Cycling during lockdown

In the past six weeks, I have stopped commuting into town on the river path because – there’s no reason to go into town, plus cycle paths are relatively crowded these days. It sounds a strange thing to say, but it feels much safer on the roads these days.

Traffic levels are definitely down, a few times I have been on so-called busy roads around Oxford and they have been relatively quiet. Whilst traffic levels are down on usual, there seem to be a lot more cyclists. Last weekend there seemed to be quite a few newbies, enjoying the opportunity to escape the confines of home. Mostly people are out alone, apart from the odd couple or family with children. When I overtake people, I leave a large gap. Travelling at speed two meters behind might not be enough.

The other day I was cycling up a hill (relatively fast) when another cyclist in a Team Sky replica jersey went flying past me. In any other circumstance I would jump on his wheel like a limpet to a magnet, but the government has literally outlawed wheelsucking (And not before time too!) so I had to watch as the Sky jersey slowly disappeared into the distance. Even though they have sold thousands of replica jerseys, you can’t help but secretly wonder – was it perhaps Geraint Thomas or Luke Rowe doing a very cheeky 200-mile ride from Wales? Alas, no, it was just an everyday cyclist reminding me that no one remains king of the hill for very long.

In a time of real suffering for many, there’s a part of you that questions whether you should be ‘enjoying’ cycling. I remember when 1,000 deaths a day were reported in Italy, it sounded horrifying. But, when it happens in your own country there is often a surreal distance from the suffering which occurs mostly out of view.

But overall, I feel the mental and physical benefits of solo cycling on the road outweigh the potential downsides and think it is good people have the opportunity to exercise at least once a day.

Many people are noticing a dramatic improvement in air quality. One study suggests the fall in traffic levels and pollution could save – 11,000 lives across Europe from health problems related to air pollution. On top of that fatal accidents are down. Hopefully, in a post-COVID world, we will try to re-evaluate what is important and endeavour to maintain lower pollution levels and lower traffic accidents, even as economic activity returns.

As a time triallist and self-employed writer, I am more used to the solitary existence both on the bike and in the work environment. But, after six weeks (or is it seven now?) there is something of a wistful desire to return to normal life and meet people in person rather than through the prism of electronic screens. Unfortunately, the current situation does not seem to have a quick fix.  It’s going to be a challenging few months, if not years.

M40 empty
An empty M40 last Sunday.

BTW: the most popular articles on my economics website, is how much can a government print money? (the good news is – quite a lot!)

Stay safe!

Time Trial Records

A compilation of time trial records.  Updated 2020.

Marcin Bialoblocki (One Pro Cycling) a Polish national racing in the UK smashed the previous record held by Alex Dowsett and James Gullen of 17.20 – setting a new time of 16.35. Anna Turvey Tyneside Vagabonds CC) also set a new womens record of 19.08. Results CTT. The next day Bialoblocki set a new 25 mile record of 44.04. A few weeks later, Hayley Simmonds was the first women to go under 19 mins, setting a record of 18.36.

10 Mile Time Trial

  • Marcin Bialoblocki – 16-35 – Course V718 10/09/2016 – 36.2 mph (450 watts)
  • Alex Dowsett (Movistar)- 17.20 – Course E2/10 – 01/06/2014
  • Michael Hutchinson – 17-45 – Course – V718  – 26/08/2012 (33.8 mph)
  • Michael Hutchinson  – 17.57 – Course: V718 – 24/07/2010
  • Bradley Wiggins –         17.58 – Course: Levens 16/09/2006 (33.4mph)
  • James Gullen – 17.09 – Course V719 – 11/09/2016

25 Mile TT

  • Marcin Bialoblocki44.04 – R25/3H – 11/09/2016 – 34.04 mph
  • Alex Dowsett              – 44.29  – E2/25 –  29/05/16
  • Matt Bottrill –             – 45.43  R25/3L 07/09/14
  • Michael Hutchinson – 45:46  Port Talbot Wheelers 25 09/09/2012
  • Dave McCann           –  45-54Course R25/3 20/09/2009
  • Chris Boardman       –  45.57 – Oxford University
  • Sean Yates                  – 46-57  – H25/13  28/09/1997
  • Alf Engers                    – 49-24 – E72

Read moreTime Trial Records

Speedplay pedals review long term

speedplay-pedal-grease

I started using Speedplay pedals back in 2006. I wrote the first review in 2008. This is an updated review after using them for nearly fourteen years.

