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Tips for avoiding punctures

Getting punctures is often a big discouragement for people taking up / continuing with cycling. Several years ago my parents bought some cheap hybrid bikes They had good intentions to start cycling. But, after one or two rides,  two tyres got punctures and they have been sitting in the garage ever since; I think the idea is that as the family cyclist I will sometime get round to mending the puncture. But, it hasn’t happened for a long time.

It’s a shame many beginners get put off by punctures because with a bit of preparation, you can make punctures a very rare experience. I blame cycle manufacturers who sell cheap hybrid bikes and put on cheap, useless tyres which are more likely to puncture. I’m sure everybody who buys a bike would prefer to pay an extra £20 to get puncture resistance tyres, but in the pursuit of cheaper bikes, we end up buying cheap tyres – which puncture and then we get put off cycling.

The quick check list for avoiding punctures

  1. Buy the best, puncture resistant tyres.
  2. When replacing an inner tube, be careful to put it on properly. Use fingers not tyre levers (avoid getting inner tube caught between rim and tyre)
  3. Replace worn tyres.
  4. Keep tyres at recommended psi (if too low, they are more likely to get pinch flat)
  5. Avoid the grittiest part of the road, where punctures are more likely.

1. Puncture Resistant tyres

If you buy a road bike / hybrid bike, there are some excellent tyres, which have very strong puncture resistance. This is the best investment and upgrade you can make to any bike. Unless you are racing, don’t worry about the extra weight. You won’t really notice it for a commute into town, but you will appreciate the reduction in punctures.


Schwalbe Marathon a good barrier to punctures.

On a commuting bike, I would suggest something like  an Armadillo Specialized All Condition (Armadillo Tyres at Evans Cycles) or Schwalbe Durano / Marathon

Both tyres are very puncture resistant. I’ve averaged a puncture more than every 3,000 miles using these tyres. They are very rare.

For summer training, racing, I might choose a lighter tyre, with less puncture resistance, but still pretty good. On a training bike, I often use Continental Dura Skin or Continental Grand Prix. You can see reviews of good road tyres here.

Unfortunately, at the moment it is hard to get completely puncture resistant tyres for road bikes. For some bikes you can get solid tyres, which offer a puncture resistant ride, but I wouldn’t want to ride them. When racing I always choose a tyre with good layers of puncture resistance, at least 1 or 2 kevlar belts. For training and even racing, I would rather choose a slightly heavier tyre and have an improved chance of avoiding a puncture. Only on very short hill climbs, will I risk the lightest tubulars.

Good Tubular puncture resistance


If you ride tubulars, a good puncture resistant tubular is Continental Competition (not the fastest) but pretty hardy. This is my Continental competition, I plucked out a sharp piece of glass from the rubber – no puncture. But most other tubs would have punctured because it’s quite big piece of glass.

2. Avoid the grit at the side of the road

Often on busy roads grit and debris accumulates on the side of the road;  riding amongst all this grit definitely increases the chance of getting a puncture. Don’t feel pushed into the edge, keep an eye on road surface and avoid potential problems. (BTW, there is a post here – don’t ride in the gutter, but give yourself a good distance from edge. This gives you room for manoeuvre when avoiding potholes and thorns.)

Also, it’s important to look out for potholes, if you ride over a pothole, you can puncture or even worse come off and break your wheel.

Also, there have been times, when I’ve got off and walked by  a newly cut thorn hedge which the farmer has kindly left on the road.

3. Put on the tyre properly – avoid pinch punctures

The biggest cause of ‘repeat punctures’ is putting on a tyre with tyre leavers. This invariably causes a pinching of the inner tube between rim and tyre. To avoid this, it is important to always put a tyre back on with your hands.

This video is good.

One thing I would add is after replacing inner tube and tyre, blow up to 20psi and then go around both sides of the tyre to check you can’t see any inner tube caught between rim and tyre. If it is, make sure you get rid of this, as it will cause a pinch puncture. This is especially important if you used tyre levers.

If you want a really amateur video about putting on a tyre. In the days of a full head of hair, and steel time trial bikes. (it only weighed 6kg!)

