The over-enthusiastic cyclist

If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…

Tag Archives: cycling

Over-coummuting

Who could argue with the benefits of commuting by bike? It’s a no-brainer when you consider the health and environmental benefits, the cost saving and the fact that it’s usually quicker than driving anyway. Obviously, there’s the problem of our crap UK roads with inadequate cycle infrastructure, and the small but dangerous minority of drivers who shouldn’t really be allowed behind the wheel, but hey, it’s better than sitting in a traffic jam!

I pack in a lot of commuting miles over the winter, riding up to 15 miles each way to do cycle training and other work whenever possible. Admittedly, much of my commuting is urban and fighting for road position to stay safe isn’t quite as relaxing as my local leisure rides, but it’s still good exercise.

I like to think that the addition of panniers makes for an even tougher workout. I recently weighed my panniers with all my cycle training gear in and the scales told me that I’d been lugging an additional 7.5kg around with me. I’ve been hoping that I’ll feel the benefit when summer comes and I get on the light bike.

So you’d think that over 100 miles of loaded commuting every week would put me in peak condition and ready for the spring. So how come I ended up spending weekends on the couch instead of enjoying super fit country leisure rides? Well…

There’s a trap that pro cyclists and other athletes sometimes fall into called ‘over-training’. Basically, the body isn’t recovering properly and it just keeps getting more and more fatigued. Symptom’s include irritability, low mood, poor sleep and a lack of motivation to exercise that’s ironically coupled with an anxiety that you should be exercising more. It’s not a great situation to be in.

Apparently, another symptom of over-training is a lack of appetite. Annoyingly, I seem to have experienced the complete opposite, so therefore I must have had a slightly different strain of over-training. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d been suffering from ‘over-commuting’ which i reckon is the non-professional version. Fortunately, having a week with no work and plenty of rest seems to have got me back on track.

So now, against all my ethics and personal preferences, I’ve been using a car to get to work some days, or sometimes I’ll ride to a job and then get the train home. And even though I’d rather be on the bike all the time, I’m feeling better for the reduced workload and fatigue. I’m back to loving my weekend Peak District excursions again and I’m feeling twice as fit for the rest. All that commuting did make me fit and strong, my body just needed the chance to catch up and adapt.

So the moral of the story? If you’re tired, you probably need to rest. Pretty obvious really.

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Making the most of the commute with a scenic detour

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Winter…

I can’t be the only cyclist who audibly groaned (and swore) at the weather forecast for next week. They’re claiming that the UK is about to suffer its coldest February week for five years. It felt like spring was on its way, but just like the taxi driver who claims to be “just round your corner now mate” it’s not happening any time soon.

It’s not that I’m one of those cyclists who hibernates away all winter and then only gets back on the bike in spring. Oh no, I’ve endured my fair share of dodgy weather. Sub zero temperatures, wind, rain, hail, snow, ice – I’ve pedalled my way through them all this winter. It’s become standard practice to dress for a ride with the minimum amount of flesh exposed. How I long for the days when I can leave the house without looking like some kind of cycling terrorist.

I often admit to people that I rather like mountain biking in the winter though. Hot dusty trails are fine (and occasionally even exist here) but there’s nothing like a thick layer of mud to slip and slide around in to keep things interesting. And if you endure one of these rides with a mate, the camaraderie of shared survival at the end makes for some of the most memorable riding you’ll ever do. How many riders sit in a pub and proudly recount the tale of “that day when the sun was lovely and there was no mud or dangerous weather”?

But I’ve had enough now. Crashing out on the commuter bike one icy morning a few weeks ago cost me a day’s work and left me battered and bruised. Repeating the process on the same corner two weeks later just about exhausted my tolerance for winter. Bruises on my bruises. I’m properly bored of this now.

The rational side of me appreciates that the seasons won’t change any earlier just because I get in a mood with them, but come on, is it not time for spring now?

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Do not approach this man.

 

 

The cycling come down

There’s nothing quite like a big ride. Whether it’s a long slog on the mountain bike or a road cycling epic, you just can’t beat the feeling of a full day out on the bike. My mate Jay recently mentioned having less positive feelings in the days after the ride. You could call it a hangover, whilst drug users might call it a come down. Whatever you call it, there is some logic that after having created loads of adrenaline and endorphins, there’s going to be an equal and opposite affect.

