Slow improvements in fitness

At this time of the year cycling takes a bit of a backseat, but I’m still able to clock up quite a few winter miles. Every mile helping to boost that very long term project of improved fitness for 2015. If you’re wanting a quick fitness fix and noticeable improvements in form, winter miles are a very hard and slow way of going about it. Every time I go out, there is part of me which thinks – it wouldn’t really matter if you missed today. But, then there is the other part of me which thinks, if I do 50 miles today, perhaps that will knock 2 seconds off a 100 mile time trial time in July.


Fortunately, I would be out cycling even if I never planned to race in 2015. I’m happy to clock up the miles for the sake of cycling – rather than as a means to an end. Today was a steady 60 miles towards Kilnsey Crag and Littondale; in terms of enjoyment it was one of the best rides of the year. I could get used to being a cycle tourist. Perhaps I could grow a beard and get a touring bike with proper mudguards – not these lightweight, aerodynamic, clip on ‘I’m a racer at heart’ type mudguards jobs.


The weather is remarkably good for December in Yorkshire. Just 6 degrees, but warm enough to make it pleasant; and dry. Of course – when I say dry – I mean the absence of rain. There’s still enough water on the road to get soaked through – especially when you leave your front clip on mudguards in Oxford.


I arrived in Yorkshire with minimal packing. I didn’t pack any cycling energy bars, so have been relying on ‘normal’ food that you might find in the kitchen. It’s amazing that, to cycle, you don’t actually have to spend a small fortune on proprietary cycling bars. I found a honey sandwich was enough to get from Bursnall to Halton Gill. Yes, it made me feel like a real cycling tourist to be eating kit-kats and honey sandwiches.


For mid-winter, I’m in pretty good shape. I managed close to 900 miles in November. The hours spent is even more impressive. If I spent that time on a time trial bike on the A50, I could have done twice the mileage. I have an old saying ‘Yorkshire winter miles count double.’ Because it can all be painfully slow at this time of the year. But today I managed to keep a reasonably impressive average speed; and as the light began to fade, I upped the effort to get back before it was really dark. Four hours on the road, 60 miles on the log.

The whole ride was pretty undramatic. I would like to say the roads were exceptionally quiet – they were in places, though in recent years I’ve noticed a big increase in Yodel and white vans, making frantic last minute Christmas deliveries. I know the convenience of internet delivery is very useful, but for the cyclist trying to enjoy quiet roads, it’s not the best development.

Still that’s the only complaint. Mostly it was enjoying the Yorkshire Dales scenery and clocking all those all important miles for the winter mileage saving bank. If I get to 700 miles by the 25th, I might give myself Christmas Day off.

A few more photos




Rainbow over Grassington


Low level sun near Grassington.


Kilnsey Crag with mud on the road.


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Cyclist magazine – up, up, up

Before the national hill climb championship, the Cyclist magazine commissioned me to write an article on the national hill climb championship. The article is published in this months edition (Jan 2015), which came out recently. – There are some good photos of the hill climb championship too.

If you’re looking for some more in-depth articles on cycling, it’s worth checking out the Cyclist Mag. It’s mainly pro-cycling, but hopefully, the essentially amateur hill climb championship makes an interesting counterpoint to the other road racing.

Talking of hill climbs check out this video by Thom Heald featuring Bristol South CC rising hill climb star Robert Borek. Robert is one of the many new converts to the discipline of hill climbs, and in this video he talks about his enthusiasm for the strange attraction of riding fixed gear bikes up steep hills.

Up Up Up from Thom Heald on Vimeo.

Hill climbing is a niche within a niche. It was one of the original tests of a cyclists skill, the proving ground before time-trials and road races. Now somewhat forgotten, a hardcore band of thin-limbed riders spend their Autumn sacrificing beer and cake for a shot at amateur bike racing glory.


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Clif shot energy gels and bloks

A few weeks ago, I was sent some Clif shot bloks – energy chews and Clif Shot energy gels for review.

At this time of the year, I don’t use many gels and energy bloks. But, on a four hour plus ride, you can burn up pretty much anything so I took some ‘bloks’ along as well. I have also used them quite a bit over in the US; in America the brand seems quite widespread and were often most common gel on sale in local bike shops. Perhaps the American roots explains the American spelling of ‘blocks’ I used the blocks and gels on some interval training sessions back in August.


