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Not everyone can be Eddy Merckx

merckx-tour-flanders-76They called Eddy Merckx ‘the cannibal’ for his insatiable appetite to win. They say Merckx was so prolific a winner that he caused a recession in cycling. His dominance so absolute, it became a race for second place and interest waned.

But, even the greatest champions eventually falter – a once effortless winning streak, rudely coming to a halt. The gradual, inevitable decline of physical and mental faculties, the inexorable rise of a new generation.

“There’s always somebody better than you are” – That’s one maxim to temper the pride of human life.

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Two days after the 2012 national championship on the Rake, where I finished a disappointing 11th, I remember heading out for a 60 mile training ride, with a burning focus and determination to spend the next 12 months training and preparing for the national hill climb on the Stang. I hit the winter training with gusto, knocking out 1,000 mile months, despite a wet and cold winter. That intensity of purpose and commitment lasted all year, right up to that wet and windy day in North Yorkshire. At 36, and with long climbs relatively rare in the UK championship, there was a recurring thought that this could be a last chance saloon to win the national title.

After winning, you gain the confidence to try and retain the title. The single-minded purpose and commitment lasted throughout 2014 and 2015. If anything, I increased the intensity and volume of training, especially in 2014 where, with the help of Gordon Wright, I adopted an unusually scientific and methodical approach. But, despite the huge effort, it was not to be (4th and 6th). I don’t think I got any slower – others got quicker – and of course, different hills suit different breeds of riders. Continue Reading →

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Tidying the cycle shed

I’m reading a book – ‘The Life-changing art of tidying’ – It is a Japanese guide to clearing clutter, getting rid of things you don’t need and creating space. It advises starting off with the easiest categories first – clothes, books, paper and then moving onto most difficult categories like photos and sentimental stuff.

Well, all that went swimmingly – even the so called sentimental childhood photos going in the bin without so much as a demur. I was getting great joy from clearing the clutter. But, the really difficult category that the Japanese author failed to mention was that of miscellaneous cycle parts…

Shelf

One cycle shelf of many. Note best pair of overshoes kept here. Suspiciously tidy. Though plants pots are not cycle related.

Firstly, where to start? I have miscellaneous cycle parts littered all around the house – outside shed, conservatory, cupboard under the stair, cupboard in living room, window sill in living room, not forgetting the black hole which is my loft. There are also three very old wheels, suffering various degrees of rust – stuffed into gaps between house and shed. I didn’t dare look at the back of garden, in case I found a long forgotten rusting old 501 frame unearthed under a heap of rubble. The only room which could be considered cycle free is the bathroom – as long as we ignore the road rash bandages and creams to reducing itching in the skin – post-epilation / waxing of the legs.

One thing the book suggests is that you must keep all categories in the same place. I was getting off to a bad start, with cycle parts dotted around the house and everywhere else as well. (I even have a secret collection of cycle parts at my parents home in Yorkshire…) Continue Reading →

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Amateur cycling

One of the attractions of sport and time trials in particular is the amateur ethos. Doing sport – not for name and fame – but for your own individual sense of satisfaction. Seeing sport not as ‘win at all costs’ but an opportunity for self-transcendence. How far can you push your mind, body and spirit, using your own efforts?

martyn-roach

Martyn Roach of the Hounslow and District CC. Resolute club man, and national champion.

The amateur / Corinthian ideal is not about money. But, the attitude with which you do sport. In the 1950s, sport tied itself in knots – banning people from racing who accepted so much as an inner tube from a bicycle company. This made a joke of amateur sport and, inevitably over time, the line between pro and amateur became blurred. I don’t think anyone mourns the loss of strict rules about not accepting money. But, whether pro or amateur, whether well paid or competing for just honour – an athlete always faces the choice of how to compete and with what attitude. Continue Reading →

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Guide to cycle lanes

Cycle lanes come in many different forms – the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes the downright bizarre.

cycle-path-donnignton-behind

Cycle path Oxford

In recent years, the number of cycle paths in the UK have increased substantially. In theory, they have the potential to make cycling safer, more enjoyable and reduce friction between different road users. However, because of the haphazard nature of creating cycle paths, there often seems little continuity in design and implementation. It means we have cycle paths ranging from the good to downright bad and some just silly.

More than anything, we need road planners to be bolder in actually designating more space for cycle paths. We widen roads to make dual carriageways, often all we need is a couple more feet to create a really good cycle path. Also a good cycle path is much more than painting a white line on a pavement and hoping it all works out fine.

Segregated Cycle Paths

cycle-path-donnignton-4

Bi directional cycle path enables commuters to avoid crossing road and congestion.

