How to learn about cycling?

Most cyclists are self-taught. We learn on the job – when the bike stops working, we either read a manual and try and fix or we give up and take to a bike shop. Some people are quick learners, and are adept at learning all the necessary requirements to look after a bike. Others, like me, are a little embarrassed that after 20 years of cycling we’re still not 100% sure where the seat tube is.

How to train – is a whole different learning curve. In the beginning, you can get faster by riding a bike, but then you become aware of a whole world of heart rates, training zones and recovery. So you try and read a few books and absorb the information which you like the sound of.

But, just as you think you’re getting to know all about cycling, there is a scientific revolution, leaving a battery of new training terms related to power and critical threshold power. Just to increase the complexity, usually, these training terminology are abbreviated to three letters like FTP, CTL, and TSS.

If you can wade through that, you are now ready to worry about your  CdA (aerodynamics) and Watt / CdA. Which requires several hours of testing, plus the required computer skills to punch in the numbers and get something meaningful out of the other side.

How to learn about cycling

I remember reading Ned Boulting’s ‘How I won the Yellow Jumper – an entertaining look at someone thrown in at the deep end of professional cycling. Boulting was asked to cover the Tour de France with pretty much zero knowledge of cycling, Ned endured a crash course in how to talk about a sport you don’t really know anything about. (Ned was doing pretty well, until he got the Yellow Jersey and the Yellow jumper mixed up)

Cycling is one of those subjects where you have to learn everything by the process of osmosis – slowly picking up on the jargon and knowledge as you go along – without ever really admitting you didn’t know about it in the first place. It’s very rare someone will sit and down and explain the mechanics of adjusting your gear cable or even worse – Never try asking what a peleton is, 1 km from the finish of a Tour de France stage (note to family members! see also: Explaining the Tour de France) The only way to learn about the jargon of the Tour de France is to  many hours ever day for three weeks over several summers, like I did. I don’t see why anyone should get any shortcuts.


From: Aaron’s site

It is only fairly recently that I’ve worked out the different parts of a bicycle – and that was thanks to a pretty handily marked diagram.

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Fast – steady and flapping numbers

I enjoyed the first race of the season. I would have liked a bit more form. But, then who wouldn’t? The course for North Road Hardriders is a real roadman’s course, partly for the technical aspects, but mainly for the power profile, which is lots of short surges to get up the short climbs. In a very general sense, it is more akin to Belgian classics with 2 minute climbs, rather than the Ardennes or Alps with longer climbs. I’m not equating a 25 mile time trial to the 245 km Tour of Flanders, but you get the idea.

With that kind of course, it suits those with a bit of explosive power – fast twitch muscles to get up the short climbs and accelerate out of corners. In the hill climb season, I try to train this aspect of fitness, short intense efforts to improve the fast twitch muscles. It’s hard work, because genetically, I have a higher percentage of slow twitch – good for long distance, but not so good for the short distance, explosive efforts.

At this time of the season, I’m concentrating on an endurance base, and have done quite a few rides at a level just below threshold. It makes for enjoyable training rides with high average speeds. It also feels like you are just holding back. Not training at 100%, but with more in the tank for when you really want to peak.

The day after the race, I had some muscular tiredness and was in two minds whether to train or rest. I looked at the weather forecast for the week and decided to train Monday – I can always rest when its raining in the rest of the week.


Read moreFast – steady and flapping numbers

Clee Hill

clee Hill

Clee Hill is the highest A road in Shropshire. A long climb, offering (weather permitted) great views of the surrounding Shropshire countryside and beyond. If you take a left turn off the main road, you can also go all the way to Clee Hill summit proper which, at over 500m, makes a pretty decent climb of nearly 4 miles, averaging 5%. In fact, the quiet single track road heading towards a golf ball on the summit, reminded me somewhat of Great Dun Fell. The climb is quite similar to Great Dun Fell – just half the distance and half the average gradient.

clee Hill
Clee hill in the distance from Henley

I was staying in Bromyard for the weekend, so I looked at surrounding maps for the highest point to aim for. Clee Hill stands out, though there is quite a choice of hills around this part. I recognised some of the surrounding roads from previous time trials starting in Great Whitley.

I have been doing quite a big block of  endurance training, not really doing too many hills, so it was nice to do a few hills for a change. Still a long way from hill climb season though.

On a very clear day, from Clee Hill, you are supposed to be able to see Snowdonia, the Cotswolds, the Brecon Becons, the Black Mountains and even the Peak District. Today, was not such a time.

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Fast and flat


Thanks to all suggestions for weather forecast sites and apps. It makes me feel old, I never considered using an App to check the weather. My main use of my iPhone is an alarm clock to wake me up in the morning. £300 well spent.