4. Tubeless and self-fixing slime

Another option is to go tubeless. Tubeless avoids pinch punctures. Also, you can put self-healing slime into a tubeless, so if you do puncture, the slime should automatically seal the puncture, and avoid 99% of punctures. I’ve gone tubeless on one rear tyre.

5. Correct tyre pressure

At a low tyre pressure, you are more likely to get pinch punctures. This is why mountain bikers are much more likely to use tubeless. By running tubeless they can run low psi of 30ps – 40psi – without worrying about getting a pinch puncture (inner tube stuck between tyre and rim). If you run ordinary inner tubes and tyres and keep a low psi, you may end up with a pinch puncture.

6. Use new inner tubes

I never use a puncture repair kit. I just buy inner tubes in bulk. At least a failed puncture repair is one less thing to worry about.

8. Check tyres for wear / scratches and embedded grit

I frequently check tyres for wear. I prefer to replace at early signs of wear. I have seen some riders wear tyres down so much, you can actually see the outer layer is completely gone! This Continental GP 4000 has been worn down by riding on rollers. I could get more miles out of it, but, it’s done a good few thousand, so I’d rather replace now.


Another good thing to do is to check for pieces of glass that have got embedded in the tyre. I will use a sharp point (nail or safety pin) and flick the grit out. (watch out for your eyes). This prevents the grit getting pushed further into the tyre and causing a puncture at a later date. I usually tolerate one or two scratches in a tyre, but, when they start to look deep or prevalent, I chuck the tyre out. Better to replace too early and avoid that puncture!

9. Make sure there is rim tape on the wheel.

I’ve had two punctures because the rim tape slipped off the centre of the wheel; this meant the inner tube was in direct contact with metal rim, and this caused a puncture because the metal rim can have sharp edges.

10. Tubulars over inner tubes and tyres

The advantage of tubulars is that they are less likely to suffer from a ‘pinch puncture’. But, overall it really depends on the quality of the tubular. For racing I use tubulars, not so much for better puncture resistance, but they are lighter. However, when you do puncture it is more expensive. So road tyres and inner tubes are better for training.

11. Never blog about how you never get punctures

I once blogged about not getting punctures and preceded to get 5 punctures in a week. But, sometimes you can go a long time without puncturing.

12. Avoid riding in the rain

People often find that riding in the rain causes an increased chance of puncture. I think this may be due to the fact that the water reduces friction and makes it easier for grit to penetrate the tyre. I guess no body would choose to ride in the rain unless they can avoid it. But, be prepared for higher risk of puncture if it is wet.

13. Ride a solid wheel

You can now get solid tyres which are 100% puncture proof. They are a bit slower, but will last a long time. No air, so no puncture a Korean Company Tannus is manufacturing them. It will be interesting to see if they catch on.



Bike maintenance tips

Firstly,  there’s an excellent article from Bike Radar here – top 10 bike maintenance dont’s

The advice may sound obvious. But I’ve been guilty of most of them over the years. If you speak to anyone who works in a bike shop, you will learn never to take it for granted that people know how to do the obvious – like blow up tyres.

The most important tips of bike maintenance I’ve learnt from bitter experience

  • Learn how to repair a puncture without getting a pinch flat. (use hands, not tyre levers. After putting on, go all the way around both sides of rim to make sure no inner tube is stuck between rim and tyre.) Alternatively – go tubeless
  • There’s no shame in taking your bike to a bike shop. Something like wheel truing is a fairly rare job. You’re better off taking it to an expert rather than trying to do it yourself.
  • If you take your bike on a plane and have to redo stem and handlebars, make sure you learn how to tighten the headset. In the words of Bike Radar ‘Never tighten the top cap without loosening the stem bolts’
  • After rain, speedplay pedals need greasing like mad – unless you want to keep forking out £200 for a new pair.
  • For a bike you race on, it is worth changing chain every 1,000 miles to get better efficiency and make expensive cassettes last a longer time.
  • Never rush bike maintenance. You will pay for it in the long term. Take your time, use the proper tools. Don’t work at awkward angles which will round the screws. Avoid disasters like this stem fitting

Confessions of an amateur bike mechanic


You wish there was some kind of natural law which meant that when you increase your cycle fitness, automatically your mechanical competence increased in equal measure. You feel that if you can cycle 50 miles in under two hours the gods of cycling should, at least, give you the capacity to change a tubular or adjust a gear without losing the will to live and contemplating becoming a cross country runner just to avoid bike maintenance.

