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.

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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a non-race

a non-race

I wasn’t racing.  If I was – single speed V mountain bike – would be a good match.  The MTB had slicks and gears, lots of them.  I had 1 gear but narrow tyres with trick Mavic hubs and 35mm deep rims – those wheels fly (I think I’ve bored on about them already).

As we left the office together, the guy from my office on the red mountain bike and I didn’t discuss the ‘race-that-wasn’t happening’.  We didn’t have to.  It was on. I was confident.

Naked, in the office showers last week he’d proudly announced he’d kept up with me all the way from Priory Lane. I hadn’t realised I was being followed.  I recognised him in his cycle helmet now.

Down potholed, rutted and pedestrian strewn Cornhill, I’m happy to let him lead, until the lights at the infamous Bank crossroads, draw alongside, wobbly track-standing as the lights counted down, avoiding eye contact.  On the ‘G’ of the green light I’m gone.  Covering the ground super quick to the next set of red lights 50 yards ahead, then the next and then the next.  Stopping at each.  My track stand is improving.  Red MTB is next to me again.

Queen Victoria Street, left onto White Lion Hill, a perfect right hand bend with a rampart leading down to the Embankment, you can pick up some speed but at the foot of the rampart there’s a tricky junction with a choice: stop (brakes on hard), look, listen.  Or hit the inside of the two lanes at speed.  Hopefully faster than the oncoming traffic, keeping out in front.

The Embankment Super Cycle Highway isn’t very super today.  I join a queue of slow moving bikes.  Overtaking is a squeeze, risk pulling past a Boris Bike it could be too late to see the oncoming Hipster with no lights.  I practice patience.  Red MTB will be held up too.

It’s dangerously dark.  Visibility is limited, headlights glare on my glasses, cyclists pass in and out of shadows but as I wait at Parliament Square I clearly see Red MTB jump the kerb and get ahead of the 30-strong stationary cyclists.  He can cheat if he wants.  It’s about to get fast. He’s not.

The trick is to get through just one of the many set of red lights ahead of Red MTB.  Easier said than done.  At each red light, I draw up to and wait, look back nonchalantly.  Each time as the lights turn, Red MTB sails through, whilst I power up back up to speed.  We leap frog from Westminster to Chelsea.

No matter how hard I push, legs milling around, wheels jumped on I couldn’t get away.  It’s a familiar feeling.  Factors outside of my control constraining and halting my progress.  At least it was only pre-programmed traffic light sequencing rather than someone deciding to knock my house down to build a runway.  Or move my job to mainland Europe post BREXIT.  That might still happen. 

No sign of Red MTB through Parsons Green.  He might have gone through Chelsea Village.  Or I’ve got ahead. At last.  Over Putney Bridge I get caught by the lights at the last moment.  Re MTB arrives just as they turn back green, predictably.  It starts again, from scratch.  All that’s left is the Lower Richmond Road.  I gun it, give it everything.

Inevitably the lights onto Upper Richmond Road West are red. Inevitably Red MTB draws up just as the lights turn green, he squeezes to the left of the traffic I go right and get boxed in.  I race alongside, round, in between crawling traffic to regain ground.  Back at Priory Lane Red MTB is nearly wiped out as a car turns across him, he scrapes through a narrow gap.  I must wait until my path is clear of cars jumping the lights.

The ride was not an analogy.  It was just life.  The more I thought about life’s ironies, of control by unseen forces, of lack of results versus effort, the further ahead Red MTB got.  The red lights had levelled the playing field.  Any advantage I had was negated, any effort expended unrewarded.  Corbyn would approve.

400m to home. Buses pulling in / out. Cars gridlocked.  Traffic lights poised to turn red again.  As I turn off for home I think I’m ahead. But can’t be sure.

(NB. No red lights were jumped in the making by of this non-race (by me at least)).

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

For no good reason, I decided to deviate from my usual route home.  Have you ever taken a wrong turn and instead of turning back you won’t/don’t make a U-Turn – you plough on regardless? Stubbornly making things worse when a quick pride swallowing U-Turn now could limit the damage.

Instead of riding home along the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, I went sightseeing, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to see St Paul’s Cathedral at dusk.  I don’t know the roads well.  It started going wrong as I dodged pedestrians and traffic down Ludgate Hill, waited for slow traffic lights to cross Farringdon Street and on to Fleet Street.

