Life before Strava

notes

This is my training diary from 2010. In those days I still manually checked and recorded my time going up hills. You had to choose a suitable start and finish point, then manually check your time, using a lap counter. I would then write down all the hill climb times in my training diary so I could see if I got a pb. I remember many years of not having a lap counter – just the timer on a bike. So I would wait for the timer to get to an exact minute and then start the effort (sometimes soft pedalling waiting in anticipation). At the finish of the climb, you needed to do a bit of mental arithmetic 34.00 start – 36.45 finish. It was surprisingly hard work when you’ve just done a hill climb effort. To spice things up, I sometimes got bored with waiting for the minute to come around and started on 34.30. Try calculating 34.30 – 36.23 when you’ve just blown your lungs away. (and then you have to remember your time. After finishing a climb I would be repeating 5.13 like a mantra for several minutes so I didn’t forget!)

The biggest problem though with manually timing your efforts was having a consistent start and finish point, you might choose things like ‘tree to tree’ – ‘signpost to signpost’. But, when you’re doing a big effort, it was very tempting to almost unconsciously choose a different tree or different signpost. I used to often measure my efforts on Aston Hill on the A40; and after a few years, I realised my ‘hill climb course’ was getting shorter and shorter – with every year. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just that the mind played tricks on you, and it gave an excuse to take a different marker each time. It was one way to get a pb I suppose!

Strava and Garmin  have taken all the angst out of measuring your hill climb efforts. The segment never gets shorter, and it is a very convenient way to measure hill climbs. Before Strava I probably had about 7 hills, I measured personal bests, but now with Strava, there is almost an unlimited number to compare your efforts. Because it is so easy to measure personal best times, it is fun to train on different hills. It means you can always choose a hill where there is something of a tailwind on. (no one does hill climb intervals into headwinds do they?)

The other thing about Strava, of course, is that you don’t just get personal bests (pb) but you compare against other riders too. This has its pros and cons. No matter who you are – you can guarantee at some point, someone will go faster than your pb. That is why I turn off all notifications and never read notifications on a matter of principle. If I get joy from setting a new pb, I don’t need to be told someone has gone faster.

Ever since I started cycling, that has always been the fascination of cycling – can I go faster? These days even the most marginal personal best is a huge source of satisfaction. In one sense it gets harder, but with innumerable segments there’s always something else to try.


whiteleaf

 

Whiteleaf Hill

Whiteleaf is one hill I never used to visit in pre Strava days, perhaps I didn’t know about it so well. It is about 20 miles from Oxford as opposed to 15 miles to Aston Hill. But for the extra five miles, you get a much steeper and better hill. The route out from Oxford to Whiteleaf is quite flat, so it is a long warm-up, a long anticipation of the big effort to come.

Since getting back into cycling in recent months, like usual, I am keen to measure how I compare to previous years so I went to measure my time up Whiteleaf. From 2015, I had a time of 4.03 for the full hill. I really wanted to see how close I could get.

Now, after four years off the bike, I have gained some weight. Approximately 0.7 kg, so it’s not exactly like  I’m buying bigger trousers or people are saying ‘how’s it going fatty Pettinger?’ (62.3 kg as opposed to 61.5kg). But, if you live in the hill climb world, 0.7kg is still about one second on a hill like Whiteleaf. So at the bottom of Whiteleaf I left a water bottle at the bottom of the hill to compensate for my extra weight and then began the big effort of the day.

The first thing I noticed is that starting the climb – the expected tailwind seemed to disappear and felt like a headwind. This was meteorologically impossible, but probably the mind playing tricks on me.

whiteleaf

Whiteleaf is a tough hill because it is very variable gradient. There are 3 or 4 sections where it goes over 15% and you are out of the saddle pushing hard, then the gradient levels off and it’s tempting to go back into the saddle for a few seconds. But, when I did this, my momentum slipped and you were soon back out of the saddle again. Despite riding the hill many times, I’ve never quite worked out the best solution to be in the saddle or out. I would like to try again and stay out of the saddle for the whole last part of the climb. Going in and out all the time seems inefficient, but when you’re climbing that’s what I end up doing.

