Life has completely changed at La Maison de BikeVCar. With my wife returning to work after her 6 months maternity leave I decided to capitalise on the relatively new UK legislation that allows fathers to take additional paternity leave and share the duty of childcare. Which has meant an end to my arduous bike & car commute to Chippenham.
As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. And despite the strenuous complications of driving to Bath with the bike in the boot and then cycling the final 18 miles to work, there was a paradoxical simpleness of just doing the same thing every day.
But with my internal body-clock still adjusted to waking at silly-o’clock, I have now begun a new regime of cycling or running at dawn a few times a week. However, unlike commuting by bike which satisfied my physical need to exercise while still serving a useful purpose in getting me to work; my new ‘regime’ feels exactly that – some sort of system of regulated exercise designed to make you fit. This is all well and good if you are “in training” for something or other, but when your rides are a reminder that you’re nowhere near as fit as you used to be, you begin to miss those commuting rides where you could just zone-out and blame the loaded panniers as the reason for going so slowly.
The recent weather has been extraordinarily good in England for this time of year. Blue skies and sun with no real memory of the last time it rained. However as a reminder that it’s still April the mornings have been bitterly cold. In the last week I brought the carbon fibre bike out of hibernation and have been riding the country lanes and remembering how fast I used to be.
Fortunately today’s ride provided a silver lining to my unfit cloud when I realised I had improved in my ability to descend. It was nice to be able to prove the scientific fact that when combined with gravity, an increase in mass results in an increase in speed. It may be some time before I’m ascending at anything that resembles ‘speed’.
Being ill is never enjoyable. I’ll spare you the gory details but I haven’t been in a fit enough state to cycle for the past week. Once you gain some sort of perspective on things and remind your pitiful self that you’ll be happily cycling as soon as the illness passes and that your general fitness levels won’t actually suffer from a week off, then it’s hopefully possible to focus on recovery and just enjoy some often needed rest from the bike.
While this past week has been a pain, I’m pleased to note that the niggling pain in my shoulder has subsided. Maybe all it needed was a week’s rest from cycling? In most fitness programmes they usually advocate one week’s rest every 8 – 12 weeks. But I wonder how many cyclists force themselves to rest for a whole week, especially outside of the Winter months. Needless to say I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike next week.
This morning I cycled the full 35 miles to work. Normally I drive halfway, leave the car in a park n ride and cycle the rest. However we are going away this evening for a long weekend so it made sense for my wife to pick me up after work on the way to our destination. With the baby and her vast entourage of associated paraphernalia, there will be no room to bring the bike which meant leaving it at work for a few days. So Bike Number 3 was dug out from the depths of the shed and after 6 months hibernation was put back into action for a mega-commute.
There may have been a slightly less complicated logistical resolution of the above problem, however it is likely that this would have resulted in not cycling. Babies and bikes are complicated, butsometimes you can still make it work.
After a little bike fettling last night I took it for a quick spin around the block and was satisfied that it was up to the challenge. However, on setting off this morning I was immediately struck by its inferior quality compared to its replacement. The frame, wheels and components are all budget range and were perfectly adequate for my first few years of cycling when I didn’t know any better. But once you’ve experienced real quality it’s very difficult to go back to lower-grade stuff.
The morning was a real pea-souper of a fog. Visibility can’t have been more than 10 metres and as I wobbled and click-click-clicked my way towards work, my body and bike acted like a sponge soaking up the thick droplets of water vapour hanging in the air. Glasses were quickly abandoned and I kept mistaking the water dripping off the front of my helmet for oncoming rain.
Halfway to work I began to notice the first signs of a nasty illness to my old bike – rusty, greasy residue was bleeding out of the headset and splattering all over the top tube, my water bottle and down my legs. If anybody has an experience of this type of thing then opinions are welcome – it’s an aluminium frame with steel forks. I’m assuming it’s nothing more than a little rust from a lack of use and nothing that dismantling and applying some grease can’t fix. However if the forks could snap leaving me holding a set of amputated handlebars and watching an unbridled front wheel bombing downhill, then it might be time to say goodbye to this old steed.
Nonetheless, I made it to work in one piece after two hours of riding and set about eating a feast for breakfast before finding somewhere to take a mid-morning nap. If only …
The more I cycle the more blasé I become regarding nutrition. The weather was beautiful this afternoon as Spring seemed to explode in warm sunshine, making up for the last few days of muggy, drizzly and humid cycles to work. There’s nothing quite as unpleasant as the ‘boil in the bag’ effect caused by cycling in waterproofs on a warm but rainy day. Being a Friday I decided to take full advantage of the sunshine and escaped work early to enjoy an extended cycle home. I started the ride with a 10 mile detour along Cotswold country lanes which eventually spat me out on a familiar road but due to the circuitous nature of the detour still relatively close to my starting point. For whatever reason I felt absolutely trashed by this point. I felt like I’d dug myself into a hole with no other option than to battle on and either dig myself out, or failing that completely bury myself. It’s at times like these that an energy gel or banana in the back pocket would save the day.