But, alas, life is not so straightforward; not only do we cyclists have to train through wind, rain and sleet,  but we also have to learn the intricacies and challenges of bike maintenance. Give me a 20% hill and I’ll cycle up it all day long, but give me a Shimano Dura Ace 10 speed group set and, for the life of me, I will never be able to remember whether tightening up the front chainring position is anti-clockwise or clockwise.

Instead, I will mindlessly keep turning the screw in all different directions until by a random chance of fate, it nearly aligns like I want it to. This is assuming I haven’t given up and taken it to a bike shop.

Over the past 20 years of cycling, I’ve become a reasonable descender, a competent timetriallist, and a pretty good hill climber. But, whilst my cycling capacity has risen from rank beginner to good amateur, my bike maintenance capacity is still languishing in the ‘might be able to manage 10 miles, if the weather is nice’ kind of category. (i.e. he can change a puncture, so long as the tyre is sufficiently pliant and malleable.)

Nevertheless, despite years of frustration, broken allen keys and gear shifters which resolutely fail to shift, I still have some wisdom to pass onto those who find themselves in a similar situation.

  • Your best bet is usually to take it to a bike shop who know what they are doing. You will save yourself time, money and you won’t have a large dint in your carbon fibre frame because you hit it with a spanner in frustration. Now, this is not exactly scintillating advice – but, it’s always been my great saviour. No matter what you start you know that when you fail to finish it, you can always take down to bike shop. In 20 years of having my bike repaired, only once have I felt bike repair was expensive; often it’s embarrassingly cheap – at least compared to motor car maintenance, which seem to have a £50 minimum charge just for turning up at the garage. Here, I will give a shout out to Reg Taylor Cycles on Iffley Road – they have been doing a good job for 10 years.

Continue Reading →


Cycling facts

A random list of cycling facts – from the invention of the bike to the fastest time circumnavigating the world.

When Was the Bike Invented?

No one really knows exactly. The Frenchman Ernest Michaux invented a bicycle with pedal and rotary cranks in 1861, but it is doubtful this was actually the first design.

Early precursors to the bicycle include:

1817 – The Running Machine. Invented by the German Baron Karl von Drais, this had no pedals, no chains, but two wheels. It was propelled by pushing  your feet on ground. It was sometimes known as human horse. It was largely a form of entertainment for aristocratic families with their own estate. It never really caught on, but is important for giving idea of bicycle shaped objects.


The Running Machine. Photo by Gun Powder Ma wikipedia

The Velocipede – 1860s. In the early 1860s, two Frenchmen Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement put pedals on the front wheel and introduced the velocipede, which looks more like our modern bicycle. It had no chain and was very uncomfortable due to the wooden wheels. The velocipede helped the spread of the bicycle.


The Penny Farthing. A development of the Velocipede, this was faster due to the larger diameter of the front wheel. But, considered dangerous because of its height. Nevertheless Penny Farthings became quite popular and the first cycle races were on these high machines.


1890 Humber Safety Bicycle

1885. The Safety Bike. It was around the 1880s, that the first safety bikes appeared. These are considered the first real bicycles. With their standard two triangle frames, pedals and chain, the basic design has remained unchanged. Starley’s 1885 Rover is considered the first real bicycle model.

When was the Pneumatic tyre

In 1846 Robert William Thomson  patented a pneumatic tyre. But, he was never able to make it a practical reality. In 1888, Scotsman John Dunlop invented the first practical pneumatic tyre, which created a much more enjoyable and comfortable ride. A year later, in 1889, the racing cyclist Willie Hume won 4 races using Dunlop’s tyres in 1889  The bicycle was ready for mass participation and the first puncture repair kit was invented pretty soon after.

