My Second TT – An exercise in grief.

So, you must have read My First Ever TT, yes?

This was my second. As previously mentioned, almost a year later.

Why the time passing? Well, my first-claim club is in Mid Wales, but my second-claim club, KW,  is in the suburbs of London, where I usually live. KW TT courses are on A roads which don’t appeal to me as, in my eyes, they tend to be rather busy. Others can ignore the traffic, but I’m not so good at that*.

20160512 phone download 062(*With my hip problems, I have to make cycling something I enjoy. It relieves so much pain. When it’s a trial to get on my bike, with too many close-passing vehicles, it removes the enjoyment.)

One positive about TTs in the Surrey environs is they are generally a lot flatter. Like, flat-as-a-particularly-flat-pancake flat. But, the traffic thing, and trying to get there for a time just beyond rush hour, generally puts me off.

Circumstances found me in Mid Wales again. So, with trepidation, I turned up for the Devil’s Bridge Hilly TT earlier this month.

 

My mother had unexpectedly passed away the previous week. I was in the middle of organising the funeral, but, after several days of many exercises in futility, I needed to have actual, proper exercise on the bike. If you have gone through a time such as that, you’ll know what I mean – a touch of normality, fresh air and a distraction, all bundled into one. It was sorely needed.

20160512 phone download 061The marshals were lovely, as they often are.

The course was a touch…climb-y – look at that profile. 1000 feet in 22 miles. Not the easiest.

Weather report – sunshine, 12-ish degrees – warm enough for 3/4s for me, and shorts for others. Quite a strong wind, though I never worked out which direction it was coming from!

I did it on my winter bike which I had brought from London – the Kinesis Racelight T2 with 105, F7s and Conti 4000s IIs.

20160512 phone download 087Oops, wrong pic.

20160512 phone download 086Cow overlooking dam. Love this shot. Oh, sorry, I was supposed to be finding a pic of my bike. Hang on…

20160512 phone download 064 20160512 phone download 081Less cows, more views.

Not aero, or light, although it can be quick. It’s a workhorse. And I can’t blame it for being slow – it likes being chucked around. It was me:

Decent nutrition that week had been non-existent, bike maintenance zero too – tyres were soft and no one had a track pump at the meeting point.  I’d had no time to find a pump, and later, I would find that they were around 50/60 psi front/rear respectively. (Far, far too low. But, I’d had other, funeral-related things to worry about.) My lovely PDW mudguards were alternately admired and ridiculed – I just didn’t have time to take them off beforehand.

All not ideal.

I turned up. I signed up. I was number 1.

I set off. And promptly wheelied a little. Head down due to embarrassment.

200 yards later, I remembered I hadn’t started my Garmin. Oops.

A mile later, my ‘minute woman’ passed me. And the next wasn’t so far back. In the following miles, before halfway, most of the field overtook. Some encouraged me, some were fighting their own battles. Some did both, and I truly appreciate those who did, even when I couldn’t respond.

The first half was rolling, but uphill overall. A fair bit of work for someone more used to flat roads. I would run through my (sticking) gears, from 34-28 to 50-11, in a matter of a few hundred yards. And again. And again. And a few more times. But, nearer to the lower ranges than the upper – it was mostly climbing.

There was nothing in my legs. My head was in the wrong place. The only drive I felt was after someone passed me. I wanted to do well in memory of my Mum, but thinking that was too much for me – emotion destroyed my concentration.

I nearly gave up at halfway, as all-but-two riders had passed me and I had a random bout of grief-related tears. With encouragement from marshal Tim, I continued. After the last of the remaining competitors overtook me, that spurred me enough to make some time back on the long descent into Capel Bangor. (Without drafting him, of course!)

I know I didn’t push myself enough – there wasn’t enough physical pain at the end, and I wasn’t gasping for air enough. Compared to some, I had hardly tried. It was difficult to justify, or even describe, the mental versus physical battle. I felt I had fought, yet my body didn’t show it. And I didn’t know if I had won or lost.

1.22.06 was the official time for 22 hilly miles – solidly last place.

In better news, it worked miraculously to sort out my escalating hip pain. And, as cycling often does, it cleared my head enough for a semi-decent night of sleep.

At that time, that was the best I could hope for.

Not the best examples of ‘racing’ a TT, but this post was never really about that, sorry.

13077104_1171265942897284_4913196289976820842_nMum. I miss her so much.

Tx

My first ever TT

It’s almost the anniversary since I wrote this, a year ago – after my first time trial (“TT”) on the 20th May, 2015. At the time, I only posted it on my club’s forum. After completing my second TT recently, I decided to preserve the report for posterity here.

The TT was part of AberCycleFest, which takes place every year just before the last May bank holiday – you don’t usually get tea and cake at the end of every TT!

***

My First TT

I did my first ever TT last night.

I cycled the 11 miles to the start, which was up the picturesque Cwm Rheidol valley, near where they produce hydro-electric power. En route, a group of four cyclists on TT bikes powered past me as if I was standing still, so I was rather nervous of embarrassing myself by the time I reached the car park.

No worries though – there was a mixture of ages, clubs, and road or TT bikes out, even some without tri bars like mine.

20150530 camera download 146The bike I used, minus the mudguard, saddlebag, and second bottle.
Paid my £3 and decided to take the vacant spot 1 on the list. Then spent the next 15 minutes stripping anything not needed off my bike (including my saddle bag), and dithering on whether to put my base layer back on. The sun was going behind clouds and the temperature was dropping rapidly. All the boys said leave the base off, but the sole other woman had one on. Thinking also of Maryka’s words of wisdom about always wearing a base, and making the excuse that I was now a softy Southerner, I found a quiet corner and pulled it on. Instant warmth, lovely.And so to the start for 7pm. I had identified myself as a TT virgin when registering, so the lad briefly explained about the countdown, held my bike and I was off! And wobbling!

To find for some bizarre reason that I couldn’t clip my right foot in. So, for the first half mile, I was dawdling along with one foot out. At last, it clipped in (no idea what was wrong) and I could start putting what little power I had down.

I had absolutely no idea how to pace myself, so I decided to go all out for a while, then pin it back a little until I could actually breathe and my legs weren’t screaming so much. I was expecting Clint (2) to whizz past me in short order, but after I had wheezed my way past a relative’s house (small world around here), it was 3 who flew past. Followed a couple of miles after by number 5 (Welsh Nat RR champion Stevie Williams) and much later, 4. Clint (2) didn’t pass me until a third through, and I stayed about 30 metres* back from him for the next 4-5 miles.

*I could have been able to overtake him again, he seemed to slow when I was feeling stronger, but I pegged my pace back as I couldn’t recall exactly how far back I should be. Then we hit a few lumps on the last stretch of the return and he disappeared from sight.

It was a bit weird to be by myself yet racing. The thought of being overtaken by others and being embarrassingly slow kept me going, and it was easier than I thought to get into a rhythm. I do confess, when cycling by myself, my attention tends to drift and my power output drop, this probably happened a couple of times. I didn’t really have target time, but was hoping to be back in around half an hour. The last few miles, I tried to push it as hard as possible, but despite wheezing/coughing uncontrollably after I passed the finish, I still don’t think I was going all out.

