unleashing the beast

unleashing the beast

The Beast has been hanging menacingly in my cellar for over a year.

 Used once (and not in anger) and only then because my 8 year old daughter finds it funny (she’s not the only 1) and made my riding it a precondition of her joining me for a Sunday afternoon ride in Richmond Park (she’s mastered the art of negotiation at a young age).

Late on Saturday night as I was preparing my kit for Sunday morning’s MTB ride (MTB involves a lot more kit preparation than Road), for no discernible reason I decided the time was right to unleash the Beast.  The oversized tyres – some might say ‘Fat’ – were squeezed into the back of my car and the light as air but freakish-looking frame gently thrown in on top.

It was time to let my tank-like Tomac Hesperus Fat Bike loose on the single-track of the military lands at Tunnel Hill.

When riding a Fat Bike the first thing you need to get used to is being looked at, stared at, sometimes even pointed at.  This is the most uncomfortable aspect of riding a Fatty.  They’re a rare site in the UK and best ridden with dark glasses if you find excessive eye contact uncomfortable.  

The second thing is the grip, lots of grip – not a grippiness that slows you down – quite the opposite.  Grip that makes winter slop a non-issue, cornering more stable than ever experienced before and riding across frozen puddles a hoot.  The third thing is that the centre of gravity is low, without the risk of pedal strikes that full suspension bikes often suffer.

Sounds pretty good. It is.  Even as the novelty factor of riding a bike with HUGE tyres starts to fade it stays fun.  Fun but different.  Here’s how:

  • No pressure: Fatty has tonnes of grip, if you get the tyre pressure right (I was riding with 8 psi which was probably too much.  If I deflated anymore I was worried that I’d have a negative psi.  
  • Too much of a good thing: that grip made it hard to steer at high speeds.  Think barge.  The Fatty wants to straight-line the trail whether the trail is straight or not.  Rather than riding technically, looking for the sweetest route, I (well Fatty) just blasted through the middle.  I’m sure if I rode Fatty enough it would change my riding style and make me brave enough to ride the most direct route on my Full-Suss, rather than pussy-footing about.
  • Back to basics:  The tyres are the suspension.  No heavy suspension components, just a stiff but light carbon frame on top of tyres that could grace a truck.  The wheels and 4” tyres put the weight low but if the tyres are blown up too high – say with a mighty 10psi – then expect a bumpy, body-thumping ride.  I woke Monday morning not to the ‘run over by a bus feeling’ (of my 26” days) but more a ‘hit by a sizeable van’. That said, removing suspension from the equation the ride felt more planted, more stable, less floaty.
  • The Tree Root Whip:  Maybe I successfully road over more damn slippy tree roots than I would on a 650b but when I didn’t it felt epic.  In slow motion I could watch all 4 inches of tyre slide sideways, slowly at first before whipping me over on my back like an unfortunate beetle.  Once the slide had started there was no stopping it.  Equally if those tyres got caught between parallel tree roots – say eaxactly 4” inches apart, and that seemed to happen a lot, there was no escaping the rail road and wherever that might take me.  
  • What goes up:  Fatty climbed well on shorter, steeper climbs, with momentum easily maintained without the sapping suspension-bob of a Full-Suss when you need to haul yourself out of trouble.  Longer, medium to steep climbs and the front wheel would start to pick up a sensation bigger than vibration, more an oscillation, that bumped the wheel up/down until it was actually moving sideways and if not caught will,have you at 90 degreees to the slope at risk of falling over (which is apparently is very funny to watch).

The Fatty was at its best on the less technical trail or the long steep downwards shute where it felt planted and stable. It was surprisingly quick to pick up speed and hold it, adding to the desire to straight-line.  It might be my lack of skills but where it was difficult was the lack of last minute pop your wheel up/over/out of trouble-ability of the giant tyres.

Will I be riding my Fat Bike instead of my Full-Suss?  No, not unless it snows (which is what its designed for) or I’m cruising around with my daughters or feeling like I need lots of attention.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes – it’s 11 speed directness (I would argue that it only needs 3 gears: L/M/H), its rigid frame giving direct feedback, the fearlessness it encourages to roll over anything.  Where it lacks is manoeuvrability, flickiness and a bit more flow.

