It’s the time of the year for goodwill and to be merry. I’m not quite sure what that involves. Perhaps to fill the cup of merriment, you’re drink of choice is a six hour winter training ride through wind, rain and sleet. Or perhaps it involves going to Poundland and getting a Santa outfit for £1 to distribute loads of crap presents you’ve just brought for a pound. (no offence Dad, I do like all those presents from the Poundshop, especially the novelty Santa Hat which makes a good ear warmer on a cold day.
Or, perhaps we could jump on the interminable-end-of-the-year-fill-a-newspaper-with-award-ceremonies.
Cycling uphill awards 2013
1. How to descend like a girl and still win the Tour of Britain – Bradley Wiggins. Every cyclist can have bad moments descending, but not every cyclists can time trial like Bradley Wiggins.
2. Tate prize for Cycling modern art
– London’s Blue painted cycle superhighway. Admirably fulfilling the criteria for modern art – cheap, gaudy and without any point.
3. Moral leader of our time. No not Nelson Mandela, instead I’d like to nominate Hein Verbruggen for services to humanity, in pointing out Lance Armstrong is a really bad lad, and if anyone injected EPO into Lance, it really wasn’t good old upstanding Hein.
4. Descending backwards down a 25% hairpin pass whilst doing a wheeley.
No this isn’t a joke prize, it really happened and I’m glad to say he’s alive to tell the tale. (don’t worry Mum, I can’t do backwards wheelies downhill and anyway it’s much faster descending when you can look where you’re going.)
5. Peace and reconciliation award. No not Nelson Mandela. But, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome for burying the hatchet and showing the real meaning of teamwork, especially at the World road race championship in September.
Recently I was in Leeds during the rush hour. I took a few photos of cyclists and the basic cycle infrastructure.
Leeds has a fairly low % of residents who cycle once a month. According to the Department of transport just 11% of residents cycle at least once a month. It’s not the lowest rate in the UK, but it lags behind other cities.
Leeds cycle facilities
In the city centre there are some dedicated cycle facilities. It’s not much, but they seemed to be well used during rush hour.
Dedicated cycle path
A temporary brake in the cycle path. The cyclists I saw used their common sense and were cycling at low speed to avoid any problems with pedestrians. But, it does seem to sum up the patchy cycle lane provision.
Leeds cycling campaign.
The Leeds cycling campaign is working with the city council to try and improve facilities for cyclists and make the city more attractive place for cycling. (Leeds Cycling Campaign)
A review of Assos T607 F1 Mile shorts after a year of using them.
Summary They are very expensive for a pair of shorts – around £160. But, they are probably one of the best cycling products I have bought in recent years. They have really made long 5-7 hour winter training rides much more comfortable. I used to get all kinds of pain and discomfort, but these shorts mean I don’t even think about that aspect of cycling.
Admittedly I have worn some pretty cheap and unconvincing shorts in the past. This was a big step forward from a pair of shorts costing £40 to nearly four times the value. But, I couldn’t go back to the older shorts now.
A year ago, I also bought some F1 Assos Uno cycle shorts for £117. They are also excellent, But, I find I tend to wear these T607 more often because I prefer the insulation and they are slightly more comfortable than even the F1 Uno.
The problem with cycling is that there is always a temptation to spend lots of money – weight saving carbon fibre, cool clothing, new bike e.t.c. It’s always hard to know whether spending these great sums is justified.
Firstly, it’s not often you buy a pair of shorts, and with it you get an owners manual. There’s some rather discouraging warnings.
Do not machine wash
Do not wash with other clothes.
Do not ride near brambles
Do not get caught in velcro
(Do not get pushed into barbed wire by TV motorbike) (youtube)
Overall, there seems to be a strong warning emanating from this owners manual – Assos shorts are not designed to last. Not the most reassuring thing to read about something just costing shy of £160. Because of this I have taken care of these shorts more than any other piece of clothing I have owned.
I have hand washed them, I have taken a pee, according to the users manual, I have even avoided jumping through bramble whilst wearing them
One year on, I have got considerable use out of them, and they are still going strong. The padding is starting to be slightly worn, but it doesn’t look like it needs replacing. I’m hopefully of getting another couple of years use out of them.