After I had washed the flies stuck in my throat down, the timekeeping lad was relieved when I managed to stop coughing and get my breath back – I think at one stage, he was fearing that he’d have to do either a Heimlich or mouth-to-mouth. He said I had done 30:29, and anything under 30 minutes was ‘considered decent’. So I wasn’t far off. Bearing in mind I didn’t know the course, and the cleat thing (*cough* excuses, excuses *cough*) and it being my first time, I’m OK with that.

Scoffed two flapjacks and a piece of lemon drizzle cake in short order (thanks to the Cwtch Cafe), and pulled my jacket on while watching the others finish. The organisation was flawless, and everyone was really friendly.

Here’s the official finishing times:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/ystwyth … 176933350/

Here’s my Strava:
http://www.strava.com/activities/308428255
(the flybys are quite interesting!)

I cycled back towards home with Clint and another lad whose name I can’t recall. Clint said he kept looking back and was impressed to see I was still there for so many miles.

Tonight, I have the choice of attending the AberCycleFest Gala Evening (in the National Library of Wales) to see cycling films, ‘Battle of the Bikes’ (Obree v Boardman), ‘Manpower’ (1982 Milk Race) and finally a Q&A with Dean Downing, or joining an Ystwyth chaingang and trying to not embarrass myself again around a local loop. Decisions, decision…

***
If you’ve never done a TT, most clubs hold weekly events during  summer evenings, and I’d recommend having a go – there’s more information here.  Some clubs even hold occasional ‘Come and Try It’ events open to all comers. There will be another at this year’s AberCycleFest, and I’ll be in Aberystwyth for it.
abercyclefest 2016

Size, Self-image, and Cycling

Do you know what the weirdest thing is that cycling has taught me?

Not how competitive I sometimes still am.

Not my inbuilt wish for everyone I meet to like me*.

Not that, after being a scaredy-cat for most of my life, I can now whizz down hills faster than many of my friends or clubmates.

It’s this…

I’m not as big as I think I am.

In other words, my self image is totally to pot.

New Inn no makeupNo makeup selfie, after a few drinks, of course.

I’ve always had a round, chubby face, with well-buried cheekbones and a tendency towards a double chin. I don’t photograph well – I never know what to do with my face. I’m busty, and never really look thin, unless I’m skeletal. At size 12 and wrapped in layers of winter clothes, a GP once lectured me on the need to lose weight.

My weight has been up and down over the years, going up when I was injured or travelling, going down when I’ve been physically able to exercise.

 

It started when I was young. It’s pretty hard to feel dainty when you have galumphing size eight feet and the biggest head in Pony Club. When some of your overriding memories of childhood are being bigger and clumsier than your schoolmates.

I’m looking at old school photos now and thinking, why did I feel so big and clumsy? I’m far from the tallest and largest in my class. Perhaps I should have done ballet for longer, instead of gymnastics and hockey?

plascrug hockeyHockey days – I’m top right.

It can’t have been just in my head though. I can remember school friends not believing at the time I was a size 12. I had to show them the label of my jeans to prove it.

Being a teen in the 90s meant that baggy clothes were the norm. I seldom wore anything remotely form-fitting unless I was on a night out. Even then, it took until my late teens to start showing more skin, in short skirts or cleavage-baring tops.

When I started playing rugby at 17, I played at prop. The opposing players never intimidated me with their size, I always felt it was my lack of experience, technique, and mental attitude that let me down. When I played at scrum-half, I used to make jokes about being the biggest scrum-half in Europe.

aber bognorOn tour, in rugby days (third from right).

My weight went up and down in my years of living and travelling abroad, returning home to Wales, then moving to London. The odd bout of exercise and dieting brought it down, but it would go back up.

army toriaSize 14-ish, on a rare night out.

Until I started having successive injury problems, and for my own piece of mind, had to give up exercising.

After being practically housebound for over a year, my weight was still crawling up. Size 14 was beginning to get too tight. My bra size had increased to 36G. Due to my health problems, I was using food and alcohol as a crutch, as well as actual crutches themselves. I felt horrible.

I would insert a photo here of how big I became, but there are few and it upsets me just to look at them.

Then I discovered cycling. And things began to change.

And I had to buy cycling kit.

One of my first purchases was a pair of Defeet gloves. In medium. That’s not a women’s medium, that’s a unisex medium. Unsurprisingly, they were far too big on me, but I didn’t acknowledge that at the time, just that they were ‘uncomfortable’. I gave them to my ex-prop boyfriend of the time. They fit him.

2014 phone download 071Baby, my first road bike (that fit).

My second error was a 54cm road bike. Far, far too big for me – I’m just over 5’4″ and I’ve since discovered 48cm is my size. Luckily, I sold the 54cm on without too much of a loss. I continued to increase my mileage, and cut down on my carb intake.

Bib shorts in large. That’s not Italian-sizing large, that’s normal-sizing. Wore them twice. There’s nothing sadder than sagging Lycra.

A few months later, another error was my first pair of bib tights. In medium. Because I didn’t think I was a ‘small’. I had lost so much weight, they were massive on me.

After six months of cycling, I can remember being in a bike shop and trying on a small top, because the price was a total bargain. The first time in years I had even picked up something in a ‘small’. And I only did it because that was the only size they had in the sale.

It fit. It actually fitted me.

barnes at newlandsCringing as a pic was taken, I can’t find many of me at my skinniest, mainly as I don’t like cameras pointed at me.

I assumed then that the brand were a little generous in their kit. Until I started to find more clothes in a small, or size 10, that fit. Even an XS.

The last time I had worn a size 10 was when I was about 12. I was incredulous.

Small, or size 10 became my default size. But, I still didn’t feel ‘small’.

Friends would comment on how tiny I was, and ask if I was eating, or developing an eating disorder. I’d tell them it was cycling up to 300 miles a week, in conjunction with a low-carb and gluten-free diet formulated for me by the Aussie guy treating my various joint problems.

That size turns out to not be sustainable, once I decreased my mileage and broke the diet a few too many times. It was an eye-opener being that small and having the compliments though.

Now, after putting some weight back on, in some clothes, and in some brands, medium is a better fit. And it’s nice to have my boobs back. But a friend has still recently nicknamed me ‘Tiny T’. I still can’t believe anyone would call me ‘Tiny’ anything.

He says I’m short. I didn’t think 5’4″ was that short. However, I can’t wear heels any more. And now it’s been pointed out, I’ve started to notice the height difference.

I have a dodgy (repaired but still not right) ankle which can’t cope with high heels, and there are few pretty shoes with one-inch heels. Well, I have one pair which I can wear for a short time. Other than that, I have Timberland boots for the winter and Birkenstock sandals for the summer. And cycling shoes/boots or trainers for all other times.

When I was younger, I never really felt in the mood for going out unless I was wearing a pair of killer heels, but in those days ‘killer’ meant around 3 inches, not the suicide numbers of today. (A friend calls them ‘sitting-down shoes’, as it’s impossible to walk in them.)

So, socially, I never noticed how short I was compared to others.

As a sidenote, one thing that constantly bemuses me is seeing women, particularly on TV, wearing these ‘killer heels’ but walking ‘like a carthorse’, as my mother would say. So elegant just standing or sitting there…but as soon as they move, it totally wrecks all their hard work. The façade is destroyed.

It makes me think about how much wearing high heels was a façade for me. Did wearing heels actually make me slimmer, or taller, or bigger?