Maybe it will come into it’s own in a post-Trump Apocolypse where the only way to travel through the apocalyptic deserts is by Fat bike.

safety in numbers

safety in numbers

Yesterday London celebrated the first of its Tube Strikes – there are sure to be more when 2017 really gets going.  In response London got active: walking, running, cycling.  

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Maybe in the interests of public health (if we ignore the increased pollution from gridlocked traffic) the Tube should be shut down for 1 day a month with a corresponding hike in the Congestion Charge to deter commuters from jumping in their cars.  1 day a month to fix / improve the Tube funded by 12 days less pay a year for striking workers who swap strike days for 12 extra days holiday (or be paid for valuable fix / improvement duties thus providing in-job variety and new skills).  Who isn’t winning?

The London economy is said to lose between £10-300m from each Tube Strike (which seems an equally worthless estimate I.e. nobody really knows!) but if we harness the famed London Spirit that was evident yesterday as London’s plucky commuters got to work by any means available, surely a monthly Tube-break could be made into a key differentiator for London.

What’s this got to do with cycling?

I often cringe-inwardly at the behaviour of my fellow cyclo-commuters as they(we) swarm through the traffic taking unnecessary risks and concluded that there were just too many cyclists on London roads.  Over the last few weeks whilst I’ve been ‘working’ my Notice I’ve been riding home before peak-commuting hours.  It’s been great right?  Free to enjoy the freedom of the open roads?

 Well no. It’s frequently been terrifying.

Without safety in numbers, not being safely within the bunch, I’ve ridden home alone in the dark and experienced Taxi-flybys, cars pulling across/through/out and pedestrians throwing themselves in front of my wheels.  It’s been a relief to get home with only near misses to trouble me.

Without the bad influence of the unofficial commuter peloton my cycling has been calmer, slower and less invasive of the traffic so why the increased near-misses?   Maybe drivers/pedestrians using the roads outside of peak-commuting hours aren’t use to ‘sharing’ the roads with cyclists.  Maybe I’m experiencing their bottled up wrath from when they have to and being picked-off as I ride outside of the safety of the pack – like a lone gazelle (small buffalo might be a more accurate description).

Perversely I began to yearn for a return to normal, longer work hours, getting up early / staying in the office later, when I’m forced to ride at peak times safely with my fellow cyclo-commuters.

That was until Yesterday – Tube Strike Day – multiply the number of peak-commute cyclists by 4 at least, on any manner of bikes, riding at varied speeds with varied control. It was chaos.  Dangerous.  Just on the London Embankment Cycle Super Highway alone I must have seen double-figure near head-on collisions.

Which is where a monthly Tube Closure could help, by forcing (I mean ‘encouraging’) more people to commute by bike more often will improve their skills and awareness, increase the number of riders and demand more of London’s Transport £££ being spent on cycling infrastructure.

No longer would a Tube Workers strike be regarded as a near Armageddon type event. 

Just another way cycling (walking, running and River Boats) can save the world’s problems.

(Even as the headwind buffeted me, the rain soaked me I was still pleased I chose to cycle yesterday especially when I saw the mass-overcrowding at stations and unruly queues at bus stops. Velominati Rule #5).

New Year new cycling challenges

New Year new cycling challenges

New Year, New Challenges. Life will throw its usual curved balls our way.

Previous experience suggests that setting cycling challenges and goals is as good a remedy as anything or simply a positive distraction.

I don’t have a crystal ball but I do have the Strava.com Route Planner and it foretells 2017 will not lack for cycling:

