April 2012 Mileage Summary

OK, time to admit it – the whole “30 days of biking” thing didn’t really work. As it turns out, I’m actually allergic to getting rained on, and the weather this month has been atrocious!

On the whole, I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping I’d beat last month’s total of 150 miles, but oh well. On the up side, considering I’ve only been out 13 times to manage 140 miles isn’t entirely terrible, and both my average speed and my ability to ride distances has improved dramatically. Just as well, really, considering I’m doing FNRttC on Friday!

In particular I’ve hardly commuted by bike at all this month. I know that I should, but I’m really not a morning person and that extra half an hour in bed is really needed. On the weight front, at 15 st 9 lbs I’ve only lost two pounds all month. Not really good enough.

Targets for next month? To be honest, I’m happy with the way my fitness and speed/distance is improving, but I really do need to shift some weight. Less cake, more healthy food I guess.

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Bits and Bobs – Lidl Spoke Reflectors

Lidl are currently (from 19th April 2012, usually for a week or two or until it runs out) carrying a range of cycling “sports essentials”. Apparently they’re all fairly useful for the price, but in particular I picked up a chain cleaning device and some SUPER DISCO SPOKE REFLECTORS!

(apologies for the rubbish video quality, but it was taken on a cameraphone with the lights out so that the flash would pick up the reflectors)

Fitting them is amazingly easy – they just pop over the spokes and grip onto them strongly – and as you can see, when they catch the light they are proper bright. And as I’m sure you’ve guessed as they’re from Lidl, they were pretty cheap too at just £4 per pack. One on each spoke uses just under a full pack per wheel and gives an almost solid disc look at even low speeds but I’m sure that creative patterns could mean that a single pack could easily cover a whole bike or even a trike.

In particular, I’ve bought and fitted so many for the comedy overkill factor at Critical Mass London next Friday, but depending on how “disco” they look in real circumstances I may take a few off for my FNRttC ride to Southend the week after.

Inspiration – Time-trialling

Despite the apparent lack of results so far (to be blamed, entirely, on cake and pizza) one of my main motivations for returning to cycling is to get fitter, thinner and faster. I should be clear – I’ve long since given up on actually being fit, thin or fast but relative improvements are better than nothing.

That said, I’m really not that competitive a person by nature. I’m never going to win the Tour de France, and I’m not likely to ever even enter a road race. And I genuinely don’t care whether I’m faster than anyone else. All I really want is to compete against myself. I want to be better than I am now, and so… Yeah. I’m going to have to enter some kind of race, aren’t I. Shit.

And so, on to time-trialling. In theory, you just turn up at a lay-by, give a bloke with a tin a couple of quid for a race number, and then riders start off at two-minute intervals and ride along public roads for ten miles. The rules are fairly simple: bring a road-worthy bike, helmet and lights; ride within the law; and no drafting off the back of other riders. You then arrive, legs aching and lungs screaming for mercy, where there’s another person with a stopwatch to tell you how much you sucked.

Of course in practice it’s as complex as you want to make it. There are fancy aerodynamic TT bikes, silly handlebars and fancy wheels, carbon fibre everything, energy gels and super-tight lycra skinsuits for the serious lot but ultimately it’s just you and the bike with nowhere to hide. Which, for me at least, is bloody scary. But at least my first go is guaranteed to be a personal best!

(My first time trial, if I don’t wimp out, will be the Swindon RC come-and-try event on June 14th. I’ll be sure to let you know how slow I am after the event – assuming I survive!)

Sunday Fun Ride: Going around in circles…

Actually this isn’t a Sunday Fun Ride – partly because it wasn’t that fun in the end, and partly because I did it yesterday!

I’ve been repeating the same 28-mile route that I’ve blogged about before. It’s fairly straightforward, it’s a nice length that I’m comfortable with, and it lets me compare my times to see how I’m progressing. And yesterday’s ride started off much the same as it usually does. The first three mile stretch is both the start of this route and my commute to the office, so it’s nice to leave the house and pretty much just ride on autopilot while my brain wakes up and my legs loosen. After that, it’s a quick dice over the M4 and then out into the Wiltshire countryside towards Wroughton.