And after Saturday’s big day out on the mountain bike, which went on so long that I finished in the dark, I think I’ve still got the come down. I’ve felt lethargic, irritable, I’ve had aches and pains – a real bad case of the cycling come down.

But as anyone with a hangover knows, after three drinks you feel ok again. Well, it seems to be the same with cycling. The first three miles is the ‘hair of the dog’ and then you’re back in the game.

And if that’s a sign of dependence then I’m a hopeless addict, but I’m way too far gone to quit now… When can I get my next fix?

Ten years and counting

I’ve realized that I now have ten years worth of cycling activity stored as GPS data. Every ride recorded and stored for me to revisit. I can ponder the route and time taken, the average speed and even the temperature and heart rate in more recent years.

There’s plenty to reflect on (and not just that I’m a sad obsessive hoarder of data). When I got my first Garmin 205 GPS computer back in 2008, I was a single man in the grip of the exciting new hobby of mountain biking. I’d yet to rediscover the joys of road cycling, but it was just around the corner. Fast forward ten years and I’m a married man with five bikes. My wife’s got two, so it’s just as well that we’ve bought a house with a garage.

I didn’t anticipate any of that ten years ago, but it’s fair to say that bikes are now an even bigger part of my life than they were back then. Ten years ago I was a disgruntled teacher and manager at a college, living for the buzz of the weekend ride to stock up on good vibes to carry me through another week of work. Along the way I’ve ditched the drudgery of the college and now make most of my living from bikes, as a cycle tour leader, guide, instructor and bike mechanic – who’d have thought it?

But of course the great thing about having all this data is to be able to chart the journey. I can marvel at how much further I now ride each year compared to 2008. Thanks to the joys of Strava I can also see whether I’m getting any faster up the hills. I sometimes ride a route from years ago ‘full-gas’ to prove that age isn’t slowing me down. How many years this pathetic practice will work for I have no idea, as eventually I’ll have to acknowledge the effects of aging and ‘just enjoy the ride’. Will that be a bad thing? Probably not.

Who knows what kind of riding I’ll be doing in 2028. Hopefully I’ll still be riding bikes, but will I have succumbed to an eBike? I’m hoping not, but it’s nice to know the option’s there should health circumstances dictate. Maybe we’ll all be riding hover bikes by then? Of course, all that’s assuming that the motivation’s still there, but what if I lost interest in riding bikes? Years of teaching music eventually put me off ever working in the music industry again, so what if all this bike related work will ultimately have a similar effect? At this point I just can’t see it happening as riding a bike has proved to be the answer to all life’s problems, if at least temporarily. But who knows, maybe I’ll have retrained as an accountant and taken up badminton by 2028. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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New trousers

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.

New Pennine Bridleway tour!

Long time readers will know that I’m a big fan of the Pennine Bridleway. A long distance mountain bike route along the lumpy spine of England is one of the best ideas ever and such is my love of the PBW that I’ve launched my own tour of the route! It’s the first tour under the Peak Pedalling banner, which is the professional arm to these ramblings… Even though it’s the first Peak Pedalling tour, I’m drawing on five years of MTB and road tour guiding experience to make sure everyone has a good time.

So here’s your chance to conquer the Pennines! We’ll look after all the logistics so all you have to do is to enjoy pedalling your favourite mountain bike for four days. The first tour’s happening in September 2017, with numbers are limited to a cosy eight. There’s more dates planned for 2018, including a five day option.

More details at the Peak Pedalling website

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Dover to Cape Where?

Everyone’s heard of Lands End to John O Groat’s and it’s on the bucket list for most UK amateur cyclists. Over the last few years of guiding with Peak Tours we’ve had people from all over the world come to ride the length of our fine land and we’re suitably proud to have them here. However, there’s an alternative ‘end to end’ route of Britain and even in the depths of this dark UK winter, I still have fond memories of guiding on it last August.

