Comments

Thanks for kind comments on the recent post about retirement. In particular, thanks for those comments from those who have experienced a similar issue and made a recovery. It is very encouraging to hear. Perhaps my initial understanding was overly pessimistic. It seems self-diagnosis on the internet is not an entirely reliable method of medical diagnosis – who would have thought?

Anyway, I will definitely explore all options and hope that sometime I will be writing on something other than this hip.


One golden law of the internet is “Never read the comments” As a general rule, in the internet comment sections lurk the darker side of human nature. But, there is always an exception to any rule, and comments on cyclinguphill have often been very thoughtful and useful.  It’s also good to know people have picked up a few things from the blog over the years. It is a nice coincidence, that since I started blogging about hill climbs there has been an increase in interest and participation (I remember days when you would often get start lists of 9-10 people) with big fields across the country.

When you ponder retirement, you become aware of how much value there is in participating in cycle sport – not so much from the goal of winning and picking up the odd cheque for £20 with a free cup of tea – but to meet fellow cyclists who share a similar love of the sport.

The Cotswolds

As a general rule, I don’t think about the past. But, injury can make you a little more reflective. Sometimes images come of cycling through the Cotswolds, driving up to the Peak District or racing up quiet hills in Yorkshire. It is evocative of good times spent on the bike.

Stang

Well, enough of self-reflection, I have a tickly cough, so I have to go and do some research on the world wide web and find out what major disease I have. (only kidding mother!)

 

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The end of the road

After two years of diligently doing all kinds of exercises only to see a gradual decline in my hip, I went for another X-Ray – thinking there might be some kind of structural defect. This time the doctor said the hip showed femoroacetabular impingement. I think in layman’s terms they mean bone spur, so when the hip moves – bones move against each other causing problems. Unfortunately, no amount of rest or exercises can solve this extra-bone misalignment. Apparently, it is quite common, but if you exercise a lot, it can aggravate the situation and you notice it much earlier than a non-active person.

If it is bad enough – there is the possibility of surgery, but even if I do have surgery, and even if successful, the days of time trials and hill climb intervals are, unfortunately, over. I don’t believe surgery can take you back to complete recovery.

If anything it tends to deteriorate over time, and there is a higher probability of causing osteoarthritis, so the motivation of riding through pain and damaging cartilage is not that appealing.

I did look into Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) – the idea it is mainly false signals from the brain which are sending pain when it is not needed. I was really hoping this was the case. I definitely believe TMS is a real situation, but in my case, many things didn’t add up. I don’t have any kind of meaningful stress which could be causing it. It’s been painful sitting for a long time. Now I understand why I’m always squirming around seats and find long-distance driving a pain.

The funny thing is that since diagnosis, it feels worse – so there is probably some mental aspect in addition. In one sense, it is good to have a diagnosis, but I kind of preferred the previous glimmer of hope and belief there was nothing fundamentally wrong. I’m not sure why the MRI scan I had ten months ago didn’t show anything.

I know it could be a lot worse and all that, but it’s hard to avoid the fact it is a major disappointment. Make a couple of jokes about turning Vet, and before you know it the body has shut up shop 40 years early. I definitely could see myself competing as a ‘super vet.’ Even until this week, I still retained pretensions of being competitive in next years national hill climb championship. Of course, there are always other things to do, but it is hard to replicate the joy of cycling, visiting races, meeting cyclists, taking part and pushing the body to its limits. I have already looked into e-bikes, but was discouraged by a top speed of only 15mph. Anyway, it’s not the same.

I will continue to post a bit about cycling around Oxford.

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River Cycle Path

With limited opportunities for cycling, I am enjoying the revamped cycle path along the River Thames.

bike-path

The path used to get very muddy in winter, making it unattractive as a place to cycle. Also, it used to be about two people wide. The council have widened the path by a couple of feet (making it effectively three people wide). They have also laid a new surface – tarmac with loose chippings.

Both improvements make a big difference. The chippings are not slippy (unless perhaps you were racing), but they do slow you down by 1 or 2 mph compared to smooth tarmac. But, given it is a shared path, that is a good thing. The extra two feet makes a big difference. As you can now pass a couple on the path without them having to move. The extra space is great for both cyclists, pedestrians, dog walkers and rowing coaches who cycle slowly along the path looking at the river and not where they are going.

