Category Archives: Cycling UK
……or be beaten by the weather?
The accuracy of weather forecasting these days can create dilemmas. In the days when forecasting was more of an art than a science, we cyclists relied heavily on the potential inaccuracies of forecasts, and took our chances anyway. Today, however, its a different scenario. Three weather apps were telling me this morning that rain would set in shortly after 10am. Dilemma: do I go out with the club (and get seriously wet) or head out for a pre-breakfast solo ride, cover the same distance and stay dry?
I’m not usually a fair-weather cyclist, but today I fancied my chances of staying dry, then settling comfortably to watch La Course, the ladies’ elite race around the closed circuit of Paris, followed by the final stage of the Tour de France, where we might witness Froome’s overall victory followed by Cav’s winning sprint finish on the Champs Elysée. It’s hard to believe that three years ago we had never had a British winner of the Tour, and now, in the last four successive Tours, we have already clocked up three wins, had our first dual winner, and boast a sprinter who may (one day) overhaul Eddie Merckx’s record 34 stage wins.
So I gave myself just three hours to get an 80 km/50 mile ride in before the rain, and I had timed it (almost) to perfection. I felt the first spots five miles from home, and caught the first shower with just 2 miles to go. With well-disguised delight, I pitied the dozens of sportive riders whom I passed en route. They were going to have a seriously wet ride, and most looked ill-prepared both for the cycling and the weather.
In the tradition of elite riders in Grands Tours, I stayed in the saddle for three hours and snacked on an energy bar from a back pocket. In imitation of the elite riders? No. For the much more prosaic reason of beating the rain……..
Originally built as an Archbishop’s Palace, it eventually fell into the hands of the Sackville Family, a dynasty of enormous wealth and influence, who have occupied the property for over 400 years. Like all powerful families, the narratives of the individual members go to make up a complex but fascinating kaleidoscope of life, and the stories of their connections with the Bloomsbury group have filled volumes.
Then out came the tandem, to labour the five hilly miles to Ightham Mote, one of the oldest medieval moated properties in the country, and only exists today because of the many rescue plans of successive owners. Then, 30 years ago, it was ‘gifted’ to the National Trust by its American owner, Charles Henry Robinson…….and after many years of labour and £10 million of expenditure, this stunning property is now secured for the foreseeable future.
The route to and from Ightham Mote took us through challenging but delightful wooded landscapes.
As members of the National Trust, what better way to visit a number of properties in a carefully chosen area than to ‘park up’ up for a couple of nights in conveniently situated accommodation, and use the tandem to cruise between properties? Well, I say ‘cruise’, but the reality is somewhat different.
North Kent is certainly not cruising country……..every other place name has the word ‘hill’ embedded in its identity……but delightful countryside it certainly is, and no accident that over the course of history many wealthy and influential people have had their country ‘piles’ conveniently located to the capital, the very place where they exercised their power and influence and, in many cases, made their wealth.
The primary objective of this visit was Chartwell, the family home of the Churchills. The place that Winston retreated to so as to escape the turmoil of political life and running a war; the place where he overcame his ‘black dog’ depressions by painting and building brick walls;
the place where he played with Jock, his marmalade cat, and sat by one of the ponds looking out for his golden orfe; and the place where he produced a prolific output as a writer and historian.
Then on to Emmetts Garden, just a few miles away, to be dazzled by the colours and landscapes of a late 19th century garden, influenced strongly by William Robinson.
A 21 mile circular ride that combined the best of the north Kent countryside with some fascinating insights into the local history.
When Jenny told me she was taking a friend out to lunch, it got me thinking……….what would I fancy for lunch….and where? The idea of a breakfast bap implanted itself firmly in my head, and after a little prompting from Jenny, I was eventually able to remember where I had last had a ‘bacon butty’…..and so the food became the destination. I mean, what better reason for going in one direction as another? Or for going one distance as another? However, the price to pay for this breakfast sandwich (apart from the £5 it actually cost) was 103kms/64 miles. Now, let me ask you……….when did you last cycle that distance for so little reward? Well, to the average roadie, that is a reward indeed, one to be prized, one to be chased down…..at whatever cost.