The saddle bag diminishes the aesthetic appeal of the Trek Speed Concept, but I like having everything on bike, so I can’t forget to put it in back pocket.

I think that’s the most comments I’ve had on a blog for years. Forget debates like Shimano vs Campagnolo? or Should helmets be compulsory? if you want to attract comments from cyclists talk about the weather…

After all the talk about rain showers, yesterday was one of those great February days – bright, clear and dry. In the middle of the day, it was positively warm. No worries about how many rain jackets to take. For a change I didn’t even need to clean the bike after the ride, the roads were almost completely dry.

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Training on time trial bike

Early February is time to get the time trial bike down from the loft. I last rode the TT bike back in September, and that was a short hill climb in Buxton.  I have done a few perfunctory core strength exercises over the winter, e.g. the plank for one minute a couple of times per week, 20 sit ups since Jan 1st, but nothing like enough to get the body ready for a super, uncomfortable, aerodynamic position.


Despite the initial physical discomfort of riding a TT bike – on the positive side it is always a boost to get on the time trial bike, after a few months on a relatively slow winter training bike. Suddenly you feel as though you’re flying along. In fact in previous years, I’ve joked that getting on TT bike can feel like getting on a motorbike, as you race around town at 20mph +. But, alas, that innocent observation no longer seems quite so innocent given recent shenanigans in Belgium and depressing evidence of hidden motors in bicycles. It’s both a tragedy and farce, and not much comedy, save a little related news about participants and a stolen parrot, “A Norwegian Blue” I presume.

A popular bit of banter at local time trials was for a slow ride to joke to a fast rider – “Have you got a motor in there?!” This banter is all said in good fun, but now, it might not be so funny any-more. Especially, if bike was left unattended for a long time…

Anyway, the crazy world of cycling can’t change the essential practice of cycling which is to pedal a lot until it hurts. And if you’re riding a time trial bike for the first time in five months, you can guarantee it will start to hurt in quite a lot of places you had forgotten all about.

On Tuesday, I did quite a hard 75 mile ride to Stow on the Wold. I averaged 18.5 mph, which was a high average speed, given it was quite windy. I’m trying to do some sweet spot training at around 250-70 watts. I managed this for the first two hours grind into the wind. On the way back, I eased off the power, but went faster with nice tail wind behind. It’s great fun cycling with strong tailwind, but this persistent Westerly wind is getting a bit tiresome. It’s hard work going west.

Yesterday, I did a steady two hours on the time trial bike. I’m glad it was no longer than two hours, as I felt quite sore in different parts of back, and even legs. Although, it was a relatively easy ride on power, it felt quite tiring. Moral of the story, if you want to race on a time trial bike, you have to train a lot on the bike too. Ideally, I would have been riding on a time trial bike all winter. But, I don’t like getting the new bike spoilt by salty wet roads. Anyway from now on the TT bike, will be used most rides. The good news is that once you start training on the bike, the body adapts and initial discomfort becomes much more manageable. Last year it got to the situation where I found a TT bike more comfortable than a road bike.

Training on time trial bike

  • Different position works different muscles
  • Back needs to adapt to flatter aerodynamic position
  • Neck works harder looking forward whilst being lower down.
  • Doesn’t handle quite as easily as a road bike, so it is good to practise technical aspects. Though ideally you would train with disc and deep section wheels. But, I prefer to save expensive tubulars and wheels for races, so just train on ordinary clinchers.
  • Maybe it was different power meter, but it seemed much harder to get same power as on road bike.





Marlow and West Wycombe

I only got a working power meter in 2014. Traditionally, the way I test fitness is to race up the A40 climb towards Stokenchurch. 1.5 miles at 5%. It is a rough guide to 5 minute power and form.  I have times from this climb going back to 2005. In pre-Strava days, (2011) I did a best of 4.45 from the vague-ish points I measured.

Last year, I did a best of 4.55 in April (390 watts / Quark) This was the first test of the year. I did 5.25 (384 watts / Stages) which is pretty good for late January. After those five minutes of excitement, it was a more sedate ride for the rest of the day. Still I tried to keep up a good pace until about 60 miles, when I knocked it off a little.

It was pretty cold – 37 degrees, but I saw a lot of cyclists going in the other direction, and overtook a few riders from Aylesbury CC out on a club ride. After Stokenchurch I headed towards Marlow, around a few roads, I haven’t been on before. One new road was pretty waterlogged, but I kept going as it wasn’t as bad as it looks in this picture.

muddy lane

Muddy lane

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Lambourne and Vale of White Horse


From Oxford, I don’t often cycle south towards Wantage and Lambourne. The countryside is relatively flat and featureless. At this time of the year, it’s a long slog through empty fields, dotted with the odd tree. When you have the Chilterns and Cotswolds on your doorstep, you are spoilt for choice and hills. Also, cycling around north of Wantage, there are many stop and starts as you turn left, right, left e.t.c. When training, I like as much possible to have a quiet road, which is uninterrupted for as long as possible. I don’t like having to slow down at give way signs. Maybe its the psychology of being a timetriallist, where you always looking for an uninterrupted way to cycle 50 miles, with as fast turns as possible.