Women are told from a young age that heels are slimming – they’ll make your legs look longer and ‘improve’ your posture. What we’re seldom told is that feeling taller can make you feel less vulnerable. Or that being shorter can make you feel less confident. It removes that false sense of security. 

Heels (and feeling taller) were a part of me before, a part of my psyche, and now they’re not. 

Now, when I walk through the rugby club, I’ve begun to realise how much bigger (stronger?) than me a lot of people are. Female friends have commented on being intimidated by very big people, but I’ve always been blasé about it. I’m starting to see their point.

I’m still working it out, and working out how I feel about it. I know it’s something that involves a long-term adjustment of how I feel about myself. So, I’m making some resolutions:

  • To give myself a break.
  • To not worry what others think of me.
  • To just enjoy the good days.

And whenever I feel big and clumsy and fat, I’ll just look at where I used to be, when the medical profession had given up on me and before I discovered my saviour, cycling. And be grateful for what I have now.

Just, please don’t point that camera at me. Thanks.


*I’m working on this quirk, and while I may never reach the devil-may-care-ness of being able to say, ‘go **** yourself’, face-to-face, I hope to some day reach ambivalence.

Festive 500 while unfit? Anything is possible.

It’s the 31st of December, the sun is out, and I’m in bed. Because I’ve done it.

Last year, I accepted defeat early on. In mountainous Mid Wales, cycling 500km in 8 festive days is a massive challenge. In the previous three years, I hadn’t managed it. I posted about my failure here.

20140320 phone download 825

The nice weather that year didn’t last long.

This year, a combination of hospital appointments and other factors kept me in the London area. So, I thought I’d have a go in a less-mountainous area.

However, I’ve been off the bike a lot this year. A lot. I’ve had a fair few mechanicals, both physical and bike-related:

My left hip has been a problem for years – I’ve had three operations and I can just about manage it. Due to the damage, I still can’t sit upright on my left side, and have to be careful to not set the teeth-grinding pain off. At the tail end of last year, the right side started to play up too.

One minute it would be fine, then a shaft of agonising pain would take both my breath and ability to walk away. That’s how impingement works. One particular impingement walking down steps scared me. If I hadn’t had my bike to catch my fall, I would have face-planted and had scars to show for it. I was on my way out for a ride with my sister.

Spin, legs. Please spin.

I held back tears for all I was worth, and tried to avoid dwelling on it.

On a good day, the pain would slowly ebb. On a bad day, I had to wait hours for the pain to give me a break. I could go to bed and wake up with the pain still there, or ready to pounce.

I could feel myself slipping back mentally. So many reminders of the grim days of years ago. The crutches, the lack of faith in my own body. The fear that it could happen any time was destroying what little peace of mind I had.

I was also getting pain when on longer rides, the same rides which always help the left hip. My rides were getting shorter. My weight was creeping up. My head was going down.

So, I went to see the GP who referred me back to Bankes at Guy’s. I saw him. We agreed on the operation – an athroscopy and FAI correction. I joked about having a matching bikini-line scar, but he said this time it would all be done arthroscopically, through the same incisions.

I expected to wait for months for the operation, but within six weeks, at the end of June, I went under the knife. Apparently, the earlier the correction is carried out, the better the long-term results.

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During the operation, my hip was dislocated, so when I came around, I had to have the leg held back in the socket. The bottom of a hospital bed is good for this.

I was off the bike for just over two weeks, the hottest two weeks of summer.I lay in bed, staring out of the window at the clear blue skies. I have to thank friends who complained that it was too hot to ride – I didn’t feel that I was missing so much then!

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Ever feel like you were being left behind?

Getting back on a bike was a relief in itself. I should’ve used a turbo or stationary bike in my recovery, but instead, I just pootled around on Baby, my battered road bike. I tied the crutches to my backpack and cycled to meet friends.

20151215 phone download 250

My backpack came in handy!

Three weeks after being discharged, I did a very slow, 50-mile Surrey Hills ride. I then had a bollocking from the registrar at Guy’s who told me I was overdoing things! I probably was, but it was hard to watch and feel my hard-won muscles withering away. I pinned back my mileage and effort a little, and continued to avoid the steeper climbs which put pressure on the healing tissues.

Fast forward a few weeks, and while I was visiting family in Wales, I managed to trap a nerve in my back. Fuck me, that was agony. I’d had warning twinges for the last few months, always meant to return to swimming to improve my upper body strength and flexibility, but with everything else going on, never got around to it. It took weeks for that to improve, and for me to be able to sleep properly again. It’s still not right now, months later. I’ve started a stretching and exercise regime, but I’ll also need to look at my bike fit and posture when riding to resolve it, long-term.

I started having menstruation problems, which left me feeling very rundown and tired. I assumed it was just ‘one of those things’.

I had some potentially-problematic skin lesions removed, leaving me with a 1-2 inch incision in my back, and other sore parts.

Next to hit were a variety of bike mechanicals. The forks on Buzz, the Racelight, were recalled. Baby’s wheels started making ominous noises and gears became awkward. I recognised the Tarmac was too big, and the aggressive position was probably contributing to my trapped nerve and painful neck.

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The Tarmac. Sadly, too big and aggressive for me. Anyone after a 49cm frameset?

November came along, and brought a cold with laryngitis. For the best part of the month, I sounded like a disastrous combination of Mariella Frostrup and Minnie Mouse.  I finally went to the GP about the menstruation. That’s still under investigation.

There’s been other stuff, and my head’s been all over the place at times. I’ve jumped through DWP hoops, and won a couple of tribunals. My novels were published, but they’ve not set the world alight, and sales haven’t exactly been outstanding.

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My racy rugby romance novels, in paperback! (Other formats are available…)

I’ve received critical praise for the novels and some of my other writing work, but it’s nowhere near being able to make it a profitable enterprise. Next year, I’ll have to make some tough decisions.

 

On to the 500.

I was just feeling better for December, and had confirmed I would stay here for Christmas, rather than joining family. I did a couple of quicker rides. I thought I was ready.

500 kilometres works out at just over 310 miles. In seven days (assuming a rest day), that works out at about 45 miles a day. Infinitely doable, especially with flatter routes than in Wales.

It didn’t start well. Christmas Eve was wet. Another cold had hit me – I had a sore throat and a cough. I rode to a friend’s house, and was soaked by the time I arrived. Total 11.6mi.

Christmas Day, rain was forecast again. But, we were up early and decided on a jaunt to Windsor. It started raining in Windsor. We got wet. I chose a terrible route. 45.6mi.

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In Windsor, just before it peed down…note the tinsel necklace. #festive

After a shower, when I discovered how cold the drizzle had made me, we popped to the New Inn for some ‘recovery cider and peanuts’.

20160104 phone download 007

Ideal Christmas Day fare.

That evening, after cooking a full Christmas dinner for four, I felt dreadful. Shivery, and sweating. My nose began running like a tap. I dug out a thermometer.

20160104 phone download 013

Shit.

I went to bed early, with a cold compress to work on the fever. At that moment, I assumed completing the 500 wasn’t going to happen. Friends told me to take days off. I said I’d see how I felt in the morning.

I slept. A lot. Until late afternoon on Boxing Day. All my friends were out riding, I was in bed coughing and sneezing and feeling like crap. That evening, to make me feel productive, I decided to fit the Portland Design Works mudguards to Buzz. They’d been sitting in a box for six months, while I dithered. They went on smooth as silk, the only problem being the brake pads rubbing on the tyres, not rims. I solved that by removing the caliper’s washer.