The good thing about getting to Whiteleaf is that there are plenty of other climbs in the vicinity. If you turn right at the top you go down Kop hill. So you can do a u-turn and go up Kop Hill again. Or if you turn left at the bottom of Kop hill you go up another climb called Wardrobes. On Wardrobes, there was a road closed sign which I ignored – as I was curious to know if it is OK to cycle through. The workmen stopped me for a bit and then waved me through. I would have been quite happy to turn around. But, the workman decided I can continue to climb up Wardrobes. After Wardrobes, if you take two left turns, you are soon coming back down Whiteleaf – which was convenient to pick up the water bottle I left earlier. It makes a good hilly circuit. In the past four years of non-racing I believe that there was a hilly time trial organised around Whiteleaf – I hope it is still going next year.

After that, I cycled through Chinnor (two sets of long traffic lights) which didn’t bother me as I saw it recuperation time before going up Kingston Blount. I made a good effort up Kingston Blount until traffic lights right at top of the steep part brought an unedifying conclusion to that effort. I stopped at traffic lights with heart-pumping madly.  The A40 through Tetsworth is closed for 20 weeks (more closed roads) so I went back via Watlington hoping I would avoid meeting more road closed signs and traffic lights.

In the old days of measuring your own times, I would have known what time I did up Whiteleaf straight away, but this time I didn’t know until I uploaded.

4.02 – one second quicker than 2015. I knew it was a good decision to leave a water bottle at the bottom of the hill!

Curbar and Monsal Head

rowsley

Rowsley Bar

After the revelation of visiting the Peak District last week, I made another stop on the way back from Yorkshire. This time top of my bucket list was Rowsley Bar – the venue of the 1997 National Hill Climb Championship. It is a tough, testing climb; in 1997 Stuart Dangerfield won his fifth title in a time of 5.12, with Jim Henderson in second place. I parked near the summit but saw ‘Road closed’ signs.

Often when roads are closed, you can still cycle through them, but this time it was not possible, so I took two photos and did a u-turn.

Read moreCurbar and Monsal Head

A bit of slow cycling

After riding up some steep hills in the Peak District I took the opportunity to ride slowly around the Yorkshire Dales on well known routes from Menston to Bolton Abbey. I have never seen so many cyclists on the roads. It is a real boom time for cyclists. I also have never known so many cars on the narrow back road from Bolton Abbey to Ilkley. On the way back I went over Langbar very slowly. It’s a tough climb but the road is quiet.

This is a nice climb from Silsden to Embsay Moor. Quite steep and sharp. It’s not such a good descent with these signings warning of max speed of 15mph for the sharp switchback. Time to enjoy the view.

Read moreA bit of slow cycling

Matlock hills and a change of view

Like most other people the past 3-4 months have been very routine. I have only really left the house to go to the supermarket or cycle rides around the well-known roads of Oxfordshire.  It has been a bit of monastic experience, which in many ways suits me fine. But, when you get stuck in the same old routines, you miss out on more spontaneous experiences which are good to refresh the spirits.

Yesterday, I decided it was OK to head north and see my parents for the first time since January. As much as it is good to see the parents, travelling up north often as an ulterior motive to do some cycling there too. This time I thought I would do something different and rather than just the long slog up the M1 would stop off in Matlock and cycle up some hills I had always wanted to do.

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Riber

Top of the bucket list was “Riber Hill” I have been meaning to ride Matlock CC Riber hill climb event for many years, but never managed it. It was always on a packed weekend with many other hill climb events. Riber is a great hill climb event and in recent years the course record has been broken quite a few times by some of the top new generation of hill climbers. Riber was the also venue for the national hill climb championship in 1986 when the mercurial Daryl Webster won in a time of 4.48. In 1986, they used the full Riber course – starting closer to Matlock than current hill climb course. The event created some iconic photos – with riders forcing themselves up the steep twisting road, surrounded by large, enthusiastic crowds.