Assos warn that proper sizing is very important. Get a size too big and it won’t stay still and move around. Get a size too small and it will stretch the seams and over time disintegrate (there’s a lot of talk about the shorts disintegrating). Rather worryingly, they say most professionals usually start in size L, and later in the season move down to size M. All very well for professionals who don’t have to pay £150 to change sizes. But, I want to get size right first time. I choose size L because it fitted my height 180-185cm, (but not the weight of 80kg).
I have worn the large sizes for over a year, and it still fits fine. There is no need of wanting to move down a size. But, for obvious reasons, you want to take care with getting the right size. Importantly, there should be a stretching of shorts when you stand up in them. The important thing is that they fit you whilst in the cycling position.
Comfort of Ride
The fabric is amazingly comfortable, the shorts are comfortable everywhere. As Assos states, when you stand up, it feels tight because it’s designed to be worn in the cycle posture. And I don’t think you need a Swiss owners manual to tell you these shorts are not designed for ‘social use’ (though the ever-thorough Swiss do actually tell you that they don’t recommend wearing these shorts in a ‘social situation’)
The manual tells you to not pull the shorts into place, but merely let the shorts do the work. I oblige and let the fabric move into position, as I set off down the road. The dimpled padded insert is considerable and really well designed. Not like some old shorts where the rather feeble padding seems to stop at an inappropriate point.
After two hours into the ride, you realise you’ve hardly noticed your saddle or seating position. It’s very comfortable. After five hours in the saddle, the first signs of hardness start to appear. But, this is relatively mild. At the end of the ride, I was really praising the design of the saddle. It’s done a lot to improve the ride quality over other cycle shorts. It is a big step up from any other cycle shorts that I have experienced. This winter I have been doing rides of up to seven hours. I’ve never experienced any real discomfort. I used to suffer from a lot of the dreaded saddle sore. But, this past year, I have rarely suffered, apart from after a few time trials (where I wear skinsuit and not these shorts)
It’s a real tough hill. The gradient doesn’t get ridiculously steep; the max is about 17%. But, it stays close to this 16% gradient for quite a long time at the start of the climb. After a mile, the gradient eases off and there is a long drag to the finish. It is quite exposed near the top, so wind direction can make a difference.
It was used in the Tour de Yorkshire 2017. In the women’s race, Anna Van der Breggen and Lizzie Deignan used it as springboard for race winning move
Blog from 2012
For a change, my lowest gear of 39*25 didn’t feel too bad. But, I stayed in it for a long time, and it did get really hard work towards the end of the steep section because of the unremitting gradient – but it didn’t nearly kill me like last week’s Bushcombe Lane.
Apart from winning the Menston Cricket Club under 13 fielder of the year award (1989), my main claim to fame is suggesting Trapping Hill (Lofthouse to Masham ) as hill number 145 for Another 100 hill climbs.
Trapping Hill has a personal significance because it was my first major climb that I conquered, aged about 13. (perhaps even the same glorious sporting year as winning that prestigious fielding award). In those days, I hadn’t even joined Otley CC or started a weekly club run. But every year, I’d go with a friend camping to How Stean Gorge in Nidderdale. We would take our bikes, and completely untrained, we would go out for 50-70 mile rides on the bike. When we came back, we were absolutely wasted and couldn’t walk for 3 days. It was all tremendous fun, though I think the illicit bottles of Belgian beer hidden in the sleeping bags helped quite a lot.
As a youngster, I never thought I had any natural talent for sport, but looking back, I did always manage to cycle to the top of these epic hills (like Trapping hill and Greenhow hill) – even if completely untrained; my friend Peter Joanes, poor chap, was soon reduced to walking. He really suffered. I used to have to either wait for 10 minutes at the top or go back down the hill and go up a second time.
In those days, Trapping Hill seemed an almost impossibly steep and long hill; it was a major adventure to tackle it.
Today, it’s not quite as difficult as I remembered, but it was still good to go back and relieve those early cycling holidays.
From Menston, it’s quite hilly to get to Nidderdale. I went over Norwood Edge and up the back of Greenhow hill before dropping into Pateley Bridge, down Guise Edge. From Pateley Bridge, there is a nice 7 mile road towards Lofthouse, before you turn right up Trapping Hill, towards Masham.
At the top of Trapping Hill, the plan was to do a u-turn and head back. But, it was a beautiful day, and a rush of blood inspired me to end on towards Masham. I don’t really know these roads too well, but I got an idea to head over towards Masham and Middleham before coming back through Coverdale and Park Rash.