  • 5 -7 May. The 1st Bicycle Moaning Collective Brecon Beacons Climbing Weekender, with over 4000m climbing in just over 200km of cycling through the most scenic mountains this side of the English Channel and South of the Border (and not including the Lake District or Snowdonia).  Whether it’s a first time face to face with a real live mountain or fine tuning before heading to the Alps later in the Summer, if the weather is kind there aren’t many better places to round off Spring-cycling / welcome Summer-cycling.
  • 19 – 20 May. Kew Riverside Primary are the first school through the (playground) gate participating in the BMC’s Sponsored Rides for Schools 2017  Programme, heading from Kew to Bruges to raise money for a new Eco-Garden for the school children.  Supported by BMC riders and road crew, over 20 of the school’s parents will be cycling to the coast (the Port of Dover to be exact) to catch a ferry to Calais before heading up the coast of Belgium to Bruges for copious well-earned Moules Frites, Belgium Beer and a fair chunk of Bruges’s finest chocolate.
  • 01 – 04 June. The Big One. The annual BMC 300 miles in 3 days, the 9th edition (just 1 off the even bigger 1 next year).  Just outside of the 300 mile target lies Luxembourg, the destination for nearly 40 cyclists and crew.  The route down to Dover will be familiar but after that Belgium will no doubt spring up its own surprises (Cobbles?) before descending into the Grund for the best Guinness Luxembourg can offer in Scott’s Pub (getting back out again could be a problem).
  • 16 -17 June. The turn of Thompson House Primary to hit the road.  This time the destination is Amsterdam.  The road on the Dutch side is familiar from a BMC 300/3 ride to Amsterdam but the London to Harwich route will be new (an excuse for a training ride recce?) the route promises to be fast and flat, with some of the THP Team already out training the BMC Support Riders may have their work cut out keeping up.  Hopefully there will still be some gas in the tank for the party at the end of the ride.
  • 23 – 24 June. No time to rest.  This time its Henley to Paris with Henley Trinity Primary.  However hard we try we can’t get the route from Henley to Newhaven below 145km.  It’s going to be a tough 1st day.  It gets tougher, as this is the ride where we crash on the floor of the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry and start riding again at 5am (or is it 4am?) I Either-way the clock is ticking on making it to the Eiffel Tower by the afternoon.  2 hard days riding but the routes are exceptional and worth the pain!
  • 19 – 23 July. There’s only 1 Tour de France but this will be the 5th BMC Chasing the Tour.  The definition of pleasure and pain.  With Col du Telegraph, Col d’Iseran, Col de la Croix de Fer, Lacets de Montvernier and Col du Grand Colombier all in the sights (plus a few optional extra ‘little bumps’ thrown in for good measure) this year’s edition promises to bring the BMC’s touring season to a close on a high.

(the small print: All subject to requisite ‘cycling-passes’ being authorised by home management)

On top of all of the above are the training and club rides which means an annual distance target of 7500km and elevation gain of 50,000m should be achievable.

More importantly a combined target of £50k raised by the BMC Sponsored Rides for Schools Programme would be an even more laudable achievement in 2017.

christmas cycling

christmas cycling

Something has happened to Christmas.  Not commercialism, nor loss of its true meaning (that happened in the 4th Century AD when the Christians hijacked various Pagans’ Winter Solstice festivals).  No Christmas has changed because of the rapha.cc/feature/festive-500 on www.strava.com/.

Everyone is cycling.  Every day between Christmas and New Year.  Trying to rack up a cold, wintry 500 km.

Christmas used to be incarceration by family, with no escape as friends were similarly imprisoned, seemingly for the full 12 days of Christmas.  This year, everyday there’s been rides with organised or available for the riding with good mates (or with someone you vaguely know on the cycle club’s WhatsApp).  Even on Christmas Day (if you wanted/needed one).

Only Daley Thompson used to train on Christmas Day!

Winter cycling kit has been tested to the extreme.  Motivation is equally tested by an increase in punctures from dirty winter roads.

Starting with Hurricane Barbara, the weather systems have thrown everything at festive cyclists:  rain, wind, sub-zero temperatures, deep fog and stunning early morning sunrises (it may be Christmas but seasonal goodwill does not extend far enough to grant cycle-passes outside of the statutory hours of 7-11am).

It would’ve been great to stop for a photo but the riding has been fat, fast and suburban (to keep clear of rural ice roads), no time to stop for snaps.  The energy burn has been high too, as fast as the turkey and spuds are shovelled in they’re burnt off the next morning (that’s the theory, par is probably the best that can be hoped for).

Best Christmas ever!

(and I didn’t even sign up for the Festive 500).

(Photos courtesy of @kieranhc)

testing times

testing times

I’m testing whether I can ride a bike again after my carpel tunnel operation.  It’s interesting (if it wasn’t so annoying) to consider how a small thing – like a great big incision just where the hand holds the bars – can destabilise the functioning of the rest of the body.