Riber

Daryl Webster – 1986 National HC on Riber. Photo by Ian

Yesterday, the road was quite quiet, which is a good job, as you wouldn’t want to meet a van coming down when you’re struggling up Riber. The first section off the A615 takes you through the village of Starkholmes and along Starkholmes Road. There are a couple of ramps and a section of false flat, nothing special, but as you turn left onto Riber Road, the climb gets very interesting and takes on a different complexion.

riber-bends
riber

Riber road is sufficiently steep and twisty to look intimidating. There are gradient signs giving a max gradient of 22%, which sounds very accurate, it is probably steeper if you took the direct line.  There is no let up in the gradient as you swing left, right, left and then lose track of where you are. The first hairpin was so sharp, I couldn’t maintain full momentum and had to accelerate out of the corner. It is a real technical climb. I kept a fairly decent pace until the last section where I was running out of gas and went down a gear rather than push into the unknown. I think in 100 Climbs, Simon Warren said it was his favourite climb, I can understand why. I like the full version even more than shorter hill climb course. The first section through Starkholmes is testing but is really lulling you into a false sense of security before the main action ahead of you. I love climbs that get harder and harder the more you ride up them. Riber certainly does that.

Bank Road

Bank road
The top of Bank Road before the right hand turn to Wellington Street.. 2016 Nat HC. Photo Tejvan

After Riber, the next climb is within shouting distance. Bank Road, a short 1 km sprint from right in the heart of Matlock town centre. I have only ever ridden this climb in a national championship both in 2008 and 2016. I have never ridden it in training (I guessed rightly that there was no point in trying to perfect my pacing on a climb that was too short for my preference). It was slightly weird to be riding up Bank road without banks of spectators to roar you on.

bank-road

The only thing I saw at the roadside was signs for Covid testing station and signs saying the barber was only by appointment. Welcome to 2020. The first half of the climb I had good pace, but then faded towards the top as the legs were still feeling Riber. Bank Road is really a climb to do when you are as fresh as possible. Still, it was nice to visit Matlock again.

After that, I went to Slack hill – only a few miles away.

After the drama of Riber and Bank Road, Slack Hill is not in the same league. It is fairly straight and unrelenting 14% gradient. It is a fairly busy A road so you get a little help from passing traffic. The best thing about the climb is that you can pick up speed coming down from Kestleridge and you can start the climb with a good 30mph on the bike. However, this speed soon evaporates very fast and you are left pushing up the hill. I’m sure I would feel more inclined to the hill if I didn’t have a headwind and tired legs, but it was still a decent pace. Near the top, I also saw a sign to Beeley Moor. Are there no end to good climbs in this part of the world?

slack-hill3

In an ideal world, a cycling visit to Matlock would involve six hours, 100 miles and 20+ climbs, but although I am getting in better shape, I still get aches and pains from the troublesome hip and back. That is why I limited my ride to a measly 12 miles. But what a 12 miles it was. I got a real buzz from racing up Riber and Bank Road. Although I’m disappointed not to make a full recovery, the rest of the body seems in quite good shape and despite limited training (by my standards of training) I can still get up hills pretty well.

In the end, it took all day to get from Oxford to Menston, but it was a really good experience to do something different and get out of the daily routine. It was really liberating to be at the top of a steep hill.

matlock

I enjoyed everything about it. Driving through the Peak District, the view from the tops of hills, but mostly the exhilaration of racing up Riber bends.

 

My Favourite UK hill climbs

Simon Warren has a list of 200 climbs, where you can vote for favourite UK hill climbs based on 100 Climbs series.

My favourite climbs depend on the personal experience of riding them. So they are blurred by the direction of the wind, weather conditions and whether I was in good shape. Also, doing a hill climb event gives a very different experience to just riding during training. If I had to choose my top 10, they would be nearly all hill climb courses, apart from Hardknott and Great Dun Fell. Winnat’s Pass is currently number one. I’ve only ridden it once after doing a hill climb event on Long Hill. I can’t really remember much about it – which is a shame because it is a beautiful climb.

These are some of my favourites that spring to mind.

Great Dun Fell

great-dun-fell
Near the top of Great Dun Fell. A feeling of being high up.

If I could choose to have one climb on my doorstep it would be Great Dun Fell. The statistics make it by far the climb of almost vertical ascent. It’s not just long, but really steep and on a good day has great views over the Pennines. Even better it is relatively car-free – being well off the beaten track. The only downside is its relative inaccessibility and how sometimes the gates are closed meaning you have to get off the bike and open and close gates. I think I have visited the climb three times –  each occasion was after doing a hill climb event up Shap Fell. (giving me two climbs  for the price of one so to speak)

Hardknott pass

hardknott hairpin

Hardknott is super steep. Sometimes, you see a 30% gradient sign,  but they don’t really mean it. Hardknott is really that steep in both directions. Hardknott is so steep you are wondering if you are going to make it to the top. The first time I went up Hardknott I had a lot of miles and climbs in my legs and it was a real grovel hunched over the drops, you don’t forget experiences like that. On the really steep section, I also got the experience that I felt like I was falling over backwards- Brilliant!