Innovations for bicycles which later appeared in motor cars

  • Pneumatic Tyres
  • Precision ball bearings
  • Tension-spoked wheels
  • chain-drive,

Motor Engineers who started off producing bicycles

Henry Ford, Wright Brothers. Dunlop tyres, The Rover Cycle Company, Morris Motor Company.

Who were the first group to campaign for better roads?

Cyclists. In the US in the 1890s, it was cyclists who were prominent in the Good roads movement. A magazine Good Roads Magazine was founded in 1892 by cycling advocates. It reached a subscription of 1 million within 3 years. A year later (1893) after Good Roads magazine was founded, Charles Duryea produced the first American gasoline-powered vehicle, and within 20 years cars had replaced bicycles as the most popular users of American roads. But, those early motorists befitted from the campaigning by cycling groups. Continue Reading →


10 Annoying types of cyclists

We all know the bicycle is the best invention since stone age man first lit a fire and rolled a wheel down the hill to celebrate. But, those who ride a bicycle are not necessarily as super-cool as they might believe. Cyclists can just be as irritating and annoying as anyone else.

Irritating types of cyclists, could include:

  • Any cyclist with a better bike than you.
  • Any cyclist who has more bikes that you.
  • Any cyclist who overtakes you on a hill and says ‘jolly nice day’ pretending not to be even out of breath, when you know they are on the verge of collapsing when they get round corner.
  • Any cyclist who is faster than you.
  • Any cyclist who weighs less than you, despite eating more cake.
  • Any cyclist who pretends to never do any training, but still manages to do a 200Km sportive in sub 6 hours.
  • Anyone who starts an unofficial commuting race when you don’t want to get involved in such a petty unimportant thing.
  • Anyone who beats me in an unofficial commuting race.

But, this is a more detailed list.

1. The Winter Racer

It’s the middle of winter and most of your clubmates are happy to settle for some steady winter miles with the odd teashop thrown in. However, the winter racer will turn up on his £3,000 carbon fibre mike (sans mudguards of course) and insist on sprinting for every road sign or these days invisible strava segments. The funny thing about the winter racer is that when the real racing starts in the middle of summer, they tend to evaporate or fail to race very quickly. Winter racers for the times which don’t matter.

2. The Tester who bores everyone rigid.


(Tester = time triallist). Time trialling can have a tendency to encourage a sort of obsessive behaviour. In particular, some testers will take any opportunity to regale you with their long history of their personal bests.

“…I set a 52:03 on the H25/8. Of course, if I’d had a 54 * 11 sprocket I’m sure I would have got a 51….”

In the old days you could settle for listening to pbs and perhaps the advantage of fixed wheel over gears, but these days we have power figures, and even CdA stats to throw in the equation. For every pb, there is now also a power pb. Not only will you hear all the times done, but also how much faster he could have gone, should power and optimal CdA be thrown into the equation.

3. The Urban Warrior


Maybe it is not fair to call these class of people cyclists – but they are certainly guilty of creating a bad image for all the other cyclists.. Urban warriors treat the road as an obstacle course. Red lights and one way signs are only part of the street furniture – something to be admired for their aesthetic beauty rather than being signals of when to stop. The urban warrior will charge along pavements and shout at anyone with the audacity to suggest he might have been in the wrong. The worst thing about the Urban Warrior is that every-time he gets on a bike, he spawns another 100 angry letters to the Daily Mail – ensuring cyclists are viewed with the same disdain usually reserved for slugs in a lettuce patch.

4. Mr Excuses


It wasn’t fair, there was this big puddle

It was the headwind, sidewind, wrong bike, wrong choice of gears, too hilly, too early in the season, too late in the season, too hot, too cold, old war wound…. No matter what happens, Mr Excuses will always come up with a long list of excuses for why he didn’t do better / ride further. After listening to Mr Excuses, you really feel he could win the Tour de France, if only he wasn’t so cursed with bad luck and unfortunate mishaps. Of course, every racing cyclists is guilty of delving into the world of excuses. Continue Reading →


Reasons to take up cycling

Some of the best reasons to take up cycling.

