The annual consumerist assault of Christmas is once again almost upon us. But this year it has resulted in a moment of enlightenment. A family member recently asked whether I wanted anything, and not content with my uninspiring suggestions of socks, books or beer, they delved deeper and enquired whether I needed any cycling stuff. My response surprised them and me: “No, I think I’ve got everything I need”.
This is truly a watershed moment, and also a point which I thought no cyclist could ever reach.
In truth there are three elements to this ‘achievement’. Firstly I am consciously trying not to acquire more superfluous stuff in my life, secondly I already own a ridiculous amount of cycling stuff, and finally I have recently started unashamedly introducing normal, non-cycle-specific clothing and equipment into my cycling.
It all started with regular t-shirts. Initially these were still ‘technical’, ‘wicking’, etc. designed for running. But they didn’t have pockets on the back or a zip down the front. And they didn’t cost silly money either. When you’re riding to work with panniers which can carry clothes, keys, phone, laptop and an arsenal of p*ncture repair items there really doesn’t seem much point in pockets on your jersey. Lately, with the dark winter evenings the running t-shirts have transgressed to high-visibility, construction worker tops. I have no shame.
The next development was wearing normal woolen socks while cycling in winter. Amazingly they didn’t cause me to fall off my bike or my toes to drop off. And they kept my feet warm too.
But the final nail in the coffin appears to have been using inexpensive baby nappy-rash cream as a substitute for the exorbitantly priced designer chamois cream. Again, it didn’t cause me to fall off my bike … or my bum to catch fire.
So before I be given a congratulatory pat on the back for denouncing the influx of further cycling stuff into our household, it should be noted that I own too much already. And I have no shame in finding ignominious alternatives.
I went for a ride today without the Garmin. It wasn’t a commute, just a cycle for the fun of it. I didn’t forget the bike computer, just decided I’d rather go without it. I’d like to claim this was due to a desire to leave the distractions behind and engage with the spirituality of cycling, but it was mostly because I was bunking off work for the afternoon and didn’t want it publicised all over Strava.
However there was an enjoyable simplicity of cycling with no computer. No worrying about average speeds and times up hills, or that somebody might snoop on my performance once posted online. It also gave me the opportunity to contemplate life, forget my stresses and just enjoy the scenery, rather than obsessing about the ‘data’ on my handlebars.
When I got home I put the bike away, had a shower and then enjoyed an evening with my family. No frivolous uploading of pointless data. I guess this is the problem with technology – sometimes it feels like the cart comes before the horse. We didn’t develop GPS due to a social need for amateur cyclists to compare themselves to other amateur cyclists, but the technology has allowed it. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should necessarily do it. I like my GPS bike computer but sometimes feel like ‘Big Brother’ is watching me as I ride.
Today I was left with no ‘data’, photographs or record of my enjoyable ride and I’ve started to doubt whether it actually happened. Was it just a figment of my imagination? Whatever it was, it’s a happy memory.
Sitting in my warm car in a dark and deserted car park at 6:28am with the wind and freezing rain whipping all around me, I did allow myself a brief hesitation before venturing out to set up the bike. I was 2 minutes ahead of my usual schedule so justified this moment of weakness as a small reward for my timekeeping.
This is the problem with working 40 miles away from home – it isn’t really practical to cycle the whole distance. With the exception of a few occasions in the middle of summer when I cycled all the way, I have only been able to make it work by driving halfway and cycling the rest. However, driving towards work in foul weather seems to provide more of a psychological challenge than just heading out on the bike from the front door. “I could just carry on and drive the whole way” seems to be the negative mantra repeating inside my head on days like today. Fortunately a love of cycling seems to be more powerful than an aversion to bad weather and I endured the second leg of my journey out in the elements of nature, but more with satisfaction than pleasure.
The start of my cycle is through the city of Bath, largely asleep at that time of day. Other than bin lorries and construction vans, the only other obstacles are the potholes which seem to be far more frequent than on roads outside the city. However the big benefit of riding through the city and suburbs is the street lighting. I have a decent enough set of lights on my bike but still prefer the greater visibility provided by street lighting. Currently daylight is arriving midway through my ride out on the back lanes of Wiltshire, but in a few more weeks I’ll be relying on bike lights to guide me along this part of my journey.
I took the last part of my journey into work along the cycle path which we built a few months ago. It has settled into its surroundings and seems to be getting good use. And thanks to the small adjustments we made to keep it back from the road it also seems to have avoided any damage from a recent hit-and-run car which crashed through our fence, signage and tree saplings, leaving behind part of its undercarriage and bumper which should at least make some decent evidence along with the CCTV footage.
It had been six weeks since I last cycled to work. With the arrival of a baby in the house our lives are barely recognisable from before with all of the time and energy required to cycle disappearing into the all-consuming baby vacuum. Recently, however, I have been able to juggle some my of my work commitments (‘juggle’ is a business euphemism for ‘avoid’) and have reallocated this time to getting back on the bike.