Summary

speedplay Speedplay pedals are very good to ride on. They took a little bit of getting used to (like floating on ice is common feeling), but now I don’t want to go to any other system. They are light, small and easy to use. I’ve never had any problems when actually cycling with them, and since pedalling is so important, this makes me want to like them and overcome any faults they may have.  The main drawback of Speedplay pedals is that they have been an expensive choice. In particular, they are more prone to long-term maintenance problems. Three times I’ve had to throw away a pair because the internal bearings seized up (it was always the left pedal which went. So I have three spare right pedals lying around).

I once complained to Speedplay and someone from America rang up to say they never get maintenance problems if you look after them and pursue regular maintenance – using grease gun and lube. I was disappointed I couldn’t buy a spare left-hand pedal to match up my surplus right pedals.

If you do buy Speedplay, it is really essential, you learn to grease and lube regularly; I wish I had done earlier.

Why I Switched to Speedplay

My first clipless pedals were the more common Look pedals. The reason I switched to Speedplay pedals was:

  1. I had some problems with my knees and (rightly or wrongly) I blamed the Look pedals and the way my movement was restricted. I liked the idea of having a large angle of float that comes with Speedplay
  2. I wanted to save weight. Speedplay comes in at 205 grams and 150 grams for Titanium version. These were the lightest pedals on the market, at the time. However, the gap between the weight of Speedplay and Look has been reduced with the introduction of new models like the Look Keo. At 240 grams + cleats they offer good value for money at only £39.99
  3. Very aerodynamic – pedal is small surface area.
  4. Cleats are easy to set up. I always found the Look cleats a bit fiddly to get in the right position. If they were slightly out, it could cause problems. Speedplay are much easier to set up because of the greater degree of lateral movement.
  5. Optimal power transference because the pedal is encased in the shoe with minimal stack height. Whether there actually is better power transfer, I don’t know. But, it does feel good.
  6. I like many aspects of  Speedplay Zero Aero – and may buy if I get back into racing.

Using Speedplay

I have been very happy with the Speedplay. They are definitely a little strange when you first test them. But, it is amazing how quickly you can get used to the large float. Cycling with Speedplay feels very natural. Some might feel the large degree of float makes it harder when sprinting.

Read moreSpeedplay pedals review long term

Autumn photos

autumn
A recent ride to Watlington was good. This is from the top of Aston Hill

I think the last time I posted I was toying with a very last-minute entry to the National Hill Climb on Haytor Vale. For a few years, the idea of a national hill climb on a long climb like Haytor was a very far distant carrot to try and get fit. One last hurrah, so to speak. It’s the kind of long climb that only comes around once every seven years or so. But, in the end, it was not to be. Even if I managed to make a last-minute dash for fitness, I don’t think I would have been troubling the timekeepers at the business end of the results board.

The 2019 on National looks like it was a great event. With worthy winners of Ed Laverack and Hayley Simmonds.

SI Joint / top of pelvis

I enjoyed a brief resurgence in September but – as if to make the decision for entering national for me – old problems returned two days before the deadline. It’s a pain in the lower back by the top of the pelvis, going down to SI joint. I always assumed it was related to FAI and problem on right hip. But, now I think it’s a completely separate problem. The outer hip is mostly fine since the operation, but it has done nothing for this other problem. It’s kind of like one down two to go. (+ dodgy hamstring). I suppose it was still good to have the operation, but on cycling front, not much is actually that different.

Exercises for SI Joint / Muscle issue

I’ve been up Aston Hill many times, but this is the first time I’ve stopped to take a photo

I’ve scoured the internet, plus all my physios and have an impressive collection of exercises, strengthening posture improvement efforts – related to addressing this issue. In lieu of cycling, I’ve developed a regular morning routine, yoga, strengthening e.t.c. As a result, my core strength is better now than at any previous time. It must help a little, but hasn’t shifted since three years of trying.

Last year, I announced a retirement whilst at the same time retaining a secret hope of returning to top form and even regaining former glories. But, now it feels more like time really is up and rather than frustrated at what is not, you start to appreciate the advantages of not actually killing yourself to try and be on top form. It’s kind of liberating to look out of the window, see the rain and say, well I don’t have to go out today – not even on the rollers!

Cycling

I am still cycling as much as relative comfort allows. Most of it involves cycling to Oxford. My daily commute gets longer and longer, even if it involves going round and round very small hilly loops. I still get great joy from accumulating miles, a daily commute of 10-13 miles, adds up and last week I made 113 miles. Occasionally, if the rain relents, I might go out for a longer ride. I always think, that before the final leaf fall, this is a great time for cycling.

