If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…
Category Archives: General
December 11, 2017Posted by on
You might think that having not posted on here for eight months would mean that I’ve not been up to anything interesting. Yet in a year with more ups and downs than a good bike ride, nothing could be further from the truth. So what am I doing breaking my silence on here by banging on about a pair of pants? Well, they’re good trousers and they’ve resolved an awkward cycling problem for me. So there.
If you need some trousers that you can look smart and professional in, whilst still clocking up some serious commuter miles, you may have found yourself on the hunt for ‘The ultimate commuter trousers’. I’ve been riding in and out of Manchester for the last three winters in some Endura Humvee trousers, which whilst looking great, just aren’t actually comfy to ride in. Which is a bit rubbish considering that they’re made by a cycling brand for, er, cycling in. I know some people who get on fine with them but they just weren’t working for me, down below, if you know what I mean…
Far comfier to ride in are my Rab walking trousers. The material’s light and stretchy with good waterproofing. But being designed for walking and not cycling, the fit round the lower leg is way too flappy. The hunt continued.
I eventually stumbled across a Scottish brand called Keela. They make several items of cycle clothing, including the Roadrunner trousers that they designed for cycling emergency services staff. These are the trousers that have changed my life, or at least the hours I spend commuting. Smart, comfortable and without a hint of testicular constriction, with these pants on I can enjoy the commute again. And I got them cheaper than both the Endura cycling trousers and the Rab walking trousers. Result.
So now the Rab’s have gone back to being walking trousers, whilst the Endura’s have found a new role as the workshop pants. Order is once again restored in the wardrobe of the over-enthusiastic cyclist. As you were.
April 3, 2017Posted by on
People who know me or follow me on Strava may have noticed some pretty big walks going on recently. Whilst I’ve always enjoyed a good hike round the hills, there’s been a specific motive behind all this recent leg work. As well as developing my own cycling company Peak Pedalling and freelancing for other cycling companies, I’ve recently been working towards my Mountain Leader Award. This is the industry standard qualification that covers you to take individuals and groups out in mountainous terrain in the UK – whilst keeping them safe and hopefully giving them an enjoyable day out!
And so here I am reflecting on what has been the most intense course I’ve ever been on: six days of training by Jules Barrett and his colleagues at Adventure Unlimited. I’ve always been pretty handy with an OS map, but learning the skills to locate any specific point in a wild and often featureless environment to the nearest few meters has taken the subject to a whole new level. Add in driving rain, low visibility and a 10 kilo rucksack and things get trickier still. And that’s even before we ascended the 902 meter peak of Bow Fell at night, standing on the rocky summit in total darkness (and more rain) before correctly finding the safe route down. Wild camping, multiple river crossing techniques, emergency procedures – it’s been a busy week but with a fantastic group of people.
It wasn’t all about the practical skills though, because a mountain leader needs an exhaustive supply of information about the local environment to inform, educate and entertain clients with. In addition to being somewhat of an outdoor ninja, Jules revealed himself to be a comprehensive authority on many subjects including geology, meteorology and different species of moss. All part of the mountain leader job!
So it seems that I’ve got a huge amount of practicing to do before my 5 day assessment in spring 2018. New subjects such as emergency rope use need to become second nature and my navigation needs to be so slick that I can chat merrily to a group about volcanic rock formations without them even realising that I’m counting my paces in order to cover a specific distance within +/- 10%. Yep, there’s a lot going on.
The other major learning point for me was that mid-range cycling jackets and budget waterproof trousers are not up to the job of trekking round the hills in the rain for days on end…
Thanks to Charlie for being the only one of us organised enough to take photos!
November 12, 2016Posted by on
Every man suffers from a lack of performance at some point in his life. Maybe it’s brought on by tiredness or stress, or maybe it’s to do with the head? And so it was for me yesterday when I set out on a ride, only to find that my legs could barely turn the pedals (what else did you think I was on about?)