The most interesting thing about this part of the world, is the old English place names, Goosey, Charney Bassett, Uffington, Sparsholt Firs. There are even place names around here that J.R.R. Tolkien used in his Lord of the Rings, e.g. Buckland.

The one exception to the flat, featureless plans is the White Horse, which offers a steep climb (Dragon Hill Road), offering a great view over the Vale of White Horse plain.


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Bourton on the Water

Time flies by and a rough plan to cover 1,000 a miles per month over winter have fallen by the wayside, but it was good to get back in the saddle yesterday and be able to spend four and half hours on the bike. In the end, it was 75 miles and I enjoyed the ride. The last time I rode 75 miles must have been back in September 2015.  There was a bit of wind, a foretaste of the forecast storm set to hit the UK today and tomorrow. The weather forecast for the next few days looks very much like a few days of getting the rollers out.

bourton-on-water Bourton on the Water.

Astute readers may notice the autumn tinge to the trees. It is an old photo, because it was a bit grey and dull yesterday, and mid-winter, you always feel a little time pressure before it starts to get dark. Still Bourton on the Water has often been voted the prettiest village in England, and with good reason – even in winter, you can see why. The village idyll is slightly spoiled by large packs of tourists taking photos e.t.c. but it makes quite a good destination for an Oxford cyclist. After a winding 35 miles to get there, I did a u-turn in Bourton – over the river and back. There is a pretty good climb on the way out of Bourton on the Water – towards Little Rissington. It is one of those climbs, where you can go pretty quick because it’s not too steep, there are a few corners to accelerate out of in the village. But, in the middle of winter, you settle for getting up in any shape at all. Traffic lights half way up, gave an excuse for a breather.

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First interval session of the year

With the mercury rising to a heady 38 F 4 C, I went out for the first ‘interval’ session of the year. The curious thing is that 4 degrees felt relatively warm, compared to the previous days of 2 degrees. Usually 4 degrees would be unbearably cold, but its all about expectations. Low expectations is the secret.


I went to Watlington, and was going to do some of the hills heading into Chilterns. However, there seemed to be a headwind, so I went over the top and tried to find some climbs from the south direction with the wind behind. If you’re going to do the first intervals of the year, you want to make it as easy as possible.

The first interval was eight minutes into the wind up Howe Hill. It was OK, but on the lower slopes into the wind, I was struggling to keep the power ticking over 300 watts, which is the kind of a power I’m supposed to be able to maintain for close to two hours.

Features of the first interval session of the year.

  • You spend most of the session trying to work out how much top end speed you’ve managed to lose over the past three months
  • It can be an effort to keep your power above your FTP (300 watts) unless the hill gets really steep.
  • You remember how much more relaxing it is to ride without a power meter for the past three months.
  • Half way through, you start to think maybe it’s too early in the year for intervals.
  • Tentative plans to race in February are put back to March.
  • Despite a degree of complaining, you also enjoy it. Rather than complaining about the weather, it makes a nice change to be complaining about the bodies response to high efforts.
  • Rather than do five minute efforts, I choose eight minutes effort. There’s no particular logic to this, except the hills I chose took me eight minutes to cycle up. The fourth hill took five minutes, which was fine because the interval was already petering out into an effort better described as “a little bit more effort than usual”
  • Now a week to recover from them.


Cycling in Sicily


After a quiet November and December, I went to Sicily, with training bike.


The weather was excellent 10-18 degrees, mostly sunny – only rain one day. After the persistent drizzle of England in the past few weeks, it was welcome relief. The first day, I had to panic buy suncream and sunglasses, you get out of the habit to think about sunglasses – cycling in the UK mid-winter.


I stayed near a town called Sciacca, the other side of the island to Palermo. The hotel waiter proudly told me he had served Marco Pantani and Miguel Indurain when the Giro passed through here one year. The island is very hilly. If you stay off the main roads, the terrain is constantly up and down. The main roads are more horizontal because of bridges over the innumerable dips. The good news is that the climbs are well engineered, with average gradients of 5% making it all quite palatable. From Sciacca to Caltebellotta there is a 15km climb – which goes from sea level to 930m. It averages 5% and is a great climb to both go up and then come back down.

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