This cycle path is separate from the road. It doesn’t conflict with pedestrians and is wide enough for dual way. This is an ideal cycle path for an inner city path. It is the kind of path which would encourage a huge range of new people to start cycling.

Continue Reading →

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Changing attitudes to road fatalities

Following up from Road fatalities in the UK  this post looks at fatality rates going back to the 1920s.

Reading a book – the History of Time trialling by Peter Whitfield I was struck by some statistics about the level of road fatalities, during the 1930s and 1940s.

800px-Killed_on_British_Roads

Despite road traffic being only 10% of today’s levels. Road deaths reached nearly 10,000 a year. There were up to 1,000 road fatalities a year of children under 10.

Yet, despite these shocking statistics, there was a widespread acceptance of these deaths. Nearly all road fatalities were put down as ‘accidents’. It is quite a shock to learn that during the Second World War – 50,000 people were killed on British roads (Source: Time, Speed and Truth, P.Whitfield)  – This was a greater number of fatalities than the blitz (where 40,000 civilians were killed in air raids) Continue Reading →

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Reducing the cost of cycling

Cycling can seem an expensive hobby. I am the worst culprit – just look at my product reviews Shimano Dura Ace Di2, AX Lightness saddle (69grams) e.t.c. Whatever branch of cycling you take up, it seems there is no limit to the amount of money you can spend. However, here’s a short reminder that it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. It’s quite possible to keep cycling very cheap.

1. Homemade mudguard flap

fairy-mudguard-500x376

50 years of mudguard flaps

 

A cut off bit from a washing up liquid bottle is the perfect size for a mudguard flap. It’s surprising how much a bit of super-glue and reusable plastic ties can do for your bike. This is the old make do and mend philosophy. Don’t just buy something new, try fix and adapt.

2. Make do with one bike

24 hour record holder (541 miles) Andy Wilkinson is a true legend of long distance time-trialling. He deserves more recognition than he gets. How does he do such impressive distances? Well, for a start he only has one bike – a basic steel frame; on this one bike he does his commuting, training and racing. He says that only having one bike enables him to really get to know his bike, perfect his position and enables him to do better races. For those of us who work on the principle that the optimum number of bikes is N+1 – this is truly radical, (but, how much money would I have in the bank if I had followed this advice) It is a reminder that you don’t need to keep buying a new bike in order to do better.

3. Make your bike last

wearing-dhb-jacket-commuting-bike

I went through a period of reviewing potential new commuting bikes – shiny single speeds, foldups, hybrid bikes, and lower end road bikes. But, when it came to the crunch, there seemed no point in spending money for only a relative minor improvement. My commuting bike has been going for 15+ years, and shows no sign of age; hopefully, it will last another 15+ years at least. It is true, a carbon fork would give a modicum of more comfort. Perhaps the braking power of disc brakes would improve performance 15% – but do I really need these? No. My commuting bike has already outlasted quite a few cars. When I try to work out the cost per mile of my commuting bike – it is incredibly low. My winter training bike cost £700 and has done (at a very rough estimate) 40,000 miles (0.0175 pence per mile). Is there any cheaper form of transport?

3. Homemade energy drink.

If you want to avoid paying £1.30 for every sachet of energy drink, why not make your own. Get some maltodextrin powder, fructose powder, a touch of salt, some orange juice and you have. Alternatively, you can just use ordinary table sugar. One simple recipe for a homemade energy drink. For 1 litre of energy drink, add:

  • 60-80 grams of sugar
  • No added sugar cordial
  • A pinch of salt
  • topping up with water

 

4. Avoid the fashion labels

rapha-outside

You can spend a fortune on Rapha clothing and the like. It looks good but comparatively expensive.

5. Buy from non-cycling shops

Often the cheapest place to buy cycling undergarments e.t.c is from non-cycling shops. Thermal underwear and wicking layers can be cheaper from clothes shops and other outlets. I got quite a few good thermal layers from Marks & Spencers – they do the job for winter training.

It’s the same with energy bars, often you can get same performance from much cheaper non-branded energy bars.  I often go to my local Pound Shop and buy six Fruesli bars or similar (12p per energy bar, and if you look at the ingredients, it’s effectively the same percentage of carbohydrates.

How did Graeme Obree prepare for his hour record? Marmalade sandwiches; I bet that is not part of Team Sky’s hour record preparation for Bradley Wiggins, but it did the job for Obree. You don’t always have to spend a fortune on energy bars to get the best nutrition.