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Lovely, lovely mudguards and new fork on Buzz

The following, drizzly day, I was feeling better and cautiously optimistic. I didn’t have much in my legs, but neither did my riding partners. A hilly and wet 45.8mi.

That took me past 125km, a quarter of the way. Still a way to go. I was like a zombie when I got home. So tired that, after washing my face, I placed the liquid facial wash back on the counter, flip cap open and nozzle down. I discovered soap had run everywhere the next day…

Monday 28th, more sleep and recovery, and my legs felt good. Seven of us cycled around the sunny Chobham lanes and Ripley. Despite the sun, I was grateful for the mudguards as the roads were still mucky. And for the relatively-flat route. A chunk of 70.4mi completed.

Past halfway. I could do this.

15.2mi meeting some Wheeler friends for a few post-Christmas drinks that evening, which gave me less than 200km to go.

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I love presents from cycling friends. Mine is the Park Tools spork, thanks Matt!

On my ‘pub bike’, Baby, I managed to get soaked to the skin by the time I got home, from head to foot. This getting wet thing was getting old.

A more challenging Three Witches route to Windsor on the 29th. I was dropped on the hills after working on the front. But, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 61.6mi more in the bank.

I was feeling so good, I added 13mi to that, to cycle to a friend’s place for a bit of Chinese. I’d forgotten about the headwind, which turned what should have been an easy ride to a battle against the deteriorating conditions.

Fifty mile-an-hour winds whistled around the house the next day. The planned club ride was cancelled, but we still ventured out, to the Surrey Hills. My legs felt like jelly – Elz dropped me repeatedly on any type of climb, but thankfully sheltered me and my tired legs from a lot of the wind. 32.3 hard-fought miles.

On getting back to hers, I worked out that I only needed 15 miles to complete the challenge. So I cycled home, in a meandering way, circling the slickening neighbourhood until the magic 15 had ticked over.

I plugged my Garmin in with trepidation. For the last few days, I had been recording the rides on both of my Garmins (a 500 and a backup 800), and was glad I had as a couple of rides had lost miles – user error with bulky gloves or random blip. I only hoped that I wouldn’t have to venture out into the increasingly-heavy rain.

500.

I did it, with one day in hand.

I breathed a sigh of relief. So did my knees. I went to bed and slept until later that evening, missing several calls and messages from friends.

Should I have gone out the next day? Probably, but I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove, and the lingering cold was still a problem. To be honest, my legs were tired, I knew there was nothing in them, and I didn’t want to hold a ride back. As I said at the start, I wasn’t terribly fit.

I’ve cycled over 6,000 miles this year. It’s not as much as previous years when I’ve clocked over 10k, but I’m happy with that. Plus, to end the year, I’ve achieved something, despite my body letting me down at times.

And others have had to cope with far worse than I have.

I have to thank my cycling friends who’ve led or followed me around this last year, listened to my moans, kept me entertained and joined me for cake or a few beverages. They’ve kept me sane, and from withdrawing too much into myself when things have been going wrong.

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Sunnier times, with some of those who have the patience to follow this crock around the Surrey Hills

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Drinks after Wednesday night laps of the Park with a few club friends

This year ahead, I’ve been thinking about my goals.

1. Sort out the Bike Room upstairs and sell/give away anything I don’t need. Reduce my n number from 7 to 5.
2. Aim for two long rides a week to keep my hips happy (but not castigate myself if I don’t make it out).
3. Work on the strength and flexibility of my core & upper body by hitting the Gym (also the Bike Room!) at least three times a week. I do not want another trapped nerve!
4. Get fit enough again to keep up comfortably on a KW K3 club ride, or an Ystwyth 10am ride.
5. Lose enough weight that I feel comfortable in my cycling clothes (but not ultra-skinny).

 

I thought of several more goals, like competing in my first Crit, doing a minimum amount of laps in the Park on Wednesday nights, updating this blog more regularly, and cutting down my cider consumption :wink: …but I’ll leave it at that.

I don’t want to pressurise myself to achieve what may be a strain, and deal with an associated failure, however pragmatically. My hips still aren’t great, and Bankes has offered me a replacement for the left. I’ll think about it. I’ve had enough of hospitals for now, and I still have to sort out my back/neck, and the ‘women’s problems’.

I finally completed the 500. That’s enough for me, for now.

Tx

 

Started Cycling this Summer? Advice for beginners

Just a collection of words of advice for those starting out. Spring/summer’s a good time to begin, with the warmer weather and longer days. I’m not a professional-anything (except fiction writer!), these are tips I’ve picked up from the days of being a newbie, and helping other newbies along.

BIKE

People blame all kinds of factors for there being less women on road bikes than men. From vanity to not having friends out there.

Do you know what the single major factor I’ve noticed is? The one thing that really puts women off?

Their bike doesn’t fit.

It’s as simple as that. They aren’t comfortable, they are more wobbly, they feel unsafe in the drops, and bits of their bodies start hurting after only a few miles.

Discomfort means they never get the zen-like feeling of flying along for miles and miles. Of spending a really enjoyable day in the saddle with friends. Of finding an exercise that works for them in the battle against the bulge.

I actually started on a hybrid, so learnt to use my gears and keep cadence BEFORE I looked for a road bike. I don’t think I would have been so brave as to get a road bike straight away. That my seat is higher than my bars would have spooked me out for a start!

Size – For a start, is your road bike the right size for you? A quick way to tell is your seat should be higher than the handlebars.

If you are struggling to keep your hands on the hoods for the duration of a ride, the reach is too long. (I’d say 50% of newbie women I lead out on rides are on bikes which are too big for them, or would have been easier to control had they got a smaller size).
There’s not much you can do if your bike’s top tube is too long, as moving the seat forward too much will also depower your pedalling, and the seat may dig in. A badly-fitting bike leads to instability, lack of confidence, lack of desire to be on a bike and pain – neck, arms, hands, shoulders and crotch in particular.

Instability issues could be caused by the geometry of the bike – if a too-long bike has been made smaller by shortening the stem, the steering becomes twitchier. Coupled with women’s bars being narrower, guess what? Yep, wobbling all over the place. Wider bars with shallower drops may make you feel more stable, but aren’t a long-term solution as may give you shoulderblade pain once you’re really putting the miles in.

(I ride a 48cm with 38cm bars and a 120mm stem – 4cm longer than the stem it came with. It improved the handling immeasurably.)

Saddle – It should be the right width to support your sit bones but not so wide that you can’t pedal properly. It also should be level, or the nose marginally pointed down. Apart from that, saddle is personal choice as everyone is different. The right one can be heaven, the wrong one hell.

Shifters – are you struggling to reach the levers in the drops, or squeeze the brakes on the hoods? Two things you can do here (if the levers aren’t adjustable): insert shims in the tops of the levers which bring them closer to the bars, and loosen the brake cable to bring the ‘bite point’ of the brakes closer to the bars.
(Last year, I finished rebuilding a bike but forgot to put the shims back in. I have never been so scared going down one particular hill, and my hands were killing me from straining to reach the brakes. They make a big difference.)

I also have my shifters angled slightly inwards. I’ve found this takes pressure off my shoulders and hands, and was recommended to me during a bike fit.