However, by the time I got back over the motorway and back into Swindon, my energy started to drop off quite quickly and by the time I’d winched myself up Piper’s Way I was wishing I’d brought some chocolate with me. Nevertheless I persevered. The “real” beginning of the end came when I got to Greenbridge and realised that between the tinted lenses in my sunglasses, the impending ominous clouds and my lack of lights meant that I probably couldn’t get around the full 28 miles before the light ran out. Disappointed (but secretly a little thankful) I turned back and headed on a more direct route home, trimming just over ten miles off the route and getting home in a smidge over 70 minutes overall.

Of course, sod’s law meant that as soon as I’d got home and took my bike shoes off the clouds cleared a little and the sun came back out. Naturally after a ten minute sit-down I was completely grief-ridden (haha!) and so I really had no choice. Shoes back on, water bottle refilled, and back out on the road.

And just like having a few beers, switching to soft drinks and then starting on the booze again it’s never as good as the first time.  Stiff empty legs, and a complete inability to climb even the slightest incline left me complaining under my breath, a mood which wasn’t helped by getting utterly scalped by some shaven-legged roadie probably twice my age and twice as fit on the run from the M4 into Wroughton.

Despite my crappness as climbing hills on a bike, Piper’s Way isn’t actually that steep and I can usually get up it in one go quite easily. Not so the second time around. It might as well have been the Col du Swindon. Almost straight away I found myself desperate for lower gears than I had, I was barely beating walking pace and my legs were screaming for mercy. And by the time I got to Coate Water I would have quite happily stopped rather than climb up through Dorcan to Greenbridge. But I persevered, and once I got to Greenbridge for the second time I knew that it was almost all downhill from there to home. Phew!

Even knowing that my Cateye Velo computer paused the clock when I stopped to catch my breath a couple of times on the second lap, I was surprised that I was only ten minutes slower the second go than the first. Not bad considering how broken I felt! But it was really good to have improved on my “big ride” mileage by a couple of miles. Total summary:

Lap 1: 16.69 miles in 1:10.46 (14.15 mph)

Lap 2: 16.70 miles in 1:22.20 (12.17 mph)

Overall: 33.39 miles in 2:32.66 (13.08 mph)

The N+1 Dilemma

Rule #12

 // The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.

While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

It’s beginning to occur to me that despite being an incredibly adaptable bike, even my beloved Tricross has limits and it can’t be all things to all men.

The last few weeks have been lovely and sunny, and I haven’t been doing much “utility” cycling, so the bike has gradually migrated into full-on “roadie” mode: double-sided SPD pedals, lowered stem, skinny(ish) slick tyres, no rack, no mudguards, etc. Which is fine, until I want to just scoot over to Tesco without spending half an hour finding my SPD shoes, getting changed, and so on.

Now I suppose I could put all the “winter commuter” stuff back on the bike, but then I’d lose the fun sporty side of it and that would really be a shame. And it takes so long to fettle around with it that it isn’t really practical to keep messing around every time the weather or my intentions change.

So… I suppose (with a slightly cheeky grin) I’m just going to have to buy another bike! But what to choose?

To be continued…

Bits and bobs – Runkeeper

For those who don’t know me too well, I’ll come straight out and admit it: I’m a massive geek.

In particular, I like gadgets and stats and stuff like that. I also like to see how I’m progressing in whatever I’m doing. For cycling, that means stuff like logging my mileage and time, and often wanting to know where I’ve been and how I got there.

And this is where Runkeeper steps in. It’s really a gadget in two parts – one, a rather nifty smartphone app (available for Android, iOS and my current phone platform Windows Phone 7) which uses the GPS chip built into nearly all modern phones to track where you’ve ridden, then uploads it to the web app so you can log in, review your rides, and see all sorts of stats:

It’s really nothing groundbreaking, and I’m sure my usage only scratches the surface, but it’s still pretty nifty. Apparently it can give you audio cues as you ride (or run) for a bit of motivation but I’m not keen on cycling with earphones in – Swindon’s resident knuckle-dragging Audi drivers are dangerous enough when I can hear them coming!

