of chocolate cake. What else is there to train for?”.
14. When asked by a keen roadie what your resting heart rate is, you look at him a bit puzzled and say: “Well, I’m alive…..!”
15. A lightweight camping weekend means carrying four full panniers, a large saddlebag and handlebar bag, a stuff sack bungee’d on the back…… and a musette as your ‘buttie bag’.
16. You’ve always hated Lance Armstrong. Not because he doped, but because he virtually pioneered the fashion of wearing black cycling socks. For you, white socks will always be de rigeur, even when they have gone a dull, nasty grey from years of use.
17. As the decades have passed, your chainrings have progressed from a 53/39 to a 50/34, then to a 44/32/22…….until you realise that you can walk up the hills faster than riding them.
18. Buying bikes has always been a hobby. Selling them has never entered your head. Every time you need to look for a tool or spare part in the garage, you have to pull out 5 or 6 bikes to even reach the shelves…….and then the drama begins when you start looking for the item you need amongst all the junk.
19. When all are sporting the latest electronic gadgetry on their handlebars, you still swear by the full OS map secured by a maptrap.
20. A large group of ‘young guns’ breeze past at more than twice your speed, and you are heard to mutter “No f*#!%*g respect for experience!”
As I headed off to join the Thursday group this very chilly morning, Jenny asked me if I was going to stay out and have lunch with them.
“I’m still undecided” I said. When she asked me why, I replied “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m undecided………about being undecided”. Hmm……….interesting.
I explain this away by suggesting that the Irish ethnicity in me simply wants to be sure, to be sure…….. :)So, did I stay for lunch? To be sure……I didn’t! A soup lunch back at home with my wife was too strong a draw……..(do I hear the sound of violins?)
When not doing A to B rides, most road cyclists spend their time going round in circles….sometimes ever-increasing circles, as they get fitter. Confused? Demented? Today I passed another ‘lone wolf’ twice on my circular route…….of course, not a question of lapping him, ‘cos he was going in the opposite direction. On our second encounter, we both acknowledged each other’s pitiful state of confusion………with a smile :)
Distance: 72 kms/45 miles
Time: 2 hrs 56 mins
Average speed: 24.4 kph
Elevation gain: 328 metres
20. You return from an epic ride to find your GPS didn’t record and it feels like you just wasted your day and energy.
19. Your gears stopped working… because of a dead battery.
17. You work out indoors on windy days because your aerodynamic frame and wheels are just too scary outside.
16. A rest day is when your GPS is turned off.
15. You can’t train indoors because your computer has a virus.
14. You’re involved in a crash and you get X-rays… of your bike for insurance purposes. The sore ribs go ignored.
13. You see someone wearing a tiger-print skinsuit and your first thought is ‘brave’.
12. A car hits you because they didn’t see your ‘murdered-out’ bike and matching kit. Luckily, you caught the whole thing in HD video.
11. Your brakes are leaking oil.
10. Your power meter keeps cutting out – you decide it’s pointless to ride like this.
8. It’s wet outside, so you wonder if you should just ride your cyclocross bike on the road today?
7. You get a flat and find neither you nor anyone in your group has a 60/80mm valve tube. You call a cab/your spouse, delete the file off your GPS and pretend the ride never happened.
6. Your heart rate/cadence/speed or power sensor malfunctions and picks up the data of a young-gun riding past. You immediately screen-shot the effort.
5. You can’t operate your bike computer because the touchscreen doesn’t work with the gloves you’re wearing.
4. You have a Gran Fondo coming up, but can’t decide whether to use 50/34, 52/36 or 53/39 gearing on the front. And the rear cassette is a whole other drama!
2. Fixing a bottom bracket creak is no longer a matter of reaching for a wrench and grease. It now requires a hammer, a cup remover, a headset press, a new bottom bracket and a whole bunch of Loc-tite.
1. Your crankset tells you not to quit your day job.
Taken from Bikeradar
Part way through a ride the other day, I stopped in Oundle to pay a quick visit on some friends so I could wish them a happy new year, discovered that a big birthday was about to be celebrated, and I came away the happy owner of a spontaneous little gift….(there’s something awry about that little equation).
Notwithstanding that I was dressed in lycra and had arrived on a bike……they obviously saw me as a cycling enthusiast……….wonder where they got that idea from?
I was delighted with my spontaneous gift. It is an enamel mug with the “I love cycling” logo. I thanked them, said my farewell, got ready to climb on the bike……then wondered how I was going to carry the mug. No room in a back pocket, nothing to hang it on around the bike……….
But the solution was right there in front of me. It fitted snugly into a bottle carrier, and my rain top simply popped inside it. This will definitely be a mug that will travel with me on my future long-distance treks….plans for which will be appearing in future posts. Watch this space.
Did I begin on January 1st 2014 with a long term goal? The answer is no. Do I have a tendency to chase more immediate, short term goals……..and I have to confess, that is nearly always at the back of my mind. The psychology of shooting for targets is a very interesting and complex one.