Pedals Don’t be rushed into clipping in. Put flat metal pedals back on so you can stop worrying about your feet and concentrate on learning to steer and use the gears/brakes. Only clip in once you’re feeling like the bike is part of you, and are going fast enough to need them. I’ve always used MTB shoes and pedals (SPDs, or ‘spuds’) as I need to walk normally off a bike due to my joint problems.

Gearing – Compact crankset (50/34), and a decent cassette on the rear (11-28) if you have any hills around. There’s no harm in having a triple crankset, nor a basic groupset such as Sora or Tiagra, though 105 is really what you should be aiming for, if possible.

Training – Some local clubs will have newbie sessions (I’ve been helping out with one around here), plus BC or other organisations have training sessions you could attend.

KIT:

Helmet – I’m not convinced of the efficacy of wearing a helmet. However, you’ll get hassle if you don’t wear one, sometimes from complete strangers.

Sweatband – Can make an ill-fitting helmet more comfortable, and if you sweat heavily, stop it getting into your eyes. I don’t usually wear one in the summer.

Glasses – I would never cycle without a pair of clear glasses, at least. You want to keep insects and pollen out of your eyes. Safety glasses are only a few quid, and available in many different designs – you don’t have to fork out for expensive cycling glasses which, if you’re anything like me, will end up broken in short order. And if they get scratched, just buy a new pair. I like Bolle.

Moving on to clothes: don’t splurge on too much kit to begin with – if you really start enjoying cycling, you will lose weight and all your nice kit will be too big.  I was lucky enough to find a secondhand bundle of good quality brands on eBay which I wore until I lost too much weight and they started (literally) dropping off me. There’s nothing sadder than sagging Lycra.

Jersey –  Look for body length, zip length, and proper (usually 3) pockets. You may fancy going sleeveless, but you’ll be mistaken for a triathlete. Besides, it’s OK to have strange tan lines.

Padded shorts Generally, the more you pay for shorts, the better they should be.

Waist shorts are convenient for going to the loo, but the waistband can dig in, and there may be a gap at the back if your jersey is short in the body or rises up.

Bib shorts (traditional-style) should be more comfortable on the bike, but can be awkward for going to the loo.

Loo-friendly bib shorts are difficult to find, and some people don’t necessarily find they’re any more convenient than normal shorts. I have a couple of pairs I like though.

Wind/rain jacket I carry one in my second bidon (water bottle) for most of the year, but in the summer, you may want to have two bottles of fluids for any ride over 40 miles (one water, one energy or electrolyte drink). Always check the forecast an hour or so before you go out (NOT the previous day) – if it looks like the weather will change, or you’re riding into the evening, always take a light jacket. I have one with zip-off sleeves which doubles as a gilet or arm warmers.

Arm warmers Very useful for those rides which aren’t quite warm enough to go sleeveless. I often have them around my wrists for parts of some rides. There are different weights available, but the most important is to find a pair which don’t fall down. Look for a good, tight fit at the top.

Knee/leg warmers aren’t really needed in the summer, but they’re worth knowing about.

Fingerless gloves I can’t cycle without gloves. Like saddle fit, these are often a personal preference. Never touch another rider’s gloves – you don’t know where they’ve been.

Socks and shoes Trainer socks, ankle socks? Who the hell cares? Just get on your bike!

As above, I advise most newbies not to clip in until they’re confident handling their bike.  A pair of trainers and flat metal pedals (which will grip the rubber soles) will do until then. When advancing to clipping in, road shoes have better transfer of power than MTB spuds, but IMO that doesn’t really matter until you start racing.

I think I’ve covered all the basics. Please comment if you agree/disagree/want to know more.

Another Festive 500 Fail – Accepting My Limitations

As I pedalled through the rain earlier today, with various parts of me starting to freeze, I wondered what the hell I was doing?

Festive 500. 500km from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve.

Sound easy? Not in mid Wales, right by the coast it isn’t! This is the third year I’ve attempted it, and the third year of failure. This is the earliest I’ve admitted defeat though.

Last year I was 80km from finishing, despite gale force winds and torrential rain. The previous year, illness stopped me just after halfway. This year, I’m less fit that I’ve been for ages, both cardiovascularly and with my neck and back inflamed from alternative sitting positions, knees twinging and so-called ‘good’ right hip misbehaving. Nonetheless, I thought I’d see how it went.

Pretty bad, actually.

Many people encourage setting targets. The trouble with my physical and mental limitations is that sometimes they prevent me from achieving those targets. It’s taken me a long time to learn to stop castigating myself in the event of ‘non-achievement’, aka FAILURE. If you have failed something, you are a FAILURE. It positively shrieks at me and makes me feel worse. I still don’t always know when I should give up or plough through, or whether I should even make an attempt in the first place.

So, I’m quite glad this year I’ve decided early on that it’s not going to happen, and that I knew from the start that it wasn’t realistically likely.

I just wish I’d decided that before I did those 12 extra, lonely, rain-soaked, freezing-cold miles earlier.

Cycling for the disabled: One size does not fit all

One of the issues that has frustrated me since developing joint problems is the assumptions that are made regarding what disabled people require.

I admit, I’m a rare case. Sitting disabilities are not common, and usually have a root cause in the spine. With me, it’s my hip(s), and the only spine problems I have appear to be a result of managing the hip condition.

Nevertheless, normal adaptations make my life worse. In my experience, a short flight of stairs or steps are easier for me than a longer ramp, I can’t use a wheelchair, and chairs with armrests are the work of the devil.

I ride a normal bike, I go out on club runs, I sometimes ride 100 miles with no ill-effects. Yet, I cannot walk more than 50 metres unaided, and on a bad day, even getting out of the house is more than I can bear.

I’ve figured out how to cope with shopping: my local Sainsbury’s is good enough to let me bring my bike inside so I can complete a couple of sorties down the short aisles, and I’ll haunt farmers’ markets as I can ride or walk my bike up to the front of the stands. Other goods I have delivered. Most of the time, I can manage.

However, some days I have to ride my bike where I ‘shouldn’t’. The odd bit of pavement to get to a cashpoint or when I don’t fancy dealing with traffic, or some paths which aren’t shared use. If I do so, I’ll cycle the speed of a brisk walk, or slower, respecting the other users.

I manage. Or I try to manage.

But, it’s not just me.  There was an interesting article in the Guardian the other day quoting a recent census:

This is often an ignored area but the statistics show that 5.1% of cycle commuters in England and Wales are people whose day-to-day activities are limited in some way – that is to say they have some form of disability. While this isn’t much below the total proportion of commuters with disabilities, at 6.8%, there is a huge variation between areas for bike commuting among those with disabilities, ranging from 0.2% to 25.9%.

Aldred says this is a very little-researched area:

The results confirm that transport policy and research should cover planning for inclusive cycling, as it addresses issues of public transport accessibility and provision for disabled car users. This means studying engineering constraints (like a handcycle’s turning radius), but also research asking people with different disabilities what they would need to cycle.

The charity Wheels for Wellbeing notes that the census could well underplay the extent of disabled cycling as many people who use trikes or handcycles might well be listed in the category of “other” rather than under “bicycles”.

The charity’s director, Isabelle Clement, said:

We find that most people believe disabled people don’t cycle. This census data puts this misconception to rest. Many disabled people cycle with impairments which are not visible as they whiz past. In fact, many people use their cycle as a mobility aid. It does not make them less disabled and it is crucial that transport planners, cycle infrastructure designers etc. take the needs of disabled cyclists into account.