The Struggle

top-down-struggle

One of three ways up Kirkstone Pass, the Struggle is the steepest. Out of Ambleside, it is very steep up smooth winding road, before a long drag up to the top. At the top, make sure you look back to Lake Windermere, it is quite spectacular views. I have one memorable experience of cycling up the Struggle. I had cycled over 100 miles around the Lake District (and some big climbs). I got to Ambleside was really tired and stopped to have a piece of Kendle Mint Cake and seemed to get a second wind which enabled me to cycle up The Struggle quite quick. It was a great day in the Lakes.

Shibden Wall

shibden-wall

A slightly harder cobbled climb is Thwaites Brow in Keighley. But, the cobbles are in a bad state of repair, with really big gaps between them. It was too much trying to get traction on those big cobbles. Shibden Wall is a great cobbled climb. It starts off on tarmac then graduates into cobbles. There is a wicked left-hander and it is pretty steep. Off the beaten track near Halifax, but quite close to my parent’s house.

Pea Royd Lane

pear-royd-lane-12

I wouldn’t usually choose Pea Royd Lane, it’s a little on the short side for my liking. But, I’ve grown to love the climb after racing up it so many times. I’ve done it twice in the national hill climb championship 14th and 4th, and in 2014,  and I rode it several times in training.  In many ways, it is a classic British hill climb. Steep, undulating, and a couple of corners. At the top, it is a great view of Stocksbridge below. In 2014, despite disappointment at 4th, I had a good experience on the climb and it is that perfect length and difficulty to wring everything out of you, leaving  you exhausted at the top.

Photo: Russell Ellis

Greenhow Hill

top-greenhow

Greenhow Hill was the first big hill I ever cycled up. It was in the days before I was a cyclist. I was about 14 and I went on camping holiday with a friend. We took mountain bikes. The main thing I remember is that my friend had to get off and walk, but I could cycle to the top and then go back down whilst waiting for him. Poor chap wasn’t built for hill climbs! But, it is a great climb because there are four ‘ridges’ steep sections of 17%, then a section to recover. The last grovel to the summit can be a pain if it is windy, but it is an atmospheric climb and I love the views from the top.

Porlock

porlock-hill-top

There are two ways up Porlock, the very steep way or the long, steady gradient of the toll road. Minehead CC organise a hill climb event up the Toll Road, which I have done three times. This is a beautiful climb. The 100 climbs version is the steep hill out of the town centre. It starts off with a few 25% corners and is really tough. I have only done this version after racing up the toll road. But, it is a great climb. It was always a good experience going down to Porlock.

Norwood Edge

view-3

Norwood Edge was my first hill climb event in 1994! I don’t think I knew what I was letting myself in for. My main memory is that it took about two days to take off mudguards from my Reynolds 501 Ellis Briggs 10 speed racing bike and then about two weeks to put the mudguards back on. I was nearly last anyway so I might as well have left them on. But, in those days, it seemed a great achievement to get up the hill at all, let alone race really quick.  In 2011, I got within four seconds of Jeff Wright’s famous course record, setting a time of 4.46, I was really flying that year. Since then the climb seems to get harder every year!

The Stang

The first time I went up the Stang it was a block headwind and I didn’t particularly enjoy this long drag into the bleak North Yorkshire Moors. But, on the big day in October 2013, there was a raging tailwind making it an unbelievable climb. Really steep first section, then a bit of fast downhill  (39 mph!) on the big ring and then the final long drag. The Stang is a bit out of the way, up in North Yorkshire, but it is definitely worth a visit. Ironically I haven’t been back since 2013. Perhaps it is because I know I will never get close to the course record of 7.57 ever again. Proving the emotional connection of hills, seeing a picture of the race bring back many good memories.

cattle-grid-stang

Honourable mention – Other climbs

Other climbs to give honourable mention to

Burrington Combe

tejvan-from-pj

I have done the Bristol South CC event nine times and finished 1st on seven times. It was one of the first hill climbs I did in 2004 and realised I might be quite good. But, I love the atmosphere of the race, the beautiful scenery and the chat in the cafe afterwards. You can get into a good rhythm on the steady slopes

