Thursday, 31 December 2009


When snow arrives the schoolboy cheers and grabs his sleigh, the cyclist on the other hand cries 'no' and rages against the gods. Snow, you see, is the ultimate enemy. You can get out on the bike in the wind, just grit your teeth and bare it; there are even those who love a bit of mucky weather - they are usually Belgian and ride bikes specially designed to get rid of mud easily. But snow, no. Snow means being 'stuck indoors'. There are are a number of ways to deal with this impasse - go snowballing with the kids, laugh it off and try to stay away from the treacherous pavements; book a ski-ing holiday in the Alps and throw yourself entirely into the snow theme or get the turbo out.

The turbo, for those uninitiated in such things, is a device for turning a bike into a stationary bike. In effect you turn your front room into a gym, but without the buffed up babes and nice showers. A turbo is cycling without the fun - a machine designed to make you sweat and leave nasty stains on the front room carpet. It is noisy, hard work and very little fun. I usually position it in front of the telly and watch old Tour De France videos in an attempt to feel like I am cycling against the greats - it works for about a minute!

Of course a truly dedicated turbo rider has a state of the art machine which is set up to replicate stages of legendary races, the resistance on the back making it feel like you are actually climbing Ventoux in your living room/garage/one room flat, it is linked to a pc spouting data like crazy - power in watts, heart rate, cadence but it's still a turbo.

And then there are those that hook up their turbos to the world wide web and race people from all over the globe. I am sure that there are pleasures to be gained from beating a bloke from Iceland at 3 am while all around are in their jamas but it's not for me.

When the snow finally cleared enough to ride I took the fixed out for a spin. You may wonder why I would take a bike without 'proper brakes' out on roads that still had wedges of ice still upon them but the answer is pretty simple - the fixed is fun to ride, providing a pretty constant response at all times with very little reason to get out of your seat and thus the bum stays planted and weight is kept over the back wheel, making it as stable as anything. And did I mention it's fun?

When i chat to older blokes about owning a fixed their eyes often mist up and they start to tell me about their teenage days when riding a fixed was standard for just about every lad on the block. They chat about chain inches - just how big their front cog was, how tiny their back cog was, the times they nearly killed themselves coming down hills - how they rode with neither back nor front brakes. My dad, in fact told me that he used to wait for a bus at a stop and then follow in its slipstream all the way over to Stevenage to meet his future wife (and my future mum) on his fixed. He rode a couple of inches from the back of the speeding vehicle with the conductor gesticulating wildly for him to back off as they approached a stop. He claimed a ridiculous 58x11 - a gear Chris Hoy would have been proud to use and something an ordinary cyclist would find hard to even get started, you'd need thighs that could crack walnuts - maybe age has amplified that gearing?

It's no wonder the fixed works so well in an urban environment, a low maintenance machine that is light and nippy enough to negotiate the traffic. It's faster than public transport - a twenty minute tube journey is cut to five on the bike and you see so much more - zipping back from Tokyo Fixed's new store (nice!!!) to 14 Bike Co over at Truman's Brewery would be a good 40 mins on bus/tube/walk but under 15 on the fixed (ok there was a wrong way down a one way street and a couple of gentle rolls through reds but generally in a relatively flat city like London it's surely the only way to travel)- we went past the cruisers on Old Compton Street, the shoppers on Oxford Street, the distracted academes by the BM, round past the truly batty and beautiful John Soanes Museum, straight past the pap of St Paul's and into the Gherkin heart of the City before scooting to a stop just past Huguenot weaver's houses on the edge of Brick Lane. The feeling of exhilaration from that kind of ride is a difficult buzz to beat. And they look supernice as well.

Monday, 9 November 2009


If you have never seen this guy before, well, wow...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Breakfast of the Champions

Cyclists are fussy fellows. The more obsessive of them have been known to weigh each mouthful of food before cooking, write down the number of calories consumed and factor in how many hours on a turbo will rid us of it. The cycling mags are full of advice on nutrition - which supplements to take to help fast muscle twitch; new studies into the right percentage of protein in relation to carbs; how many litres of sports' gloop to drink whilst riding; the value of green tea in relation to lactic build up and countless countless other handy hints.

