All posts by toriacycling

The Longest Day (on a bike): The Amesbury Amble – a 312km Audax

The past eighteen months have been a bit shit, and I’m seriously considering a move back to Wales in the upcoming months. My late mother’s house sits empty and unsold, and it seems mad to keep paying rent in London when I can write in Aber. What has kept me here is the inconvenience of moving, and some great, supportive friends.

My body has been rebelling – the hips and ankle/foot have been a nightmare in recent months – so when I signed up for the 312km Amesbury Amble, I vowed to not put myself under pressure. I would only do it if I was feeling up for it. And, for a tenner (plus a couple of quid to Audax UK for temporary membership), it wasn’t much to risk.

Kingston Wheelers Audax Chapter (“KWAC”) had organised the Amesbury Amble in response to a growing demand from club members for longer rides. The challenge of audaxing intrigued me, and I’d followed the thread on the club’s forum. The event scheduled for Saturday 1st July fast approached.

I only decided mid-afternoon on the Friday to have a go. And promptly headed for the local community centre to print out the directions. Next, off to Evans for a top tube bag.

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*shudders*

Call me a bike snob, but sticking something otherwise known as a “tri bag” on one of my machines really pained me. However, I knew I would struggle to carry enough in my pockets. My bike’s geometry won’t fit either a handlebar bag or a frame bag, and I didn’t want a backpack. I also needed to stick my portable battery in something while it was charging my Garmin.

Next to Sainsbury’s for a few snacks: jelly babies, flapjacks, and some sausages for breakfast. I was set, what about my boys?

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The boys: Toby and Bouncer. They were my late mother’s companions but now live with me in London.

Time to stick them in the shower and pack a doggy overnight bag. Earlier in the week, I’d asked a friend if he fancied canine company over the weekend and fortunately, Barry was still willing and able. I’d planned on calling a cab to drop them off, but it being Friday night, assumed the roads would be busy. So, after they had dried off, I stuck them on leads, got my bike and made my way to Surbiton via the Thames Path and a couple of trains.

Much cuteness and aahing of clean and fluffy woofsters later (and that was just strangers on the train!), I was cycling home, in the rain, at half past eleven. This late return did not bode well for the next morning.

The unexpected shower meant my ‘best bike’ was now filthy, and the dry lube I’d applied had attracted a layer of grit. So, at midnight, while cooking the aforementioned sausages, I hosed it down in the garden. After a towel off (both me and the bike), I plugged in a wide variety of lights, put my clothes in a pile for the next morning, and was out like a light.

5am alarm. Yuck.

I’m not at my best first thing in the morning. In the past year, my preparation for club runs has improved, so as to dress and take the boys for walkies before disappearing for the day. I missed having them following me around, pinching my socks, gloves, and anything else they could abscond with.

The morning was damp, cool and overcast. Not what I expected.

I added a base layer to my planned outfit, chowed down a couple of the precooked sausages and spent more than ten minutes futilely looking for my Wheeler arm warmers. Slinging on a convertible rain jacket instead and stuffing a few last-minute items in my already-full pockets, I set off, cursing that I would be late. A quick zoom through Richmond Park (good morning, deer!) and down the A3, and I found the Scout Hut with five minutes to spare.

Bikes. Bikes. Bikes.

Arriving at these events always entertains me. At the Richmond Park Time Trial last week, there were mostly the serious TTers in their super-aero gear, and the still-serious roadies. Only a few years ago, audaxing was apparently known as the haunt of mostly men over a certain age. This appears to have changed.

The age range was massive – from pre-teen to OAP – and so was the range of bikes and kits.

Normal-looking road bikes, but also classic tourers with a multitude of different bags attached. Bulging pockets (like mine!) and slimmed down, hardly carrying anything except the ubiquitous credit card. There were many, very-experienced audaxers, but also some total newbies. Before Saturday, my longest ride was 168 miles – when I did the overnight Dunwich Dynamo – so I counted myself as one of them.

Been a while since I’ve been a newbie of anything cycling-related.

I barely had time to register and scoff down a banana (and one of my sausages from a jersey pocket) when riders started rolling out.

0km – Départ: Raynes Park – 6am*

*hereafter, all times will be approximate

Eep! I stuffed another banana in my pocket, my jacket down my jersey, grabbed my bike and pedalled.

