Total distance cycled in 2018: 11,141km/6,844 miles. Unidirectional equivalent: Bergen(Norway) to Vladivostok (eastern Siberia)
I have to admit, I am in a phase of regression…..
At a drinks party over the festive season, I was in conversation with a contemporary about my habits of travelling on two wheels. By way of response to some of the things I said, I heard the following:
“Really, you travel all by yourself? What happens if you get sick or have an accident?…… You don’t have a support vehicle to carry your kit? But you must have hotel rooms booked in advance at least? No? You mean, you have no idea where you are going to stay each night? Aren’t you worried about your own safety…….?”
And so it went on. And this is only one example of dozens of similar conversations I’ve had with people of my own generation over the years which, not surprisingly, pigeonholes me as some kind of weirdo, a man out of synch with his contemporaries. Years ago, adventure travel for me amounted to nothing wilder than staying in youth hostels, travelling economy class, and eating at the cheapest restaurants. But I now find I am wanting to push back the boundaries, back to my penniless days, to experience the simplicity of independent travel, finding the food and drink I need wherever it is available, laying my head down where nature allows me, and accepting kindness and hospitality whenever it is freely proffered.
I will never aspire to be a desert-crossing, Antarctica-sledging, Himalaya-scaling kind of adventure traveller, but my comfort zone is definitely in long-distance solo cycle-trekking, with minimal luggage and few concrete plans other than knowing my general direction of travel, the pace of which is governed only by the date printed on my return ticket to the UK. For some, enough to inspire fear and anxiety, for me, liberating and energising.
Under a pale watery winter sun this afternoon, I passed a target that I thought would have been impossible 11 months ago. My cycling target for this year was to reach 5000 miles (8000kms) by the end of December, and I hit it today with 4 weeks to spare. Now I know some of you mile-eaters out there will sneer at this, wanting to point out that you’d do that sort of annual distance just on your pre-breakfast rides. And I would understand that. But 11 months ago to the day, I had an ‘event’ that I thought was going to put paid to my continuing ‘bad behaviour on a bike’………and it almost did.
Getting out of bed too quickly one morning, I experienced a catastrophic drop in blood pressure and collapsed, fracturing a few vertebrae in my back and, in the process (although this had nothing to do with the collapse) I discovered I suffered from paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (arrhythmia), a condition that happens to be quite common amongst endurance athletes. Like a lot of long-distance athletes, a scan revealed an enlargement of the upper atrium of the heart which, in itself, may be of little consequence, but coupled with Afib, needs to be controlled and monitored.
Two months after the event, I remember climbing painfully on the bike for the first time and managed to squeeze 4 miles (6kms) out of the legs…….but it hurt. At the beginning of March, I started some serious but gradual cycling ‘re-hab’, and my rides progressed from 7 miles (12kms) to 27 miles (44kms), reaching a total of 280 miles (450kms) for the month. I rapidly progressed to 600 miles per month (1000kms), hitting the usual high in August of 1000 miles (1600kms), the longest single ride of the year being 65 miles (104kms)
So, after a few years of hitting annual mileages in excess of 10,000 miles (16,000kms), this year’s total of a mere 5000 miles is way off the mark, but for me this has been a minor victory on the road to recovery.
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.
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?
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!).
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
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)
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?
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
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.
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
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.
For 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’.
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.
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.
Why is it that milestones in life are encapsulated by numerically round figures? We make a fuss about a 50th wedding anniversary, but not a 49th. Centenarians get a letter from the Queen, but someone who is 99, or even 101, doesn’t. We are learning more about The Great War on the 100th anniversary of its inception than we have in all the intervening years.
Of course, none of this explains why I should have noticed the passing of a little watershed in my own cycling history. It’s all entirely artificial. There’s no Guinness Book of Records recognition. There’ll be no short-listing for the Sports Personality of the Year award. I could have marked the event by cracking open a bottle of bubbly…..but I didn’t. So what’s all the fuss?
Well, there isn’t any. It’s just a quirky bit of human psychology that attaches importance to these things….but somehow our attention is galvanised, and we are prompted to achieve goals and targets for their own intrinsic value, and the satisfaction we get from stretching towards them.
Yesterday, on an 86 mile (138 kms) ride, I happened to pass 200,000 miles (322,000 kms) in my lifetime total of distance cycled. But, is this a true reflection of my cycling history? No, of course not. I can’t guarantee my records are accurate. I can’t even guarantee that the devices used over the years for recording mileage were reliable. There’s also a full 20 years of my life (my childhood and early adulthood) when I kept no records, which are not included here.
But who cares? It’s a milestone……it has been passed…..I may have a quiet two seconds of smugness to revel in it…..but then tomorrow I will climb back on the bike and hope to power up those hills for a few more years. That’s the fundamental draw of turning pedals ‘in anger’….. If you haven’t experienced the joy of breezing through the countryside on two wheels, dig out the ‘old hack’ from the back of the shed, inflate the tyres and oil the chain………and just go. You’ll be amazed.
Yes, it has to be said there are ‘anoraks’ even in the world of cycling. People who keep a faithful tally of their daily, weekly, and annual mileages, and will deftly let slip into a conversation what their current life total is. Of course, only those who have something to boast about would let such self-revealing statistics loose in a general chat about cycling exploits. And through such idle chat you might even learn of the existence of the 300,000 mile club. Yes, there are people out there who have logged their mileages over a lifetime and, either fortuitously or by design, have qualified to enter the ‘Hall of Fame’ of the said club. Sadly, qualification does not bring with it an automatic OBE, or an honorary doctorate, nor even a cash prize to finance a modest celebratory meal. It does mark, however, that extraordinary human quality of striving to conquer a summit because it is there. The same spirit that drove Mallory and Hillary to climb Everest, and Shackleton to cross Antarctica.
In the last eight years, I have to own up to being one such ‘anorak’: I have kept a log of my annual mileage. I know I am a very ‘sad’ person, but at least I hold back from being totally governed by numbers (what I call ‘cycling by numbers’). Some people feel compelled to record the most minute and inconsequential statistics of their riding, in the hope they will continue to improve performance year by year. This is characteristic behaviour in the world of competitive cycling, but my cycling is entirely devoted to fitness and pleasure, so calculating mileages is merely a retrospective of my riding history.
I can accurately claim that I have cycled 45,000 miles in the last eight years, with an annual mileage (now in retirement) currently rising to 9000 miles (which, in fact, is more than I drive in the car!). If I were to extrapolate and make an informed guess at my lifetime mileage since the age of 28 (when I began club riding), it would come to about 120,000 miles, and that would be discounting the thousands of miles I would have cycled all the way through my childhood and early adulthood. But all this pales into insignificance when you read of the exploits of some members of the 300,000 mile club. For some, the minimum qualifying mileage is only a starting point. Take a look at the exploits of Chris Davies, for instance, who has covered over 900,000 miles in his lifetime:
290 miles per week, or 41 miles per day, every day for 60 years! Where did he find time for earning a living?
And it’s not just men who get up to such antics. Sue Swetman has logged up over 600,000 miles, and her husband, Pete, is also a fellow member of the 300,000 mile club. How do they do it? Well part of the answer lies in the faithful logging of mileage from a very young age, recording all the casual miles (going on errands, visiting friends….) along with mileage of ‘serious intent’. Most of us might be astounded at the mileage we have covered in a lifetime, but we have never recorded it.
See you up the road!