As the wind bites and the legs flag out there a middle aged man's mind turns to breakfast. Most start the ride with something in them. I favour a bowl of porridge and a cup of rocket fuel strength coffee. Others prefer a hastily stuffed banana, whilst other still prefer to suckle on gels with donkey spunk-like consistency . But all know that these are merely hors d'oevre to the main breakfast. The fuel that only the virtuous can truly consume.

If not all rides lead to Barling, all rides end up in front of a pot of tea and, hopefully, food. Some swear by cake and I can see its attractions - there is only one thing the English do better than cake - preferably coffee and walnut in artery hardening slabs. But, for me, I truly need something a bit more, erm...substantial.

The true home of the Leigh Riders, as we have decided to call ourselves, is The Barge(prop Jason White, one of Essex's finest cyclists himself). One of a row of cafes built into arches under a sloping road, this is the spiritual heartland for us. As we arrive, the waitress dumps an urn of tea which she regularly replenishes with nary a word of complaint and then listens to our specific dietary requirements - brown or white, poached or scrambled, can i have that with mushrooms and not tomatoes, any chance of a river of brown sauce? There's as many breakfast varieites as there are cyclists.

We sit and the steam slowly rises from us, in states of undress, the early morning denizens of the cafe slightly bemused by grown men in skin tight lycra and socks over their shoes, we devour on the Barge's finest, regardless. The talk turns ribald, the day's near misses, leg fades and moments of heroism relived. It's a time to hear arcane component talk, regale each other with opinions about the latest edition of Cycling Weekly and generally talk bollocks before we re-climb on to our bikes and slowly slink back up the hill and back to our grown up lives and families.

thanks to MF for the photos

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Fixie Fun

Because it's the holidays I have a lot of time on my hands to watch all manner of nonsense on youtube. Check this out:

Friday, 14 August 2009


Permit me a few more pictures of my latest toy:
Look at those flanges!!!

Thursday, 13 August 2009


My latest toy...
... built by the guys at 14 bike co in Truman's Brewery, just off Brick Lane
Gran compe hubs
Tange headset
Sugino crank set
Nitto bar and stem
Steel frame by 14 bike - Reynolds 631
Power Grip pedals

Expect my first post about fixeds to be about how easy it is to seriously injure yourself whilst scratching your bum and forgetting to pedal!


Richard Williams, one of cycling's finest writers finished his Tour de France reports this year like this:

"With the end of the Tour de France," the novelist Paul Fournel wrote, "the summer reaches its moment of sadness: long, hot afternoons and no longer anything to get your teeth into."

For anyone with even a passing interest in cycling then Le Tour is the centrepoint of the year. 21 days of racing around one of the most beautiful countries in the world. 21 different battles. Obviously the fight for yellow grabs, quite rightly, the attention, but like a well made drama there are sub stories bubbling away. This year for us brits there were two great stories that developed as the weeks went on - would Cav get green and would Wiggins hold on for a top ten place. As it was Wiggins surpassed even the most optimistic with a fourth place, equalling Robert Millar's heroics back in the nineties. Most heroically holding on to his position as he fought his way back into contention on the lunar landscape of Ventoux - infamously the site of Tommy Simpson's demise and where the wind can knock a man sideways.

Cav didn't get green but did rack up six wins, many mutter that the race commissars purposely judged him harshly, docking valuable points for unfair practices in the home straight but the truth is that, at present, he is the fastest man in the world, and he is British!

I was pondering on the rightness of the French being custodians of the greatest race. After all the birthplace of revolution seems somehow apt. after all, don't we all try and live by the three tenets of 1789? Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite? For what gives us greater freedom than the bike itself. Unchaining us from our desks and commuter lives. Allowing us the chance to soar and dream. Climbing hills and feeling like Brad on Verbier. Surely if that isn't 'Liberte', then what is? The bike makes us free, liberates the worker from work, gives us autonomy and the opportunity to move under our own efforts. It is the instrument of the working class pedaling away from their smog filled towns and into the freedom of the open air. Graeme Fife called it 'the beautiful machine' and he is right, beautiful in its simplicity and beautiful in what it has to offer.

And what of 'Egalite'? Well, I would argue that there is no greater leveller than the bike. It is no respecter of reputations and what our workaday lives might remunerate us for. The banker can ride side by side with binman and all that matters is whether one can take their turn at the front into the wind. The phrase 'don't you know who I am?' is entirely irrelevant on the bike. Your reputation, bank balance, posh office aren't going to help you much. It's down to how much is left in your legs and whether you can convince yourself to dig that bit deeper. In our group we have City workers, carpenters, teachers, taxmen, artists and countless other ways of getting paid. Yet I believe we are all equal through the bike.

