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. Continue Reading →

2

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. Continue Reading →

2

Off-road cycling

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.

2

3 mins of high intensity exercise

In the past few months, I haven’t done any *proper* cycling (i.e. wearing lycra and clipless pedals)

All my cycling has been on my commuting bike within the Oxford ring road. It is mainly a commute into town. It has slowly grown from a 2.5-mile commute to a 4.0 mile commute (which makes around 8 miles a day). The extra 1.5 mile has made a big difference to the enjoyment of the cycling and benefits to fitness.

bike-path

Firstly, I took a detour to avoid the main roads and to be able to cycle on the excellent river towpath. It’s all flat, no traffic and wide enough. It also has fantastic views over Christ Church Meadow.

tree-lane-autumn

Back of tree lane in Autumn

However, the flat cycle path wasn’t quite enough. Almost unconsciously I found myself taking a detour up two short hills (around Rose Hill). The roads are very quiet and off the beaten track.

The first hill is called Tree Lane and then there is a descent down a bumpy private road. Then around the corner in Iffley Village, there is another hill called Adderbury Lane. Continue Reading →

5

Race Blade Pro XL Mudguards Review

race-blade-xl

I’ve been a big fan of clip-on mudguards for many years. However, they do have a habit of breaking after several years of use. Parking bikes in Oxford is a bit rough and tumble, so these flexible mudguards tend to get a bit battered.

old-battered-mudguards

I got a few coats dirty using this depleted mudguard. Definitely time for an ugrade

With my rear mudguard snapped in half, it was a good excuse to upgrade to the latest model – Race Blade Pro XL. Continue Reading →

3

Bali bicycle

I spent a few weeks in Bali. No cycling, though a little swimming in the ocean, which was nice.

There were not many bicycles in Bali, which is probably due to the dangers of road traffic here.

I did meet this chap cycling on his bike. He was cycling so slowly I could keep up with him by walking very fast. I admired his poise. Impatient traffic was beeping him loudly as they wanted to squeeze past on these narrow roads, but he seemed completely unmoved. If it was me, I might have tried cycling a little faster, but he never altered his speed or position on the road.

In Bali, there are many mopeds on the roads, and you can sometimes see a family of four squeezed onto the back of one – usually without any crash hats.

Roundabouts also have a different meaning in Bali, you don’t go around the roundabout, but just straight to your preferred exit – contraflow so to speak. It was interesting to see – though not something I would be particularly inclined to cycle in.

 

1

Best tubular tyres

For tyres and tubulars there is generally a well-known trade-off

  1. Low cCost
  2. Low rolling resistance
  3. Puncture resistance.
  4. Low Weight

It is impossible to have all four targets met. Even if money is no object, you still have to choose a tradeoff between low rolling resistance / low weight and puncture resistance.

I spend more time researching and choosing tubulars to buy than I do anything else. So many combinations, choices, decisions and tradeoffs!. In the good old days, I’d just shove Continental Competition on and have done with it. But, I fear I’m losing too much time with good old Continental Competition. Even now I have an increasing choice of tubulars, I can spend ages trying to work out which tubular to use. In short, there is no easy answer.

When it comes to buying tubulars, I’ve often caught in two minds. I want to use a lightweight tubular like Vittoria Chrono / Veloflex Record, but then I think about puncturing and walking along a windswept dual carriageway for 10 miles, and I think I might as well stick to Continental Competition.

The problem is that as the competition gets more intense, and you look harder for marginal gains, the idea of getting better tubulars becomes more attractive.

Front Wheel / Back Wheel

Another consideration is that the rear wheel is more likely to puncture / more likely to wear down because it is the rear wheel which transmits your power output. Therefore, it is a good idea to consider getting a slightly more reliable (heavy) tyre for the rear. I generally risk lighter tubulars on the front wheel.

Conditions

In an ideal world, you would change your tubulars depending on conditions. For a dry day on a nice smooth dual carriageway, It is worth risking a proper track / timetrial tub like Vittoria Crono. Also, if you think you’ve got a chance for a PB, it makes sense to choose the fastest tubular. But, if you’re doing a 30 mile hilly time trial on rough roads in the wet, you have a higher chance of puncturing; in these conditions, it is not a good choice to go for a feather lightweight smooth tub.

I don’t particularly like the hassle of changing tubulars before every race – so tend to go for the default stronger puncture resistance. However, I am leaning more towards faster tubulars these days.

Width of Wheel

zipp-808

Zipp 808 and many new wheels come in a wider width making it better to have slightly wider tyres. Here I have a 21′ Corsa!. I’ve now switched to a 22′ Veloflex Record Sprinter

 

When I got into cycling, I made the ‘schoolboy error’ of buying 18′ width tyres. I made the assumption that the more narrow the tyre  – the less rolling resistance there will be. Nowadays, you can hear the fastest tyres are 25′ even 28′. There are conflicting reports, but I’m happy with anything – 22-25. Perhaps slightly wider at the rear is preferable. I heard Team Sky use 24.5′ width tubulars – I’m not sure how they calculated 24.5 is better than 25.  But I wouldn’t lose too much sleep if you have a 23′!

Too many models

The reason that I revisited this post is that whenever I go to buy tubulars, I always spend hours trying to find the best tubular. One problem is that companies make a bewildering array of tubulars – just as you get used to one model, you find it has become discontinued and you can’t buy it anyway. This happened yesterday with Veloflex Record Sprinter – I couldn’t find anywhere to buy it. Continue Reading →

7

Comments

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

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


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

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

The Cotswolds

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

Stang

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

 

6

The end of the road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

33

River Cycle Path

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

bike-path

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

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

 

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

path-by-river

Old narrower path

The old narrow path

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

Views from the cycle path

The other side of the river

St Mary’s Church and Radcliffe Camera

Mid winter and frost.

Autumn at the Head of the River.

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