In a world where the art of ‘taking exercise’ has become such a highly systematised and commercialised affair, many are left bereft when their options are reduced to walking, jogging or cycling. More than that, during this period of social distancing, people have to be self-motivated, organise their own outings, forego the pleasure of being with friends and stopping for a coffee, and go it alone.The exercise market has developed in harmony with burgeoning economies, growing affluence, and more leisure time. So, in the last decade there has been an explosion in the provision of organised marathons and fun runs, cycling sportives, exercise classes and personal trainers, and I was horrified to discover the number of people who pay expensively for annual gym membership, but never actually go to the gym
I feel blessed to have always found pleasure (and exercise) in simply climbing on my bike and heading out….usually nowhere in particular, but just for the fun. I hope, in the coming weeks, that many more people will (re)discover some of these simple pleasures. Instead of paying about £600 for gym membership, why not buy a bike…..?
Yesterday, I returned from a 25 mile ‘bash’ on the bike so wet, so completely soaked to the skin, that I left a pool of water on the garage floor. It then took me all of 15 minutes to pare off the several layers, wringing each one out as I created a sodden mound on the kitchen floor. The saving grace of the whole experience was that I had strangely enjoyed the ride (despite the rain), and that by virtue of all the layers, I hadn’t actually got cold. However, because of a serious accident several years ago, when I came off the bike on black ice and broke my femur, I now carry a tightly rolled ‘space blanket’ in my back pocket in case of emergency. Avoiding hypothermia in the cold winter months is a key element of survival in the event of an accident, especially on a remote country lane.
Today, however, was a different story. Bright and occasionally sunny, I headed down into north Bedfordshire to meet up with the Wednesday group at a hitherto unknown country café between Gamlingay and Potton. The Christmas menu just happened to be out on the tables. As we chomped on our cakes and bacon ‘butties’, one of the group had a ‘bright’ idea……why don’t we go for a full 2/3 course lunch on one of our pre-Christmas rides?
Groan……I considered the prospect with mixed feelings. Nice to have a Christmas lunch, but what about the 25 mile ride home afterwards? Rarely do I eat a meal mid-ride…..
Another cracking ride. After so much recent rain, mixed with liberal dashes of sunshine, the English countryside is looking its best. Farmers must be happy………?
It was good to re-connect with the Sunday Club run, though not to ride in the mix just yet. But all in good time……..
And a new member, who seems to have joined in my absence (or maybe we’ve never been out on the same run before) introduced himself as being a former student of mine (and I did remember him!). He told his ‘old’ Spanish teacher that he has continued with his Spanish, listening to podcasts in the car as he drives around the country. As the smile on my face broadens, he also tells me that he’s off with a couple of old classmates to follow the Tour de France through Switzerland……on their bikes, of course.
Learning Spanish and riding bikes…….could it get any better than that?
Ever heard “It never rains but it pours”?
Well, if there’s a 50/50 chance it is going to rain, 9 times out of 10 it will…….
A dozen cyclists turned up at the coffee stop in Cambourne, all of them believing that it would be a rain-free morning, some not even carrying a rain-top (how daring is that?), and we sat outside under the veranda, wrapped up in supplied blankets, soaked to the skin, sipping our coffees and nibbling at toasted teacakes.
Enough to send a shiver up the spine……
Returning from Cumbria on a psychological (ie. mental) high, with nearly 500 miles covered and 30,000 feet climbed in a week, the body protested vociferously and rapidly succumbed to a chest infection…….what many women mistakenly(?) refer to as ‘man-flu’. Oh dear…..we men are grossly misunderstood……..sometimes.
It took me the best part of a week to shake it off and, when I woke this morning, I said to myself: “This is the day to try those legs, to see if they still function”. So I climbed on my road bike and headed off to a village hall in deepest Northamptonshire, where the local community puts on a simple lunch, and met up with a small bunch of other cycling cronies.
Not only did the legs still work, but they worked surprisingly well, and the chest didn’t heave too much with unpredictable coughing. The pace was a relatively lively 24.2 kph (15 mph), with a north-westerly headwind going out, and plenty of assistance on the homeward.