I had one plan for the day: to stay out of the red zone.

I hadn’t thought much further than that. I knew not to push as hard as a club run – the worst I could think of happening was to bonk in the middle of nowhere. Well, second worst – the worst was having an unrecoverable mechanical and losing my Uber cherry getting home or to the nearest railway station. (Yes, I know the ‘real’ worst is probably blue-lighting it to the nearest A&E, but I prefer to not think like that.)

I also knew that I couldn’t push my dodgy ankle and hips. Really steep climbs force the ankle to collapse, so spinning was the order of the day.

I hadn’t planned on riding with anyone in particular, though I knew several Wheelers were taking part. I thought I’d tag onto their group on the way out and see how my legs felt. After winding out of the suburbs to some epic tunes (Middle of the Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep was one highlight, and an earworm for later in the day), we hit the still-quiet A roads.

We flew along for a while, overtaking several other groups, scooping some up and losing others off the back. A missed turn meant turning around and overtaking a group we’d only just passed. My legs were coping well, until we navigated the undulating one-way system outside Farnham. Red zone approached, and the other Wheelers pulled away up the next hill.

Spin, spin, sugar: I spun up the incline in bottom gear. Slowly. On my own. Up another rise. And then ate a flapjack.

The next half an hour consisted of taking it easy and finding a speed at which I was comfortable. The quiet country lanes enabled us to ride two abreast for most of the time, so I chatted with several other riders overtaking me, and ones I overtook.

After a while, I found myself pacing with the same two riders – Eric and Paul. They were experienced audaxers, but even they later admitted they had gone out too fast.

73km – 1st Control: Lasham Gliding Society – 8.55am

We arrived at the first control around the same time, and one of the fellas mentioned that he wasn’t going to stop for food. My stomach was grumbling, but not in a hungry way – the sausages last night and in the morning ensured I didn’t need any more fried food.

We’d also arrived just after a couple of large groups, so the breakfast queue was long. After getting my Brevet card stamped, I popped to the loo and straight back outside. Don’t get me wrong – the food looked lovely, but my legs felt good and I was keen to keep going.  I met up with Eric and Paul and we departed.

About fifteen miles later, we passed through the small town of New Alresford and our group called for a quick supermarket stop at a Tesco Express.

Most of my time in the aisles was totally wasted: I wandered, futilely searching for a small bag of crisps but saw only nuts. Grabbing a pack of salted cashews, I re-joined the others and had a few handfuls. Combined with a mouthful of flapjack, they were surprisingly tasty. I stashed the packet down the front of my jersey, to join part of my jacket which wouldn’t fit in my pockets.

During our stop, many of the other groups had passed including my “noisy clubmates”. There was a chap in red who we passed and cycled with us for a while – Eric and Paul seemed to know him. Others we passed and passed us throughout the day. We talked about routes, and I discovered my companions only calculated in kilometres.

Ummm…

A Garmin 800 is known for being a bit flaky on long rides, so I’d uploaded the route in five segments. It was also set to imperial units, and I had cycled to the start. Combined, it meant that the written route directions were impossible for me to work out relative to mileage completed. Doh!

Note to self: next time, attach list of route bullet points to top tube. 

All the information I could access was miles left to the end of that segment. When it came to the first information control, I was lucky that the boys were alert.

95.2km Information Control: Name of brewery for pub –Wadworth

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Squint and you’ll see it. Unfortunately, the only photo I thought to take all day.

The lanes we mostly rode on were rolling. Some piles of gravel, but nothing major. A light breeze shook loosened remnants from the previous night’s shower off overhanging branches. We greeted some other cyclists and I struggled to remember it was still morning, not afternoon. It felt like I’d been up for hours. I realised I had been.

I was curious about the bikes the other two were riding. Both had dynamo front wheels, powering their permanently on lights and route guidance. Eric rode a normally geared road bike, but Paul’s had hub gears and a “chain” akin to the fan belt on a car. Their gearing was lower than mine, so I tended to leave them behind on the downhills. Either that or it was my lower centre of gravity – their geometry was far more upright.

When the roads widened, Harry B’s skinny racing pack drifted past us with some cheery ‘hellos’. For some reason, this brightened me up. Thanks, boys.