Fraternite? Those self same blokes are a brotherhood of sorts. First to offer a spare inner tube, to drop back and ride with those who have blown up. Pop round with books and mags when bones are broken. For all the rugged individualism that cycling can engender there is definitely a feeling that riding in a gang creates a sense of togetherness, a sense of fraternal friendship. We know that if one of us had a chain snap in the middle of nowhere that we have a list of names in our phones that we could rely on to turf out and get us home.

So, when they stormed the Bastille and brought down the repressive Monarchy of Louis XVIII little did the Parisians know that within just over a hundred years they would be giving birth to greatest sporting spectacle that manages to survive despite the best efforts of some of its more stupid partcicipants...but that is another story.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Spring Classics

Come April and I am usually stuck in a classroom trying to get a bunch of kids to face up to the fact that examinations are rapidly approaching. Then there is the marking, the demands for extra lessons and the frenzied writing of reports. In fact, if you are not careful you can miss the start of spring completely.

Fortunately I have a great view of a row of conker trees right outside my classroom window to remind me that the world is wakening once more. And with this comes the unmistakeable fact that it's time to start getting an evening ride in now the light is good.

To sneak off at the close of day, togged out in my finest Rapha, shaking off the lycra jokes from close minded colleagues is a particular joy. As each pedal stroke pushes me further from work and into the countryside, I can feel work leaving my mind. Before long I am amidst the froth of hawthorn, the frilly pink blossoms of apple and pear trees and the unmistakeable daub of rape seed. Suddenly, the body responds, Spring lifts and the suppleness that had been missing all through winter returns.

These are generally solo rides and are accompanied by the rider's great friend - the iPod shuffle. Now I know some who say that riding while listening to music is tantamount to signing a death warrant but done carefully it can change the way you whip through the countryside. One ear in, like race radio and with the volume loud enough to still hear psychotic BMW drivers behind, it truly is a gift. However, it does take quite some skill to work out what to put on the thing - just because you like Kate Bush doesn't mean you want to hear her reminding you not to give up when your legs are burning from one too many hills; jazz is all well and good but when the wind is on the sea front Dave Brubeck's jaunty swing isn't going to cut it. No, Kraftwerk knew what they were doing when they combined their motorik sound to the beautiful machine in Tour De France.

Many is the time that the lucky accident of the shuffle segues one great track to another - The curly haired boogie of T.Rex's Children of the Revolution moving smoothly into New Order's Temptation and then whacking the tempo up with It's Tricky by Run DMC. The miles are flying by, the cadence matching the bpm and the all those natural chemicals soar through the veins. You can do anything in this state, certainly squeeze in that extra loop and still be home before your dinner is spoilt. Maybe even race this year...

Obviously, the other great thing about Spring is the return to proper bike racing. The Spring Classics are one day races in France, Belgium and The Netherlands usually involving particularly nasty stretches of road that are either cobbled, steep or both. The most famous is Roubaix as immortalised in One Sunday in Hell, a beautifully shot movie which poetically describes the carnage of the race from St Denis just outside Paris to a velodrome not far from Lille. Stories abound of its awfulness, my favourite being riders claiming to still be peeing blood days after the event because their insides had been jostled around so much on the cobbled patches of the course.

To win a Classic is do something special, to join the very elite of the sport. Interstingly Lance was never interested in such events, his eyes firmly on the one thing that mattered to him - Le Tour. This year saw something pretty special for all british cycling fans - for only the second time in history we had a winner of a Classic - Cavendish at Milan/San Remo. Very little got written about it by the UK press which is an almighty shame. Strangely enough more coverage has come for Victoria Pendleton who has taken her kit off to get on the front of FHM!

Anyway, finally, Spring heralds the return of the long ride and with that comes the poor excuse for being late back home. For while we can all prattle on about the pave, we know the road to our own hell is paved with good intentions and we're all building our dog houses brick by brick, deed by deed. I think every male cyclist has spent many a sunday varnishing the kennel - whether it's for turning up hours later than agreed, forgetting that guests were due for dinner, falling asleep at a social occasion, taking cycling more seriously than family, receipts for new kit discovered in pockets ("How much? For that? Have you completely taken leave of your senses?") or leaving a trail of chain lube smeared across the conservatory floor and many more. Free passes to the dog house, everyone.