Moral: if you’re worried about losing fitness through inactivity, a week off the bike doesn’t make such a huge difference. It won’t help you to win races, or improve your PB in time trials, but you’ll still be able to breeze along with the best of them.
……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……..
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.
….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……. 🙂
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……
Cut your food shopping bills…….become a mile-eater! Or, perhaps more accurately, cut your fuel bills by driving less. Now, this is a dream that many have, but the reality is frequently out of reach. The fact is, we have all developed lifestyles that fundamentally depend on access to a car. But can we do anything to reverse that trend?
Over the last few years, my annual cycling mileage has increased significantly. Now most of that is down to an indisputable truth: I enjoy a privileged state of retirement, which means I don’t have a job and, therefore, have more time to pursue things like ‘annual mileages’. What (you may say) has that got to do with the average Joe, who invariably has a job or business, and may even have the responsibility of a family to boot? Good question……
When I did have a job, because I lived only 1 mile from my place of work, my commuting rides only added about 400 miles to my annual total. Now, I’m not complaining about proximity here, I’m just stating a fact of life. If my commute, on the other hand, had been 10 miles each way, this might have been 4000 miles. But then (and here I surmise) I may have been less tempted to add leisure miles at the weekend, which is where the bulk of my mileage came from during my own working years.
Now, I know a lot of roadies out there are always looking for ways to increase their annual mileages, sometimes just for the heck of it, sometimes as the base training for the racing season, or sometimes to challenge clubmates or even pit themselves against cycling heroes via the plethora of ‘Strava Annual Distance’ award schemes that exist.
But how do you increase your annual mileage? Is it simply a question of spending more hours on the bike (hours which are frequently in short supply)? Or are there a few tricks of the trade? Things that might be viewed as clever cycling ‘prestidigitation’ that can creep into
the routine almost by ‘sleight of hand’, and not starve the already time-poor?
I am no sports scientist, nor even an expert in the world of cycling. I class myself as a ‘keen enthusiast’ who has simply learned a thing or two during more than 36 years of spinning cranks ‘in anger’. And why not share some of my findings with the information-hungry masses……well, at least a tiny percentage of the few that stumble into these pages.
What I have to share will be a mixture of personal practice and, sometimes, amusing reflections on the antics of fellow-roadies that may stir some to make comment, for better or worse. Roadies are a diverse bunch of characters. We have our little foibles, our routines and our strongly held opinions. There are frequently no right answers to prevailing cycling issues, but we love to engage in debate (even argument) about which is the best bike, the best way to record rides, ideal tyre pressures, how many spares of anything you should carry…..in fact, the list is endless.
If you’ve read thus far, you may just be interested enough to stay tuned over the next several posts, none of which will require any level of reading stamina……….(did I hear you mutter “thank goodness for that…this post has already outlasted its welcome”!).
Amen, I say to that.
It’s a hot Tuesday. A bunch of cyclists, from a wide radius of the East Midlands, wend their way to the tiny village of Naseby, made famous by the Civil War battle of 1645, when King Charles I was captured by the Parliamentarians.
To avoid busy, nasty roads, I choose an alternative route going through Grafton Underwood, Geddington (of the famous Eleanor Cross), Desborough and Kelmarsh………
adding about 5 miles to my journey to have tea and cake with this crowd…..If you look carefully, you will see that just about everyone can boast several decades of experience turning those pedals. Many were riding their bikes ‘in anger’ back in the 1940s and 1950s, competing in, and winning, races and time trials. Some have cycled the world, camping in remote spots and climbing some of the world’s highest mountains.
Some will look on me as a mere ‘youth’, a young whipper-snapper barely out of nappies, and regale me with stories of past cycling adventures and dare-devilry that sometimes defy belief. Stories of 12 and 24 hour non-stop races; of ultra Audax events stretching out to 1200 kms of continuous riding; of normal training schedules doing 500 miles per week (and that’s while holding down a 9-5 job).
A 70 mile round trip, to have a cup of tea with these characters, is time and energy well spent. Especially when the tea party is in the garden of the Old Vicarage and, for £3.50, you can eat and drink as much as you like.