Despite guiding ten LEJOG tours, I was a rookie on the Dover to Cape Wrath route, though my partners in crime knew the tour well. It’s fair to say that I’d been looking forward to it, not just for the change of scenery, but because of its reputation as being an even better route than LEJOG.

Here’s the basics: starting at Dover in the south east of England, the tour moves North West through Kent and Essex, past Cambridge, through the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales and up into Scotland. Then the fun really begins as the route makes use of ferries to take you across the Isle of Aaron, back to the mainland, onto the Isle of Skye and then off over the iconic Skye bridge back to the mainland. There’s then still several days of the most staggering scenery you never realized the UK even had, as you follow the West coast through Torridon and Ullapool and up to Durness. The Tour finishes with a passenger ferry over the river to finish the last 15 miles off-road to Cape Wrath, the most North Westerly point of mainland Britain.

At least half the group was made up of previous Peak Tours customers who were back for more. Some of the newbies to Peak Tours had booked the D2CW specifically because of the Scottish section of the route. They had a definite sense of smug anticipation about the second week: an English Munro bagger was pretty excited about the mountains we’d be passing, whilst a Scotsman assured me that West was definitely best. I suspected that it would be spectacular, though to be honest I’d underestimated just how beautiful the West coast of Scotland would be. Yes the riding can be tough, but cresting every hill brought fresh views of giant lochs and mountains. Everything is bigger up there. Imagine the Lake District on steroids and you’re halfway there. White sandy beaches, sightings of seals and dolphins and some incredibly quiet roads. Cycling heaven.

I confess that in my excitement for Scotland, I’d almost discounted the English part of the tour, which was a mistake. The Peak District section was well known to me and the Yorkshire Dales picked some great roads I hadn’t ridden before, but even as a die hard Northerner I had to admit that the route through Kent and Cambridge was picturesque. Honestly, it’s all good!

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control the last 15 miles to Cape Wrath itself proved inaccessible to us on the crucial day. But even with Dover to Cape Wrath rechristened as ‘Dover to Durness’ it was still an amazing two-week tour. Obviously perfect weather helped, as did a great group of riders and not forgetting Nigel and Johnny with whom it was a genuine pleasure to work with.

I came home and immediately put my name down to lead the two 2017 tours – hopefully see you there!

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Quiet roads and big views

 

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Friendly locals

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Every cyclists favourite van

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Classic Dover to Cape Wrath scenery

Switch it off and on again?

If I’m honest with myself, I’ve been struggling with my motivation recently. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed getting out in the hills when I have got on the bike (that never happens), but it’s taken a lot of mental arse-kicking to get me out of the door. Compared to the average couch dweller I’m still in good shape, but by my own standards I feel worn out. It’s been a big year though, with plenty of bike related work and fun and then my wedding in October, so it’s not surprising that I’m knackered really.

Things got worse last week when I came off the bike riding home down an unlit cycle path covered in leaves. I hurt my thumb badly enough to get it x-rayed and even though there’s nothing broken, subsequent attempts at riding have failed miserably.

Oh well I thought, I’ll head out for a run instead – anything to slow the progress of my expanding waistline. The run felt good but the cold winter air aggravated my chest and brought back the annoying cough* that I’d nearly got rid of. It was during a coughing fit that I then pulled a muscle somewhere in my chest and I now feel like I’ve been literally stabbed in the back.

So here I am, running as badly as a cheap Windows PC and grinding to a frustrating halt. With my hardware and software malfunctioning, there’s only one thing to do: I’m going to hit shut-down and then reboot myself in a couple of weeks. I’ll get out for some hill walking instead (safe mode?) but nothing that’s going to get me out of breath or cause me any more injuries. There’s another purpose to the walking, which I’ll reveal at a later date.

Even the pro cyclists have an off-season when they let themselves go and leave the bike alone for a while. I think it should do me some good as well. Some time off the bike will give my body a rest and then I’ll miss the cycling and be gagging to get back on the bike again. Hopefully I’ll still be able to fit into my cycling kit when I do get back on the bike…

 

* My wife has made particular reference to my cough being annoying.