1. See the world


Cycling gives a sense of freedom that sitting in a car can never give. Descending a hill on a bike is exhilarating, something you never feel in a car. Cycling also gives greater freedom about where to go. Cycling will help you see many beautiful parts of the country, that otherwise you wouldn’t have seen. Even within my local city Oxford, a bike gives you vistas you would never get through driving.


2. Quicker Travelling

In many congested towns, a bike can offer the quickest method of transport. For example, in London average speeds on roads amounts to a paltry 9mph (this is a lower average than 100 years ago!) Even a moderately fit cyclist will have no trouble in beating cars, buses and the underground. Also with a bike, you don’t have to spend time driving around looking for parking. You can park usually exactly where you want to end up.  Many towns are encouraging pedestrian only areas. With a bike you can go down narrow lanes, on canal paths and often cut corners that you cannot do in a car. As cities get more congested, cycling is a practical way to beat the queues and get to work more quickly.


3. Saves Money

A good bike costs £400; a reasonable car will cost £5,000. With oil prices and car parking charges rising, cycling can also save significantly on petrol costs. The majority of car journeys are for distances less than 5 miles. These distances are easily cycleable. These short journeys also have the relatively highest petrol costs because cars are most inefficient at low speeds. It is estimated that leaving the car in the garage for the average commuter could save an estimate £74.14 ($150) per week (source: Cycling Weekly June 19th 2013). (This is of course assuming your passion for cycling doesn’t take you down the route of buying something like Shinamo Dura Ace Di2  – definitely not necessary for the commute into town)

4. Lose Weight

Cycling is a low impact aerobic exercise and is an excellent way of losing weight. Cycling can also be combined with shopping and commuting, enabling very busy people to find time for exercise. It is also a lot cheaper than gaining membership to the gym. With obesity becoming an endemic problem in western society, cycling can play a key role in helping to keep the population in shape. You should have seen what a lump of lard I was before I took up cycling….

5. Health Benefits


Cycling is good for the heart and can help reduce incidence of heart disease, one of the biggest killers amongst developed countries. Sedentary lifestyles also contribute to other ‘silent killers’ such as diabetes and high blood pressure. According to the British Heart Foundation, around 10,000 fatal heart attacks could be avoided each year if people kept themselves fitter. Cycling just 20 miles a week reduces your risk of heart disease to less than half that of those who take no exercise, the heart foundation claims. If you worry about the dangers of cycling, this helps put it into perspective.  – Cycling and health Continue Reading →


The Belgian classics

A tribute to the Belgian, and other early season classics.

There was a time when I used to think watching pro cycling was pretty boring. I watched the Tour de France for many years because I was interested in cycling, but if I’m honest it was all pretty tedious and not very much really happened. The action was mainly enlivened by Carlton Kirby or the legendary David Duffield getting randomly excited about a local wine vineyard that the peleton had just passed (and if that was the highlight of a stage,  imagine the tedium…) For several years, the Tour de France was just three weeks of watching the US Postal team ride on the front, and at the end of the month, the same bloke always seemed to win.

Photo Brendan2010 - Tour of Flanders 2013

Photo Brendan2010 – Tour of Flanders 2013

These days, the Tour seems slightly more unpredictable and in 2013 there were some great stages, despite the fears it would be all about the Sky train. But, whatever the Tour de France can serve up –  the great spring classics are on another level for sheer excitement, interest, unpredictability and sporting endeavour. Even the place names in the classics seem to conjure up the best of cycling and northern Europe. Just hearing the names of the great cobbled climbs like Oude Kwaremont, the Paterberg, the Kopenberg, the Muur seems to evoke epic battles on the bike.