Spring, it makes you glad to be alive.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Papermill Lock

Every cyclist is a weather prophet. They haunt websites for signs of a break in the cold; they share tips on where the most reliable forecasts reside; they invest in indoor/outdoor thermometers in the hope of gauging what they need to wear for their weekend jaunts. And still when they turn up for a ride half will claim to be under-dressed and the others will be over-heating.

The sun has decided to appear, the temperature is nudging towards double digits and the layers are slowly being peeled away. Like the first flowers of spring, those gaudy crocuses – the fair weather cyclists return to the fold, they have wintered out, gone skiing instead, gone jogging or just stayed in bed. The group has swelled once more and the good bikes are brought out of the bubble wrap.

However, there is still that ever present fear of the weather. The concern over the cold is replaced by bitter complaints about the spring winds. Half a ride can be spent disagreeing about which direction it is coming from, where it will be on the way home and the best route to take to avoid the worst of it. And yet the end of the ride is always spent breaking your heart into a howling gale on the sea front.

Then again there are the other times when the wind drops and we take off for somewhere new. Last weekend, we meet early, seven of us all with open ended passes. No need to rush back, kids taken care of by indulgent partners. We spin out past the usual routes, no Barling for us today. Instead it’s out to the north of the county. Before long we have the roads to ourselves, we ride two abreast, keeping an eye on the surfaces we roll along – the recent bad weather having opened up cavernous potholes which could snap a fork, puncture a tyre or even knock you off your bike.

We know it’s along one and for the first couple of hours we keep it sensible but it’s not long before CF charges off the front, then we are all scrambling to get a wheel the gentle 18 mph replaced by 24 and heavy breathing, the peleton spread all over the road and very few of us clear about where we are going.

Fortunately, we stop mid ride for a cuppa. The lads are good and merely have a teacake but I’m not turning down an opportunity to devour a rather delicious slice or two of Victoria sponge. The talk turns to the beauty of the location – Papermill Lock. A genuine working lock, complete with longboats and picture postcard looks. The only down side is that we are back down at sea level and have one of the largest hills in Essex to climb before we can even think about the next twenty-five miles home.

We lumber up, each picking a gear which will suffice – some go for the powering up approach, others go for the spinning gear – a big dinner plate on the back. All try to make sure it’s not their final gear – the granny gear still there in reserve. Then TLV decides to take off and it’s all on again. People swear as they clunk into the big chain ring and attempted to move from the slow regular rhythm of climbing into the high tempo churning of sprinting.

It is a devastation from which the peleton does not recover. We spend the next hour in pairs wondering where others have got to as we enter into the fourth and fifth hour of riding. CF and I put on a final spurt as we realise that no-one is near us. We push it through the lanes of Battlesbridge. Thighs now screaming with lactic build up. Laurent Fignon used to describe a particularly hard training ride as ‘Going to meet the man with the hammer’ and today I think I may well have glimpsed him as I finish my final water bottle and realise I am still forty minutes from home.

I stand up for the last slope, breathing deeply, my shoulders hurting as I start to grip the bike too hard and I hear CF’s chain come off. I slow turn to turn round but it’s not slipped off, it’s broken in two. The man with the hammer taking direct action. It’s some relief to stop and chat, eat a cereal bar and wait for Big D to turn up with his van. We review the ride, glorying in not merely doing the 70 miles but having such a lovely day to do it in.

The van arrives and I spurn the chance to put my bike in the back, instead I climb back on, the light of virtue in my eyes. I’m coming home under my own steam. Hammered but unbowed.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


"No, that'll do me fine." I said and CF just looked at me and laughed. He'd heard it all before. The novice cyclist claiming that the bike under him was just perfect, no alterations necessary. No need to get involved in the world of kit.

A few weeks after this exchange I found myself in a newsagents waiting for a train. I took down a copy of Cycling Weekly (otherwise known as the comic) and the die was cast. A mag full of kit, most of which I didn't fully know where it went on a bike. What was a bottom bracket? Stems? Seat posts? and why did people need ones different from the ones they got with their bikes? After all I had just spent the best part of £700 on my Trek 1200, surely it didn't need anything to make it any more lovely.