Some people can’t imagine labouring to become an achiever without there being some kind of public accolade. In the world of cycling, that is manifest in the huge growth in time trialling, amateur racing and sportives, where entrants are given numbers, prescribed routes, feeding stations, timing chips and much more, so as to satisfy the need to finish with a placement, time and certificate, all of which seem to satisfy some deep need for recognition.
Conversely, in another neck of the cycling woods, you will meet a lot of almost faceless individuals who are much more independent in their thinking, make little fuss about what they are doing, often achieve startling feats in total anonymity, and do it for little more than their own personal satisfaction. Numbered among these are the long-distance endurance cyclists, and people who favour audax events over sportives. They are usually self sufficient characters who require little or no support, are happy to ride solo and carry their own stuff, who expect to have to do their own route finding, and will usually ride in all weathers.
I’d like to count myself amongst the latter, though I frequently find myself drawn towards the former because, who can deny that being part of a crowd, a group, a peloton can add to the excitement of team-work and camaraderie?
On the last day of the year, finishing with a 45 mile ride as the frost was thawing in the late morning, I finished with my best annual total of 21,236 kms/13,196 miles. This roughly represents 3x my average annual driving mileage which, of course, is hardly surprising……..the simple equation is: more time on the bike = less time behind the steering wheel.
Breaking this down into bite-size trivia, it has meant the following:
Monthly average: 1770 kms/1100 miles
Days ridden: 269………average per ride: 79 kms/49 miles
Theoretical number of calories burned over the year: 662,563
…….the equivalent of 2,208 cheeseburgers, or 4,416 café lattes, or 2,650 fruit scones with butter and jam (my favoured mid-ride snack). If I had wanted to lose weight (which I don’t) and had continued to eat only the recommended daily total of 2,500 calories, I would either have ended up a frazzled heap on the ground, or I would have disappeared completely. So I can only assume that the calories I’ve burned have been replaced by a similar number consumed. Which, seen in terms of an eating equation, means either my year has been 265 days longer than the average, or I have consumed the equivalent of an extra 780 fish ‘n chip suppers. Interesting thought……
Drink: if I have kept to recommended rehydration advice, I should have drunk at least 603 litres of extra fluids during my rides (that’s not counting the extra drinks I have mid- and post-rides). Now those figures may seem conservative, but they are in addition to what average men should drink in a normal day (2 litres). If I were a Ford Focus or Astra, I would have to fill up my tank (50 litres) with fluids every 9 days. But I’m not, so I get to sit in nice country cafés and tearooms instead.
And now the big question is this………… a target to be improved on next year? I know my wife would love to know the answer to this……..and the answer is…………wait for it………………………………………………………NO!
Why not (you might ask)? Well there’s a danger that it might just become another full time job. And who needs a job? Much better to ease back to something like 10,000 miles per annum, take a few more photos, do a few more tandem rides and, of course, eat fewer fruit scones! :(
P.S. But, if you really want to follow someone who is going to make cycling a full-time job (with loads of overtime) over the coming year, tune in to the record Steve Abraham wants to break over the next 12 months. His intention, starting on January 1st, is to break Tommy Godwin’s annual record of over 75,000 miles set in 1939. This means he will have to average more than 205 miles every day of the year. Now try to work out his calorific and hydration needs over that period (not to mention the myriad other needs). It is mind boggling.
Now tell me, is this the result of some alcohol-fuelled joke that took root after a long session in the pub, or is this a tiny glimpse of an “us and them” dividing line appearing in a small Northamptonshire village?
The Addingtons are very small communities. Outer Addington does not exist, except possibly in the minds of a small group of inhabitants who live on the edge of Great Addington. They have obviously declared UDI, are now boasting being twinned with the oil-rich state of Dubai, whilst big brother next door has obviously come off second best.
And please tell me what this is all about. What looks like a concrete podium, out in the country, part of which is covered by a substance that looks like white foam. (And before you suggest it….no, it’s not a stile!).
I was all set for a 50 mile club run this morning, but as receding sleep gave way to a gradual awakening, stirred by the familiar tones of the weather forecast on the radio, the words “last night was the coldest night of the year” had me quickly reassessing my options.
Downstairs, I found the kitchen weather station and confirmed that it was still below freezing, following some heavy rain in the last 24 hours. Not good news. I noticed a psychological twinge in my right leg, reminding of the broken femur I incurred on black ice some 6 years ago. That was bad news indeed……. it was almost 6 months before I could climb back on the bike.
So discretion was the better part of valour. (I discovered later in the day that the club had cancelled the planned ride, anyway). So while the icy conditions persisted, it provided a perfect opportunity for a brisk walk with Jenny, ending with a great coffee down in the village centre, and meeting up unexpectedly with 7 former pupils who, variously, had come from wherever they now live across the globe to spend Christmas with their families. A serendipitous change of plans? I would say so…..
But the afternoon, with its persistent sunshine, brought an opportunity to head out for a couple of hours, keeping to a route that was well clear of ice and, as the sun dipped below the horizon and the temperatures began to plummet once again, I noticed my profile lengthen from its usual 6 feet to something over 20 feet……. and, of course, we live in an age when we all self-indulgently grace the web with our ‘selfies’.