I just wasn’t expecting it though: I’d cleared the day of commitments, spent ages planning the ultimate route, even the weather gods had granted me a dry sunny day. I’d eaten well the night before, got a decent night’s sleep and had the bike and kit prepped and ready to roll. So why was I struggling to even get to the end of my road?
You get to know your body well after years of cycling, with every local road and trail becoming a benchmark to gauge your fitness and well-being. I didn’t need Strava or a heart rate monitor to tell me that something wasn’t right today though. My legs felt heavy and every bone in my body just ached. It’s happened before over the years and I’ve found that there are three options available at this point:
- Turn around and go home in a sulk
- Finish the planned route at any cost
- Cut it short and try not to get too annoyed
The first option is the emotional response and your body will thank you for turning round, but the feeling of wasting the day whilst sulking on the couch is a real morale crusher. I’ve tried the second option before but it took ages to recover from and probably kept me off the bike for longer afterwards. It’s also best not to be hurtling down hills if you’re not on top form…
I opted for the third choice this time. My planned 40 mile off-road epic quickly got cut down to just over 10 miles of the lamest mountain biking I’ve ever done. I struggled up the hills, pushing up an easy local trail for the first time ever. But the weather and fresh air were great and I’d still got some kind of riding in, certainly enough to justify getting changed and heading out of the door in the first place. If anything, it made me realize just how fit I am when I am on form.
Thinking back, there were tell tale signs before I’d even set off. I didn’t exactly jump out of bed in the morning. I then had that extra cup of tea whilst slumped back on the couch, dressed and ready to go but stalling the start. It seems that my body and subconscious mind knew what was going on way before I did.
I don’t know the science and I’m certainly no doctor, but I’m probably just knackered. Simple as that. It’s been a busy year, busier than most considering I got married four weeks ago so I probably just need to take it easy for a few days. Them hills aren’t going anywhere I suppose…
December 31, 2014Posted by on
With my off-season (or ‘gluttony period’) coming to an end, it’s time to think about what I want to achieve on the bike next year. I know I’m not a racing cyclist, but I’ve always set myself targets as a way to ensure that I drag myself off the couch and put the miles in. The amount of times over the last few years that I could easily have got home from work on a cold winters evening and festered in front of the TV, but have instead headed out to the hills to prepare for another attempt at getting under seven hours at the Fred Whitton (or whatever painful target I’d set myself…)
There’s been a lot of these targets over the years: the Etape du Tour, Mary Towneley Loop, Polkadot Challenge – they’ve all given me a motive to train hard and eat (reasonably) properly. Success has been sparse and relative, but the overall achievement has been a level of fitness that’s way above most blokes in their forties. So what’s the goal for 2015 then? Well, here’s where my plans have had to change…
A recent career change has seen me give up the day job of teaching teenagers in order to take on more cycling related work. This is definitely a good thing. However, the touring work I’ve gratefully committed to with the marvellous Peak Tours all clashes with my regular sportives and any other decent event up this end of the country. So I’ve been redefining what a ‘challenge’ could be. I’ve realised that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an organised event, but it still needs to be something that I can commit to achieving (and will get my arse off the couch).
So here’s my ideas so far:
- Segment based challenges. I’ve been chipping away at my times on some local Peak District road climbs like the Cat and Fiddle. I could set myself goal times for some of my favourites and try to achieve them by the end of the year. It would work for mountain bike sections as well and though it’s not massively exciting, I’d be measurably fitter at the end of it.
- Self devised loop challenges. Even if I’m not entering an event like the Fred Whitton, I would have no problem devising a route of similar severity right from my doorstep. I could map out a few set loops of different distances and (hopefully) chart my progression.
- Trans Pennine Trail in a day. This has been brewing for two years but has always been scuppered by various circumstances each time the optimum spot on the calendar comes around. I still reckon I could get somewhere around 18 hours over the 211 miles on the cross bike. It’s not a popular challenge at home though…
- Ride a sportive when it suits me. What’s to stop me heading up to the Lakes on a nice day when I’m not working and trying to get that elusive 7 hour time at the Fred? I know I wouldn’t get the same sense of occasion and crowd support of the event, but at least I could do it whenever it suited me and the weather.