Review of the The Bontrager RXL waterproof overshoe.
I’m always on the lookout for warm footwear and accessories. These Bontrager RXL overshoes looked very warm with a generous fleece lining. They also came recommended from Steve, the bike mechanic in BikeZone. Despite already having a pair of overshoes, I bought these. They cost £36, so I was hoping they would give an impressive performance to justify the price tag. Steve gave me a tip that he recommended erring on the side of getting a bigger size.
He said the first pair he had were tight, restricting the blood flow and defeating the purpose of overshoes. I take shoe size 46.5, so I chose the XL size which says it fits 47-48. It proved a good fit for my Mavic cycling shoes – size 46.5. I’m sure it would be fine also for shoe size 47, but 48 might be a little on the tight side. Despite getting XL, it was a snug fit, and once on didn’t move. There is a good strong zip and it is well made.
Underneath the shoe is designed for durability, with generous holes and no insulation. It means it won’t deteriorate walking around, but it doesn’t offer any insulation from the underneath. A complement to this shoe may be a lining of your shoe pad.
The main selling point for this overshoe was the generous fleece lining. It is warmer that most overshoes. My feet were quite warm at 10 degrees without the usual hotpads. These over shoes are ideal for really cold days.
If you’re feet aren’t prone to the cold, these might even be a bit warm during spring and autumn, where it is a close call on whether to wear overshoes or not. If you don’t often get cold feet, you might be better off with a cheaper and slightly thinner overshoe. At £40, it really is quite an expensive overshoe.
If you want maximum insulation for an overshoe, it is hard to beat this.
Despite warmth and the layers of insulation, I find it perfectly breathable. It’s not sweaty. I sometimes find the neoprene overshoes to be a bit on the sweaty side.
After a few days in Yorkshire, I was back down south. After getting a taste for a few winter hills, I was looking for something to aim for down south. Bushcombe Lane looked suitably menacing on the OS map, plenty of double arrows. Checking up Another 100 Climbs, (no. 105) and I saw it gets a rare 10/10 rating. Lots of 20 and 25%. gradients.
Quite often I like to amble around the Cotswolds with no particular target, just taking whichever road appeals. But, this was a ride with a clear target – get to Woodmancote and then climb Bushcombe Lane. It’s quite a trek from Oxford – perhaps 50 miles taking the back lanes of the Cotswolds. The 50 miles out west were quite pleasant. The roads weren’t quite as isolated as Yorkshire, but they were quiet enough. Another balmy December day – 10 degrees and the odd bit of sun, made it quite an enjoyable ride. Despite trying to get there by the shortest route, I took a few wrong turns and added another 7 miles on to the outward journey. I was starting to worry I might not have enough daylight, but I was quite committed to checking out the climb.
First from Winchcombe, I had to climb Cleeve hill. Cleeve hill is a substantial climb itself; though from Winchcombe it is more of a long drag – nothing too steep. Cleeve hill from Cheltenham is much more of a hard test. I enjoyed doing that last winter.
The top of Cleeve hill affords a great view; it was a little on the murky side but still worth the climb. I then took the descent down Bushcombe Lane to see what I would be climbing. I kept stopping to take photos – I wouldn’t be stopping on way up – and you can’t help but notice – this is really steep!
In Woodmancote, I did a u-turn and with a certain degree of trepidation began the climb. It starts off innocuously enough, but seems to get steeper and steeper as you go. The middle section is really testing. After a prolonged 20% section, it got even steeper and the gradient hits 25%. As you can see the road surface was wet and muddy. I was wheel spinning quite vigorously which made it even more difficult. I think I put 95psi in rear tyre
It’s the third time in three days, I’ve cycled through Burnsall; with views like this it doesn’t take much encouragement. It was just one of those days where you have to keep pinching yourself to remember it’s the middle of December.
For December, it is unseasonably mild up here in Yorkshire. I was lucky to have a free day, so I set off up Wharfedale for a five hour ride around Yorkshire. Once you get off the main roads, there’s very little traffic at this time of the year – the odd car, the occasional cyclist, and a few tractors spraying cow manure onto the road. It all makes for seasonal good cheer. At least I wasn’t wearing my white leg warmers.
I was travelling up the B road from Grassington towards Kettlewell. I can report there are several trucks and workman creating the smoothest tarmac north of Dover. This newly found enthusiasm for filling in potholes must be either an unusual display of largesse and goodwill from Yorkshire County Council or perhaps there is just an important bicycle race arriving in a few months.