Back to the road, and approaching the hundred-mile mark, I was developing some discomfort, mostly due to the aforementioned geometry.

About my steed: the frameset is a second-hand Kinesis Racelight T2, which I impulse-bought off eBay a few months earlier. It came with a 105 groupset, 40cm bars and narrow-as-hell Bontrager tyres. I upgraded to an Ultegra 6700 groupset, fitted narrower bars and added Arc Ultrawide rims with Conti GP 4000s II tyres in 28c. There had been a plenitude of spacers below the stem, but I’d slammed it for the previous week’s time trial in Richmond Park. My position is naturally aggressive and it had been fine for the 65-mile club run afterwards, so I hadn’t moved them back. It also has a carbon seat post – which I was hoping would help with the inevitable arse ache.

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Kinesis Racelight T2 in 48cm. I really like the ride and handling.

However, an audax is quite different to a TT or club run, and it wasn’t my arse which began aching first. I kept reminding myself to loosen my upper body, hence started considering those spacers and what I could do to increase my comfort.

Years ago, on my first ever road bike ride, I’d bruised my left elbow joint. Hitting a few bad potholes months later aggravated the soreness, and on all long rides since, the elbow plays up. I had to remember to bend it, and my other arm wasn’t much better.

My hands had gravitated to the tops and my neck was starting to get really sore. I needed to do something about that. My bottom was also starting to get a little tender – my hip problems mean I don’t ride out of the saddle much, so I miss the circulation that standing on the pedals brings.

As the sun eventually peeked through the clouds, I decided a list of priorities for the next stop, apart from devouring food and refilling the water bottles:

Sorting my pockets out, so I could grab what I needed and not lose anything. Moving the spacers to lift my bars up. Finding a loo and applying some chamois cream to my rear. Resetting my Garmin 800, plugging in the portable charger, and starting a new ride. Checking my saddle wasn’t slipping back, and that my chain hadn’t gunked up.

I just needed a quiet few moments to do it all!

150.5 – Information Control: Name of cottage on corner – Crockers Cottage

Paul and Eric had batted around possible names for this, but it wasn’t what any of us expected. We saw a massive hill ahead. Eric reassured me it wasn’t part of the route. Instead, we wound around it. Relief.

157.2km – 2nd Control: Amesbury – 1pm

Over 100 miles and I was surprised how good my legs felt. Yes, my upper body wasn’t so good, but I knew with the help of a multitool, I could sort that out.

The café stop was busy, so we parked our bikes outside a bakery. A futile sortie confirmed they had no gluten-free savouries, so I hobbled to the Co-Op instead.

Another supermarket, another aimless wondering wander down the aisles (this felt like the theme for the day).

I went for water, cheese and chorizo, aping another passing rider, but on my way to the checkout, I spotted a pack of onion bhajis. I discarded the cheese. The bhajis were just what I needed.

An audaxing friend had advised me to listen to my body, and my body wanted spicy and fried Indian treats. Weird.

The cashier offered me a receipt. I automatically said no, then shouted, “Yes!” The cashier laughed along with other cyclists in the queue – I wasn’t the first cyclist that day to need that proof for the organisers.

While scoffing, I decided some reorganisation was in order, and emptied my pockets into the Co-Op bag. At that point, I found the sample packet of chamois cream, and placed that where I could easily find it again. My tender arse required comfort.

Eric held the wheel and bars and spacers while I rejigged my setup. 1.5 centimetres upwards didn’t sound like much, but I hoped it would minimise my upper body torture.

The draft plan was to find a hedge for a loo stop, but we were parked conveniently outside a pub. I nipped inside to pee and apply some of the aforementioned cream. Not being a regular user of the stuff, I didn’t really know where to put it, and couldn’t identify the sore areas while standing. It stung a bit. I read the packet – it advised to apply before a ride. Not after over 100 miles. Whoops.

Back outside, the chorizo went in one of my rear pockets. A couple of other cyclists laughed at the randomness. Though, it made me feel like a proper audaxer.

And we were off again! At shortly before 1.45pm.

The next stretch, part of which went through the North Wessex Downs, was my favourite. Rolling roads, some Roman, some even more ancient lanes, no painful climbing to hit the legs, and some fun descents. Glorious English countryside in shades of green and yellow stretched for miles. We crossed the military areas, passed a tank zone, and some parachutists. Cars were few and far between.