Other memorable climbs

  • Box Hill – road a few weeks before 2012 Olympics – very special time.
  • Nick O Pendle – brilliant short climb
  • The Rake – never done particularly well on the Rake, but great atmosphere at 2005 and 2012 National Hill climb Championships.
  • Kingston Hill and Wheatleaf – local climbs in the Chilterns
  • Brill hills
  • Fleet Moss
  • Jubilee Tower.
  • Buttertubs
  • Rosedale Chimney

 

Little Rissington

Yesterday was the longest day of the year and many seemed to have availed the opportunity to post monster rides 200km. It seems if you’re not everesting your local hill, it’s just a recovery ride these days. I managed my own ‘epic’ ride, a relatively modest 70 miles to Bourton on the Water. It was an enjoyable ride – good weather, good tempo and nice to get to roads and parts of the Cotswolds I’ve seen very little of in the past few years.

bourton-on-water

Since trying to get back into cycling this year my rides have tended to be either very fast or very short and slow. I’ve had difficulty recovering from rides, so tend to go out every three days. If I only go out 2 or 3 times a week, I like to cycle fast because that is what I enjoy most.  That’s my logic anyway.

When I had a bad injury, people asked about an e-bike. It would be nice to see the countryside, but I can’t see myself using one. For me, the real attraction of cycling is making a big effort and trying to improve fitness. The scenery by the side of the road is secondary – though with days like yesterday definitely a big bonus.

Fast roads of new roads?

When riding I tend to choose well-travelled routes which minimise stopping, right turns and traffic jams. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Oxfordshire roads and which can enable you to cycle a long way without having to stop. Even after all these years, I like to see a good average speed, and often start my Garmin after getting the slow two miles out of town.

Sometimes I like to try and go on new roads, but I generally end up back on the tried and test roads which give the best momentum. The ideal is to cycle an hour into a headwind and then fly back on some B road. It can be flat or hilly. The main thing is the feeling of speed and effort.

After all these short fast rides, I wanted to do a different kind of ride to Bourton, no big efforts, just steady pace and do the highest mileage for a couple of years. I made it to the beautiful village of Bourton on the Water and it seems many others had the same idea. After months of being cooked up inside, it is understandable people wished to stretch their legs. I didn’t hang around in Bourton though, the queue for the ice-cream takeaway seemed to snake around half the village.

There was only one big climb of the day, through 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 and it makes a really quite nice climb. I would have stopped to take a photo, but once your cycling uphill, you don’t want to stop your momentum and lose your precious average speed.

Little Rissington climb

  • Location: Little Rissington, Cotswolds
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Average gradient: 5%
  • Maximum gradient: 12%
  • Height gain 117 m
  • 100 climbs: 102
  • Strava segment
  • Direction: East

Veloviewer

Strava

Cycling and hayfever

Hayfever can be a minor irritation for many cyclists during the peak pollen months of summer, but it can also become debilitating in severe cases. I have experienced mild hayfever for several years. Usually I suffer at the end of the ride when my nose starts streaming for 30-60 mins. But during the past week, with high pollen counts, I’ve experienced more severe symptoms even when cycling. In terms of treatment for hayfever, I have relied on cetirizine hydrochloride (Piriteze) I usually take when it is bad. But, last weekend, it didn’t make much difference, so I looked into more possible solutions. (Vaseline around nose and Fluticasone propionate nasal spray)

Rise of hayfever

Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a rise in cases of hayfever with one study by charity Allergy UK warning over 30 million adults could suffer hayfever by 2030. Interestingly the first known recorded case of hayfever was not recorded until the nineteenth century by John Bostock who in March 1819 presented an interesting case to the Medical and Chirurgical Society: ‘Case of a periodical affection of the eyes and chest.’ It seems to be a modern phenomena and something about modern life is making it worse.

Suggested reasons for the rise in hayfever include:

  • Rise in air pollution which combined with pollen acts as a greater irritant.
  • Children spending less time outdoors and so not developing the same level of natural immunity to pollen.
  • Climate change – warmer summers create more smogs and lead to higher pollen counts
  • Change in diet – non-organic GMO food, industrial farming causing internal allergies to things like pollen.