I only wish the Tour de France could stay for a couple more days and go through every small road in Yorkshire, it could make it a cyclists’ heaven up here – if you didn’t have to fight puddles, mud and potholes. But, I suppose you can’t have everything. ‘Character building’, ‘ good practise for cyclo-cross’ I hear the spirit of Yorkshire saying – I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you’re getting the miles in.
Just before Kettlewell I turned off the B road and headed towards Arncliffe and Lintondale. If it was quiet on the B roads, it was positively isolated on these roads. I didn’t even have a manure dispensing trailer to keep me company. I kept a decent tempo towards Halton Gill before turning left up a long steep hill into the wind. You get a marvellous view to your left and Pen Y Ghent looming over your right hand shoulder. The view made up for the depressingly slow progress into a stiff Westerley. As you descend towards Settle, another big fell, Ingleborough dominates the skyline to your right. It may be a little on the grey and damp side, but it’s spectacular scenery to be passing through.
After the isolation and wilderness of the Yorkshire moors, down in Settle, there is a reconnection with the more usual pace of normal life. Trucks trundling along the A65 soon break the peace of being on the top of Silverdale with just sheep for company. But, I didn’t have any stomach for riding on busy roads at the moment, instead I tried my luck turning left, up a sharp incline out of Settle to Scalebar Bridge. It was a strong tailwaind at this point, but it’s still a brute of a climb. There’s a section of pave before a really testing 18-20% grind out of the town. There’s little respite on the long climb, which is a shame, because you are afforded fantastic views if you look over your shoulder down into Settle.
As hill climbing goes, I’m still in reasonably good shape, but if I hadn’t written my Christmas list already, I’d be adding a compact Chainset at the top of my list. It’s one thing to rattle up a 20% climb on your light summer bike, but when you’re weighed down my mudguards, several layers of clothes, and an excess of mince pies, you don’t feel quite ready for smashing up these climbs. It felt like pedalling squares – grinding away on my 39*25, wishing I had a lower gear to enable a more mid-winter, friendly cadence.
Mind you later near Malham, I saw a classic old school rider churning away on his winter stead. He was fighting the roads of Yorkshire on a classic looking fixed bike. As I came to overtake him. I offered a bit of encouragement.
“Good luck, riding fixed around here.”
That was his single syllable contribution to a fledgling conversation – it says everything and more about the gritty Yorkshire old school riders. Why waste words, when you can concentrate on cycling?
In the past several years, I’ve had recurrent knee problems. It usually starts to occur at the end of a long winter training season. This year I’m trying hard to prevent the problem rather than wait for pain to develop.
In previous years, I’ve visited a good sports physio in Oxford (David Jones, Oxford Sports Rehabilitation) who has helped diagnose why there is knee pain and what to do about it. In a nutshell, the problem was related to having one leg significantly weaker than another. Therefore, by the end of a long ride, the weak leg is struggling to keep up. Rather than move up and down in a straight line, the weak leg starts to flop around. It is this unnatural movement which causes pain in the knee to develop.
There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the knee. The problem was in the cycling action which was causing the knee joint to move in a way that caused friction.
The physio had a good model of a leg. When it works properly the leg is like a lever moving up and down in a straight line. When the leg moves at an angle you can see how it causes problems for the knee.
Solution to weak leg
Having a correct diagnosis of the problem is an important starting point. It was a relief to learn that I didn’t have a fundamental problem with my knee, and that it could be solved.
The solution was then to increase strength in the weak leg so it would be able to keep up with the other leg. This was a simple collection of exercises, which involved standing up from a chair on one leg, leg squats on one leg.
I have a series of leg exercises, I try and do them for 20 minutes or so on off days for the bike. I make a particular effort to do these exercises if I’m having a period of time off the bike.
Checking left leg – Right leg imbalance
A good way to check leg strength is to use a leg press machine.
In February 2013, I could only lift 25kg with my left leg. With my right leg I could lift 40kg. It was a huge imbalance in strength. To be honest, I was shocked at how weak that left leg was. 25kg is not very much, when you considered how much I was cycling.
When I tested in April 2009, we didn’t use a leg press machine, but my legs were weaker than in 2013. I couldn’t do a proper leg squat without my legs wobbling all over the place.
