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Ad finem annus……

dec-31st-2016When major airports were cancelling flights because of dense fog, I rode out the year with an unusually frost-free, fog-free, relatively windless 60kms ride…..overtook a fellow-rider on a similar mission (but he was too out of breath to engage in conversation), crossed paths with fellow-club riders with laconic waves, stopped to offer help to another rider who had punctured (but he had all he needed to do the job), picked up some of the last apples hanging on a friend’s tree, and began to ponder what 2017 might have in store.

Already in the calendar is a week’s winter riding on the Mediterranean island of Menorca, heading off in mid-January. But what about a more ambitious ride? An expedition-like ride in a distant land? And then a tandeming venture for Jenny and me to share together? We have already completed the Coast-to-Coast and the length of the River Thames, both challenging and exhilarating in their different ways. There is much to ponder.

But Strava fanatics will begin the year chasing personal ‘gongs’. Hundreds (even thousands) will head off to the hills (wherever they are in the world) on the first day of the year to try and secure a first KOM (King of the Mountains) placing. Each mountain climb will have its own category, and if the first person to climb a particular mountain  on January 1st is especially strong, they may hold onto the placing for much of the year. Weaker riders will almost certainly lose their placings within a few days. The use of GPS and training websites like Strava have successfully ‘democratised’ international amateur competition.

If you have been kind enough to follow any of my ramblings over the past year, I wish you a very happy 2017 and, if you ride a bike, ‘may the wind be ever at your back’.


Year 2014….. 21,236 kms/13,196 miles

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 public20140514_104634_Android 1 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 20140516_064706_Androidare 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 780Bike and Istanbul 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! 😦

Steve AbrahamP.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.


200,000 and counting…..

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.20140807_182635_Android

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.

August: the bottom line

As a cyclist, I try not to be fixated by mileages. I do keep a note of every ride length, but I try to avoid counting up on a regular basis. Best to remain free and simply enjoy the wind and adrenaline rush.

However, when I got to the last day of August, I knew instinctively that the monthly total had been big. Riding most days, including a continuous 9 day spell during the CTC Birthday Rides in Shropshire, I had the feeling that it might have been my biggest recorded month ever. Now, before I get into statistics, the issue of records being broken almost monthly this year needs a few comments. I am, of course, talking about the weather.

Everybody has been assessing the miserable wet summer we have just had. They tell us it was the wettest June on record and that the summer has been the wettest in 100 years. I have no grounds whatever on which to base a refutation of these claims, because the meteorologists have all the scientific facts and I do not. All I can say is this: over this prolonged wet period (April to August) I have been out most days on the bike, cycled several thousands of miles, and I have probably been rained on no more than a dozen times and, only once, torrentially so. My rainproof has spent infinitely more time inside its stuff bag than out of it, and my arms and legs have the tide marks to prove that the sun has shone for long periods over the last few months. On the strength of my unscientific observations, I blow a raspberry at all the negative naysayers out there who try to make us feel miserable about our lot. One thing is for sure, our reservoirs are full once again!

Now back to the statistics. The other day I was riding with someone who regularly covers more than 12,000 miles per year, topping out at a massive 17,000 miles one year. So he will not be impressed by anything I can do. My August mileage this year (and I always count in kilometres) topped out at 2,254kms which, if you get out your calculator, is exactly 1,400 miles. I got out on the bike on 25 days, meaning my average ride was over 90kms/56 miles. I only ever expect to do more than this when I am on a long continuous trek, like my rides to Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Nor do I expect to replicate this any time soon. It is not my intention ever to become a victim of statistics. I prefer to be in thrall of the sheer delights of riding a bike, through the countryside and over mountains, and re-filling the ‘tank’ with coffee and cakes in the company of like-minded pleasure-seekers.

Two contrasting rides

One behind t’other

When Jenny suggested we go out for a tandem ride, I quickly said ‘yes’ to seal the deal before she could change her mind. Nothing too challenging, though. After a week spent on a cruise ship, the limbs and muscles needed a gentle reintroduction to things more exacting than striding around deck 12. We have an 11 mile circuit that takes in the villages of Easton, Spaldwick and Stow Longa, and it just so happens that the new village shop in Spaldwick has a little café…….which needed testing, of course. Sitting at their outside table, you can admire Spaldwick’s rather striking village sign, erected (I am sure) to celebrate the new millennium. Many of the villages in the area have their own special signs, designed to reflect something of the history and nature of the community.

Hitting the century

No, I am not referring to ‘anno domini’ but to a ride I did today on my solo. To meet up with the Thursday group for lunch, I had to ‘leg it’ out to Kibworth in Leicestershire, a good 40 miles/64kms from my home. Fortified by a good lunch, I got it into my head that a round trip of 80 miles could easily morph into 100 miles/160kms. Well ‘easily’ is not really the word. Building in an extra 20 miles on the homeward route took some initiative and not a little wayward wandering. And yes, when I did get home (just 15 minutes before the televised highlights of the Tour de France) I was just 2 miles short of the target. Well, like any normal ‘anorak’ cyclist, I went round the block to make up the deficiency. I know, you probably think that is really sad………………;0(

I know some mathematical purist will quibble with my calculations: 160.35kms is really only 99.63 miles. Does that mean that I forfeit the right to brag?