So there’s a few ideas to keep me going. There’s also the bucket list of hike-a-bike mountain bike routes in the Lakes that I keep trying to get round to, such as the Black Sail Pass etc. And then there’s my annual claim (and failure) to do regular core exercises and stretching that would help me achieve such goals. If there was a competition for reading and ignoring good advice then I’d be on the podium every year.
Plenty to think about and I’m excited about 2015 whatever I decide to do, but the first target is to cut down on the food and drink…
December 27, 2014Posted by on
Christmas can be a mixed blessing for us over-enthusiastic cyclists. On the one hand, it’s usually time off work which means time to get plenty of riding in, but there’s also a world of temptation and social obligation to distract you. Even before I got as far as the big day I’d already over indulged at a variety of work do’s, leaving do’s, weddings, but generally just using any excuse to continue eating and drinking like a medieval king. If I carry on like this I’ll end up with the figure and life expectancy of a medieval king, but I’ll deal with that in the new year.
But why shouldn’t I let myself go a little? It’s standard practice for the professional’s to have an ‘off-season’ in order to kick back and relax. Whether you’re a grand tour contender or just a keen amateur like me we all need to let our bodies and minds recharge before we start doing it all over again for yet another year. With the ongoing globalisation of the sport, the off-season now only lasts a few weeks for most professionals and by December they’ve already had their break and are attending the team’s first training camp. When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012, his training began on November 1st 2011. Compare that to the late 1990’s when Jan Ulrich would still be gorging himself on gateaux well into early spring and then arrive at the first races grossly overweight and you can see how much the sport has changed. I suppose it’s encouraging to see that proper training is now the priority rather than the pharmaceutical preperations that Jan, Lance and co were using back then…
Looking back, maybe I should have taken a break long before Christmas. With the amount of riding I’ve done this year and everything else that’s been going on in my life, I now realise that I’ve been fatigued for months. I’ve still been getting out and enjoying riding a bike (when is this ever not the case?) but at times it’s been a challenge to actually get myself out of the door. Even though recent rides have been more of a leisurely slog than an assault on the Strava leader boards, I dread to think what would have happened to my fitness without these rides.
So I’ve given myself to January 1st to eat and drink whatever I want whilst still getting out and enjoying some winter riding, then it’s down to business again. I’m not too sure what I’m going to be training for yet, but I know that I need to be fit.
Right then, time for more wine and chocolate?
October 16, 2014Posted by on
Like most outdoor enthusiasts, cyclists tend to be acutely aware of the changing seasons. It doesn’t seem long ago that I was raving about the joys of spring and riding my ‘best bike’ whilst exposing my pale arms and legs to the sun. That’s all drastically changed in the last few weeks. After a transitional period wearing arm and leg warmers, the lycra has now been totally replaced by thermal bib longs and jackets of increasing thickness. Short finger gloves have been replaced for long, with over-shoes, buffs and under-helmet hats all brought back into play after a summer at the bottom of drawers.
And then there’s the lights. I often put a set of little LED blinkers on in case I’m late back on a summer evening, but now it’s back to charging up the big light before evening rides. In an effort to embrace the winter months, I’ve given the Planet X Uncle John some attention – it needed some! After a summer of touring with clients and then some big off-road adventures it deserved new cables, bar tape and 25mm winter tyres at the very least. The last thing you want is to be stopping on top of a dark hill trying to fix your bike in the shivering cold.
Though I’ve been night-riding for a few years now, it still takes some adjusting to. After hammering around on a lightweight carbon racer, hauling the Uncle John up hills with its heavier tyres, full mudguards and a weighty battery felt like hard work. But these rides aren’t intended to trouble the Strava leader boards, they just need to keep me lean and keen till the spring rolls around again. The old-school roadie logic is to just get in a large volume of steady miles over the winter, but I’ll be throwing in some high intensity muddy fun on the mountain bike whenever I get chance.