The Muur by Louise Ireland

The classics have everything – iconic locations, great pictures, evocative place names, a testament of endurance and fitness, but also luck and the ever changing tactical calculations. When should you ride? when should you attack?  You never really know what is going to happen, and it’s hard to pick a winner. They often provide tension and excitement right up to the last. If nothing else, they are wonderful spectacles; it’s just great to watch the top cyclists power or struggle up the cobbled climbs. When you see a Boonen or Sagan in full flight, you know that is real power (and if you’re interested Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt used to do 30 seconds intervals of 1,000 watts + in his preparations for Paris Roubaix.) Continue Reading →


Cycling World hour record – combined forces and age 100+

2014 seems to be a big year for the Cycling World Hour Record. The top 3 professional timetriallists – Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins have all expressed an interest in the iconic record that has languished since the great battles between Boardman, Indurain, Rominger and Obree in the 1990s. The world hour record is currently held by the relatively unknown Ondřej Sosenka, he did 49.700 km 2005. (He later failed two dope tests, putting into doubt the validity of his record). It will be good to see a top time triallist finally go for the record (which despite UCI meddling, remains by far the most iconic cycling record.)

Away from the professional world, there have been two recent successful attempts at different categories and variations of the hour record.

Firstly, up is local time triallist, RAF engineer Justyn Cannon. Cannon successfully rode 47.220km on a track in Newport, 3rd Feb 2013. A very good distance for early February and for a rider who has done very little work on the track. It’s particularly interesting for me, because I often race against Justyn Cannon and we are often pretty close in local time trials.


But, there is something special about the Hour record. It is (by all accounts) a particularly testing event. Eddy Merckx couldn’t walk after his effort in 1974, and said it was hardest ride of his career. Cannon said

“That was horrible, absolutely horrible. It just messes with your mind.”

“Lap number one is horrible, as you’re stressed about getting on schedule. Then each lap after that is horrible.”

It must be a great feeling to actually put the kms on the board and beat the old Combined forces  record of 46.5. It seems Justyn was training very hard over Christmas. “I train three times a day, including doing two hours on Christmas Day.” !

Good article at BBC here

All or nothing

One thing about the World Hour record is that it must feel an all or nothing achievement. You either break the record or you don’t. You can prepare for months, but it all comes down to whether you can break it. Even attempting the record takes courage.

World hour record for 100+ age category

Recently Robert Marchand, a 102-year old rider from France, beat his own hour record on the newly opened cycling track in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines on Friday. Marchand set a new hour record for the UCI 100-plus category which was created especially for Marchand. The record now stands at 26 kilometers and 927 metres.

Not bad for a 102 year old! Continue Reading →


Old School Cycling

Last week I was singing the praises of cycling indoors on the rollers. ‘Falling in love with the turbo‘ and all that kind of nonsense. My old man would give me a clip round the ear hole and tell me stop being a big southern softie – ‘stop dodging the showers and go outside for some proper cycling.‘ Roger De Vlaeminck didn’t win Paris Roubaix three times by listening to his iPod shuffle whilst doing level III on his indoor rollers.

So this weekend, it was time to ditch the conservatory and heated saddle for a bit of proper ‘old school’ cycling – cycling through the mud, wind and sleet and snow.  It was time for a bit of winter grit, and getting in the miles without complaining.

Time for a bit of winter grit

Winter grit

It was also time to invoke the spirit of Sean Kelly and Bernard Hinault and other legendary figures from the past. One thing everyone agrees on, the modern generation is soft. Just look at the early editions of the Tour de France 400km stages over unmade roads on fixed gear bikes; and if you’re bike breaks down, no mechanic to give you a spare wheel. As for riding in the rain Sean Kelly would just say ‘I would go out whatever the weather, and only when I got back would I decide if the weather was too bad.’ Old school cycling has no time for marginal gains, power zones or heart rate monitors – Just pedalare…


Saturday was a lonesome 2 hours around the flat bleak farmland, north of Wantage. Dodging the A420, and sticking to small lanes, it was a matter of getting some slow miles in. 2 hours 20, for 38 miles. It felt handwork, especially the long relentless plod into the wind. There is an old school training theory of keeping it on the little ring until April. I’m not devoted to old school training methods. But, I was on the little ring all the way – more by necessity rather than choice.

Sunday, was another kettle of fish. This time I was joined by rising Buxton CC star, Chris Baines. A national junior hill climb champion (2012), and a northern cyclist raised in the hills of the Peak District.