I will spare you the detail on what functions are impaired by temporary loss of use of a right hand other than to say riding a bike is one of them.  Not only do you grip your bars with your hands to steer (obvious 1 that) they also stop your 5kg head banging of your handlebars (assuming that your core isn’t super conditioned – mine neither).  A whole lot of your weight goes down through the palm of your hands and a whole lot of pain comes back up as you crash over another pothole.

Then there’s the starting off, keeping the bars straight as you stamp down on the pedals, accelerating away from the lights.  You can’t change gears easily or brake when the muscles in your hand have been severed.  Whilst I was listing out my exhaustive excuses not to cycle in the winter, a ‘good friend’ reminded me of Danny Crates, the 1 handed cyclist we rode with on Ride Across Britain – his only concession was to walk over cattle grids over the 960 mile journey.

So I shut up, which I think was my friends hope.

I’m back riding, out with some of the crew of the newly formed Kew Riverside Primary School CC.  Formed with the intent of completing the 1st Bicycle Moaning Collective Sponsored Rides for Schools of 2017.  They’ve chosen London to Bruges.  It feels good to be back out on the road, it feels good to be helping the new to riding riders, talking them through gear changes, road positioning, refuelling, new kit choices and telling them not to worry (as long as they train) about cycling 200 miles in 2 days.

It feels good to be introducing new riders to riding a bike – hoping that my bike-chat isn’t putting them off.

The Bicycle Moaning Collective have 3 more schools signed up for epic 24 hour rides in 2017.  That’s 4 new Cycling Clubs!  Covering off the distance to their respective destinations (Amsterdam, Paris, Paris from Henley & Marlow) is half the test.  Getting everyone up to pace (an average of 15mph), with the right kit and most importantly riding as a cohesive peloton the other.

The good news is that they’re already out training.  I’ve got some catching up to do.

sweat out Brexit

sweat out Brexit

I’m loving indoor training.  I get it. It’s my new favourite evening (in).  A cycling variation on Netflix & Chill.  Just sweatier. For 1.

Netflix & Spin.

It’s OK to change your mind.

Select interval training program, clip in and sweat.  I’ve always loved a good sweat – somehow cleansing.  This is sweating of a different magnitude – puddle on the floor sweating, I’m considering wearing a McEnroe-esque head band.  Just considering, I’m not there yet.

It helps that I can overlay a box-set on to the trainer control panel, positioning it over the ever slow ‘time to go’.  An episode (or 2) of Vikings later (I’m fully up to speed on Game of Thrones) and with total mileage spun loaded up to Strava.com, keeping the annual mileage ticking up – it’s an hour well spent.

I admit I was wrong about indoor training.  I’m not going to stop now even though my hand is healing and ready to get back on the road.  As I mop the floor, I ask myself what else might I be wrong about?

Might I be wrong about BREXIT?  What if…

Britain is a trailblazer (BREXITEERS would love that), the sparks of the EXITEER-movement shows signs of catching alight in Continental Europe.  Amongst the post-truth hysteria there are some incontrovertible truths.

  • The EU is a project that needs a reboot for our times. A post war concept born out of disaster it has served to preserve peace for 70 years.  But nothing lasts forever.  European Federalism looks tired and outdated.
  • Globalisation needs the brakes applied. Globalisation is super-efficiency, super-low-cost, super-I-want-it-now.  Is it worth it?  Are the jobs lost making jeans in the UK* to 3rd World Sweatshop using child labour worth it?  Globalisation isn’t by the people for the people.  The Globalisation we have allowed is for the ever-demanding consumer by the stateless corporations.**
  • Political and Civil Bureaucracy needs trimming a back. Central Governments are weighed down by unnecessary self-fulfilling bureaucracy that has lost sight of its original purpose.  The gravy train is running at full speed, no one can jump off (even if they wanted to), it’s impossible to get on.  Maybe it’s time to drain the swamp.  Just not if it’s to build a parking lot (that’s not progress).

We don’t need the same-old capitalism, liberalism, socialism (see above outdated project needing a re-boot), we can’t turn back the clock but we can work out a new modern international dynamism.