Streatley hill – National Hill Climb Championship 2020

Next year the National Hill Climb Championship is on Streatley Hill. Short and steep

Limitations of stretching

As a side dish to the hip problem. I’ve had a bad hamstring for the past 12 months. I was doing some exercises to strengthen muscles last year when the next day I had a mild hamstring strain. It was one of those strains which is not really painful, and you think it should get better in a few days, weeks. But, whatever I did, it hung around. When I tried to cycle hard, it got worse. I tried

  • Rest – including no exercise for two months over winter.
  • Stretching – frequent and persistent stretching. When I first tried, I couldn’t reach my ankles. But, now I can get all fingers to the ground. I stretched hamstring three times a day for nine months.
  • Strength training. I progressed slowly and steadily with the Hungarian dead-lift – which is a good exercise for strengthening the hamstrings. I also bought a balance ball for another hamstring exercise. I did other exercises for all-round balanced leg and hip strength.

Since none of this made a difference. I tried osteopath and massage. I also tried trigger point therapy, where you feel for painful parts in the muscles and press it – to relieve the pressure. I did this self trigger point therapy quite a few times. One osteopath was good, and it got better for a few days, but within a week it had returned exactly the same as before.

I couldn’t understand why if you do all these things you are supposed to do, it remained stubbornly the same. Anyway, a friend in New York recommended a practitioner who offers an alternative to physical therapy – based on kinesiology. It was reassuringly expensive at $500. But, since I’ve not been buying any expensive bike components in the past few years, I thought why not. I’ve spent more on medical treatments, which haven’t worked.

Read moreLimitations of stretching

Kettlewell to Ilkley

Yesterday I made it up to Kettlewell, which is the furthest I’ve ridden for a long while. I had an operation on my hip this May, which went reasonably well. I still have a few persistent niggles, so it is a bit start and stop. But, yesterday was an enjoyable ride.

On a good September afternoon, with a light tailwind pushing you along – the run from Kettlewell, Grassington, Burnsall, Ilkley, Menston is one of the great joys of cycling. A few short hills, long winding fast descents. If you have the power to get up the little drags, you can really fly home as the amazing scenery wizzes by. Some of the run from Burnsall look different to the last time I was up here as trees have been chopped down on one side and have grown on the other.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, my Shimano Dura-Ace battery started to die on the way out. I don’t think I’ve charged it up all year. The problem with not cycling very much is you get out of the habit. I don’t think I’ve changed the chain for two years… But it seems to keep moving.

Read moreKettlewell to Ilkley

Supporting the French

It’s been a really great Tour de France. I’ve even found myself supporting the French! But, now it reaches the third week, I hope Geraint Thomas comes strong and nips past both the French riders on the last day in the Alps. I don’t think it is so much supporting the French as hoping for an interesting race, where many riders are in contention and with each stage, you can never be sure how it unfolds. Also, it makes a huge difference when one team doesn’t have a dominant mountain train to discourage any and every attack.

Tour de France stage 2

It has always been a shame that the Tour de France is usually the ‘flattest’ of all Grand Tours. The Giro and Vuelta rarely fail to give real interest in the GC, but – despite the odd edition, the Tour de France GC usually ends up being fairly predictable. But, this year it is all up in the air and there seems to be a lot more positive energy around the tour. Crashes are down; there isn’t even any doping saga hanging over the tour.

I think the organisers are finally cottoning on to the idea that seven flat sprint stages don’t make for great tv. I expect for the next few years; there will be a lot of Alaphillipe style stages with short viciously steeps climbs just before the finish. If the Tour is short of ideas, I would recommend going back to Yorkshire for a good week!

tormalet

Watching the tour go up the Tourmalet was a great experience. It is one of the few Alpine* style climbs I’ve ridden – what an amazing amphitheatre for sport. In terms of drama, it couldn’t match Sunday and other previous stages, but I was just enthralled by the spectacle and scenery. How I would like to be climbing up the Tourmalet on top form.

Nobody can predict with any certainty how the next week will unfold, but there is an old adage in the tour, that the best guide is a rider’s record in previous Grand Tours. Form and panache are one thing, but does the rider have the staying power for three weeks? With this in mind, I would put my money on Geraint Thomas – but not very much. He’s still struggling to gain the leadership of Team Ineos. But, a big thing in his favour is the proven ability to stay strong for a whole three-week tour. It is possible that the Alpine climbs (which are not quite as steep as the Pyrenees, will suit Thomas more than the Pyrenees.

Bernal, Alaphillipe, Buchman, Landa and to a lesser extent Kruijswijk all look very good, but as of yet, they don’t have a strong track record of winning a Grand Tour. If Alaphillipe cracks in the Alps, it will be easy to say we all expected it. But, if he doesn’t crack we will also say – well he had such good form why would he crack? It always looks obvious after the event. Anyway, the school holidays are here. A rest day today, Tuesday flat stage, but who knows a strong wind could make it very interesting.