Chris is new to the area so I was able to take him around some hills of the Chilterns towards Watlington and Henley. Hughenden Valley towards High Wycombe was looking beautiful. Don’t tell the old school guys, but there was no sleet or hail, just glorious February sunshine. If you had to pick a day to do a four hour ride in February, it would be hard to choose a better one. Though I feel compelled to add a random old school cycling quote:

“A Paris–Roubaix without rain is not a true Paris–Roubaix. Throw in a little snow as well, it’s not serious.”

– Sean Kelly

The muddy roads were flooded, and I got a good splattering from hanging on to Chris’s back wheel. He had a nice pair of mudguards on, but it wasn’t enough to stop getting splattered with mud from the incessant puddles. But, if you’re trying to emulate the old school warriors – a bit of splattered mud, is infinitely preferable to actually cycling five hours through the snow. [1]


In a rush of blood, I’ve already entered my first race of the season, a 14 mile time trial by Kingston Wheelers next Sun. A few hours of sweet spot on the rollers and I felt like I was flying already. But, rollers can be deceptive, get on the real roads with a fierce wind, and you soon notice those 3 weeks off the bike. Continue Reading →


Cycling, mood and happiness

It’s not often I get too excited about 20 minutes on the turbo. But, after a few weeks off the bike any kind of exercise is welcome.

One of the attractions of cycling is the benefit to general mood. After a day spent working at the desk, going out for a bike ride can blow a lot of the mental and physical cobwebs out of the system.

There is the basic chemical benefit of exercise, the slow release of serotonin – the natural ‘high’. Nature’s reward for overcoming lethargy and the hard work of exercise. Given that exercise can significantly improve health, it is perhaps unsurprising evolution has given some reward to those who partake exercise.


Cycling in the sweet spot

One of the best types of rides is a constant couple of hours, at an intensity which may be loosely be described as the ‘sweat spot’. It’s an effort level below lactic threshold and close to aerobic capacity. This intensity of exercise is not excessively painful nor does it do any real damage to muscles. You are not overly stressing the body, but giving it a very good work out. It’s a good training session because it can give high training returns, but doesn’t require extensive recovery.

This kind of session requires concentration to keep the pace high. If you don’t have concentration, you can slip off the target intensity and end up a level 1. But, when you can get in the groove and spend two hours of cycling at this intensity, there is a real buzz. Especially, if the weather is good, the road smooth and you’re in good shape, you can do an impressive average speed without killing yourself. This session gives everything, the feeling of speed, movement and all the chemical and mental benefits of exercise.

In terms of legal, natural mood enhancements, there aren’t many better suggestions that cycling for 1-2 hours in that ‘sweet spot’


Many people would be happy to cycle at a steady pace, rarely doing anything more than training at their aerobic capacity. But, others are drawn to the extreme of racing and training at the maximum intensity. The whole point of racing is to see how far you can test yourself. By nature it is physically painful because you are trying to push past the bodies warning signals of what is comfortable. Dealing with this pain and discomfort can be mentally challenging. But, at the same time, there is a underlying sense of satisfaction and a different kind of happiness. Some people say that when racing, it really feels like you’re living on the edge, there is a heightened sense of awareness and living. It may be torture when you’re doing it, but there is usually a welcome afterglow of achievement.

The mind and the mood

Not all cycle rides are the same. Sometimes you go out and everything slips into place. It is one of those proverbial float days, where the cycling is exhilarating and you get a tremendous benefit. Other times, the ride can feel hard work, and rather than improving your mood, it feels a struggle to get round and you begin to wonder what you are doing.

To a large extent, we can just get on the bike and cycle, but there is also a need to be aware of the train of thoughts we allow into our mind. If we become absorbed in a negative train of thought, like ‘this is a useless ride’ ‘why am I so slow?’ ‘Why can’t I beat X?’ – the joy of cycling evaporates. There have been the odd times when I’ve stopped by the side of the road to restart my mind and get ride of a certain train of thought. I often used to be out cycling, and I’d get worked up by Lance Armstrong getting away with taking drugs or something. It used to really eat into me. I had to make a conscious effort to get away from that and not even start to think of that topic. Otherwise when you’re cycling on you’re own you can start thinking in circles and the ideas get stronger. Continue Reading →