Some days it just ain’t happening

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:

  1. Turn around and go home in a sulk
  2. Finish the planned route at any cost
  3. 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…

Fred Whitton Challenge number five

The emotive sound of clanging cowbells and cheering crowds. It was almost loud enough to drown out the screaming coming from my legs as I crested yet another Lakeland pass. Yep, I was riding the Fred Whitton Challenge again. Friends and long term readers will know of my ongoing goal to get round in under seven hours. Would this be the year when everything fell into place?

My training had been substantial. A huge amount of riding and running during the spring had got my weight down to an all time low, with a recent visit to Tenerife to finish off the preparation. The truth was though, I just wasn’t feeling super-motivated leading up to the event. I wasn’t sure whether it was general fatigue or a touch of over-training, or maybe I just wasn’t up for these kinds of events anymore. Touring commitments had prevented me entering any events last year and it was all feeling unfamiliar.

The weather can play a huge role in the Fred. After several years of dangerously cold, wet and windy conditions, everyone had been praying for fine spring weather and it looked like our prayers had been answered. I set off feeling good and my Garmin was telling me that I was saving time on every section of the course. The weather was also presenting the Lake District in all it’s stunning glory, with Ullswater still and misty like a giant water colour painting to my right. No time to stop for photos though.

Some cycling snobs turn their noses up at paying to ride an event on open roads, pointing out that you can turn up and ride the route any time you want. That’s true, but you can’t put a price on the crowds who turn out to cheer everyone on, regardless of whether they know you or not. It really is part of the local calendar now and unlike many modern sportives, all the profits go to charity. Everyone’s a winner.

By 85 miles, I was way in front of my previous best and totally on pace to achieve the sub-seven. And that’s exactly when it all started to unravel. Despite filling both water bottles at the feed stop five miles ago, I’d been playing catch up with my hydration, and now I’d nearly emptied both bottles again. Worse, my right leg started cramping – a worrying sensation as you make your way towards Hard Knott pass. That warm weather I’d been praying for was taking it’s toll on me, and to make matters worse, a hot headwind was blowing hard as the route headed inland from the coast. I’m not great in the heat (thats’ growing up in Northern England for you) and as we approached ‘the big one’ the temperature was up to 25ºc and I really wasn’t feeling great.

Hard Knott pass is never easy, even when you’re fresh. I definitely wasn’t feeling fresh, but having done it ten times before I knew I just had to dig in, ignore the pain and get it done. The first half of the climb was probably the worst 10 minutes I’ve ever spent on a bike. Both quads were now cramping every time I got out of the saddle, but with gradients over 25% there wasn’t really any alternative. I was pleased to survive the first ramps and get to the middle section where the gradients ease off to just plain ‘steep’. I was in trouble though, with diminishing control of my legs and the road about to rear up to 30% again.

I’ve never pushed up Hard Knott pass before (or any other road climb) but on the next hairpin my legs defiantly let me know that they weren’t up for any more of this abuse. With a spasm so violent that I only just managed to unclip and get off the bike, I frantically tried to stretch them out to get them under control at the side of the road. I’d always been a rider who’d battle through the pushers, proudly riding up the steep ramps whilst taking the cheers of the crowd. Now I was on the side of the road, barely even able to push the bike. I felt sick, dizzy, frustrated, but most of all exhausted. I could feel my sub-seven hour ride disappearing as I pushed my bike to the top with wobbly legs. Despite having kept the calories coming in all day, I felt as weak as a kitten and I was in a mess. There was still Wrynose pass to tackle but it was the same miserable scenario. I could definitely kiss goodbye to my goal.

I limited my losses on the rolling section to the finish, crossing the line with a time of 7h 21m. Though initially gutted, as the evening (and beers) went on I knew I’d still done ok and that I am capable of the sub-seven. My time put me 242nd out of 2100 finishers, which is in the top 12%. Better than last time, though if I’d been able to ride the last two passes like I usually do then I would have been nicely under seven hours.

I’d been telling people that whatever my result, I wasn’t entering again and that I needed to leave this Fred Whitton obsession behind. Who am I kidding?

Trying to hold it together on hard Knott

Trying to hold it together on Hard Knott…