I set off early, to meet up with the Thursday crowd at East Carlton, not calculating the day’s total mileage. But it was such a glorious day, and the countryside was at its spring best, with the oil-seed rape putting on a special show of colour.
My 30 mile route out to the café was interrupted by a “Road closed” sign which, like a true road cyclist, I duly ignored…..but this time almost to my cost. After a few miles of riding on newly-laid tarmac, I began to pick up the sulphurous smell, then noticed a certain warmth rising from the road……then I saw the tarmac spreader and the heavy rollers, and realised I was riding on very hot tarmac. Had I gone another 50 metres, I am sure I would have been dealing with two melting tyres.
The group ride was a 28 mile route out and back along the stunning Welland Valley, but not all on the valley bottom. We climbed out several times, enjoyed descents as fast as 40mph, and ended up in Weston by Welland for lunch. By this time I had about 55 miles on the clock, with the prospect of at least 30 miles to get home.
But the wind was in my favour, the conditions were near-perfect, and the route home mysteriously extended to 47 miles…..giving a final tally of 102 miles (164kms). Since my first day on the Istanbul ride will be approximately 100 miles to Harwich, I consigned today’s efforts as a little bit of training for May 6th.
We are blessed in the East Midlands with a huge variety of country tearooms, many of them in sleepy little hamlets, but they manage to survive, even thrive. A mainstay of the numbers that cross their thresholds is the lycra-clad brigade. We arrive, after doing a ‘chunk of miles’, sometimes in challenging circumstances, and expect to be served a gallon of tea and a selection of cakes and scones.
Today, the Old Vicarage Tearoom at Naseby beckoned, along with the pleasure of the company of other like-minded roadies. Except for me, to get my cup of tea and cake, it was the mean distance of 35 miles just to get there, with a similar distance to get back home (of course).
Now I’m not complaining about doing the miles. I mean, someone has to suffer for the benefit of mankind……. But this was suffering of a different order. There was a 20mph (32kph) wind coming from the west, and guess which way I was going………you’ve got it, due west……..all the way.
The last five miles were purgatory (ie. not quite hell). It had taken me about an hour longer to do the distance than in normal conditions, so I was ready for that gallon of tea and endless selection of cakes and scones.
But most afflictions have some compensation……meaning of course, when they stop. But in this case, my route home had the added blessing of a powerful tailwind, making me feel good about the average 20+mph speed. It’s good to be reminded of those days when that might have been an average club-run speed…….
Well, no longer ‘bound’, but already there. After two long recovery sleeps (from the transatlantic night flight rather than the tour of Florida), my dear wife, Jenny, who was missing her role as trusty stoker, successfully read my mind, and popped the suggestion: “Why not go for a tandem ride?”.
Well, she always scores a bull with that kind of suggestion. She could sense I was going to head out on the bike anyway. After all, today has been the meteorological first day of Spring (note the use of upper case) and, quite surprisingly, the weather gods had heard somebody’s prayer, and given us a bright sunny day.
Of course, the first day of Spring also happens to coincide with the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, St David. The Welsh diaspora across the world will have celebrated the memory of this 5th century saint by eating a lamb and leek dish called Cawl, and will have raised a glass of St David’s ale (even though the man himself was teetotal). If you saw anyone sporting a leek or daffodil on their lapel…..yes you got it…….. they were Welsh……and proud of it.
So we turned a pedal or two in his honour, enjoyed a light lunch overlooking Grafham Water (wondering if it was cormorants we could see in the distance), passed dozens of cyclists grinding their way around the Wiggle ‘No Excuses’ Sportive, spied the wind turbines 15 miles away at Chelveston from every angle (these things do dominate the sky-line)………and covered a respectable 17 miles in the process.
This was the beginning of more rides to come in 2014……..
There’s nothing like a ten hour flight for getting to meet people, not only from across the world, but from a wide variety of backgrounds: from a Croatian cancer surgeon going out to a convention in Miami, to an Indian businessman setting up a new office in Florida; from a retired couple taking a cruise out of Miami, to Mum and Dad off to visit their son who works as a deck hand on a luxury yacht. All absolutely fascinating, and welcome relief from boredom.