This week I commuted to work twice by bike and noticed that it is not only our personal lives which have changed dramatically over the last 6 weeks. Summer appears to have turned to Winter, the clocks have changed, the days are shorter, the temperature has plummeted and for all of this I have had no breaking-in period. I was gasping my way up the hills feeling a lack of fitness in my legs and a disgusting burning taste in the back of my throat, before grimacing my way back down chilled to the bones and feeling like a bit of a wimp.
I’ve also been seeing a physio once a week to try and restore my lower back. Sitting down at work, sitting down in the car and cycling have all contributed to a tight lower back and thighs and a lack of ‘gluteal’ muscles. For years my wife has joked that I don’t actually have a bum but to have it confirmed by a medical expert made her day. Being massaged for half an hour sounds like an enjoyable experience, but it turns out to be an expensive form of torture. The only way to get through each session is to repeat the mantra that if it hurts it must be doing some good. And to yelp like a little girl if it gets too much!
My plan leading up to Christmas is to find the best balance between work, cycling and family. With the available hours for cycling getting ever shorter, and the cutest little baby back at the house, it seems that work may need to stick to the back-burners for now.
With a new baby in the house we are currently low on sleep and time; the weather has also been crappy so I hadn’t been out cycling for two weeks. I did have a couple of spins on the torture-trainer in the garage to keep within shouting distance of the house, but cycling on a stationary trainer takes away the fun and only really serves to maintain fitness.
However the past few days we have had grannies in the house. Both our mums came to stay and provided us with some help and support. This afternoon the incessant rain finally stopped and I was encouraged to get out of the house for a cycle.
I opted for a 30 mile ride, starting with a flat loop of the lake, a long climb up the Mendips followed by an enjoyable descent. It was great to be riding in fingerless gloves, shorts and a short-sleeved jersey at this time of the year. I didn’t ride at any great speed but it felt reinvigorating to be on the bike. The roads were quite mucky after recent heavy rains, so I was glad to have recently changed over to winter tyres with mudguards.
It may be another few days before I get out again so the turbo-training could play another role. However our lives are currently revolving around the baby and inside the house so there isn’t much car mileage to compete against for now.
Since my last post my wife has given birth to a brand new baby daughter. It’s been exciting times and meanwhile our normal lives have been completely put on hold while we learn how to care for this new miniature family member. Cycling has also been put on hold, but fitness has probably been maintained by the constant running around.
Today she went for her first outing – an epic 200 metres in the buggy to the letterbox at the end of the road to post a few photos to her great-grandmother. We maintained a good average speed for the ride, except over a patch of rough ground where we had to slow down to prevent excessive dribbling.
There was a slight climb on the return but we managed to get over it without dropping too much speed. However the greatest achievement of the ride was that nobody cried or wet their pants. We did however end up with a little bike grease on her onesie when somebody thought it was funny to pretend to Mum that we were going by bike rather than buggy, and brushed her against the hibernating bicycle.
At the current rate there’s little danger of the buggy challenging the bike for miles this year, but fingers crossed things will get easier over the coming weeks and I can get back out and do some cycling again.
I have been struck down by back injury, restricting me to the bed or the floor for the past 3 days. It’s frustrating, but on balance I’ve been relatively injury-free so far this year so have to accept this as part of leading an active life. I can’t think of a particular flash-point which caused the injury, more likely it was a culmination of many stresses. I spent the weekend watching DVDs and then phoned work to call in sick today. When I explained to a colleague that I’d had a boring weekend laying on the sofa watching movies, he replied that he’d had a fantastic weekend doing the very same thing!
To add to the drama I have been relying on my pregnant wife who is due this week to do any lifting or carrying for me. The thought of her going into labour with me in a completely useless state was quite worrying. This morning I phoned my doctor to explain my problem and the unfortunate timing and was prescribed an amazing cocktail of drugs to get me back on my feet. Strong pain killers, muscle-relaxants and anti-inflammatories have worked wonders and this afternoon I was taking my first tentative steps which was a good improvement from crawling around the house on all fours.
Fortunately most of the baby-related DIY projects are now complete and our house is ready for the forthcoming new arrival. The only thing missing was a few colourful pictures so I decided to alleviate the afternoon boredom by doing a little drawing. I’m not sure how much the codeine was kicking in at this point, but a moment of inspiration lead to Eddy Merckx being depicted as a cycling cow.
Spurred on by this, next on the agenda was a crocodile version:
I’d found the frames in a charity shop a few weeks ago had sprayed them gold. I think the pictures should add a bit of colour to the bedroom. But I might wait a few years before confessing to being away with the fairies at the time I drew them.
This evening I was back on my feet and moving around the house. Fingers crossed I’ll be back on the bike again soon.