Instead I rode on, zoning out on the climbs and slowly working my way towards home. Fortunately my wife had embarked on a baking mission this afternoon and I arrived home to an array of freshly made cookies in the kitchen. Twelve cookies followed by a hot bath seemed to resuscitate my mind. This was only my second 100 mile week of the year and I’m looking forward to some rest this weekend …
This week I experienced a cycling epiphany. Returning home from work on a fine, Spring afternoon, it suddenly struck me that cycling can be pleasurable. After surviving the wettest Winter on record, experiencing the terror of strong gusting winds, shouting in pain against face-fulls of hailstones and having to confine all of my cycling to commuting in the dark for the last few months, it was a revelation to rediscover the pleasure of the bike. It may be a little early for Spring, but the days are long enough to commute in daylight rather than turning those invisible pedals in the darkness. Let’s hope those punishing Winter commutes will provide enough fitness to enjoy the forthcoming pleasurable cycling …
The great thing about the bicycle is its simplicity. If something stops working it is usually straightforward to identify the source of the problem and fix it. Babies are not simple. If something stops working you are quickly exhausted trying to fix it. Sometimes you can’t fix it.
After several weeks (possibly months) of zero bike maintenance I decided to clean off the thick layers of ingrained grime and attend to a few glitches. Maybe I am just comparing bike maintenance to the impossibility of making a screaming baby go to sleep, but tightening gear cables and adjusting derailleurs to achieve smooth gear changes is a fairly straightforward process. Repairing things does however take time, but the sense of satisfaction upon completion makes it worthwhile.
While cleaning the bike I found a few chips and scuffs to the paintwork. Despite the bike being relatively new I wasn’t bothered by these scars. They are an inevitability to a machine in regular use and add to its character. My favourite wear and tear marks to my old bike were the rubbed-away paintwork on the cranks and head tube.
This weekend we headed out to Brean Down for a wintry walk. Brean Down is a sprawling sea-side resort on the windswept coast of the Somerset Levels. At this time of the year the beach is deserted and the cliff-top walks offer spectacular views. And if there’s one sure-fire way to make our grumpy baby sleep, it’s by strapping her to my chest and going hiking. This made our walk even more enjoyable.
I cycled just over 100 miles this week. These miles were all from commuting. It’s good to be getting back into the rhythm of cycle commuting and building up the weekly mileage – this was only the 3rd time I’d ridden more than 100 weekly miles since September. Injuries, Winter and most life-changingly: becoming a father had all contributed to a reduction in cycling. Cycling 18 miles each way in Winter conditions is a tough challenge, both physically and mentally, but it feels great to arrive at the destination and is infinitely preferable to the boredom of commuting by car.
Unfortunately I had a couple of minor run-ins with car drivers – both occurred on the same journey and both involved overtaking me on a blind corner before encountering a car coming in the opposite direction and having to cut me up to avoid a collision. Both times I reacted by tapping on their window and voicing my disapproval. On one occasion this resulted in the driver intentionally swerving in front of me and then winding down his window to shout back. In hindsight I should probably consider my vulnerability before confronting idiots in control of motor vehicles but it’s difficult to just turn the other cheek when somebody acts so stupidly.
On a positive note these incidents were mostly notable for their rarity on my journeys. Drivers are usually sensible and considerate and I shouldn’t let a couple of fools irk me.
I went out for a 5 mile cross-country run on Saturday morning. After advice from my physio I’ve been trying to run every week but had been finding road running interminable. I couldn’t face another session of pounding the tarmac punctuated by glances at my watch to see how far I’d gone and therefore how much more I had to endure. So I bought some ‘fell-running’ shoes in the hope that their increased grip and support would prevent a repeat of the painful incident before Christmas when I slipped and ‘fell’. The grip was remarkable and helped me to get up and down the muddy Mendip Hills without a single slip. I must admit that I needed to walk a few sections of the steepest ascent and also stopped to catch my breath while climbing over a few gates or stiles, but it was an exhilarating experience, especially in comparison to road running.
Fell-running certainly isn’t likely to replace cycling as my preferred form of exercise, but one of its advantages is that 45 minutes is plenty of time to get a good workout, rather than the 2+ hours needed on the bike. This is especially important with the little ‘un in our lives and the amount of time I get to see her during the week. She’s always asleep when I leave for work and it requires me to leave work an hour early to be home in time for bath and bedtime story. So I was looking forward to spending time with her on Saturday – understandably my wife was looking forward to some free time away from the baby so it was win-win for me to take care of her. This afternoon the weather was glorious so I dressed the ‘hoglet’ in her favourite onesie, strapped her to my chest and set off for a hike to the top of the Mendip Hills. A footpath leads from our back garden and runs up through the woods to the top of the hill. It’s about 600ft of climbing which is plenty while carrying 15lbs of baby on your chest. However, the benefit of having such a tiny companion is that 600ft is definitely a mountain, not a hill and I think she was impressed by our afternoon’s work.