Anyway, the energy chews make a change from your typical energy powder and energy gels. It is satisfying to have something to chew. They are quite easy to eat on the move and taste quite nice. The packaging is easy to manage, even with thick winter gloves, which is a bonus. You can just squeeze the tubes up the plastic packaging until it pops out.

The nutrition information is pretty much what you would expect from an energy gel. 80g of carbohydrate per 100g. 50% of the carbohydrate is carb which sugars, the rest is maltodextrin. There’s nothing surplus to carbohydrate – zero protein, fat and fibre. Just a touch of salt – potassium citrate. Quite simple.

6 pieces in a 60 gram pack give

  • Energy 192 kcal
  • Protein 0g
  • carb 48g
  • of which sugars – 24g
  • fat – 0g
  • Fibre – 0g

With condensed energy, it is advised to take water with them. I don’t often take too much gels in winter, preferring to work on the fat burning capacity. But cycling up to Aynho junction last Monday, just 3 pieces was sufficient to give a good sugar boost to the system. You could feel it right away.


The energy gels are very similar – same carbohydrate content. Ingredients based on maltodextrin, can syrup and water. Some come as double expresso, which gives a whopping 100 mg of caffeine – far too much for my taste.  There is also gels with single caffeine shots or without.

The consistency is quite thick. You obviously need to take water with them. But, taste quite pleasant. Though when it comes to gels I’m not overly fussed about taste. Some people speak highly of the ‘Razz’ flavour. But, I’m always dubious about eating something as exotic as ‘Razz’ flavour. I prefer the chocolate.

Clif bar shot gels at Wiggle – 24*34g – £26.49

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Two days in Yorkshire

In case you are wondering what Christmas present to buy your family member who is a keen cyclist, I’m sure this book would be much appreciated and go down very well…



200 photos of the Tour de France in Yorkshire.

Two days in Yorkshire at (£35!)



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All quiet on the cycling front

I’m steadily clocking up the miles – long, lonely trundles through the Oxfordshire countryside. It is all rather unremarkable, leaving not so much to write about. It’s hard to get too excited by logging steady mile after steady mile. So far I am really enjoying the winter training; it’s just that it all seems one speed and quite unremarkable.


It’s bleak mid winter, but it’s still quite beautiful. Not the most obvious time of the year to reinvent yourself as a touring cyclist, but there’s a lot to be said for Oxfordshire when the sun is out – even if it is mid-winter


When I came back from a short lived cold last week, the weather had distinctly changed from mild Autumn to proper cold winter. It’s time to get out the thermal layers, the hotpads, and pretty much everything bar the kitchen sink. It’s the time of the year where it takes me longer to get ready for a ride than it does to read all the things that interest me in Cycling Weekly; last week I finished the comic in a record time of 1.28 minutes – The competitive spirit is still there, even if it is getting a PB for finishing a cycling magazine.

On the positive side, I’m able to combine winter training rides whilst indulging in another very part-time hobby of mine – observing railway infrastructure. I’ll keep this brief as I appreciate I’m really scrapping the barrel of a cycling blog, when I resort to describing railway bridges observed on route.


A freightliner on the Banbury to Oxford railway with a viaduct nearer by. This is near Souldern, I was dissappointed not to get a better view of the viaduct after cycling 30+ miles but it is all training I suppose. I do like seeing freight trains because it means less lorries on the road. If only we could transport more by rail…

Continue Reading →

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Mind-body link

A friend was talking about a theory that the mind can have a big impact on the body. In particular, some niggles in the body can be a result of mental issues. The example they used was stress – manifesting in the form of back pain. The back may be perfectly strong, but to deal with the mental stress, the body deals with it by having pain in the back; furthermore it is claimed releasing this stress in the back is actually a good thing.

If you have have a fall, and injury your knee, it’s pretty certain what the cause is. But, if you wake up the day after a ride, and find a mysterious injury / pain – then it may be some mental cause – often unconscious, and not an underlying physical cause.

