virtually useless

virtually useless

To love cycling is to live with disappointment. The highs are high and the lows are the norm. A fast ride punctuated by a puncture. A climb curtailed by a missed gear or slipped chain, a descent destroyed by a misread camber or simply lack of cojones.Kit is worse. Expensive Lycra that chafes, shoes that constrict, waterproofs that aren’t. The list goes on.

Cycling is seductive though. Bike industry marketeers have mastered the art of seduction. I lap it up, fall for it every time, (like a blue collar worker believing that a billionaire is on their side).

Smart Turbo Trainers promise pleasure through pain, experience the toughest climbs from the comfort of your own home, race other housebound cyclists in virtual reality.

Sounds amazing doesn’t it? Here’s the small print:

Zwift doesn’t work on iPad IOS. So it’s long wires & laptops perched precariously on furniture. Cycling is freedom, I want wireless. BKool doesn’t communicate fully with my Elite trainer so resistance doesn’t change as I climb a virtual mountain. Elite’s training programme thinks I’m averaging 60kmph uphill (I wish).

(FWCP: First World Cycling Problems).

Reading the Turbo Trainer Technical Forums I’m not alone it seems in experiencing very real disappointment in virtual reality. This feels like a valuable life lesson.

What now? Simple. Keep it simple. Close the door. Turn up the music volume (Turbo Trainers are loud!) enjoy the endorphins, copious sweating and ride hard for the real road in 2017.

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post-truth cycling

post-truth cycling

Winter Training means training in the winter, correct? Outside? So it’s the same as Any Other Time of Year Training?

It’s definitely outside?

Good because in my mind it’s definitely not in the comfort of your own home hooked up to the cycling-equivalent of a hamster wheel, trapped in cycling virtual reality. 

My Winter Training is outside – just with a few modifications from Spring/Summer/Autumn Training.

After a nasty fall on black ice a few years back, I mothball my road bike for winter in favour of my Mountain Bike, where falling is part of the fun.  Although a combination of cloudless sky/winter sun and a G!ro coffee ride is hard to resist, whilst wearing every item of cycling clothing I own to ward off the Siberian-esque chill, the road bike is dragged out of the cellar.

If it snows then there’s my ‘ under-used fat bike* – the epitome of Winter Training! And wind, rain or snow there’s still commuting.  Winter Training is definitely not an excuse for not going outside.

Currently this is all hypothetical. I’m off games. My 2nd hand operation means no cycling until 2017. This winter my Winter Training will fit the more widely accepted definition of Winter Training: in the comfort of my own home hooked up to the cycling-equivalent of a hamster wheel, trapped in cycling virtual reality.

2016 is the year of post-truth self-contradictions after all: “there is some connection between humanity and climate change”
. Who said that?

The Smart Turbo Trainer has arrived and assuming I can set it up, my 1 handed adventures in cycling virtual reality will begin…

*a bike-build vanity project that should be sold (to make room for an Adventure Road bike)

it’s all over

it’s all over

Done. That was it. The last proper ride of the year. It had everything: glowing early morning fog, burnt through in places by a magical sunrise, coffee and a bacon sandwich in G!ro (Esher), a straight line blast through the reservoir and a taxi driver reversing into me less than a mile from home. A fitting way to end my cycling year.

I’m out with Big CJ. Except he’s not so big anymore. He’s started cycling to work and the KGs have melted off him. He’s looking good for it. It’s looking ominous for me. I wish I hadn’t given him a hard time about letting his mileage slip as now I’m struggling to hold his back wheel.   

Worse I can’t stick with him on the hills (not even big ones) – he whips me 3 out of 3. 3.0. It’s my own fault, I asked for it, I woke the beast. I’m facing the consequences now.

This Thursday I’ve got my second hand operation, right hand this time. I’m not just stopping cycling just because it’s cold. Honest.  It will put me out of action until 2017. This time I know what to expect, which makes it worse, there should be no surprises – that large needle going deep into the palm of my hand.  Am I going to approach things differently this time?   Probably not, if anything I’m more casual, more complacent (apart from the prospect of that needle).

I’ll be happy to hang up my bike as Big CJ really ramps it up past Hampton Court Palace on through to Kingston. He’s in his sweet spot, the long, straight, flat road. I’m hanging on, just, the balance of power has shifted.

2017 is going to be a tough year as I struggle to get back on terms with the new order.

the bubble bursts

the bubble bursts

Last Sunday as I charged past yet another beat up old boat, rusting, rotting, covered in grimy tarpaulins and assorted debris (old bikes, chairs, pipes etc) – and obviously occupied – I understood Trump could win. People are living in desperate conditions.  Now. Today. In Great Britain.