Despite the heavier bike, freezing temperatures and extra wardrobe faffing about, there’s something quite magical about a night ride once you’re out there. The isolation and views can be beautiful once you get over the spookiness of it, and you quite literally see your local roads in a different light. You’ll see some different wildlife as well. I’ve raced badgers down country lanes (surprisingly fast) and had owls flying right in front of my face (quite frightening).
It was mid-March when I was writing about the joys of spring and I’ve enjoyed seven months of summer cycling wear since then. Whilst not a truly scientific test, it would seem that the winter cycling period is still shorter than summer. I’m going to hang on to that positive thought, as once the novelty wears off it’s going to feel like a long slog through the winter darkness.
July 9, 2014Posted by on
It’s not every year that the Tour de France begins in your own country. When it last did in 2007 I was only just rekindling my love of professional cycling, though I’d have had no appetite to visit our capital anyway. But as a proud northerner, the short journey over to Yorkshire was inevitable and highly anticipated. And what a weekend it was.
Yes we all know that Cav crashed out in tragic style at the end of stage one, but viewing those last few kilometres in front of a big outdoor screen in Holmefirth was amazing. The audible gasp at the crash was a moment of collective dismay on a scale I’d not experienced before. (Football fans must go through this every Saturday, which might explain their frustration and outbursts of verbal abuse.) It wasn’t an elitist crowd either; lycra-clad cycling geeks mingled with novices who were probably destined ask how Marcel Kittel wouldn’t win the Tour despite winning the first stage. It really didn’t matter though, it was just brilliant to see that level of interest.
The main event for my party though, was being up on the ‘Cote de Holme Moss’ to see the race pass by on the Sunday. Pedalling up in the morning was rather different from any previous visit and certainly not a day for Strava ambitions due to the amount of people heading up on bike and foot. The atmosphere was great though, reminiscent of my years at Glastonbury, but with a lot more bikes. The range of people tackling this category 2 climb was impressive: kids as young as five, pensioners on tandems, a suit wearing man on a Brompton and a surprising amount of mountain bikers.
You could have a hard time justifying watching a bike race to a non-cycling fan. The idea of waiting five hours to watch the fastest cyclists on the planet pass by at high speed doesn’t sound great on paper, but the atmosphere and sense of anticipation creates enough excitement until the riders do eventually arrive. From the first police motorbikes through to the wackiness of the publicity caravan, you’ll be so delirious with excitement that you’ll be cheering and clapping anything on wheels. After that’s all passed, the entertainment comes from latecomers pedalling up the road, who unexpectedly find themselves in a mock Tour de France scenario complete with cheering crowds and crazed fans running alongside them. If the embarrassment gets too much and they decide to dismount then the good natured boo’s from the crowd are equally embarrassing. The young children pedalling up got a genuine and deafening roar from the crowd that they’ll never forget.
Eventually the helicopters arrived and we knew that that riders were approaching. The drama of seeing the first three riders making massive efforts up the steep road whilst all anxiously looking behind them was impressive, but nothing compared to the peloton that was right behind them. I thought I was well out of the way, then in a moment they were upon us and despite a hurried step back they flew past only inches from me. Strangely, they all seemed bigger than expected, though I’m not sure why. I recognised a few riders such as Geraint Thomas and the yellow jersey of Marcel Kittel, who was already slipping off the back but they were so fast it was a blur of lycra and wheels. I honestly didn’t expect it to be as exciting as it was, but the atmosphere, anticipation and crowds made for a kind of temporary sensory overload, leaving a surge of adrenaline in the crowd.
Once back down at the big screen, even a downpour whilst watching the last 12k couldn’t dislodge the field of fans. Unlike a football match, there ware no overall favourites, more that we were just enjoying an exciting race. Niballi got a huge cheer as he crossed the line first, but so would any of them. Just like the rain, it really didn’t matter.
Riding back on the Monday through some other towns that had hosted the race reinforced the scale of the weekend. The Northern weather will soon wash the names from the roads and all the yellow painted bikes will eventually find their way to the rubbish dump, but the memories will live on. Will the British public treat cyclists any differently on the roads? Will more people ride their bikes or follow the sport? I don’t know. I’m not even sure that the new fans will follow the race’s progress to Paris but chapeau to Yorkshire, you did the race proud.