I’m no expert on this kind of thing, and I’m sure there are doctors who would disagree – but it is interesting. In particular, I’m sure there have been times when I’ve gained some kind of minor niggle, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the enforced rest did a lot to improve my long-term form.

One thing I should add, when I have had persistent niggles in knees – Physiotherapy did a  very good job in getting it better.

I also often think about to my early 20s, where I was injured for several years – meaning I only took up cycling in the late 20s. From a cycling point of view, this was hugely significant. If I’d taken up cycling 10 years earlier, my cycling career might have been quite different. I don’t have any regrets though because, in this lifetime, I am glad I didn’t become a professional cyclist.


The other interesting thing is that I nearly always get a cold in November / December. During the racing season, I try to hold off any cold. But, once the season is over, I let go of any resistance and almost invite a cold. It’s the best time of the year to have one. A week off the bike, and I’m enjoying it; it’s amazing how much time you have when you don’t cycle 250 miles a week.

It doesn’t always work. I’ve had inopportune colds, just when I don’t want it. But, I think there is something in the idea we can have a mental influence over the body – either positive or negative. My feeling is that we are only just touching the surface of this mind-body link. I’m sure in hundreds of years time, people’s awareness of this will be greatly expanded and we will gain greater intuition and ability to influence this link.

But, at the moment, it’s back to the Vicks vapour rub and snotty handkerchiefs – and dreaming of cycling up Col du Tourmalet in the Pyranees next summer.

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Clif builders Protein Bar review

I have been sent a box of Clif Builders Protein bar for review. I’ve been munching away the past few weeks.


I eat a lot of protein bars. Not just for recovery, but on longer rides of three hours plus. Perhaps because I get fed up with just eating all the simple sugars and carbohydrates, it feels good to be eating a more well balanced bit of food. Protein bars have the advantage of being lower GI than most energy bars so you get a slower release of energy without the surges and spikes of sugar.

I had two flavours – Mint Chocolate and Chocolate. It tastes quite pleasant, nothing amazing, but quite palatable for an energy bar. I preferred the non-mint version – though the mint version is still quite mild.

Like many protein bars, it requires quite a bit of chewing and eating. It’s not something to eat in a race because it doesn’t slip down easily. It feels quite compact and it’s a big job to get it all down. Having said that, a protein bar is really for after a workout rather than during it. You will also need to take water with eating it. It means quite a lot is packed into the 68 gram bars. The main thing is 20 gram of soy protein which is quite a lot of protein for a protein bar.

It is based on soy protein. As I take quite a lot of whey protein products, it’s good to have a variety of protein. Even if just because ‘Whey can make you a bit windy.’ and it’s good to have something different for a change. Continue Reading →

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How often to clean the winter training bike?

The racing season presents many dilemmas – how many days rest do you need in between intervals – should you do intervals at 100% or 99%?

The winter season presents a very different kind of dilemma – not least – how often are we to clean our winter training bike?


Winter training bike looking suspiciously clean

There are two main schools of thought in this direction. The first school suggests religiously cleaning the bike after every ride, with at least once a week complete strip down and degrease.

The second school of thought suggests the best interval for cleaning the winter bike is roughly once a year in early April before retiring the winter bike to the loft.

Those who follow the first school of daily cleaning are either professional bike riders or those who actually do very little winter training. They may pop out on the roads, should the weather be suitably inviting, but generally they prefer to keep their bike out of the wind and mud. No point risking anything when its 5 degrees outside and winter slime covers the road.


Winter mud, near Henley

Unfortunately, most of us are more likely to fall in between the two. We don’t quite want to commit to cleaning the bike after every ride, but once you put it off once, it’s very hard to get round to ever cleaning it – because you know within 12 hours it will be just as muddy as it is already. So you rationalise it by saying, well I might as well leave it another day. I’ll clean it when there is a week of dry, sunny weather forecast (i.e. never). Instead, we just learn to grow accustomed to the muddy winter bike; it starts to become a badge of our ‘old school’, cycling in any weather kind of mentality. It’s a strange logic and hopefully one that doesn’t spill over into personal hygiene. Though, I did have a school friend who claimed after three weeks his hair would start cleaning itself. We were a bit dubious, though we never got too close to inspect for ourselves.