Then I read stuff like this and it just depresses me:

Charities critical of guidance which would allow cyclists to use pedestrian areas in Wales

Is there any research proving that ‘allowing cyclists in busy pedestrianised areas could increase collisions and the chance of injury’?

Because if I wasn’t allowed to cycle in pedestrianised areas, it would, not ‘could’, increase my chance of injury and pain.

TuTorial: Group riding advice

As per all of these posts, this will be a fluid document to which I will make improvements and add other people’s suggestions. Comments are welcome

Group riding advice

***It is recommended that anyone who rides on public roads has appropriate cycle insurance cover (e.g. as provided by the British Cycling, British Triathlon Association or the Cycle Touring Club)***

Club rides are unsupervised and the organiser/ride leader is not responsible for your safety; everyone on the ride must take responsibility to look out for others’ safety as well as their own. Experienced riders may ask you to adjust your speed, road position or style. Please respect them, as they are only concerned for everybody’s safety. Always bear in mind that everyone in the group may not be as confident or have as good bike handling skills as you.

When riding in a group, you should always aim to ride steadily with no sudden movements

Below is some basic advice to follow to make group rides enjoyable and safe for you and other road users:

Guidelines

Highway Code: Follow the Highway Code at all times and be considerate to fellow road users. Do not jump red lights. The lead riders should always wait for the group to come back together after hazards before picking the pace up.

No overlapping wheels: This is considered bad manners and dangerous.

Distance between riders: When riding in an experienced group on flat or rolling terrain, there should be 1ft-3ft (30cm-1m) between your front wheel and the back wheel of the rider in front. However, it is understandable that some riders do not want to ride so close to ‘strange wheels’, and some beginners should not be forced to ride too close until they are more confident.

Single or Double file: This entirely depends on road and weather conditions, or even type of ride. Be prepared on narrow or busy roads to ride in single file.

Two abreast (Double file): Where appropriate and safe to do so, usually in larger groups, cycle a maximum of two abreast in 2 close parallel lines, with 1ft (30cm) between your shoulders and any rider beside you. Focus on keeping it neat and tidy. Ride behind the wheel of the rider in front; if you cycle in the middle of the two wheels in front of you, you will push the cyclist on your outside into the path of passing vehicles. Do not half-wheel i.e. try to cycle faster than the person beside you, this is considered very bad manners. Ensure hazards are well signalled so the group has time to react.

Braking and pedalling: Cover your brakes at all times. Brake as gently and smoothly as you safely can when riding in a pack. When on the front, keep pedalling – this is particularly important going downhill. If you freewheel, everyone behind will have to brake. Avoid sudden movements.

Do not ride off the front: It will be assumed that you are riding by yourself. However, a group should always try to wait for those who fall off the wheel and drop behind.

Ride together and wait: Ride at a steady pace, keeping the pack as a compact unit. Do not filter traffic at lights. After stopping or slowing for hazards/junctions/lights, allow the riders behind to catch up and proceed as a group (everyone takes time to set-off, clip-in and get settled back in the saddle). Likewise, re-group at the top of hills and if necessary at the bottom. The lead riders should make sure that all riders are back in the group before resuming the normal pace. It is OK to keep moving slowly, until everyone is back together.

Don’t jump out of the saddle: When you come out of the saddle e.g. to climb, try doing it smoothly or give your bike a decent push forward for a couple of pedal strokes otherwise you will lunge backwards and possibly take out the cyclist behind you.

Equipment: Bring everything you might need. For example, puncture kit, tyre levers, inner tubes, pump, multi tool (including chain tool), helmet, waterproof jacket, food, water, money, credit card, mobile, emergency contact details… See this here.

Mechanicals: When a puncture occurs, find a safe place out of traffic to stop. If someone punctures or has a mechanical, everyone is expected to stop. So in return for delaying everyone, make sure you start the ride with spares like an inner tube, tyre levers and that your bike is roadworthy with sufficient air in the tyres. It is also worth regularly checking your tyres for road debris (e.g. flints or glass) which could cause future punctures.

Have fun: Above all, rides should be fun. Even when it’s raining. There may be some rules but a ride isn’t a military drill, it’s about enjoying being out on your bike.

Warnings and help

Everyone riding in a group is responsible for the safety of others. Clear communication makes a ride smoother and more enjoyable for everyone. How much calling is needed depends on the size and experience of the group. Personally, I’d rather hear too much than too little.

Be aware different groups use different calls. I read this article recently, and some of those signals I’ve never heard before, but may start using as they are self-explanatory.

Leaders: If you are on the front, remember that people are following your calls. Try to signal for hazards, or shout if necessary. If you make a decision to pull out on a roundabout or junction, you need to call ‘Clear’, ‘Slow’, or ‘Wait’. Do not repeat this call unless you have checked the junction yourself. ‘Heads Up’ or ‘Car Up’ can also be used if an oncoming vehicle is likely to become a hazard.

Sweepers: Rear riders ensure no-one is falling behind as lead cyclists will not be aware; it is your responsibility to call ‘Ease off/up/soft pedal’ to the cyclists in front if the pace is too high, or if other riders are caught at junctions. Ask them to slow down; it is everyone’s ride to enjoy. When the ride is together, calling ‘All together/All in/All through’ will reassure the lead riders that everything is OK. (Toria: If I am leading, I try to give a thumbs up once I’ve heard the call.) Rear Riders should call if there are vehicles building up behind e.g. ‘Car back/down!’, ‘Single out!’

Pacesetting: Gentle ease your pace by pedalling less hard or freewheeling for a moment. Look at your speedometer – if someone is being dropped you probably only need to reduce your speed by half a mile an hour to allow them to stay on.

The pack: must pass calls on to the front or to the back. Listen to them and act on the calls, and most importantly, repeat them for the cyclist behind or in front of you. Do not look back and check for yourself, as you will move off your line and may cause an accident.

Change the lead (working hard): Every few minutes, the lead should change. So if you’ve been sitting on the front for a while, when it’s safe to do so, flick your elbow and/or call ‘Pulling off’. Check over your shoulder for other riders or traffic before pulling out and decreasing speed slightly so that you rejoin after the last rider or if required, fill a gap. When you pull through to the front, do not surge i.e. increase speed. If you’re tiring when it’s your turn on the front, tell the others. It’s fine to take it easy and only pedal a few revolutions before pulling off.

Passing pedestrians or other cyclists: It’s considered good cycling etiquette to nod, wave or otherwise acknowledge others on the road. If you are overtaking, speak e.g. a cheery ‘hello’ or ‘passing right’ so they know you are there.

Horses: Slow right down when passing horses, and pass them as wide as it is safe to do so. Always call to the horse riders well ahead of catching them – a cheery ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hello’ will do. Keep calling until the riders indicate they know you are there. They may want to turn the horse so it can see you.

Calls

Slowing’: Usually accompanied by a hand signal if it’s safe to take a hand off the bars.

Stopping’: Brake!

Hole’ (‘Hole left/right’): Upcoming pothole to avoid/ride through. ‘Below’, ‘Loose’, ‘Glass’ and ‘Gravel’ are alternatives.

Wait’: Usually at junctions to indicate there is a vehicle coming/it is not safe to go.