The pedals were the first thing I replaced, I think I thought that they would be the only thing I needed, I had been getting a sore knee and the blokes nodded sagely and said "pedals", who was I to argue. Then someone was flogging a second hand pair of wheels cheap, I thought "Why not, everyone says that wheels and tyres are the key". And well, after that, if you are going to spend a long time on the bike, a decent saddle is important - what's £70 when your comfort is involved?

And well, it's not long before you're looking at that perfect bike and thinking, it's nice but it's really a winter bike. So that fateful day when I fell in love with the 5.2 Madone - in red. that last bit is important. It's not known by me as the Madone, although I regularly thank Mary for the beauty of it. No, it's the 'red bike' and it cost me close to £2000. It's called the Madone after a hill in Nice. I once went up part of it on a bus and nearly passed out from the vertiginous nature of the beast. Lance went up it in record time on the prototype of my bike. It's a good name, the BVM is supposed to be the patron saint of cyclists and when the legs are screaming it's worth remembering.

Of course even the perfection of the red bike needed some alteration - a new set of wheels (they were going cheap, I would have been a fool not to have snapped them up), a new stem and handlebar - carbon, ergonomically designed - obviously improving my performance no end. A new chain and cassette. I have got my eye on some new cranks.

But maybe the more extreme change in my attitude to kit is in the clothes. I used to turn up in Ultura gear - cheap and durable kit and quite frankly perfectly serviceable. However, the pressure of the peleton soon led me to start looking at the kit I had once winced at the prices of. I did buy a team kit - Saunier Duval top and shorts. I really thought that I had arrived. In my mind I was David Millar. It was only when MF said very loudly and quite cruelly, yet correctly, that he could see my pubes through the white front of the shorts that I realised why Mr Millar had chosen to jump ship and join a more sensibly trousered team.

But when the red bike arrived, everything changed. I needed kit to match the prestige of the bike. And it needed to be red. So now I entered the period where my gloves are red, my socks are red, my sunglasses are even red. But maybe more to the point I have discovered Rapha red.

Rapha are the acme of cycle clothes. In fact we are the ponces of the peleton. Overpriced and no longer made over here, Rapha likes to think of itself harking back to a golden age of tifosi. All merino wool and sans helmets. However, you have got to love the gear. I have a Rapha top, a Rapha jacket and am seriously looking at shorts and a jersey for the summer. What credit crunch? There's no point keeping the money in the bank. As I like to say to my wife, I could be out doing coke. Or even worse, playing golf.

Now I open the comic and think, hmm...maybe that's just waht i need, a carbon seat post clamp - it'll make all teh difference, then no more need for anymore kit. Honest, CF, honest.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Off and Abandon

Cycling and mucky weather. It's not for everyone. Lance, for example, has never had a go at Roubaix, the ride made famous by the fact that the tracks of northern France, where the ride ends, are made up of blocks of pave - cuboid chunks of cobble - which bounce cyclists off the road, crack front forks and leave riders peeing blood for days after. And that can be on a good day. Usually, of course, it's chucking it down with rain and the cobbles make pro riders look like dogs on wet lino. The Prince of Le Tour shakes his head when offered the chance to join cycling's immortals and maybe none of us should blame him.

So, it's been snowing this week, the thermometer by my bed hasn't shown a positive value all week, the little green light notifying possible icy conditions has been working overtime and schools have had to close for fear of the new bogey man - Health and Safety. Undeterred, a few of us roll up at 8 - big D in his road man's beard , CF, JF, K and NS. None too keen to get going we wait expecting others to arrive but they have all pulled their sheets over their heads today and it's just us.

A 45 seems like a good idea and as we roll out along the sea front the mood in the peleton is good. Lots of admiring glances at Big D's Mercian and chatter about the number of layers each of us is wearing.

The first sign that maybe things are not quite right is when the puddles at the edge of the road look like the bottoms of beer glasses - thick ice, undisturbed by any sun for quite some days. The talk turns to times we have fallen off. I point out to JF the place where I hit CF's back wheel and slid half way across the road in my new jacket. How I spent that night in a fever of speculation on how much worse the accident could have been - a broken collarbone at the very least, a cracked wrist or a thud into an oncoming car.

As we turn off the main road and past the duckpond, the temperature drops as if we have gone through a frozen curtain and these least used roads are much icier. I slow down and move to the back of the group and try and find a clean line through. We always joke about this stretch as being like a mini Belgium - open fields, a cruel wind and rotten roads. Roubaix in Essex.