Ignoring the danger signs, I struggled through closely squeezed, crawling traffic, red tail lights glaring, narrow gaps between cars.  The value of Sterling down 20% since the Referendum.  I could’ve cut left down onto the Embankment but I’d gone this far, with the Pound at is lowest value against the US Dollar since the mid-1980s, an easy change of direction seemed like whimsically leaving the casino early.

It felt lonely on the Strand, 1 bicycle struggling to survive amongst the bigger, stronger cars, vans, trucks.  Most cyclists are likely on the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, which is not without its risks or difficulties but is significantly more sensible than trying to go it alone between the Australia House and Somerset Houses. I was on my own.

Waterloo Bridge offered me an escape route. Straight on regardless, heading for a Hard BREXIT.  Instead I chose getting caught out by unfamiliar traffic flows and being blocked by kamikaze pedestrians launching off pavements as I track-stood and scooted through Theatre Land.

I hit Trafalgar Square and the weight of my wilful selection of the hard way home hit me, disorientated, worn down, frustrated.  Inflation rising to 1%, nowhere near a historical high but the highest month on month rise since June 2014 and forecast to hit 3% next year.  When Inflation hits 2% that’s when incomes are felt to be falling in real terms, with an upwards squeeze on the cost of living – mostly food, clothing and other household goods.  It hits the lowest income families first and hardest.  EU Referendum analysis suggests they wilfully volunteered.

From Buckingham Palace, I found myself at Victoria, then roughly headed South West, I wasn’t lost per se but making it up as I went along.  Battling to dissect lines of traffic, repeatedly putting myself at risk.  Cutting across the flow, rather than going smoothly with it.  I had no plan.

Admittedly, there was some fun, adventure, drama, challenge to be had in my divergence.  But it wasn’t rewarding fun, adventure, drama, challenge.  There were a lot better things I could be doing with my time and energies rather than taking the long way home on a pointless, tortuous, self-inflicted journey.

Best not mention Marmite.

golden past

golden past

It feels like the end of the world. Painful early. Dark. Rain lashing. Last weekend it was early, not dark, cold but sharpening under the pristine clear skies.  This morning’s ride doesn’t have much going for it.  At least the clocks haven’t gone back yet, that’s when winter bites down hard.  

Dom ‘Daisy’ Jones is waiting impatiently outside, I made him wait last weekend too as I wrestled cycling shoes into lightweight overshoes, just to keep the chill out.  This week I’m late again – the kids wanted Strictly Come Dancing on iPlayer just as I was leaving – I can’t fix that and wrestle cycling shoes into heavy duty overshoes (waterproof and fleece lined).  Dom’s unimpressed.

The overshoes aren’t waterproof.  Neither is my waterproof jacket.  Last weekend I didn’t wear a jacket, a thin gilet over my jersey, it was a bit on the cold side but nothing a hard pull on the front to warm up couldn’t fix.  My waterproof gloves are holding up.  Even so I’m not looking forward to the next 3 hours.  My phone is vibrating with cancellations, that or the torrential rains have already got to it and it’s shorting out in my jersey pocket.

We’re on a familiar route except riding it in a different direction too usual, just to mix the Sunday morning ride up a bit.  The novelty is lost on us as the rain gets heavier, visibility through my misted, raindrop blinded glasses is minimal.  It’s that or receive a shower of gritty spray in my eyes.  Last week I was wearing sunglasses to keep the bright early morning sunshine out of my eyes. 

We’re grinding out of Epsom, no one’s saying much, at Headley we head down Lodgebottom Road, a narrow country lane.  Last week it was magical, our path cossetted by pristine frosted fields, so enchanting that I forgot about how cold it was.  This week the road is so wet that the streams on its surface are overtaking us as we tentatively negotiate through the slimy autumnal leaf litter, horse chestnut husks and small brown balls fallen from the trees everywhere, marble like under tyres keep us on edge. Last week…

I stopped.  Stopped thinking about the past.  Stopped living in the past.  Focused on now.  Concentrated on today’s gritty, sodden ride not a rose tinted view of the past rides. 

We do that in Great Britain: think of the past as a golden utopia.  Once we had an Empire where the sun never set, where noble Brits were feared, revered and most importantly foreigners did what they were told.  That’s gone.  The World has moved on whilst us British have struggled to do the same.

It’s dangerous to live in the past, let erroneous memories guide current decision making.  I need to slow down on this descent, take the corner cautiously.  It’s not last week when I’m pretty sure I took it a whole lot faster.

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