This turned into my much loved four counties ride, riding into (and out of) Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire……all of them ‘shires’, and ending up (almost exactly at the half way point) in Salcey Forest, where there is an excellent forest café…..which, of course, serves excellent breakfast sandwiches, and has ‘freebie’ newspapers to browse at the same time…..in which I became engrossed in the emerging debate about Chris Froome, and the Sky team, and the possibility that they may be doping. Hey ho…….we are right back to 2013, when Froome was grilled throughout about his exceptional performance and whether he was riding clean. (But it is interesting to note that last year, even when Vincenzo Nibali was more than 7 minutes ahead of his nearest rival, he was never once questioned about possible doping issues. Is there some bias there?).
My Garmin statistics tell me that my highest elevation was 138 metres (in Salcey Forest), that I did 459 metres of elevation gain, but 464 metres of elevation loss…..very interesting. Where did those 5 metres go? My highest speed was a mere 50kph, and I’m told I burned off over 3,600 calories……..the last number is hard to believe. It almost suggests I’m on a programme of serious weight loss……which I’m not, of course. Nor do I want to be…….and nor do I eat extra to make up for the shortfall. Some dietician or nutritionist will be able to explain the details of that.
This kind of riding is completely self-indulgent. On an almost windless day, to be able to speed through beautiful countryside, following rivers, going through forests, hitting high viewpoints followed by fast descents to valleys……and then that breakfast sandwich……does it get any better?
Have you ever wondered how some shops, cafés and pubs in remote village locations manage to survive, even thrive? Well, here’s one answer……… this Garden Centre in Waresley is a very popular watering hole for mile-eating roadies, and we all know that many cyclists only ride their bikes for one thing…….cake and coffee! Our own group, euphemistically called ‘The Slugs’, numbered at least 12 the other day, but there were other groups hailing from Cambridge and its environs.
When I held down a full-time job, I imagined all these places gently slumbered during the week, and waited for the weekends to ‘gather in the harvest’. But not so. I suspect some are even busier on work days than at weekends, when the hordes of the ‘idle and free’ (aka ‘retired’) descend on them to demand their loyalty card discounts, their two-for-one breakfasts or their senior lunches.
The Slugs’ motivation for riding their bikes is clearly visible on the table…….and the many and varied smiles tell their own story.
……or ‘to brook’ no pain
Brooks saddles are not only famous worldwide (and I saw many in Japan), but they are touted as the best saddles in the world. No surprises, perhaps, that the company is British and has a very long prestigious history, and it is unquestionable that their carefully engineered leather saddles are premium products……..at premium prices, of course.
When I had my Dave Yates trekking bike built, I included a Brooks Professional saddle but, knowing that these saddles usually require a long breaking-in process, I never dared to set off on a multi-week trek in case I was going to have serious comfort issues. But now the time had come to make some commitment, and I decided that my recent 6 day venture to York would be the ideal scenario……long enough to get the feel for it, but not too long to have to endure weeks of discomfort, with no escape route.
The leather on the Professional is very hard (not necessarily a bad thing in a saddle) but I realised after a few days that the comfort was compromised by the relatively upright posture I have on the trekking bike. A lower profile on the frame (as on my road bike), where the level of my head and shoulders is much lower over the handlebars (akin to a racing profile) would have rendered it much more comfortable. So I am now attempting to ‘neatsfoot-oil’ the leather into submission…..in other words, seasoning the leather with saddle oil to try to make it more supple and more forgiving.
Talk to others about their experiences of Brooks saddles and you quickly realise that they are the Marmite of the saddle world……..you either love ’em or hate ’em. There’s no in-between. I’ll let you know how our relationship develops in the coming months……..
As it was
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……