 

I am trying to do more cycling, but usually don’t feel like a ‘proper ride’ So I have been getting more miles in by relying on cycling into town and around Oxford. I have started cycling to Iffley lock – which is in the opposite direction to town, but you then get an interrupted run along the river path all the way to Abingdon Road. It has increased the commute from 2.5 miles to 4.0 miles, but it hardly takes any longer. The shortest route has quite a few crossings and traffic lights. The longer way on the path is much less interrupted. I go at a steady pace on the path, but it is quicker because you aren’t waiting for minutes at lights and junctions. It’s not rocket science, but when we measure the time of a journey, we tend to look closely at a distance rather than average speed.

path-by-river

Old narrower path

The old narrow path

In this age of austerity, it is great the council are able to pay for a project like this. It is a relatively small investment but has made a big improvement in the quality of commuting. The biggest advantage of course is that you can cycle without any traffic. Sometimes you need to slow at pinch points – for when crews bring out boats to the river or if there are many people on the path, but I’m not in a rush and happy to go slow.

Views from the cycle path

The other side of the river

St Mary’s Church and Radcliffe Camera

Mid winter and frost.

Autumn at the Head of the River.

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Alf Engers – ‘I Like Alf’ – book review

i-like-alfYou can’t do time trialling in the UK without becoming dimly aware of a mythical figure called Alf Engers. Emerging out of that ‘golden age’ of the 60s and 70s when timetrials ruled the road, you pick up the odd snatched comments about the first sub-50 minute 25 mile TT on a road bike (no TT bars). Riding in the middle of the road. Brushes with authority. The London baker doing a night-shift to 3 am and then breaking records at 6 am. Even now, as the author mentions, you can still hear the phrase “But, what would Alf Engers have done?”

It all amounts to whispers from the past and, in the absence of direct testimony, you place your subjective impressions above any reality. Muffled opinions in between the course codes and obscure regulations. The funny thing is whenever I met the late John Woodburn, he would always tell me how he had to start a time trial with a working bell, and when he got around the corner from the start-keeper, he would throw it off in disgust. It’s a shame I never asked about his times racing with Alf Engers. It never occurred to me, but that’s one of the many things I learnt from the book.

The thing about legends of the past is that you never quite know fact from fiction, exaggeration from reality. Timetrialling doesn’t tend to throw up too many characters; it’s a sport for the nerds and obsessive attention to detail. A rock star in a sheepskin coat who snubbed his nose up at the stuffy RTTC by riding too fast has all the makings of a great story.

i-like-alf-plane

“I Like Alf” on the way to New York

When I heard Paul Jones would be writing a book on Alf Engers, I thought somehow that this was a match made in Heaven. If ever a writer could do justice to a biopic of ‘The King’, it was P. Jones – who can make even sparsely populated hill climbs sound exotic and exciting. Except with Alf – ‘Heaven‘ is perhaps not quite the right epitaph; more like a “match made in Heaven – with a touch of the devil’s mischief thrown in for good measure.”

If there is a drawback to the book, it is short. I read in two days. But, it reminds me of the pastor who gave an interminably long sermon of two hours – and when asked why his sermon was so long, he responded that he didn’t have time to make it short. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that. The benefit is that the book moves along at a great pace, evoking the spirit of the times from post-war Britain to the slow evolution of parochial time-trialling. At last, I have a direct understanding of Engers. – What made him tick, what he did for the sport, the great battles of the past – all within the context of today. It was like finding out that Robin Hood is a real historical figure, and he was a pretty decent bloke to boot.

alf-engers

Alf Engers

As a story, you couldn’t make it up. It is hard to understand why a full-time baker could be banned from the sport for five years (age 22-27), because he had one failed season as an independent. It seems the spirit of amateur endeavour were lost in the rules, regulations and prejudices of the time. It is Alf’s comeback which is really the riveting part of the book. National records, complaints, counter-complaints, detractors and supporters in equal measure – it is all told with great pace, humour and sympathy to the rider who was breaking both records and pulling the RTTC out of its carefully controlled past. Continue Reading →

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Pea Royd Lane

Pea Royd Lane has been the venue for the national hill climb championships in 2009, 2014 and it will be the last minute venue for the 2018 National Championships.

It is a classic hill climb length- relatively short and steep with a few sharp corners to make it really testing.  The gradient is variable from fairly shallow at the bottom to a gradient of up to 20% near the top.

Blog from 2014 national hill climb championship

pear-royd-lane

Practice run August 2014

I was driving up north this weekend, so I took the short detour off the M1 to revisit Stocksbridge and have a go at Pea Royd Lane, which I haven’t done since 2009. The weather was warm with a cross wind. It felt like a headwind at the start, but tailwind in the middle. The last section I couldn’t work out. That’s the nature of the course, the wind can be all over the place.

Pea-Royd-Lane-view-from-top

Great view from the top

The over-riding impression of the climb was it’s steep and also a painful reminder of how hard hill climbs are. I’ve been looking for a similar hill in Oxfordshire, but there is nothing which gets the same height gain, in such as short space of time – though Whiteleaf hill and Chinnor Hill come close.

