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.
I’ve been out running quite a bit recently. A few recurring cycling injuries and some advice from a physiotherapist have lead me to establishing a more balanced approach to exercise. I went out for a ‘little’ 6 mile run yesterday: 3 miles out-and-back to the other side of Chew Lake. But it was only when I got home and looked out of the window to the lake in the distant horizon that I realised 3 miles is still quite a long way. Cycling is clearly to blame for warping my sense of distances.
As well as thinking 3 miles is hardly worth getting out of bed for, cycling has also deceived me into thinking I work close to home. Due to injuries I drove the car to work for most of December and the exhausting tedium of the journey also brought a sense of perspective to 18 miles. It’s far. As cyclists we are nuts for considering it a short distance.
To cap off 2013 I went out for a 30-something mile ride today. The horizontal distance wasn’t really important, it was all about taking on a few challenging climbs. I made three separate climbs of the Mendip hills interspersed by a few descents to catch my breath, the highlight being a recently discovered 4 mile gradual descent along a quiet back lane. This gives an opportunity to savour the exhilaration of descending rather than most of the steeper and busier roads which can be a bit sketchy in these slippery, winter conditions.
I was dressed up for the cold and riding the weighty steel frame complete with mudguards and rack, all of which provided some additional ballast to drag up the hills and raised the spirits when I overtook a couple of cyclists climbing Burrington Combe on their carbon fibre bikes without mudguards. The roads were soaked from the morning rain so maybe their slowness was a result of having pants full of puddle but I showed no sympathy as I mashed my way past. The second climb was Cheddar Gorge where I was overtaken near the top. This gently humbling experience paled into insignificance compared to the final climb where I looked down at my speedo on the steepest section of East Harptree Hill and read 4mph. 4mph! I dug deep and pushed on, trying to ignore my mischievous inner voice trash-talking me by saying this was definitely the slowest I had ever ridden. Shut up brain.
You can’t really post on 31 December without some sort of year in summary / outlook to the new year. This year I rode over 5500 miles which is a great achievement but still a few miles short of 2012. While the recent injuries are par-for-the-course for cycling a whole year, I think I can claim some extenuating circumstances for the new baby in the house. However my plan for next year is to cycle less. This might sound surprising but I intend to quit my current job and do something closer to home, hence less cycle-commuting which makes up the bulk of my riding. Working long hours and commuting long distances leaves very little time for family life and I think the arrival of our baby has been the catalyst for making a positive change in my life. I’m not exactly sure where this journey will take me, but hopefully will also involve significantly less driving in the Bike v Car Challenge. I’m excited about the future. Roll on 2014 …
We are in the Cotswolds for Christmas. I brought the bike and went out for a short ride the other morning. It was wet and windy and I was thankful for mudguards as I splashed through endless muck and puddles. However, severe weather warnings were in place for today so I decided to run instead of cycle. Fear of slipping on wet roads or being blown off made it seem a more sensible option.
I ran 5 miles along the remains of an old Roman Road. Part of the route was solid trail, but mostly it was slippery and wet with ankle-deep mud. Hills, wind, driving rain and my lack of fitness all added to the challenge. Just when I thought it was going ok, I completely lost my footing and crashed to the ground, landing in the foetal position in a giant puddle, smashing my knee on a rock and screaming in agony like the little baby I looked like. In fact, it was worse than that: I reacted like a Premier League footballer who’d been touched in the penalty area, clutching my knee and screaming at the sky. With nobody for miles, my pathetic cries were instantly absorbed by the bleak surroundings. The rain continued to fall, the wind whipped the puddle into my face and after a few more futile shouts of pain mixed with frustration mixed with humiliation, I dragged myself to my feet and hobble-jogged the last mile home.
Back home, I cleaned myself up, bandaged my knee and tried to ignore the nagging feeling that I’d probably over-reacted just a little bit. It hurt, I was tired, it was cold, I landed in a puddle. But were the blood-curdling screams like I’d been shot really necessary? I behaved like a bloody footballer. If all this outdoor exercise is supposed to make you tough, then I’ve still got a long way to go …
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.