After a ten hour flight, however, no-one should ever want to end up in Miami airport, where the queue through immigration seemed to zig-zag for more than a mile. In other words, you walked a mile to move forward by 3 metres! And then later, to ask ten different people how to get to the Tri-Rail station, and get ten different answers, causing me to backtrack, get lost, and then miss the train I wanted to catch…….The very last person was an hispanic from Cuba, who spoke little English. But when he realized I understood him perfectly in his native tongue, he turned out to be the one who knew the correct answer to my question. I have to say, though, that despite all the misinformation I received, everyone I met earnestly wanted to help me.
And that continued for the next 24 hours. When I got to Claus and Cindy’s house in Fort Lauderdale, they welcomed me warmly, gave me a bed for the night, and have stored my bike box until I return in 2 weeks time. My stay in Florida had started with a note of generosity, and it wasn’t to be the last on my first day.
So, when the bike was assembled, with no detectable damage from the baggage handlers, I headed north up the east coast, following the A1A highway which, for most of the way, had a generous shoulder for cyclists. With a tailwind and the sun behind, the pace was brisk….but that was counterbalanced by the excessive heat. My body was struggling to adjust to the climate change……30 Degrees C is warm by any standards. Hydration was to be a key issue throughout the day.
But so was finding the campsite at the end of the day, with only 30 minutes to go before darkness descended. I knew it was somewhere in the Jonathan Dickinson Natural Park, but I could not find my way into the park. I stopped to ask a couple directions, as they were out on an evening walk. They said they would happily go back for their truck and take me there, so I cycled back to a pick-up point….but they had a 25 minute walk to get back to their house.
En route, I picked up a massive puncture (ie. the tyre deflated instantly), and as I was beginning to attend to the bike, a truck pulled up, and I was asked if I was the English guy who needed a lift. They had been phoned by the previous couple, and Steve and Deborah had generously offered to stand in for them. So, I hoisted my bike on the back of their truck and we set off for the campsite (known as ‘campgrounds’ here), saw threatening clouds and lightening in the distance, and decided that a hotel room would be a much wiser choice, so they ferried me around a few places, only to discover that everywhere was fully booked because of President’s weekend. I must have got the very last room, not only at a Best Western, but in all hotels for miles around. But what could have been a $10 tenting night turned into a $140 rooming night…..gulp! (Please don’t tell Jenny….).
Which now, of course, meant that I could mend my puncture in relative luxury….or so I thought. The tube had been wrecked by a shard of glass. But, no worry, I had two spares……. or so I thought…….the spares were ones I had from my old Raleigh, which I had wrecked in NZ. Same tyre size, yes, but but but but…….different width! In fact they turned out to be too chunky and fat to fit in the new thinner tyres I was sporting on the new bike…..for those who don’t know about these things, tyres and tubes come a bewildering array of different sizes. So, unless I can mend the wrecked tube, sufficiently to get me to a bike shop about 5 miles away, I may have a very long walk tomorrow morning!
Go on, I know the depth of your sympathy will know no bounds…….
Oh, and by the way……..a night on Jupiter? Well, not exactly….but the hotel I’m staying in is in the town of Jupiter…..which is just up the road from Juno. Wonder if there’s a Mercury and Venus up the road?
January can be the most unfriendly month of the year for cyclists. For those preparing themselves for the coming racing season, many will have been discouraged by the unremittingly cold, wet, wintry weather of the past few weeks. And if their chances of getting out on a weekend club run happened to coincide with the worst of the weather, they may have confined their winter training to indoor turbo sessions, counting the numbers and putting in the hours………very boring and very sweaty!
In my own case, I’m never in training for anything…..except the next piece of chocolate cake, perhaps. Though I do like to compete against myself occasionally, my riding is entirely for fitness and leisure and, enjoying a certain flexibility during the week to pick and choose my riding schedule, I can study the weather charts and hope to miss some of the worst weather.
My ride today was a case in point. Although it was cold and very windy, I was assured by the forecasts that the rains would not hit our region before 1pm. And sure enough, as I cycled along the high street of our village at 1.30pm, having completed a 40 mile ride, the rains were only just beginning. To get wet in the warmth of the summer is one thing, but to get wet in winter, when the temperatures are hovering above freezing, that is quite a different story.