June 9, 2014Posted by on
With a day of rain forecast, a less enthusiastic cyclist might have resigned themselves to a day on the couch. But for me it was an opportunity to get back on the mountain bike, which had become sidelined by all the recent dropped handlebar fun. I don’t mind getting wet on a mountain bike ride, maybe due to the amount of wetness coming up at you from the trail and with the lower speeds it often seems less of an issue.
But getting wet whilst already out riding is one thing, actually starting your ride in the pouring rain is another. I admit that I spent some time sulking at the window, fully dressed to ride but reluctant to actually begin. But once I started, I never looked back.
The thought of mountain biking whilst wearing the lycra of a road cyclist would have offended me in previous years, as surely it’s not the style of the mountain biker? But experience has taught me that the last thing you need when you’re soaking wet is some cold wet baggy shorts flapping around your legs. Better to go with the sleek cross-country racer look and just wear a waterproof over the top half. In this mild wet weather that we grudgingly call ‘the British summer’ if you keep your top half warm and reasonably dry then it doesn’t matter too much about your bottom half.
And so I emerged from the safety of the garage and pedalled off into the rain towards the first trail. The transition from “Argh, I’m getting wet” to ” Sod it, I’m wet now” is a quick one, as the cold and damp spreads through your lycra clad legs and backside. The next milestone moment is sometime within the next hour when you discover how ineffective your ‘waterproof’ boots are, so it’s worth getting a decent distance from home to avoid the temptation wimp out with damp feet. If you make it this far then you’re committed to a big ride: you know that once you get home again it’s going to take at least half an hour to restore your bike and belongings to a state where they can be used again, so there’s no point just going for a quick spin.
There are other angles to consider when heading out for a wet ride like this. Rocky trails are as rideable as ever, just a lot wetter, but anything involving mud or grass is worth avoiding. All you’ll do is get frustrated, clog your gears up and ruin the trail for when/if it does eventually dry out. If you’re embarking on a wet ride with others, be careful with the personnel. Every mountain biker knows that with each additional rider, the amount of time spent stopping and faffing increases exponentially, until you reach a critical mass where any progress at all is impossible. This isn’t the weather for big group rides. Either head out solo or choose a riding partner of well matched pace – you’ll not be wanting to stop and chat.
My local route round Macclesfield Forest and the Goyt valley was ideal and I was so engrossed in the ride that I didn’t really notice the gradual change from the heavy rain I started in to the bright sunshine that I finished in. This might have annoyed some riders, but I didn’t care and I wore my coating of mud with pride. Whilst I’d passed many like minded mountain bikers in the worst of the weather, it was only now the rain had stopped that the road cyclists emerged, which further validated my choice of ride for the day.
With bike and rider hosed down and the washing machine busy on a ‘sports intensive’ wash cycle, a well earned beverage was enjoyed. The only remaining evidence of the adventure was the dull ache of well used muscles and a smug feeling that I hadn’t let the weather beat me into a day inside. People as annoying as me will often remind you that skin is actually waterproof, but it’s true. Hard as it sometimes is to start, you know you’ll feel better for it by the end and if nothing else it will make you appreciate the good weather riding. Get out and ride!
March 31, 2014Posted by on
That’s the question I asked myself at one point during today’s 104 mile fixed gear training ride. I’d been going well, but found myself going through that phase where everything just hurts and the end seems like a very long way away. I’ve been doing some big training rides recently. Last week I did 70 miles of mountain biking, intentionally biting off more than I could chew and suffering so badly in the last 20 miles that having a quick sleep under a hedge started to seem like a good plan.
So what the hell am I playing at? Is this rational behaviour for a man now in his 40’s? I’m not deluded enough to think that I can turn professional – I should have thought about that at least 25 years ago – but I’m obsessed with trying to push my body to some higher level of fitness. I’m not the only one either, there’s a lot of us at it.