 

(* I know the Tourmalet is in the Pyrenees, but I always find Pyreanean an intimidating word to spell.)

Surviving on the roads

Over the years of cycling, I have developed the habit of shouting ‘careful!’ at any danger, annoyance or inconsiderate user of the roads. There are a lot worse things to shout out. It gets the point across without being too confrontational. It has become such an ingrained habit, it happens without thinking. On many occasions, it is really important to shout to raise awareness. A bell can be too slow or quiet. But shouting “Careful!” has definitely woken up some drivers, pedestrians or other cyclists who weren’t paying attention. Mostly, it goes down quite well. The other day I was cycling through town, I shouted ‘careful’ at a driver, and she stopped and waved to say thank you. I am always pleasantly surprised when people thank you – rather than shouting back.

It doesn’t always go down perfectly. I was cycling in Headington and a cyclist was cycling the wrong way the road. I had to swerve out into the road to miss him, so I shouted ‘careful’. In response, he very nicely said: “**** off”.

I inwardly said to myself ‘Welcome to Brexit Britain!’ – which kind of made me laugh so I didn’t get too annoyed. It is a funny trait of human nature that when we wrong somebody – we can simultaneously blame them and be angry at them – even though it is our fault. The worst abuse I have received on the roads is from people who have nearly run me over because of their lack of care. I should say this is very rare given the kilometers I have cycled over the past few decades.

Read moreSurviving on the roads

Triple puncture

I cycled to a cafe in Oxford and a young lad said to me ‘I’m glad you started writing your blog again.’ It was nice to be recognised but I felt a bit bad. I didn’t have the heart to say I had just updated some broken links in old posts. Rather annoyingly, if I update an old post, the automatic email sender sends out again these posts of dubious value – like on the lightest wheels from 2017.

Anyway, I now feel suitably obliged to write a cycling blog. The problem is I don’t have that much inspiring to write about. March was quite a good month for my cycling – the hip pain was in the background, and I went out to do quite a few miles. Buoyed by this, I tried a short 20-mile hill interval session in New York. It was really tough and my times were 40 seconds down on the peak of a few years ago. It all felt hardwork and rather joyless, but after the ride, the old problems returned so I could do nothing for the next 10 days.

The weather has been so good in the past few days, you feel obliged to try and get on your bike. On Saturday, I did 13 miles to Stanton St John. I was coming back to Oxford under Headington roundabout and I picked up a puncture. I saw the air coming out of a hole in the side of the tyres. When I get a puncture, I have now started to time myself to see how quickly I can mend the puncture. Perhaps it’s part of the gamification of all aspects of cycling. Or maybe it’s just the mindset of a time triallist – always trying to set new PB’s. If you can’t do it on your bike, do it mending a puncture.

I remember the days when a puncture was a real disaster and could take forever to fix. This time I managed to fix in seven minutes, which I was quite pleased with. However, within another 100m, I had got another puncture. It wasn’t a pinch flat, but a piece of glass. I swear despite going for a puncture pb, I checked the inside of the tyre for sharp pieces. But, there it was – another puncture. So I cleared the tyre of the glass and then set to trying to break my puncture PB of 7 minutes. But, alas, my last spare inner tube didn’t want to inflate. My minipump was working – but I couldn’t for the life of me get any air into my last inner tube. Eventually, I had to admit defeat with three useless inner tubes sitting on the bypass grass.

Read moreTriple puncture

Off-road cycling

cycle-path

As a road cyclist, I generally turned my nose up at off-road cycle networks – too slow, bumpy and muddy. But I have been cycling around Oxford and enjoyed following bike paths to different venues.

cycle-path

This is a cycle path from the River Thames down the back of Kennington and the main-railway. It took me to Sandford Lock, another crossing of the River Thames I had never used before. I have cycled all over the country, but am still finding new routes within a few miles of my home.

It was very quiet on this cycle path, and apart from a few trains roaring past, a sense of being deep in the countryside. It’s been a dry March so the path is stone-dry, I don’t know what it would be like after rain. It’definitely has many advantages over the road system. For riding off-road, there are probably better bike set ups than narrow road tyres pumped up to 90psi. I wouldn’t want to cycle all day over this bumpy track.

Inspired by cycling around Oxford, I have made efforts to get back on road bike and do some ‘proper’ cycling. It has gone better than I expected and is quite promising. I have been to a private specialist for my hip.  He gave a Cortiscoid injection which didn’t seem to make any difference (glad in a way – if you know the history of cycling.) More scans. But, whether due to the long break or something else, I have been able to get back on the bike, with less problems than before. We shall see where it goes.