6. Get aerodynamics for free

If you really want to go faster, then the secret is to make yourself more aerodynamic. At 40kmph, 90% of resistance against a bike is air resistance. If you look at some pictures of time triallists, you will see how they can reduce their frontal area. The secret to reducing frontal area is not spending £3,000 on a time trial frame, but, getting the body into most efficient tuck. Even a cheap pair of aerobars for £20, will make a huge difference to reducing wind resistance and give you a good bang for your buck. You can spend a fortune on aerodynamic aids, but many of the key improvements can be made with very little cost. Tips for aerodynamics.

7. Do you really need it?

So often I’ve bought something because it was well marketed and looks nice, but I don’t really need it. There are some accessories you need like a lock and lights. But, for some reason, I’m always gullible for the latest light, which is brighter than the last. So I have a whole shed of different lights and components. When I look at my shed, I’m embarrassed about all the things I’ve bought thinking these will be good, but they hardly get used.

8. Ditch obsession with low weight / expensive components

margina-gains-1g

A 1 gram weight saving really not worth making!

 

This is a definite case of the kettle calling the pot black. Is there a worse culprit for spending silly money on silly weight saving components? (marginal gains hill climb bike) Probably not, but unless you miss a major hill climb championship medal by 1 second, those 500g weight saving is not essential. Even a bike 1kg heavier is not the end of the world. If you look at time saved from weight loss on a bike – it is less than you might imagine. 1kg up the Rake is worth 2 seconds.

If you really want to save weight, eat a few less chips; that’s the really cheap way to loose proper weight.

9. Buy the complete bike

It is amazing the equipment you can get on a sub £1,000 bike. If you spend £1,000 on a road bike, the constituent parts would cost you roughly double. Therefore, always try to buy the best bike you can and resist temptation to add expensive parts which only marginally add to performance.

10. Go down a groupset

The main difference between Shimano Ultegra and Shimano Dura Ace is about £500. The main difference between Dura Ace Di2 and Ultegra Di2 is about £1,500. If cyclists had to do ‘blind testing’ of different equipment, would we notice the difference? Probably not. I appreciate blind testing is difficult for bicycles, but if we were really honest, we would often struggle to notice the difference.

12. Do your own repairs

bike-in-stand

Rather than taking it down bike shop, and getting someone to do it for you, you can save quite a bit. Though with my experience is an amateur bike mechanic, this may prove a false economy. Also, compared to motor repairs, I’ve always found bike maintenance to be very cheap.

13. Ride the bike

croissant-on-the-commute

Croissant on the commute – cheaper than filling up car with petrol

 

The real way to get value for money from your bicycle is to ride it around town. Save money on the bus, save money on parking and petrol. Or even use a bike instead of owning a car. If you use a bike like this, it will pay for itself within a few months.

 

Conclusion

Cycling can be a very cheap method of transport. It is only in recent years, that we have been increasingly enticed to spend more on bicycles and bike components. However, I’m the worst culprit. I just like spending money on bicycles. Many times, I don’t really need to spend the money, but what else are you going to spend it on which will give as much joy? The only thing is if you’re on a tight budget, just remember the 24 hour record holder – a relatively cheap old steel frame. At the end of the day, it’s the human engine and not the size of your wallet, which makes a cycling champion. And if you’re not in the world of marginal gains, cycling can be very cheap indeed.

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Tips for beginner cyclists

For those just starting to get into road cycling, these are a few tips from my own experience of riding a bike for past 20 years.

Buying a bike

The first place to start is with buying a road bike. You don’t have to spend a fortune. For an entry level road bike, I would advise selecting a budget and sticking to that. Anything in the range of £500 to £1,200 is a very good starting point for an entry level road bike.

bike

  • I have tested a few sub £500 bikes, and they are fairly decent. If you want to get started in road cycling, don’t worry if your budget is only £500. I have bought a Specialized Allez road bike (£600) to use when in New York, and it gives a good enough riding experience for my training over in the US.

Continue Reading →

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Is it OK to walk up hills?

PJ wrote an interesting post – Taking the bike for a walk

In response to a Guardian article – Is it OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill?

Since hill climbs are close to my heart – I can’t resist chipping in.

The truth is I’m torn between conflicting emotions.

cyclist-swerving-The-rake

The Rake – Photo Bob Muir

On the one hand is the hill climb chimp, with a thought process like:

> “It’s better to die on a hill than surrender and walk up. The modern generation is too soft with its compact chain sets and granny gears. We should recreate the hill climbs of old – 12kg steel bike, fixed gears and the one who gets furthest up the hill without falling off – wins. That’s proper cycling – not this modern, get off and walk if you feel like it nonsense.