I was smiling broadly. The impromptu bike refit had worked and my upper body was much more comfortable. Some Wheelers who caught and cycled with us for a while commented on how happy I looked, and I was – utterly content.

Those miles to the next stop flew by. Hot, lush, rolling miles. The pace we travelled was perfect – I was happy to share the work and even happier that I didn’t need to ask anyone to wait for me. I had the odd weak moment, but so did the others – the strongest rider alternated between the three of us.

188km Information Control: Postbox Collection time  – “4.15pm”

Again, I was glad I was with experienced audaxers. Just after we got back on the road, a group of Wheelers overtook. It was plain they hadn’t stopped for the information on the postbox!

The chaos of a missed turn amused village pub goers. I wasn’t jealous of our observers, enjoying their leisurely pints in the golden afternoon sun. Honest.

212.8km – 3rd Control: Whitchurch – 4.10pm

It was hot. Really hot. I was feeling the effects of the unrelenting sun. I hoped the out-of-date Ultrasun Sport 30 still worked. We didn’t find the Mill control, instead rolling along to yet another Tesco Express. I’d made another mental list of everything I needed to do, and top was reapplying sunscreen. Second was more chamois cream, though my bottom wasn’t half as sore as earlier. The warm chorizo slices from my jersey pocket were inhaled. And I realised I could still strip off my base layer. I hid behind a delivery rack while I pulled it over my head. Strangely, it wasn’t that much cooler without – the base had been designed for hot weather. It went down the front of my jersey, to join the cashew nuts.

Eric wasn’t so shy – he brought out a pot of cream and scooped a handful down the front of his bib shorts. That absurd moment gave me the giggles, as other car park users stared or looked away.

Having a couple of spare minutes, I managed to get out my phone and check for any messages from Barry. I felt guilty I hadn’t had the time to do this earlier, and was relieved to hear the boys were behaving themselves.

the boys on barry's sofa

Making themselves at home. Pic thanks to Barry.

Phone away, and at 4.35pm, we rolled out of Whitchurch and up what felt like a nasty hill.

Maybe it was a hill, maybe it was barely a rise, but my legs didn’t enjoy it. My companions had mentioned the road to Bracknell had a few more hills, and I was chewing jelly babies like they were going out of fashion. I knew this stretch would be the most testing. I consoled myself with the thought that the remaining miles weren’t much longer than a club run.

I told Eric and Paul to go on without me if at any time I was holding them back. They refused. I kept up. (Though, I did start talking bollocks at one stage.)

Coming to a junction where the route doubled back, the penny dropped for my companions: we were on part of the “Chase the Sun” route. And therefore, there was a nasty hill ahead. A “wall”.

Eep.

Another jelly baby. A mouthful of water. I changed down early, and hoped my legs wouldn’t fail me. I didn’t break any records, but I got there.

At the top, I saw three Wheelers with a mechanical. My “need anything?” didn’t get a response, so I continued upwards, to see my companions had stopped to catch their breath. I obeyed a call of nature and shakily scaled a nearby high gate (always use the hinge end, peeps – it’s usually the most stable!). Some lizards or other fast-moving creatures in the field of crops weren’t pleased at my intrusion, scattering away. I took a few moments to enjoy the peace and quiet, before more gate-related acrobatics and remounting my bike.

A few yards later, I blinked. I’m sure they’d said we’d finished the hill, but the section ahead appeared far more daunting. (Strava concurs – over 15% in places.) My legs screamed, and I came closer to climbing off a bike than I have in years.

Much swearage abounded.

Mental fatigue was the next concern. Several miles later, I overshot a left turn, just as the mechanically recovered Wheelers overtook us. My late turn gave the driver of a car a shock. I mentally kicked myself. We would be soon hitting busier roads, so I needed to be more alert.

I wasn’t the only one struggling. The Wheelers ahead took the wrong turn at the next junction, and I was surprised that it was several miles before they caught us again. When they did, their numbers had doubled.

The lanes and quiet roads couldn’t last forever. They dwindled as we approached Bracknell. Instead of rolling countryside, we travelled through industrial estates and dodged Waitrose lorries. My Garmin didn’t like the light, so I relied on Eric’s navigation. We emerged from a catacomb of subways to see the petrol station control, and bikes stacked around it.