Sometimes when I get home with wobbly legs and too exhausted to properly explain myself, my wonderfully tolerant partner looks at me more with a mixture of pity and bewilderment than any admiration for my athletic achievement. “Are you insane?” Did you have to do that much?”. Both valid questions, but I’m a man on a mission. I like to set myself a goal, even if it’s just beating my best time at an amateur challenge event like the Fred Whitton. It gives me a sense of focus and something to throw my energies at. Admittedly, devoting myself to charitable causes could be more spiritually rewarding or putting the same energy into my career could be more financially rewarding, but it’s the cycling for me.
But there’s more to it than that, it’s everything that goes with it. The euphoria of powering over the final climb and sprinting back home, the contrasting comfort of the hot shower afterwards, there’s a sense of adventure to it all and it keeps this 41 year old feeling alive and well. Some people go out to night clubs and take pills to get their endorphins going – and it’s not for me to say that my way is better – but the cycling works for me. I have been known to get a cycling come-down mid week though…
Graeme Obree recently said that “there is no better vehicle for obsessional behaviour than a bike” and whilst I’m not quite as afflicted as him, there’s nothing better after a ride than some Strava analysis to see check of your performance improvements. Likewise with the bikes themselves, there’s so much to learn about (and spend your money on…) that I just don’t seem to get bored of it. I’m sure there’s worse things in life to be obsessed with.
So next time I ask myself why I do it, I’ve got my answers ready. I can’t ever remember regretting doing a hard session on the bike and the memories of even the grimmest and toughest of rides soon fade away once you get out of the shower. So keep pedalling, it’ll all be worth it!
March 11, 2014Posted by on
After a brutally wet and windy UK winter, this weekend’s fine weather seemed to mark the start of spring as far as us amateur road cyclists go. The Peak District’s roads get a decent amount of cycle traffic every weekend anyway, but there were subtle differences this time. Overshoes had been left at home, thermal bib-longs were replaced by standard lycra and there was even the sight of bare arms and legs. But the weather was clearly the signal for everyone to bring their ‘best bike’ out of hibernation. It’s been my first year of having a dedicated ‘winter bike’ with full mudguards, but I’m completely sold on the idea. The Planet X Uncle John’s dealt with everything the winter’s thrown at it and has gone above and beyond the call of duty. As well as letting my beloved Boardman Pro Carbon avoid the worst of the weather, it’s got me out pedalling when I previously wouldn’t have.
I hadn’t even ridden the Boardman since the Tenerife trip back in November, but once I’d dusted it off and got going, everything fell right back into place. The slightly racier position, the higher spec shifters with lighter wheels and tyres, it all felt amazing. So did the lighter overall weight and the responsiveness of the carbon frame compared to the Uncle John’s aluminium bulk. The Uncle John’s taken the blows all winter though and there’s been rides so windy that it’s extra weight has allowed me to stay upright when the Boardman would have been blown right off the road. It almost felt unfair that the ‘posh bike’ should emerge victorious to grab all the glory and Strava achievements, but I suppose that’s the point; I’ve been slogging up and down the hills on a heavy bike all winter and still performing well, so once I got back on the light bike it felt like I’d let the handbrake off!
I won’t be forgetting those winter rides though – the time’s I’d be shivering and numb at the bottom of a descent, that time I got caught in snow and fog and feared for my safety – I appreciate now that they were all worthwhile. I’ve paid for my spring and I’ve earned the right to race around in the sunshine on a high spec bike with a big grin on my face. No offence to anyone who’s only now decided that the weather’s good enough to cycle (and it’s not my style to discourage anyone who wants to get out pedalling) but do they truly appreciate what they’ve got?
Character building (or sometimes just “stupid”) is what people might call those winter rides, but despite some tough conditions, I can’t say that I’ve regretted a single ride. I used to just rely on fixed gear riding and mountain biking for winter rides, but thanks to the winter bike I’ve put in more way more distance and climbing than I usually would have by this point in the year. Things are surely looking good for the Fred Whitton in May!