They’re also living in run down garages, shacks and sheds (that wouldn’t look out of place in a shanty town) in the gardens backing onto the canal. Now. Today. In Great Britain.

This is the same country where a homeowner can be forced to give up their own home to build a runway (by the same politician who said they wouldn’t have to).

Remember in the USA its BREXIT plus plus plus. Supersized.

In an idle moment of curious voyeurism have you clicked through to: “You won’t believe this: derelict stadium / derelict shopping mall / derelict factory / derelict neighbourhood”? The photos are brutal and real and now in the United States of America – the ruler of the free world.

No wonder people in the ‘Developed World’ are angry with the establishment, the political elite, their elected representatives who just do whatever the hell they like (or as they are told to by their party-donor paymasters).

 We’re ripe and simmering for revolution.

And there has been a revolution. Just not the one we needed, wanted or hoped for but it was the one we got and arguably deserved. 

The question is why? Why when democracy has served up the opportunity for a protest vote:

  • Is the candidate of tried and tested ‘fear and hate’ the most attractive?
  •  Is there no alternative offering hope and goodwill?
  •  Is it a surprise that the status quo isn’t as appealing as loud, brash, rabble rousing change?
  • When we want change we entrust the hardliners to deliver?

From despair comes desperation, desperation leads to taking risks. Its lead to BREXIT and Trump.

Free to ride my bike on a Sunday morning (because I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy leisure time) I saw outside of my bubble and glimpsed desperation and understood a little better why BREXIT and Trump.

the name isn’t important

the name isn’t important

We failed. Failure tasted sweet: a bag of M&S Percy Pigs consumed on the floor of the train to London Euston from Milton Keynes Central (with zero guilt).

Royal Leamington Spa was the ambitious destination for our Grand Union Canal based cycling adventure – because it sounded grand – by Sunday lunchtime, somewhere between Tring and Leighton Buzzard we’d settled for Milton Keynes (by then not caring that it sounded crap).

Brentford to Milton Keynes by the Grand Union Canal Towpath.

the canal

115km barely scratched below the surface of the canal and its mystique – I can’t do it justice in just one post.  Nor its humble towpath, the supporting act to the main event of the dead calm canal waters, that transported us from urban to rural, through town and country, through industrial wastelands and into open fields.

There was no need for complicated navigation, minimal turns, few junctions, no competing vehicles or traffic lights, it guided us all the way.  Not quite an autopilot but close, leaving us to enjoy a journey through Autumn’s clear skied, golden leaved explosion of colours; doubled up in sublime reflections in the canal waters.

the riding

Canal towpaths are flat. Easy then? Not exactly. You’re pushing on all the time.  No coasting as the terrain is too rough, no drafting as you need to see the obstacles on the path ahead, no relaxing either as a frozen puzzle or greasy cobble could pitch you into the November-cold canal waters.

Hunger was a constant, gnawing at our stomachs – the result of constant unrelenting calorie burning on the ever-changing surface, morphing through smooth-ish tarmac, squirming gravel, rutted track, smooth mud, sumptuous leaf carpet (hiding tree roots), thick grass.  We all complained that our chamois cream hadn’t lasted the distance. Mine had barely made it to Watford (and I was double-shorting!)  We weren’t in control.  This was the antithesis to road biking.

the bike

The bike did well.  Nothing fell off.  Not even a puncture.  Clearance was an issue at the end.  It’s ‘steel is real’ frame clunked over any terrain the towpath could throw its way. It’s weight probably an advantage as it soaked up and ironed out the unrelenting ruts and bumps, not bucking up and down but ploughing onwards stoically, without drama. What more could I want?

I want a proper adventure bike like the other 2!

the end?

To the contrary, this felt like the start of something new, fathoming out the canal, its history, secrets and ways of life.  France by Gravel Bike may have to wait for Little England by Canal Towpath.

chasing the tour (pt1)

chasing the tour (pt1)

18.10. A date as exciting as 25.12. Correction: More Exciting.  The day the 2017 Tour de France route was announced.  Like Christmas I was disappointed.

Why?  You can’t Chase It.

Previous years have been easy: Alps or Pyrenees?

A simple binary choice: What mountain range’s stages fall on a weekend?  Tour Chasing is only a weekend pastime (all be it long weekends) – Tour Chasers have day jobs after all.

The choice hasn’t been a choice we’ve had to make.  It’s always the Alps on the last weekend of July. The Pyrenees always seems to fall mid-week.  We’ve only made it there once in our 5 years of chasing (and having nearly died of hypothermia; we haven’t hurried back).