After a warm up, I gave it a good effort –  to try and get a rough idea of what time I can do after a summer of 50 and 100 mile time trials.  I’ve gone deeper in the hill climb season proper. But, it was plenty hard enough. I’m sure there was a lurking thought somewhere in my mind ‘Why do I do hill climbs again?’

It’s a hard hill climb because the gradient is always changing. The road surface is also quite rough. There was plenty of loose gravel, chippings and patched up road surface. I hear it is going to be resurfaced soon!

pear-royd-lane-8

Half way up, there’s a slight easing of gradient over the road bridge before the rest of the climb looms into view.

I took lots of photos of the climb (see bottom of post). It’s quite a mix of scenic Yorkshire views, with some ageing steel plants and electricity pylons thrown in. Still it’s a good view from the top.

Continue Reading →

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What do do when you can’t cycle

When I got injured back in July 2016, I thought perhaps a few weeks off the bike would be a blessing in disguise after a big few seasons. Little did I expect the weeks would turn into months, and the months into years. This is third hill climb season I will miss. I did get one or two invites to hill climbs which was nice, but even if my back and hip were better, I still have a lingering cough from summer virus when I make significant exertion.

In a way, these years off the bike remind me of my early twenties. Where a combination of illness and injuries kept me off the bike from around 1998 to 2004. The difference is that in those days I did not do very much to get better. More than anything, I had the mentality of a student and I was too tight to pay £45 to see a physiotherapist. When I did go to a good physio, it helped considerably and on a few occasions of injury, I was able to get better.

This time, I have tried everything you can think of. But, nothing seems to shift the relatively minor but very stubborn injury. It is becoming a mystery. I have tried several physios, osteopaths, rolfing massage (painful, relaxing and expensive) Egoscue, Pilates, stretching, riding through pain, complete rest. MRI scan, expensive back doctor specialist e.t.c. And at times, a combination of the lot. There is probably something missing but I’ve become weary for trying new things.  Whenever I go to someone, they are always optimistic it will soon be better and I believe this optimism. I don’t think my problem is a negative thought pattern or subconsciously holding onto suffering. I remain hopeful I will be able to ride properly soon, but then I’ve been hopeful for the past 27 months.

What to do when not cycling?

Often you notice how much you value something when you can’t do it anymore. Cycling was a great balance to my work of sitting hunched over a computer. I thought without cycling I’d be able to do a lot more with all the new free time I have. But, it doesn’t always feel like that. Not able to exercise makes you less dynamic and you can end up struggling to maintain that same sense of purpose. Certainly having virus over summer was not much fun. I have written two economics books, but that feels scant consolation. Continue Reading →

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Knog Oi Bike Bell – Review

The Knog Oi Bike Bell is marketed as a bicycle bell which doesn’t look like or sound like an ordinary bike bell. The most striking thing about the new Oi Bell is that it has a very slim profile. This makes it easy to fit on the handlebars.

oi-bike-bells

The sound is quite pleasing (a bit like a glockenspiel) and quieter than an ordinary bell. The ringer is also small and the first few times when I reached for the bell I missed the ringer at first glance. This was due to my reflexes being used to reach for my previous bigger bell. After getting used to the new position on handlebars it is fine.

(update: after 18 months of use it broke)

Optimal sound of a bicycle bell

Sometimes when I ring an ordinary bell, people jump out of their skins which probably makes them think ‘Bloody cyclist using my roads e.t.c.”

But then, on the other hand, you can ring your bell three times and the people are immobile – standing in the road or cycle path; when you go past, they mutter sarcastically ‘Don’t you have a bell?’ The problem with this bell is that it is quieter than ordinary bells. On a windy day on the footpath or during noisy traffic, the sound is easily lost in the environment.

path-by-river

When using this cycle path by River Thames I often timidly ring my bell because I don’t want to sound like a menacing cyclist wanting people to jump out of the way. But, when I timidly ring the bell, they often don’t hear.

This Knog bell is quite good if you want to err on side of not ringing too loudly. The sound is certainly not threatening, but at a distance might not be heard at all. The problem is if people don’t hear, the bell becomes a mere ornament. Continue Reading →

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Stolen wheels and don’t forget the rim tape

Last weekend, I was talking to a friend how my commuting bike was 18 years old. I bought the Trek second-hand in 2000. 18 years is pretty good when you consider bike theft rates in the UK. Because I’ve had it so long and because it’s not worth too much, I can use without excess fear of getting stolen. The lock I use in town is not flimsy, but it’s not indestructible.

bike-commuting

For quite a few years, I researched new commuting bikes (they made nice review pages on cyclinguphill.com). But, when it came to it I never got round to buying a new bike. Fear of being stolen was a strong factor in sticking with an old second-hand bike. It is not just the fear of being stolen but also peace of mind. If you have an old banger, you don’t worry so much about leaving it around town.