I hope the UK can be at the vanguard, sweat out the clowns (boris, farage, rees-mogg) and show the right way through smart thinking, hard work, no cutting corners.***

*Substitute with any Developed World country

** http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/12/05/mark-carney-warns-first-lost-decade-150-years-brands-eurozone/

*** I’m not convinced we’re heading in this direction.

stop to go forwards

stop to go forwards

Professional sportsmen are special.  Special in lots of ways. Physically obviously.  Mentally as well.

The latter often not as lauded as the former. Indoor training is challenging me more mentally than physically.  It is sometimes difficult enough to drag myself out on a road bike for training, I’m finding the Indoor Trainer harder despite its ease: ease of accessibility, ease of set up, ease of kitting up – shoes and shorts, maybe a jersey if my sister is in the house.  That’s it. Good to go in 2 minutes.

What’s the problem? It’s warm, safe and convenient?

In part, it’s the lack of visual stimulus (nothing beats being outside, riding in the real world) but most of all its static. Done right, the legs burn but distance is only a number on a screen, a sterile statistic.  All that effort gets you nowhere.

That’s just life. It could be worse I could be going backwards.  Like our World.  I’m not talking about world politics (2nd Cold War anyone?), climate control (new Coal Power Stations please), or intolerance (re-rise of the Fascists).  Whilst cycling no where I was thinking about riding a bike. In Hull.  Recently the Guardian ran an article about Hull in the 1950s being a cycling city.

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/dec/05/cycling-heaven-hull-city-recapture-1950s-pedal-power-heyday

Now it isn’t.  It’s choked by stagnant, stationary traffic.  It still has all the raw materials to be a cycling city but its collective mind-set has adopted the car as its mass-transport of choice.  There’s little progress.

As I churn out virtual kilometres (hoping to be match fit/ firing on all cylinders in Spring), I consider that being made to slow down, stop, look backwards is part of moving forwards.  Stop freewheeling and learn from our past mistakes (1930s Rise of Fascism / 1960s Cold War tensions / 1980s Acid Rain) and ask ourselves: what’s worked before to get us back on track?

Nothing wrong with re-inventing the wheel, especially if there is nothing wrong with the wheel first time round.

Whilst motivation can be hard to find I’m not going to give up on staying put to move forward just yet.  When you hear a professional cyclist say “I’ve spent the Winter in the Wind Tunnel” I won’t envy them but I will respect them – constantly looking at ways to go forward, faster, harder, better.

making everyone happy

making everyone happy

My friend was knocked off her bike Yesterday and ended up in A&E.  It was a classic car/bike accident where a car turning right down a side street cuts through static traffic but doesn’t anticipate the cyclists still riding up the inside. Car/bicycle meet at 90 degrees.

Or was it the cyclist not anticipating a car turning right down a side street cutting through static traffic.  It’s rarely clear cut.  I’d put the onus on the cyclist to anticipate – they’re the most at risk – and they can’t rely on anyone else to look out for them.

The London Mayor is going to drop £770 million on cycling over the next 5 years to make cycling a “safe and obvious choice for Londoners or all ages and backgrounds”. That’s £17 per Londoner (whether they want £17 to get them cycling or not!)

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/sadiq-khan-announces-770-cash-injection-for-london-cycling-infrastructure-a3412221.html

This will buy new segregated cycle superhighways, extensions to existing cycle superhighways and mini-Holland schemes in the suburbs.

Car drivers and the Daily Mail are no doubt in outrage – why are cyclists so indulged? But put this in context: its only 5.5% of total TFL budget.  Cars, Trains, Buses, Underground are still hoovering up the lions share.

What’s the solution? Segregation is great (of bikes and vehicles) until the segregation ends, then chaos breaks out. Cyclists become complacent, forget that the risk factor has just turned up.  Cars have forgotten that they’re sharing the road with cyclists and have a duty of care (NB. a cyclist is a real live person (just on a bike)).

The solution: cyclists need to be controlled and drivers need to be educated – the best way is to get drivers on a bike.  Which will only happen if they are incentivised to do so. How? Penalise them?  That won’t help. Make it safe? We’ve tried that.  Make it easy?  Easier said than done.

What about paying them?

Smartphone technology could make a carbon offset scheme work.  What about £10 of your road tax for every 100 city miles cycled? (Paid for by: VAT on bike sales, decreased NHS costs from a fitter, healthier population and reduction in pollution/respiratory related illnesses).

Surely it’s worth a try.

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.

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.