When someone goes down it is no surprise, one of us was due a tumble. The surprise is that it is not me and that it is Big D. And being at the back, I have the perfect view. His front tyre rolls over the ice before he can even see it but his back tyre isn't straight and there it is, he's over. Luckily, he lands firmly on his thigh, and maybe more luckily, he doesn't rip any of his clothes. He stands there and takes our sympathy but you can see he is annoyed with himself. The off a judgement on his ability and while this is not true it is very difficult not to feel that you could have done more, you could have prevented it. But really he couldn't have, not today, not even the great Mercyx - the Cannibal of Roubaix could have stopped that spill.

From that moment on the group is silent, every corner a potential disaster, the shoulders tighten, the handling stiffens and every patch of black on the road is possible ice. When I finally shout that I am heading back, my nerve gone, it is not long before the others agree. The ride back is slow, no idle chatter on the seafront now. An abandon is serious business. We only get out twice a week at this time of the year and having to come back home in all our gear after less than an hour's worth of riding is a depressing thing indeed.

Still, there is always tomorrow, I hear the forecast is supposed to be better...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Hoe Lane

Not every ride is a Barling in disguise. Every week there is some one agitating for a longer ride. A ride that has something more to offer than the flat expanse of littorial Essex. When those voices win, we go out to Hoe Lane.

Essentially we head away to the old A130. Winding our way down lanes towards the antique shops selling pine stripped boxes and over pricedfrills of ancient lace in Battlesbridge. Out to the nightmare of the Rettenden turnpike, a major junction with cars coming from all directions like something from the start of the Wacky Races and suddenly up into the peace and genuine countryside of a deserted road which once used to carry all the traffic to Chelmsford.

The thing about a Hoe Lane is that not only is it a longer ride, it is a much harder ride - proper hills that sap the legs. It's a ride where you always need to save a bit because otherwise it's not long before you feel that horrible burn in the thighs, the wheels get harder to turn and it's become a long way from home.

A Hoe Lane is, though, the best of all rides. Traffic free, every time we're out there, it's a different . Either over the Hanningfield Reservoir and on to Stock with its dainty windmill. Alternatively, it's on over the A12 and out to Manningtree. Whatever the way it's where we feel we're really away from the urban. The variety of wildlife increases, trees crowd the road like soemthing out of a Samuel Palmer and the colours of verdant nature startl. Us untutored lot gasp as we ride onto a crest and see all of South Essex below. The lungs open up and we feel like we're really breathing at last.

Cycling does many things but one that always surprises me is the way in which you understand geography so much more intimately - every rise must, somewhere, be balanced out by a fall. The very geology of the land apparant with each turn of the pedals. Riding a ridge, you feel the pressures beneath the earth which created this upsurge of land. Coming into a valley you understand why a village is here and not elsewhere as you glide over an old stone bridge, a dribble of a stream still persisting. You follow the lines of ancient tracks that many have a wheeled a cart or shouldered a load before you.

Now the villages we ride through are double garaged with Mercs and Beamers. These well fed burghers all Barbours and Huskies smile slightly bemused at us as they go to collect their Mails and Telegraphs in the local shop. Their pointers and black labs waiting for their daily muddy adventure.

A three hour ride out here really is what it is all about. The reason we set the alarm and sneak out to meet at a second hand car lot in drizzle. The reason we can laugh at each others' blackened faces as the unmudguarded among us spray up all manner of scurf from the road and the reason we want to do it all again next week.

Showing me how it is done

One of the great things about cycling is the quality of writing on the subject.

On the Rapha website, there's a rather fine piece by one of my favourites - Matt Seaton. One time Guardian columnist, author of Two Wheels and The Escape Artist. Here he shows how to write about riding in the winter.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

How cold is too cold?

A question well worth asking after the start to 2009. Wing Co DJ reckons you should always feel slightly cold when you start off otherwise you'll overheat on the ride.

Others swear by neoprene boots which keep out the chill arctic breeze. Some say two pairs of gloves and still others say fleece backed lycra full body tights.

However, it seems to me that you can wear all of these things (and I do) and still feel the cold. Yet, we're still out there. Is this a case of machismo? An unwillingness to be the first to quit in the face of adverse conditions? A frivolous disregard for own health and welfare? Or just a desperate need to get out and exercise?