Anyway, I got back home, from a brief trip to Yorkshire to find the bike locked up outside my house had had its wheels stolen. The bike was still there – secured by a strong lock. But, it was surprisingly expensive to buy a new set of wheels. I could almost have bought a new complete bike. When wheels get stolen, you have to buy. Continue Reading →

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British Time Trial Championship 2010

This is a repost of an old blog from my previous website. I’ll repost it here as I have lost access to editing site.

The main point of interest is the top three riders. Who would have predicted the top three would go on to win the Tour de France. 4th Michael Hutchinson was commentating on tv today.

1 Bradley Wiggins Sky Pro Cycling 1:04:55
2 Christopher Froome Sky Pro Cycling 1:06:17
3 Geraint Thomas Sky Pro Cycling 1:06:30

It wasn’t my best race, the only thing I remember was Geraint Thomas talking to me after the race. Seemed a nice chap.

Very happy for Geraint Thomas to win the 2018 Tour de France. A very well deserved victory. Hope he gets lots of cheers on the Champs Elysees!

wiggins-hutchinson

Michael Hutchinson and Bradley Wiggins chat, just after the finish.

Yesterday was the 2010 British Time Trial Championships in Llandeilo, Wales. Apart from closing roads to traffic, it was as close as you can get to a real pro race. The course was testing, for the senior men 52km. For the Masters, Women and juniors – 32km. The women’s race was won by Emma Pooley, just ahead of Julia Shaw and Wendy  Houvenaghel.

In the Men’s race, Bradley Wiggins was the clear winner averaging a phenomenal 30mph for the 52 km. He led in a Sky One, Two, Three, with top domestic rider Michael Hutchinson just edged out of the podium place. In the Senior Men category, I was 24th place in a time of 1:14:24 (26.2mph). At one point Chris Froome (Sky) came flying past me. I was doing 33mph, so he must have been really going fast.

I believe Chris Froome and Andy Tennant

Chris Froome and Andrew Tennant (I think)

There was a short climb through the village of Llandeilo, which was a great buzz as a large crowd were there to cheer on the riders. After finishing, I took my camera and nipped back to the finish to take a couple of photos of the top riders who went off last. I ended up riding back to HQ with Geraint Thomas, who finished 3rd. He seemed a very nice, modest guy, quite at ease talking about cycling. I forgot for a few minutes, this was the guy who at one stage was second in this years Tour. I’m sure he has a great career ahead of him, I’d like to see him do well. Funny, next week he has the Tour of Britain, I have the start of the school term. Later in the year, he has the Commonwealth Games, I will have a few hill climbs. But, it’s a great sport when you can race in the same event as the best athletes in the sport.

wiggins-hutchinson

After getting back from New York, I felt somewhat demotivated from racing. On Saturday, I did my slowest 10 of the year (21:44). I toyed with not starting the BTTC championships, but, glad I made the long trek down to south Wales, a very well organised event and it was good to take part.

Related

Continue Reading →

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Public bike pumps which don’t work

This summer has been the best cycling weather since 1976 (the year of my birth). But, for the past five weeks, I have had a virus/bad cough so no cycling, apart from a slow meander into town. The idea of racing a bike seems hard to conceptualise at the moment. But, there is just enough competitive spirit to get a bit fed up with getting overtaken by 50% of commuters on the way into town.

Since I have not pumped up my tyres for several weeks, I decided this must be the source of my slowness. So I thought I would make use of a public-spirited free bike pump on Magdalen Bridge.

bike-pump

It’s an excellent idea to provide free air. As you can often need a bike pump in town. Anyway, I attached the tyre, but all it succeeded in doing was letting all the air out. Unfortunately, it didn’t work at pumping air back in – so I was left with a flat tyre. Public goods, free at the point of use is a great concept – even if leaves you stranded in town. You half expect to see a bike pump with requires a credit card payment for 50 seconds use.

So I had to walk all the way to the other end of town to the ever generous Bike Zone who kindly lent a pump, which enabled me to get home.

If you’ve wondered why I have only written five cycling blogs this year, this episode of a non-working public bike pump is about as interesting as my cycling experiences have been.

It seems my cycling friends are managing epic rides. Team-mate Vilas Silverton cycled 5,000km+ across the continent of Australia. Michael Broadwith did a short ride too.

I did toy with writing about procycling, but the bandwidth expended for Chris Froome’s adverse analytic finding which was dropped – has always been much more than enough already. I think the episode could be summed up by C.Prudhomme’s “All that for this?”

I am still doing a bit of exercises (egoscue) to try and cure the long-standing hip problem. I have also found some yoga exercises called the “Fountain of Youth“. It is supposed to keep your body young so if I ever get round to racing as a veteran I will have the body of a 30 year old, marvellous!

 

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