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.

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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.

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).

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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.


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.

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!


Best commuting bike under £500


For £500, you can get a pretty decent commuting bike. Personally, I wouldn’t be keen to spend much more than £500 for a commuting bike. If you lock the bike up in town, there is an increased chance of theft, so with just a £500, you get more peace of mind than you would if you had spent over a £1,000.

I bought a very nice commuting bike in 1999 for about £550 (It was a Trek) but it got stolen from the back of my house. I bought a second hand bike (Trek 1000) from a neighbour for £200 as a temporary stop gap. 17 years later, I’m still riding this temporary stopgap. It is essentially an aluminium road bike, adapted for commuting. I often check out alternative commuting bikes and have test ridden a few, partly for this blog, partly for interest in ‘upgrading’ my commuting bike.

There is a great choice of commuting bikes for under £500. I would separate the choices into:

The most common bike is variations on the hybrid – cross between MTB and road bike, giving maximum functionality needed for commuting.
  1. Classic / Retro Style Bikes – Look cool, great joy to have. Slower. heavier. A bit more expensive. Not great quality at less than £500.
  2. Hybrid Bikes – best value. Most practical, most widely bought. Cheap prices due to economies of scale.
  3. Mountain Bikes – Good for rough terrain like canal paths. Wider tyres are slower. FOr under £500, you won’t get a ‘real’ mountain bike, more like a hybrid geared towards the MTB range.
  4. Road Bikes – Faster, narrower tyres, more aggressive riding position, but less stable than hybrid bikes. Useful for longer commutes and those wishing to combine commuting with training.
  5. Single Speed Bikes – Easy to maintain. Look cool. More expensive (not many under £500). Not good if you have lots of hills!
  6. Foldups – Useful for those commuting by train. Limited choice for under £500. Certainly, no Bromptons come under this price range.

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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

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Speedplay pedals review long term


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.


speedplaySpeedplay 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.

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Best tubular tyres


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

  1. Low Cost
  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.


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 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.

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Autumn photos

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!


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

Dusting bike down from the loft

My road bike had a mechanical so I got my time trial bike down from the loft. It has been up there since July 2016. It is the first time I have dusted a bicycle rather than clean it. If not cobwebs and dead spiders, it was covered with plenty of accumulated dust. Fortunately, after a quick clean and charging the electronic gears, it ran as good as new.

Riding a time trial bike can hurt parts of the body – that a road bike can’t reach. If you are unused to riding in a TT position, it is wise to break yourself in gently. But, I have been enjoying my newfound sense of freedom and had my heart on reaching Chipping Norton a good 60 mile round trip on undulating roads.

After slogging into a headwind for the first 30 miles, there was a light tailwind to push me along the return home. There is a great downhill run from Chipping Norton to Charlbury and then Islip. Apart from a few short climbs, you can get up a good speed with a TT bike and tailwind.

I stopped on one occasion to get some blackberries for food.

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