I was just two miles from my rest stop…….a very nice café in Cambourne where I would meet up with a euphemistically-named group called ‘The Slugs’. Mostly retired, usually with the flexibility to jump on the bike on a Tuesday morning and head for a watering hole. We try to meet up most weeks, indulge in lashings of coffee or tea, inevitably accompanied by illicit-sounding pastries (frequently on a BOGOF offer), and chew the fat…..meaning, of course, we solve the problems of the world, if only someone would listen to us……
But this fine, frosty Tuesday morning, as I approached Cambourne and could almost smell the coffee beans roasting, a loud gunshot sounded….right next to me (or so it seemed)….so frightening, that my ‘knee-jerk reaction’ was to duck down, avoiding I-know-not-what, nor from which direction. My heart missed a couple of beats, and I looked around for the culprit…….then, oh yes, the realisation dawned on me………I felt the rough surface of the road beneath my saddle…….
A ‘blowout’ so violent and sudden that the tyre had deflated instantly, had blown a huge hole in the outer casing, and it only took me a few seconds to decide to abandon all thoughts of repair, and to start walking the two miles to Cambourne in the hope of finding a bike shop.
Alas, the only bike shop in this concept settlement (Cambourne is entirely the product of town planners’ imaginations) had closed a few months ago, but my disappointment was assuaged both by the tea, cakes and company in the café, and my wife’s willingness to drive out and pick me up.
Where would we guys be without our spouses?
If a poet, or indeed any wordsmith, could adequately put into words the almost indefinable pleasure of riding two wheels, we wouldn’t need the images. Where words are inadequate, little video-clips like this give an inkling of the sheer poetry in motion of a group of cyclists who simply enjoy ‘making momentum together’.
Click on this and experience a little of a year in the life of Cottingham Road Club……
Forgive me for repeating myself (only if you are one of the few habitual, persistent readers of these ramblings….) but cyclists who think that the three cavernous pockets on the back of their cycling tops are intended for stuffing spare tubes and patches, mini-pump, energy snacks, discarded bits of clothing…….well, they have no idea of their untapped potential.
I’m a natural forager. If I pass an opportunity for picking up anything worthwhile along the road, I endeavour to stuff it into one of my back pockets. In the past I’ve come home with books, high-viz tops, gloves…..even a hand drill. And many is the time when the glint of a coin has caught my attention, the largest denomination being £2, on the way into the centre of London.
Today, the first day of winter, I was stopped in my tracks by food. Yes, free food…..lying unloved and ignored by the roadside. During the autumn, I try to fill the freezer with blackberries and apples, but it is unusual to be picking up good quality windfalls this late, and in December. By this point, they are usually lying half eaten by the birds, and rotting on the verges and in the ditches.
If you take a meteorological view of the changing of the seasons, autumn has finished today, and winter begins tomorrow, December 1st. If, however, your cycle of seasons depends on the movement of the sun, the winter solstice, December 21st, will herald the beginning of your winter, kick-started by the shortest day/longest night of the year. Though it is curious that the winter solstice is also known as midwinter’s day……almost as curious as finding out that the American Mid-West is largely located in the eastern US.
Whatever the case, the meteorological end of autumn today had to be observed by a ride through the last vestiges of autumnal sunshine, into the dusk, and through the first hour of the approaching winter darkness. There is something very special about riding into the night. The countryside goes quiet, the wind drops, early night time predators are beginning to forage and hunt, and the sun disappears over the horizon to leave a glow that lingers on, and on…….
Your impression of speed becomes inflated. Without the usual visible markers by the side of the road to give you an idea of actual speed, as you cut through the darkness, you imagine yourself to be cruising with the elite. But a downhill stretch in one village challenged me to defy a radar speed sign…..hoping to break the speed limit, but I only managed 25mph (40kph). Hey ho……..
An overnight frost made the first 20 miles a little tricky. The sun was trying to push its way through, but not enough to raise the air temperature. Fortunately, the overnight frost had been more of an ‘air frost’ than a ground frost, and the road surfaces were relatively clear. Once the thin veil of cloud cleared, the temperature rose swiftly and the chilled finger and toe ends began to thaw out.
It was a perfect day to be heading north towards Rutland, through stone built villages like Elton, Wansford, Kings Cliffe, Blatherwycke and Bulwick. But, as I passed through the tiny village of Blatherwycke, I looked into a nearby field only to be reminded of a high altitude trek I did in the Peruvian Andes some 20 years ago. It’s astonishing to think that there are now some 20,000 registered alpacas here in the UK, and many (like these) seem to be kept by hobby farmers, with no intention of exploiting them commercially.
I’m nearly always stopped in my tracks when I come across a finger post point to an historic building. In Blatherwycke, I caught sight of a sign to an historic church, followed the dirt track for several hundred metres, crossed a field and through the graveyard…..only to find it was locked! Now tell me…..what is the point of advertising an historic church to visitors when you habitually keep it locked?
But, of course, the main thing was the cycling. Perfect, sunny conditions in temperatures that heralded the proximity of winter.
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).
“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……..
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’
….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.
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
…followed by a Lynskey Sportive
….and finally, a Kinesis Racelight Grand Fondo
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….
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.