Read moreCycling and hayfever

Broken rear mech hanger after gears stuck in wheel

In the past two months, I have been making good progress with cycling. Ironically, lockdown discouraged me from cycling into town so instead, I went out into the countryside and have been going further and faster. I still take care of back and hips and follow a disciplined routine of stretching, essentric exercises and all-round strengthening. I have worked hard to find new exercises to work on any weak part of my body. I’ve had many false dawns in past four years, but feel reasonably hopeful.

toot-baldon
A nice ride out to Toot Baldon

In fact, progress has been so good I decided to get the time trial bike down from the loft. Over the past four years I have toyed with selling the bike, but the loss of value selling on the second-hand market always dissuaded me. Plus I really enjoy riding the time trial bike. I find it as comfortable as a road bike, but you get an extra 1-2mph free speed. There’s nothing better than flying along a bit of road with a nice tailwind and body in good shape. Despite only a couple of months of training, I have felt quite fast.

Yesterday I went out to Brill hills for one of my favourite circuits around Brill, Chilton, Chearsely, Ashenden and Dorton. The ride was going very well. Perfect weather and I felt some of the old form going up the climbs. On my final climb up to Brill I had a bad gear change and then a pretty brutal clunk as the rear mech went into the wheel and tore off part of the frame. In one sense it was an innocuous little accident, but devastating for the bicycle. Update, it looks like it is just rear mech hanger (not frame) I had to ring for a taxi and get a lift home. £55 for a taxi, but that is just the start. I shall contact Trek UK to see if they can help.

I was stranded by the roadside and tried to shorten the chain to make it work without gear mech, but it was a fruitless effort and I only succeeded in smearing oil all over my hands and clothes. I walked up the hill to a nearby house so I could work out the postcode and exact address. A nice man seemed to see my predicament and from suitable distance told me the address. I sat on the grass and watched a few other cyclists go up to Brill; it was quite a popular place to be cycling. Brill is becoming a place of bad luck. I remember having to get another taxi from Brill a couple of years ago for a similar situation (Broken chain).

Read moreBroken rear mech hanger after gears stuck in wheel

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!

First cycle ride of 2020

Yesterday, of all days, I managed to go on my first bicycle ride of 2020. It was a wonderful spring day, crisp, clear and not too much traffic either.

trek-brill

I have been happily commuting into town but it’s not the same as a ‘proper bike ride’ Perhaps the news the Spanish and Italians are currently prohibited from cycling encouraged me to don the lycra and finally make a proper ride. As quite a few have observed – we often only appreciate what we have, when it starts getting taken away from you.

selfie-tejvan
I take a selfie every five years. The last one was on the Tourmalet (2015)

These are unusual times. The kind of thing that happens elsewhere or in the past, not the kind of thing we ever expect will happen to us. On the positive side, I was well stocked up on toilet paper well before the crisis started. I have a plan to make it through the whole thing without ever buying any loo roll, that will be my contribution to the Great Britain supply chain. (plus planting more potatoes.)

As I consider how to spend the next few months primarily from home, thoughts turn to life under virtual house arrest. I have the last two episodes of Paris-Nice recorded, which I am currently watching for five minutes a day. At this rate, I will make it through to September (don’t tell me who won!) where hopefully we might be back to normal. If Eurosport had any sense, they would be digging out old one-day classics from the past. Usually their repeat schedule is nothing more imaginative than last year. Just about the only results I can remember are last years and they are the repeats I least want to watch. But, to be honest, I can’t watch tv any more. Drama and films seem to futile when you can watch Planet Earth – Season 21 for free. There are so many plot lines and twists, it’s hard to keep up. Though if I was writing the script I would let the good guys win a bit more often.

Born in 1976, I have never lived through any kind of crisis, so it is all unchartered. Personally I’m not worried for myself. But, I am concerned on behalf of many others in more perilous positions. If anything good can come from this challenge – it is to bring to the fore a collective spirit, the idea we are all in it together and rather rushing to buy more loo roll, see what our elderly neighbours might need. Looking for silver linings is pretty hard, but I’m glad to see experts are valued again. And telling the truth and human empathy once more back in vogue. It will be a difficult few months for everyone but a little kindness and thoughtfulness can go a long way to making it more bearable.

And if you run out of loo roll, get in contact and I will tell you a few secrets that only ultra-long distance cyclists know about!