The other chimp in me is the more reasonable, rational, politically correct version. Continue Reading →

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Cycling and negativity

Last week, I was complaining about motorists who would pass too close. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to complain when you get on to British roads. This is a shame because cycling should be an enjoyable activity – get on two wheels and pedal happily off into the sunset. But, it seems the world of a cyclist is squashed between the impatience of taxi drivers and complaints about the dangers of the road. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a ‘political world of cycling’ that is negative and endless arguments of who is right and wrong.

cyclists-stay-back

The internet has not particularly helped. There is something about the nature of the internet which encourages outrage, strong opinions, a tribal mentality of ‘us and ‘them. These issues of sharing the road were always around, but the internet gives it greater currency and force – feeding antagonism in a way that I’m not sure existed when you had to send a letter by pigeon post or go down to the local post office to send a telegram.

CAR PASSED TOO CLOSE! – STOP – HAD TO COME TO EMERGENCY STOP! – STOP

By the time you had Morse Coded your feelings, most of your anger had long since dissipated anyway. A more modern telegram service like Twitter lacks this natural delay of several weeks as you wait for the boat from India to come into dock.

What did minor-celebrities do before having twitter spats and outraging some or another constituents of the easily outraged? I’m sure if you read the Cycling Weekly letters from the 1950s, you would find letters of complaint. But, at least in the 1950s you could read a newspaper, without, on every article, getting sucked into reading comments from 335 outraged internet trolls, who don’t have anything better to do, but get disgusted with cyclists / motorists / pigeons / and the latest reality TV show on Channel 5.

rolling-lanes

Of course, it may just be we are just looking through tinted rays of ‘The golden age of cycling’ – this mythical utopia of cycling in the 1950s, where you could cycle 100 miles on quiet roads through British lanes to enjoy warm beer and sandwiches on the village green, with nothing more than a Bobby on his bike giving you a friendly wave.

60 years later and this mythical golden age of cycling utopia has been replaced by pitched battles between Uber fuelled tax drivers who equate cyclists to ISIS and the relentless finger pointing about who is the absolutely the worst person on the roads. The only thing we agree on is that it is always someone else’s fault!

Yet, all is not lost. If you go cycling on British roads, it is not as traumatic as you might believe from the comment sections of the Daily Mail. It is still possible to really enjoy cycling – whether it’s cycling up Hardknott Pass or even, dare I say it commuting into the centre of London. Continue Reading →

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The universal appeal of cycling

I remember vaguely a few months ago, something about a local politician from  Birmingham (1) who said that cycling was the preserve of young adult men and therefore we shouldn’t spend money on cycling infrastructure because it only benefits a small percentage of the population. At the time I was too busy racing, but I made a mental note to write something about this later.

one-man-foot-squeezing-carIt can be hard work cycling on British roads

I’m probably three months late to state the obvious, but if the roads of a city are sparsely populated with cyclists – and predominantly middle age men – then it’s a very good sign that the opposite case needs to be made – It is a very good sign that a complete rethink is needed to encourage the broad section of society back into cycling.

You only get a skewed demographic of cycling – if the roads are perceived as too dangerous – making cycling appeal only to those who have different tolerations or risk, danger and dealing with intimidating situations.

The thing with cycling is that it is universal and democratic form of transport. It is cheap, accessible and at some point in time, most people have experienced some joy from learning to ride a bike. It is a shame, when this ceases to be the case.

In the US, this report states that the typical cyclists is a 39-year-old male professional with a household income in excess of $45,000 per year who rides 10.6 months per year.

  • In Europe, statistics for rates of female cycling as a % of cycling population are 45% Denmark, 55% in Netherlands, and 49% Germany, in the US  it is 25%.

Age differences

Another big difference is the age profile of people cycling:

Age profile cyclingSource: Cycling for Everyone at Rutger.edu

In the US for people over 40, only 0.4% of trips are made by bicycle. In the Netherlands this rises to 23-24%

 

The only question is why do people stop cycling?

Statistically, you can make a good case cycling is still relatively safe. But if you have to fight traffic and heavy goods lorries, no amount of statistics can change the real perception that it’s a tough job cycling on many cities. Too many near misses, too much stress. Perhaps some people don’t want to cycle because of the way they drive.

car-turning-left-near-miss

watch out!

A very simple comparison is to look at countries which have built suitable cycling infrastructure – Germany, Holland, Denmark. In these countries, the demographic of cycling is spread across all ages and gender. Cycling is seen as safe; when there are good cycle paths, cycling is an extension of a pedestrian mode of transport. Pedestrians simply going a little bit faster. Continue Reading →

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