As I stepped into the house and my body began to adjust to the ambient temperature, the chill in my hands and about my face became painful, forcing me to step back out into the garage to allow a more gradual adjustment. Our bodies do not appreciate sudden changes of temperature.
January mileage: 695 miles (1118 kms).
I tell you this little story as an example of the divide between two worlds.
This morning I headed off on the bike ‘midst the ever increasing threat of rain……not just rain, but very heavy rain. I knew the forecast…..I knew what to expect….and sadly, the meteorologists got it absolutely right…..d**n them (only metaphorically, of course).
20 miles later I arrived at a delightful country bistro cafe, in Grafton Underwood, which had only opened its doors in the last few months. After an entertaining hour spent with fellow cyclists, and a pot of tea and pain au raisin consumed, I headed north, wind behind, in the direction of Fotheringay (by now, the rain had actually stopped, and the sun was beginning to show its face). By the time I turned back into the wind, I realised I needed more sustenance to get me home (it was 1pm and I had another 25m to go).
There was a convenient ‘greasy spoon’ (aka. trucker’s cafe) at Warmington so, for £2.90 I splashed out on a bacon
and egg bap and a (free) glass of water. As I headed out of the door to do battle with the wind, there was a young man having his cigarette break and studying my bike intently. He pointed to the lock on the bike and said “Is that where you put the petrol?”. I could see I had the company of a joker.
“How many miles d’you do, then?” he asked. “Oh, somewhere between 25 and 100, depending on weather and time” I replied. “B***er me” he said, as he took another heave on his cigarette. “Is that in a week?” he asked. “No”, I said “that’s in a day”. “So what’re yuh going to do today, then?”. I said “Something like 50-60 miles”. “F*****g h**l! I gorra a bike, but I can’t do more than 4 miles a year on it…….”. With that, he took a last heave on the dwindling butt end, flicked it into the car park, and went back into the cafe to make more bacon baps for his customers.
August is usually a busy month on the bike. The CTC Birthday Rides usually occupy at least 8 days, riding a full day’s mileage each day. And, of course, the sometimes fine weather (exceptional this year!) lends itself to frequent sorties out into the countryside, justifying indulgent stops at cafés, and sometimes long pub lunches. The groups I link up with on Tuesdays and Thursdays have a lot to answer for!
In cycling terms, August this year was a three week month for me. A week off the bike at the end of the month came at a good time, both for a rest and for enjoying the company of our Spanish friends, Pilar and Antonio, who came to spend time with us in Suffolk. But more of that in another post.
So when I came to check the final tally for the month, I was astonished not only by the exact round figure (I always measure distances in kilometres), but also by the fact that I had hit exactly 2000 kms/1243 miles in 19 days of riding.
In other words, 105 kms/ 65 miles per cycling day. Respectable for me, but when you think that Tour de France riders will do that distance before they even grab their first musette of food, and then do that distance again before someone like Cavendish does a 65 mph dash for the finishing line………
A venue with some 500 cyclists, all enthusiastic pedallers, many boasting more than 50 years turning cranks “in anger”, is going to throw up some surprises.
I love strolling around the venue checking the huge variety of machines. Unlike the world of racing and time trialling, where bikes and equipment tend to conform to commonly-held styles and standards, not so in the world of social and recreational cycling.
At the CTC Birthday Rides, you will encounter anything from trikes and tandem trikes (see above), to childrens’ machines. In between there will be recumbents, semi-recumbents, tandems
small wheelers designed for many hours of comfort in the saddle
Then there is the curious phenomenon of what people put on there bikes. Some (like me) like to ride bikes with minimal fittings and extras, whereas others like to make their bikes a “living environment”, like this bike
which tells me the owner likes to travel with an abundance of familiar home comforts, bedecking the bike with all kinds of nonsense that will improve the bike-riding experience for them. I would be aggrieved at the useless extra kilos preventing me from climbing those hills at a moderately fast pace.
But then, that’s me…….and we are all different.