270.1km – 4th Control: Bracknell – 5.10pm

For the first time that day, I found a normal-sized packet of crisps! A chocolate milkshake joined the Walkers. Both tasted wonderful. I loaded the last route segment, and was delighted to find only 25 miles remained. I knew the roads wouldn’t be great – it was Saturday night – but I could bear that. Light began to dwindle. Rear light on, I changed the lenses on my glasses from dark to yellow.

Shortly after my quick strip in the field, it had felt like there was grit in my gloves. It was just a seam rubbing, but I stuck some chamois cream inside my gloves too. It did the trick.

The Bracknell control felt like our longest stop of the day, but it wasn’t – only 25 minutes later we were rolling out and navigating towards Ascot. These were roads I semi-recognised, even the horrendous ridges through Thorpe. Though I’d warned them in advance, my companions weren’t expecting the dig over Chertsey Bridge. The traffic-calming bumps through Shepperton weren’t terribly enjoyable for my sore bits either. I turned my front light on, and was dismayed to find low-battery red shone a few minutes later.

Don’t panic. Do not panic. It’ll be fine.

The boys went in front of me, just in case the light failed. Hampton Court. Sunday evening traffic in Kingston. Finishing felt close enough to touch. A last effort on Coombe Lane, and we were freewheeling along the path to the Scout Hut. Blazing lights welcomed us.

312.3km – Arrivée: Raynes Park– 9.15pm

Just in time to bag the last bowl of Spanish pork and bean stew (which was fortunate as food sensitivities meant I couldn’t handle any of the other options). I completed my brevet card and handed it in. I was sad to see it go.

I perched on the corner of a chair and contemplated the bowl of stew, my first proper meal of the day. Tipping some salad over the tasty stew was my pretence at eating healthily, after the assortment of bizarre, calorie-laden foods I’d eaten that day. Our little trio wasn’t far behind many of the Wheeler packs, and many were still there eating and chatting.

I wasn’t sure if I could finish the stew, but it was delicious and just what I needed. Bowl emptied. I spooned fruit salad and yoghurt into another. That too was demolished.

I idly wondered if my calorie intake balanced my expenditure.

I had been stuffing flapjack in all day – the tri bag did its job, and it was definitely easier to pick snacks from there than bend my tender elbows enough to reach my jersey pockets. Eric asked if we felt like we could do another 100km. At that time, I shook my head.

However, would I do it again?

Yes. I’d even think about going longer. With some considerations:

  • I’d aim to get more rest/sleep the day/night before.
  • I’d lift the stem up before I started, and ensure the reach was comfortable. (I suspect the saddle had also slipped back on the rails, which didn’t help.)
  • I’d sort out possible layers the day before, and wear my most comfortable shorts.
  • I’d apply chamois cream before I started.
  • I’d pack better – I hate overflowing pockets – and really think about what I did and didn’t need. For a longer ride, I’d need to somehow fit a bigger bag on that frame, though I think the only option would be a larger saddle bag, Apidura style.
  • I’d ensure my lights were fully charged, for no nasty surprises.
  • I’d take more photos. (I can’t believe I didn’t take my phone out more than once.)
  • I’d change my Garmin to kilometres, not miles. Plus, I’d have notes on my top tube of where the information controls were. I know some that completed the course didn’t stop for the extra controls, but for me they were an essential addition to the day. Part of the fun of audaxing.

And it was fun. Well, the bits which weren’t painful were fun. Honest.

Thanks to everyone who organised the day, and to Eric and Paul for keeping me company. And to Barry for looking after the boys. 

Kingston Wheelers Audax Chapter (KWAC) are organising a Super Randonneur (SR) Series of rides for 2018 and 2019. They have the following dates pencilled in for the 2018 SR ride series:

200: Sunday, March 18, 2018
300: Saturday, April 14, 2018
400: Saturday, May 19, 2018
600: Saturday, June 16, 2018

Contact audax@kingstonwheelers.co.uk for further information or visit their website.

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“Help! My bike won’t stop!” A few words about rim brakes.

There’s some words of advice that I find myself repeating, over and over again, to new or relatively new cyclists. Even to some more experienced ones.