Thanks Monsieur Prudhomme.  3 Mountain ranges, 4 if you include the Massif Central – the Alps twice – in 3 weeks and I’m struggling to make the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Chasing the Tour work.

Usually the Chase planning goes like this:  Wait for the official tour route to be released – although I’d been checking out the rumours online since before 2016’s Tour had finished – book lots of rooms.  I got a good idea that Briancon, the highest town in France, was going to feature.

Looking at Booking.com and the fully booked hotels throughout the Romanche Valley, from Le Bourg-d’Oisans through to Briancon and likewise in the Marianne valley confirmed it.  The Galibier was in for sure.  I just had to find the beds.  Easier said than done.

Obviously the ASO get in there first but these rumours must be sound as it seemed every other Tour Chaser in the World had already booked their hotel.  Even if you find a hotel that’s no guarantee. We were kicked out of our hotel by Skoda this year. The Tour entourage is huge and it needs to sleep somewhere.

– Not too despair.  We’ll have our bikes with us (that’s kind of the point of all this chasing) and can ride to wherever we need to be.

Grenoble and Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis are the best I can do.  I doubled down, hedged my bets and booked beds in both, lots of beds.  We can ride in from the East or the West. There’s just the small matter of getting up and over some Monster Cols.

We’re travelling down on Wednesday.  We might just make it to the top of Telegraph, over the top and maybe to the foot of the Galibier before the Tour closes the roads.  It’s going to be tight and not how I dreamed conquering Galibier – a 6-hour drive in our legs, probably miss the Tour and not be able to climb against the traffic coming down the mountain, euphoric from chasing and catching the Tour.

On Thursday – it gets worse.  From Grenoble or Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis to the top of Izoard is over 100km, with a sprinkling of Monster Cols and then there’s back again.  That’s not looking promising either!  Close, yet so far, the Tour within touching distance, slipping through our fingers.  

Just like Christmas, disappointment, this year’s Tour promised so much more than a pair of slippers and a sweater.

But True Tour Chasers don’t give up that easily!  After the disappointment of Christmas there is always Boxing Day.  If we miss the Tour there’s our lunch in a ski resort, probably Val D’Isere via Col d l’Iseran or maybe Alpe D’Huez.  We might still have a crack at Galibier of tick off some of the best climbs we’ve missed during the last tours, tick off some of legends.

The must do’s: Lacets de Montvernier, Col de la Madelaine, Col de la Croix de Fer or the corkscrew on Grand Colombier.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

Watch this space!

you’re fooling no one with that

you’re fooling no one with that

Adventure Road Bikes are still not a satisfactorily scratched itch.  So, I got one.  If it looks suspiciously like my old steel commuter with 32c size tyres and thick handlebar tape. It’s because it is.

This itch has got worse, more irritating, more urgent as I’ve stumbled upon an adventure for an adventure road bike: Riding the Grand Union Canal north from Brentford (London) as far as we can get in 6 hours (which might only be Milton Keynes).

Why’s the itch so bad?

Because I don’t have an adventure road bike.  I’ve got an old steel commuter with too-big tyres and zero clearance.  Or more accurately only 2mm clearance between the rear tyre and the front derailleur braze on the downtube.  Or even more accurately: a perfect mud/dirt/leaf/stone-catching bike clogger.

The guys I’m riding with are armed with bona-fide Adventure Road bikes.  They’re early adopters and evangelical with regards adventure road bikes.  I’m worried that having roped them into the Grand Union Adventure I’m going to ruin it by grinding to a slow, painful clogged up stop.  Probably in the outskirts of Brentford.

The itch got so bad.  In this afternoon’s driving rain, I went for a test ride on the Tamsin Trail around Richmond Park to ease my fears or at least realise them early.  The Tamsin trail is for runners and leisurely cyclists – not somewhere the serious cyclist would venture.

Except that in the rain the 7-mile perimeter trail is suitably gravelly-muddy and littered with sodden, slippery leaves, an appealing blazing carpet of red, oranges and golds that distracts from their treacherous slipperiness.  A nightmare for a road bike.  Perfect for an adventure road bike.

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Conclusion A) My old steel commuter even with big tyres is not an adventure road bike and 6 hours on the Grand Union Canal starting at 6am this Sunday morning is going to be an adventure (of sorts…)

Conclusion B) You don’t have to go far or spend big to enjoy yourself in a whole new way.  Try some big tyres and thick handlebar tape on an unloved old bike and make something unexpected out of nothing, turn routine on its head and see what you take for granted a little differently.

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