Obviously it’s not perfect – I’m not convinced of the accuracy of the GPS altitude readings, it can chomp through battery life like you wouldn’t believe, and I don’t like the idea of mounting my smartphone to my bars so it sits unattended in a jersey pocket until I get home. Because of this, it’s no replacement for a standard bike computer (mine’s a Cateye Velo Wireless mounted to my stem) and I don’t use it for every ride, just where I’m interested in the “where was I?” question as much as just “how far?” and “how fast?”. But for a free app, it’s a bit of fun and it’s worth a tinker with.

What are your must-have cycling gadgets?

About the Bike

All of The Rules are fun to read (and most of them ring worryingly true) but in particular,
Rule #4 // It’s all about the bike.

It is, absolutely, without question, unequivocally, about the bike.

And this is mine. It’s a near-standard 2010 Specialized Tricross Sport Triple:

I’ve only tinkered with it a little bit – swapping the cheap’n’nasty flat pedals the bike shop put on with some Shimano SPDs, flipping the stem over to lower the bars a bit and give a slightly sportier position, and changing the standard Borough CX hybrid tyres with some faster-rolling 28mm All Condition Armadillo road rubber.

Accessory-wise it’s currently pretty light – just a Cateye Velo Wireless computer, a tiny saddle pouch with a spare tube, levers and a multitool and a mini-pump on one of the bottle mounts. Winter (boo! hiss!) will see the return of the hybrid tyres and full bolt-on mudguards, while for commuting I have a quick-release seatpost mounted rack and some cheap panniers from Go Outdoors.

For me, it’s pretty much the ideal do-everything bike. It’s light enough to be fast for summer fun (and to give me half a chance up hills) yet sturdy enough to go almost anywhere, or to load up with panniers full of groceries or work gear. At some point the n+1 bug will bite and I’ll buy something newer and more shiny, but for now I love my bike.

Inspiration – Friday Night Ride To The Coast

One of the reasons I love cycling is the massive variety in how you can do it. From commuting and pootling to the pub, nipping to the shops, towing the kids to the park in a trailer, all the way to velodromes, time trials, blingy carbon bikes and the insane world of long distance events like Land’s End to John O’Groats or Paris-Brest-Paris.

I don’t do nearly all of these things, and to be honest I don’t want to right now. Some take more fitness than I have right now, some need more money or organisation or planning than I can muster. But there’s so many things I do want to do, and this is one of them – FNRttC, or the Friday Night Ride to the Coast:

It’s a beautifully simple idea. Organised by The Fridays, riders “leave Hyde Park Corner at midnight under a full moon and ride through the night at a conversational pace, arriving at the coast in time for breakfast”.

At about 60 miles (depending on the route and destination) I think I need to build up a little more stamina, but it’s definitely on my to-do list for this summer if I can get the legs for it. I can’t think of many better ways to build up an appetite before a full English!

30 Days of Biking

I only actually stumbled across 30daysofbiking.com today, but seeing as I went for a ride yesterday I suppose I can make it count towards it retrospectively!

The idea is simple – just a public commitment to ride your bike, every day, for the whole of April. It doesn’t matter whether it’s road riding or mountain biking, Lands End to John O’Groats or just down the road to the shops, fast or slow. All that counts is that you just ride your bike.

Today’s ride was only a short one, at less than five miles and just over twenty minutes, but it was so nice to get out of the house. It also gave me a chance to tackle one of my arch-enemies – a hill.

The particular mountain in question – which I’m renaming the Col du Swindon – was a short sharp grind up Victoria Road, which at its worst seems to be about a 14% gradient. I would probably have been quicker to get off and walk, but that wasn’t the point. I gritted my teeth, sucked in as much air as I could, and kept spinning until I’d winched myself to the top.

All in all, it wasn’t much – but it was the first noteworthy hill I’ve braved this year so it was a good start. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll be dancing up Hackpen Hill and off to Marlborough like I meant to do the other day…