Perhaps that is the next development in bike technology, forget electronic 12 speed which no-one needs – what about the self-cleaning winter bike with automatic greasing and repair maintenance? I’d buy one of those.

The problem with writing this piece is that the more I write about cleaning my winter bike, the greater the growing guilt about the layers of mud on my own down tube. It’s really not that hard to clean a bike, and it does give a wonderful sense of satisfaction when we rediscover the frame colour is a bright blue rather than a muddy brown. It’s just fortunate that I’m going to go out on  a winter training ride in a couple of hours – I might as well leave it until I get back….


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No training plan

At the moment, I’m riding without a plan – and it’s quite an enjoyable experience.


During August, September and October it was all tightly structured intervals. November is the complete opposite, unstructured and no intervals. As mentioned previously, I find myself riding around at 15-16mph wondering how on earth do you manage to come back from a ride with an average of over 17 mph.

Riding around Otmoor, I saw a mini chain gang of four riders hammering it on a late November afternoon. The guy on the front was on a time trial bike, giving it some welly. I felt no desire to latch on the end.


I kept my steady pace. But after three weeks of nothing more than level II, I was curious to remember what it was like to go hard up a hill. On the way up to Brill from Oakley I decided to give it a go. For the first five seconds it was a bit of a buzz as you remember the speed and effort of cycling fast up steep hills. But, after 10 seconds it was also a reminder of the great effort needed; it felt painfully slow. I dragged the winter bike up in a respectable time, but it was nothing to get too excited about. Racing feels along way away.


In a way, winter is a good balance to the preceding months. It’s like slow recovery rides are a good balance to hard intervals. Similarly a couple of months of just accumulating miles is a good balance to the work dedicated on the top end. Usually in January, I might consider different training methods, and more higher end work. But, that is always much easier to do when you have a good solid aerobic base.

Having said that – a good day of weather yesterday encouraged me to give my summer bike – the Trek Madone a final farewell fling before winter retirement in the loft. I’m not sure if it was the bike, weather or I was just bored of plodding. But I kept a very respectable pace all the way to Henley and back, averaging a very commendable November average speed of 18mph for the 55 miles. It still gave me time to think about the National Hill Climb splits. I’m not sure which is most impressive, how slowly I went up first half or how quick I went up the second half.  As Jimmy Hill used to say on the BBC Match of the day – It’s a game of two halves, Gary’.

I am in real mile munching mode at the moment. nearly 800 miles for November already and it doesn’t really feel like I’m training. Though I’ve been going very slowly up hills, I still can’t wait for next years hill climb season!

There is a virtual prize for any local rider who can identify the locations of the two roads. I would struggle and I took the photos



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A good cycle path

Cycle path over Donnington Bridge offers a rare segregated cycle way for people to cycle without having to ride with traffic.


No near misses here.


At rush hour, there is heavy congestion on this road. The cycle path offers a convenient way to beat the traffic jams.


A fair number of cyclists use this path.


Quicker by bike.


The cycle lane is often used by children and people getting to school. It also helps that there are quiet cycle paths by the river and other back roads which connect a local school.


Cycling along.  cycle-path-donnignton-5

It’s a good feeling to go  past stationary vehicles.


An integrated cycle path – another rarity – when the path ends, there are decent options, you aren’t immediately thrown into fast moving traffic.


I don’t understand the attraction of sitting in a traffic jam.


Quicker with one leg.



Although, it is surprising how many still use the pavement.


There is also a (non-segregated) cycle path on the other side of the road. This is good because of you’re on that side of the road, you don’t want to have to cross the road, just to use the cycle path. Still, it is often too narrow because wide cars spill over into the cycle lane. It’s a shame it’s not a foot wider.


Cars often follow suit, if one person moves into cycle lane, everyone else tends to. This is quite an inviting sight for a cycle commuter.

frosty-donnington-bridge-cycle-pathA frosty scene on Donnington Bridge.

path-by-riverThe cycle path by the River Thames, which offers a traffic free way into the centre of Oxford. Just a shame it’s very bumpy and often muddy. But, it offers great views of Christ Church Meadow


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