Well maybe a bit of all of these things.

Last Saturday six of us met (The Twins, MF, NS and D) for what must have been the coldest ride I have ever taken part in. Most of the chat before hand revolved around the kinds of gloves we were wearing, how many gloves we had on, base layers and overshoes. MF informed us all that it was minus 3.He knows because he has a remote thermometer by his bedside which gives him a digital read for the temperature outside (I'll examine the esoteric world of gadgetry and cycling another time!)

By the time we hit the seafront I had lost sensation in my fingers, by the end of the cycle path I could no longer wiggle my toes and by the time I had reached Barling I thought my ears were going to fall off.

And yet, and yet.

It was great ride, we joked about those who had bottled out and stayed in bed, how they would be kicking themselves for missing out. There was the habitual brief charge along the sea front and a quick plunge into the warmth of the cafe to watch steam rise from our clothes and the tea seep into those freezing extremities.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Pub Dave

I managed to get Pub Dave out on a ride today, just a Barling but I got him out and that's a bit of achievement. He's not really one of the group, despite my constant hectoring, but he is a very important person in my cycling life. To put it bluntly, without Pub Dave I wouldn't be cycling. As the name suggests PD is not your usual sporting inspiration but nonetheless he is.

PD and I watch football down the pub - he's Liverpool, I am Spurs. Obviously over the last ten years we have spent more time applauding his team and bemoaning mine. PD is a genuine scouser and not one of those southern reds who regularly opine in pubs with polished vowels which have never graced the Kop.

It was PD who started cycling first with a bloke he knew called Mick. I didn't really pay any attention to his new hobby - I liked the Tour on the telly but I didn't expect to ever have a skinny bike again, my last one had been stolen from our garden shed when I was about seventeen. Anyway, PD finally convinced me to do a local sponsored ride on my old hybrid. 30 miles later we agreed that we really ought to do it again. And so began the getting up early to ride.

PD, however, has never been a man to forgo the Saturday night pint and the packet of fags that goes with it. Prodigiously gifted at sport - National Squash champ at school, handy footie player, dab hand at golf, phenomenal table football player... you get the idea. But he does love his bed.

Two years ago, it was my 40th birthday, the previous year I had broken my knee in a freakish accident involving a puddle of orange juice on a lino floor. And a plan was hatched in the pub, where else? The Tour was due to arrive in Paris on the 29th July, my birthday was on the 28th, wouldn't it be cool to be in Paris on my 40th? Wouldn't it be cool to cycle into Paris on my birthday and watch the arrival of the peleton the next day? As I say, pub talk, and what with PD's inertia, no more.

I couldn't have been more wrong. PD and I went out one Sunday and worked out how he could ride the 20 miles to work without getting squashed by text messaging truckers and within a week he was putting in 200 miles a week.

The story of how we got to Paris can be saved for another day, suffice it to say we got to Paris on our bikes and it was all down to PD.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

What with it being the festive season and not all of us being quite so keen to get out of bed on these freezing mornings and others of us being forced to go to work, the meeting time has shifted to 9. On NYE this meant 6 of us turning up to see out the old year and 3 made it out to see in the new one.

Both rides were the dreaded Barling Loop and both were just what was needed. On NYE we gently ambled round taking the rise out of each other, spinning through the lanes with little traffic to bother us - we rode two abreast moaning about the weather and offering tips on how to keep our feet warm. Cold feet are a perrenial problem, you see, the toes don't do a lot of moving when you are clipped in and by the time you get home there is alomost no sensation left in them. Solutions include thermal socks, overshoes which look like galoshes, clingfilm (honestly) and we even know of one of our number who has heated insoles. I have tried all of the above, except for the heated insoles, to little avail. Instead I now wait ten minutes before taking my shoes off when I get home allowing them to acclimatise to central heating so I don't fall over because of my numb feet.

On NYD the three of us set out for the regulation 25 miles, the weather has settled over the estuary and barely a breeze has meant the cold, damp days continue. There is almost no-one about except for a few who may, or may not be, completing the walk of shame back from some New Year's party. The seafront pretty bleak as we race along, me in the front for a change until I hear that unmistakeable sound of the bloke in second palce clunk into a harder gear - I respond by changing gear too hoping to jump onto his back wheel but I am too late and he is gone. I immediately change down and freewheel in and park up, laughing whilst out of breath. Happy New Year.