Clear’: To indicate that a junction is traffic free. ‘Slow’ can be used to pull out with caution.

All together/All in/All through’: The group is together. Should be called after all junctions by rear riders/sweepers and communicated to the front.

‘Soft pedal’: Pedal slowly to enable group to come together/catch up.

Easy/Ease up/Ease off’: Ease off the pace a fraction to allow riders to catch up, or deal with a potential hazard.

Heads Up’: Potential hazard ahead; pay attention.

Single out’: Get into single file safely and promptly

Car Up/Front/Back/Down’: caution for an approaching vehicle. *Note – be aware there can be a differences in directional calls depending who you’re riding with.*

‘Horse up’: Slow down and single out when passing horses, call and pass them as wide as it is safe.

‘Mechanical/puncture/chain off’: Slow or stop and wait. *Any other suggestions for calls?*

Out’, ‘Pulling out’ or ‘Swing out’: Usually accompanied by the behind back hand signal. There is usually an obstacle – a car or a slower rider – on the inside of the road, so move over.

‘[On your/Passing] right/left/inside’: A rider behind is coming past, so hold your line.

Up’/’Hup’: Either a late warning of a pothole or obstacle, or a rider wants to slip in front of you.

‘Standing/Changing down’: Use this if you think you may slow suddenly on standing or changing gear when climbing. Exercise caution if you hear it, and back off the wheel slightly.

Pulling off’: The lead rider is peeling off the front of the group.

Pull through’: Come and take your turn at the front. Do not surge.

Swing off/Pull off’: Instruction to rider to swing/pull off the front of the group and let someone else take a turn there.

Last (Man)’: Tells a rider pulling off that you’re the last in the line and he/she can return to the line behind you. *Caution – always check no other riders have joined behind.*

Signals

Please only signal if it is safe to do so and you are comfortable taking a hand off the bars.

Single hand in the air (up or down): ‘Slowing’ or ‘Stopping’. (Alternative is hand parallel to the ground with up and down motion.)

Waving/pointing down at the road: This is to point out hazards such as pot holes, manhole covers etc which may cause damage to either bike or rider. Pointing – specific hazard/deep hole. Flat hand wave – rough surface. PLEASE copy this signal, it prevents accidents and punctures.

Arm straight out left or right: Turning. Everyone in the pack needs to indicate when turning left or right. Straight hand pointing forward over the head means going straight on.

Left/right arm signalling behind back: The cyclist is about to move out into the road, e.g. to pass a parked car, another cyclist or to go round debris in the road.

Pointing at wheel in front or behind: Signals another cyclist needs to change position in the group. May be confused with other signals so try to confirm with a call.

Come past me/come through: A knee-level wave forward, gesturing the rider or vehicle behind to come past. Take care that the correct person sees this as you may confuse other road users.

Elbow wiggle: In through-and-off, the lead rider is pulling off the front and will pull out to drift back to the rear of the group. Be aware that some groups use the inside elbow, and some use the outside.

In summary, there may be a lot here, but it’s surprising how quickly you will pick it up.

TuTorial: Riding through winter for beginners – clothing

You WILL need more kit to keep you on the bike, as cold & wet can quickly lead to miserable. You’ll probably have most of this stuff already, if not, now is the time to start looking:

From top to toe…

HEAD AND NECK

Skull cap/Hair band – if you have thick hair, a skull cap is only really needed for those really, really cold rides. Otherwise, I’ve just found I overheat. Plus it alters the fit of your helmet and glasses (they may dig in at the sides, or get caught and break). Some people prefer a thermal ‘hair band’ type instead, which will cover the ears. I’ve found it’s a good halfway measure, and easily fits into a pocket if you need to take it off.

Snood, preferably merino wool – Best. Item. Ever. Pull it up to cover everything (Niqab-style with a cap) or just have it around your neck to stop those drafts. It’s incredible what a difference it makes. Get told by minicab drivers you’re a ‘good Muslim’ (yep, this has happened to me). It really is essential.

Glasses – I’m clumsy, so I stick to clear Bolle safety glasses instead of more expensive numbers. If you think a bit of pollen in the eye hurts, try cycling through hail or snow. A snowflake is like a little dagger. Ouch. If it’s raining so hard that the glasses are more of a hindrance, stick them down the front of your jersey or in your helmet vents. You may need a spray to stop them steaming up – I use furniture polish.

BODY

Layering – even for the coldest of rides, I seldom wear more than four layers, and that includes a jacket. Last year, most really cold rides I had either:

  • a long sleeve base layer
  • short sleeve base
  • long sleeve jersey (relatively warm or windproof)

or

  • two long sleeve base layers (one windproof)
  • a short sleeve jersey

Plus a wind/rain jacket if needed – this should be your emergency item for any time when the weather turns, or if you’re standing around getting cold with a mechanical. You should NOT have to wear it for the whole ride. As mentioned before, I carry mine in my second bidon.

I’m a big fan of merino wool products (including Icebreaker), which don’t seem to get as stinky as some man-made or technical fabrics.

Jacket – I’ve never seen the need for a thick winter jacket, unless it’s really, really cold out. As in freezing. On long rides, anything that can’t be rolled up and stuck in a bidon or back pocket when I get warm becomes more of a hindrance than a help.

Bib shorts – For winter, tights are essential, as bib shorts plus leg warmers will not keep your larger muscles warm enough. I sometimes stick a pair of running tights or merino leggings over or under the bib shorts if my cycling tights are in the wash. Most wear the shorts underneath as the pad is supposed to be next to the skin. I’m weird like that.

Going to the loo – is a real nightmare in normal bib tights, especially in winter when you have to strip off whatever upper layer you’re wearing too. I wear my bases under the straps, so I don’t have to remove them. However, there are some tights available which can be pulled down or zipped off without taking anything off, e.g. Pearl Izumi Drop Tail.

(Quick side note – I’m always arguing with a friend about wearing anything between the pad of your shorts and your skin. She says not to, I say I’ve never had a problem, even after 100+ mile rides. Year round, I wear a small cotton string.)

HANDS

Gloves – Proper full-finger, thick winter gloves are a must, as well as a lighter pair for autumn/spring. Just be aware when changing hand position that you may accidentally ‘catch’ the bars. Your hands can also get sweaty. Test the gloves in the shop in a riding position, I prefer something smaller-sized than too big and baggy. A friend swears by neoprene diving gloves.

Glove liners – You would not believe the difference these make! Even on autumn and spring rides, the extra layer can make your gloves more comfortable. Unfortunately, most liners come in only one size, far too big for most female hands. If you have small hands, I would recommend these from EDZ as they instantly make your hands warmer and less sweaty-feeling.

FEET

Remember, your normal cycling shoes are made to ventilate. Air gets in and out very easily, and there is no insulation, which means your feet can become very cold. Very, very cold.

Overshoes or oversocks will block the top vents, but the bottom needs to stay open due to cleats. You’ll actually be able to feel the wind whistling through the bottom of your shoe, blowing all that warmth away. A way of blocking the bottom is inserting a thin piece of plastic or similar in your shoes, or using thermal insoles. Or, as I did one year, using one-use toe warmers. These last for around six hours, work out £1-2 per ride and as well as warming your feet, help block the holes. Some people also swear by plastic bags. Others by insulation tape.

When buying overshoes, look for ones with zips as they can be very difficult to get on and off without one. Do not spend too much money on them, as they never last very long.