Recently, the advice was relating to the rim brakes provided with most road bikes. And it occurred to me that I’d be better off blogging those words for posterity. [This is a work in progress – additions are welcome and I’ll probably edit at a later date.]

There are three main reasons that people have trouble stopping, or with handling:

  1. Bike setup – components, etc. Sometimes the tools can be blamed.
  2. Bike setup – geometry. Does the bike really fit? Adjustments made to geometry can so easily have a negative effect on handling.
  3. Technique – how brakes are used. To stop is the obvious answer, but it’s sometimes not that simple.

This post primarily deals with 1. However, the other points do have an impact and cannot be immediately discounted, especially if you’re trying to help a newbie cyclist.

The advice doesn’t change that much depending on whether your bike is new or secondhand – some stock pads and brake calipers which come with new bikes are pathetic, and I’ve seen old and new cable messes.

So, here we go:

Change brake pads.

For the biggest improvement. Stock pads, even Shimano, are usually very poor, and often seem to pick up a glaze and grit from the road. I’ve always found Kool Stop Salmon more than enough, but other friends swear by Swissstop.

Don’t even think of the integrated shoes and rims – my experience of them was downright dangerous.

Check the pads are aligned properly on the rim, and also equidistant from the rim on both sides.

Much woolliness when braking is caused by one side making contact before the other. If the caliper moves too freely, tighten the bolt holding it on the frame. Some toe pads in,

Clean rims and pads.

Dirt and water can impair performance, and shorten the life of your bike parts. If I don’t have time for a full bike clean, I’ll often wipe the rims down with baby wipes and use a metal file to take any glaze or unevenness from the pads.

If I’m riding in the rain, I’ll clean my rims off every now and again with light braking. If I go over a gritty surface on a leisure ride, I sometimes stop briefly to rinse my rims with a bit of water from my bidon. A hose outside a cafe on a wet ride is a bonus.

Check both calipers are springing back freely.

Dirty brakes can stiffen up, especially if you don’t use mudguards or clean/lube them often enough. Lack of maintenance added to the passage of time can also create play in the caliper, which impacts on performance. If there is play, brakes are expensive to refurbish and it’s usually more astute to buy new calipers.

Adjust the brake cable tension.

The bite point should be equal for front and back – about a third in of the total lever movement.

If you have short fingers, you could bring it in further for better control, but be aware you may have to adjust the tension more often.

You could also insert some shims (older groupsets) or adjust the settings to bring the lever initially closer. I have shims in all of my shifters.

Check the brake cables are running freely.

The inner wire needs to be able to move freely within the outer, and if it doesn’t, braking will be poor. The ends of the outer cables need to be finished properly and not catching the inner wire. (My new bike this year had this problem.)

If your bike is secondhand, it would probably benefit from new cables. Every bike I’ve bought secondhand has had some corroded cables.

Cables are the wrong length?

Some new and secondhand bikes come with cables that are far, far too long. I’m guessing this is because it gives leeway for fitting longer stems without doing a total cable overhaul. However, sloppy cables negatively affect braking performance. If the stem has been shortened, the cables will almost certainly be too long. I’m pretty certain most bike shops won’t address this issue after doing a fitting.

Similarly, outer cables can be too short, which also impacts braking and is dangerous.

Change the calipers

As mentioned above, it’s common to have a new bike with cheaper calipers which are out of odds with the rest of the groupset. Some people have even sworn to me that they have a full Tiagra groupset when the brakes have been Tektro or unnamed.  Upgrading your calipers can be a massive boost.

New tyres?

Some tyres are renowned for poor grip, and the narrow tyres found on many budget bikes don’t have as good a contact patch as wider variants. My descending improving immeasurably when I changed to Conti GP 4000s in 25c.

If however you’ve stuck too-wide tyres on narrow rims, you’ll experience what they call the ‘light bulb effect’ on cornering, so it’s worth checking the profile of your tyres for this.

Technique?

As a last point, just a few words of advice can sometimes help a nervous braker or descender to improve their speed or safety. Foot and hand positioning, looking around corners, weight distribution, line, weather etc. Mental attitude also contributes to this – tension and fear isn’t something you can overcome overnight.

Watching a few clips of YouTube can be invaluable, or preferably, I recommend signing up to a race training or skills course.

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.

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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.

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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.

20151217 camera download 047

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.