Joining a Gym
I’ve always felt a gym is a waste of money. I’ve never been inspired to go to a gym and join a few other sweaty participants with horrible music blaring out. But, I thought that testing my legs could help to self-diagnose any weakness and work to prevent leg imbalances before the problem returns.
Last Monday, I went down to London, hoping to do a bit of Christmas shopping by bike. The day before I signed up for the Brompton hire dock. For £1 annual membership, you can hire a Brompton for £5 a day. It is available from quite a few train stations, such as Oxford. It sounds a fantastic idea. Get a train and then cycle around the city. In the end, I decided not to hire a Brompton. I got put off by the notice you had to carry it with you at all times; they don’t allow you to lock it up outside whilst you go into shop. In the end, I thought I might as well take my battered old commuting bike. Save £5 and less worries about getting the bike stolen.
From Paddington, it’s a short stretch to Hyde Park. It was quite pleasant cycling around Hyde Park. There is a decent bike path, with enough room to have a separate path for pedestrians. At one point though, I saw some signs to say bike path was closed because it was Christmas, I couldn’t quite work out why. The shared bike facility works well, if you’re not racing and have a little patience. One or two cyclists came flying through a busy intersection with bell ringing loudly hoping people would jump out of the way; it’s the kind of approach that doesn’t really help to get more shared cycle facilities.
I came across some tourists who had just had hired some Boris bikes. They obviously had a few difficulties with handling the 25kg bikes. One tourist veered impeccably across my path completely unaware of where she was going. Fortunately, I had a little bit of that generous Christmas spirit; I was going relatively slowly and could anticipate the random movement. It would have been different, if I was cycling at top speed.
As much fun as it was to go round and round Hyde Park, I needed to venture into the hectic world of central London and try and find a nice cafe to eat, and possibly a few shops to visit. Although, the media can exaggerate the dangers of cycling; it’s hard not to be conscious of the recent spate of serious accidents in London. November was a grim month for London cyclists, no matter how you look at it. I was cycling in defensive mode. – trying to anticipate dangers, not in a rush, following rules of the road, not taking any unnecessary risks.
If I was a Londoner, I might be able to find the best cycle route East across London, but I didn’t have the patience to examine multiple maps, so I just headed West, trying to follow suitably looking quiet roads. The cycling can best be described as stop start; it’s a bit of a jungle out there. It’s definitely hard work cycling through London, I don’t really envy London commuters, though it’s not as bad as recent headlines make out. The main problem is that you are sharing roads with innumerable buses, lorries, vans. On one occasion a van did a quick three point turn in the road. It was a good job I was on my toes, I had to reverse onto pavement to make sure he didn’t reverse into me. But, apart from that, it was relatively incident free. But, you have to ride with a heightened sense of awareness more than anywhere else. For what it’s worth, I would never dream of cycling around London with headphones on.
I always go to London with the great intentions of having a fantastic time, visit loads of shops, find a great cafe. But, after 20 minutes of cycling towards Covent Garden / Soho, the London experience was already getting a little tough. I had no idea where I was, just going from side street to side street. You pass so many cafes, you keep think you’ll find a better one; so end up going past many.
After several cafes came and went, I was investigating one cafe, only to notice it was the Rapha cafe! I know Rapha from somewhere, O yes! the cycle team and cycle clothing company. Sometimes, it does work out just rambling through London. I went into the Rapha cafe and shop. I eyed a very attractive winter jacket; it looked superbly designed and made. Though it didn’t have a price tag, and I was too shy to ask. It would make an excellent Christmas present, if Santa Claus reads this blog. It was a good place to hang out though. Lots of cycling memorabilia and magazines and a good cycling feel.
After a good lunch at an excellent nearby cafe, Bills, I started to head back to Paddington. Though, I thought I ought to make a cursory attempt at shopping. I chose a five floored Waterstones in Picadilly, but my heart wasn’t really in it. London is too big a place to shop. And I was thinking more about the vague cycle route back to Paddington.
Taking the bike on the train was fine, and it was good having a bike to get from Paddington into Central London. I thought it was difficult cycling into Oxford, but after a day in London, I realise there are much harder places to cycle. It’s hard to add anything to what has already been said about cycling in London. Except, it would be great if London could be made more accommodating for cyclists. It was an interesting experience and I was glad to come across the Rapha shop and cafe.
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