Socks – Proper thick wool socks like Woolie Boolies are essential. I wear them with a thin cotton or merino pair underneath. Be cautious; if your shoes are tight on your feet, the inhibited circulation will actually make your feet colder. And it’ll stretch your shoes.

Alternative shoes? – If you want to preserve your good summer shoes, try eBay or cycling forums for a cheap pair one size bigger than what you currently wear. Winter miles are more important than style, and they’ll be covered by oversocks or shoes most of the time.

Winter boots? – If you’re really serious about cycling through winter and can afford them, winter boots are the way to go, full stop. I’ve tried every combination of socks, toe warmers, oversocks and overshoes, and proper winter boots trump them all. Plus they take a lot less time to pull on than any of the above combinations. I currently wear Specialized Defrosters, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend these, there are better out there. A friend highly recommends Northwave winter boots.

Whatever you use – whenever you get home, take your shoes off straightaway and, if they don’t need cleaning, stick them in a consistently warm place such as on top of the boiler. If you don’t, they will soon begin to smell. And warm, dry shoes are much nicer to put on for your next ride.

 

Be aware – if your extremities are still getting cold despite wearing warm gloves and socks, you’ll need to look at increasing your layering on your torso, arms and legs.

 

All of the above will help keep you riding through winter, and will come in delightfully under-budget, so you can splurge in the spring.

Please add your suggestions/comments below!

TuTorial: Riding through winter for beginners – bike

There is nothing more likely to discourage many people from getting on their bikes for a social ride than the thought and reality of being uncomfortable. Yeah, we can chant Rule #5 and Rule #9 to ourselves, but when it comes down to being snugly and warm in front of the telly or facing a howling gale and lashing rain outside..?

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don’t have the option to stay off my bike. Joint problems (including early-onset arthritis) mean if I want to stay sane and off the heavy meds, I have to keep cycling. This does not mean a turbo, even if I had the room.

I’ve been a roadie for over three years, I usually do between 50 to 200 miles a week on mostly club rides and local errands. One winter, I cycled all winter. Several rides, my water bottle froze solid. Sometimes my feet did too. I’m not talking about commuting, that requires a different breed, I’m talking about hitting the Surrey lanes for 60-milers, plus doing 40-odd miles in the dark on a weekday night. The one thing that will stop me cycling is ice. I’m not going there on a skinny-wheeled road bike.

The Weatherman is your friend…and foe

British weather is very changeable. I’ve gone to bed the night before a big ride with my gear all planned, even laid out, only to find the next morning the forecast has completely changed.

And yes, at this time of year, always check the weather before you’re due to depart for the area you’re going to be cycling in. On a ride to Oxford, at the top of the Chilterns it started bucketing down and I was ill-prepared with no mudguards and few dry layers. While asking for directions, I mentioned the previous night the forecast had been dry. An old dear gazed over her rain-dampened spectacles at me and scoffed, condescendingly, ‘It wasn’t this morning.’  Lesson learnt.

Conversely, I’ve checked the forecast at 9pm the night before and read ‘torrential rain’ with dismay, only for it to change barely two hours later to no rain at all. The Met Office isn’t always right, but it’s a good guide. If in doubt, better to take extra than freeze.

Your bike?

First, your bike. There’s loads of articles on ‘how to winterise’ them.

The quick and dirty solution to keeping your bike going is the odd rinse with a hosepipe and brush when you return from a ride, and baby wipes on the chainset, rims  and other important, moving parts, followed by lube where needed (chain, mechs, cables).

Winter grit left on your chainset will wear it out much faster, and will make changing gear less smooth.

(Baby wipe tip: although I find Huggies are the most mild on your skin, they’re the least effective on your bike. Own brand, or J&J’s are particularly effective. Scarily so, I wouldn’t use them on a baby, they’re so harsh. )

Quick clean

(I’ll try to do a video of this at a later date.)

Prop bike against something so that you can turn the crank, or turn it upside down. Run the chain through a few baby wipes, loosening gunge with a bit of degreaser/lube and a toothbrush chain cleaner (two old brushes electrical taped together) if needed. Wipe chainrings and jockey wheels (the home of grit buildup). Clean around cables.

Pop front wheel out. Wipe around rims with fresh baby wipes (depending on the make, they may leave a residue you want to clean off with a wet paper towel). Check brake pads for grit, file off any shiny bits. Pop wheel back in, check tyre for foreign objects, turning wheel slowly and poking a pin or similar into any holes to detect intruders. Check/adjust brakes.

Pop rear wheel out. Repeat tyre, rim & pad clean/check. Clean cassette by running (sawing) baby wipes back and forth between the cog gaps (you’ll have a marvellously clean cassette in less than a minute), pop wheel back in, a bit of lube, check/adjust brakes & gears.

Check tyre pressures and batteries for lights. And, done. Your bike will probably still look dirty, but your chainset, tyres and brakes will thank you for the attention. This should take 15 minutes or less,  less time than it takes to fix that puncture by the side of the road from a piece of glass which has spent the last 100 miles working its way into your tyre…

For a longer clean, fit a quicklink to your chain so you can remove it for cleaning the rest of the chainset.

Toe overlap & mudguards

If you’re of a smaller stature with a smaller-framed bike, you may find off-the-peg front mudguards difficult or even impossible to fit properly without rubbing. Plus you have the added bother of increased toe overlap at slower speeds. I’ve never bothered with the front.

Rear mudguards are much easier, my SKS Race Blade has been invaluable there. A dry arse is much valued at cafe/pub stops. If you can fit full-length rears for the sake of your riding mates, do so. A face full of nasty road spray is not nice.

Tyres

Again, there’s plenty of articles elsewhere about this.

One of the biggest boosts I found in my confidence on the road was changing my tyres; certain highly puncture-resistant tyres are renowned for having very bad grip, especially in the wet (*cough* Skatorskins *cough*). What you use on your commute on glass-ridden town roads may not be the best option for a social ride.

I’m currently riding 25mm GP4000s II tyres both front and back. Better grip and more comfort with no impact on speed. If your bike frame has the clearance, go for the wider tyre.

Ensure your tyres are at the right pressure. So many people thing that the max pressure is what you aim for, but if you’re female and lighter, the harder tyres will ‘bounce’ you off the road, creating less grip. In summer I ride 95 front, 100 rear, although many consider this too high for my weight. I’ll knock this down to 85/90 in winter. Too-hard tyres can also contribute to high-speed p*nctures, as you’re hitting the road harder.

In winter, you ride with lower pressures for better grip, especially when it’s wet. However, this is not an excuse to stop getting the track pump out.

And as mentioned earlier CHECK YOUR TYRES REGULARLY! Very few p*nctures are caused by a one-off event happening in that same ride, most are shards that work their way in over time. That means most p*nctures are preventable! And if a clubmate has a flat, don’t stand by and gawp at them while they fix it, check your own at the same time. If one person has run over glass and picked up a p*ncture, there’s a chance someone else has run over glass from the same bottle.

Upgraded brake pads. I recommend Kool Stop Salmon (get Wiggle to do a price match with Jensen USA & order 4 pairs, you’ll go through them quicker in winter). You may need to get shoes to put these in. And keep your rims clean as above. If you’re riding through puddles, always clean your pads off/test your brakes afterwards.

Next: clothing choices.

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