Mental

That is. Amazing how much bike technology has come on in the six years since this race. Nowhere near as amazing as the genius of routing the course through someone’s kitchen 🙂

Talking of mental, that’s a good description of my current vocational workload, and my cerebral state going into the Dartmoor Sportive. Good job we’re doing the girl’s race with only 110k/7500 feet of climbing due to my outstandingly slack preparation.

Which did include one ride of over 100k, and many,  many nights sitting inside wondering which Pringles flavour was the most performance enhancing. The research is well and truly done, but the results are yet to be proven. Ask me Sunday, if I’m still alive.

2500 riders as well. Most of them wrapped tight in lycra, sporting zero body fat, preparing strange liquid concoctions and worrying over heart rate zones. Mr Bro and I won’t be like that. Aside from the obvious physical attributes we entirely fail to share with such riders*, we also share none of their competitive edge or medal chasing aspirations.

Already I feel my flirtations with the dark side of cycling have gone way too far. Not only do I own a roadie pair of bib shorts (that act as a homage to Freddy Mercury’s Spandex phase), but I’m unlikely to accessorise these skintight trousers-and-a-bit with additional willy-coverage baggies. Instead I shall stay-press the wedding vegetables for anyone to see.

So that’ll be use then. Testiclappers to the fore, while riding at the back. And there’s the whole riding in a group thing. Done this once. Nearly totalled everyone behind me. Was not asked to lead again. They’ll be scraping innocent racers off the tarmac with a spatula if I’m allowed anywhere near the peloton.

My strategy therefore is not just to be so slow I’ll not be bothering those who are taking the whole thing a bit seriously, but also to break road riding protocol by stopping in one of the many pubs for refuelling. Assuming they haven’t got pringles, I’ll settle for some dry roasted nuts** assuming they are accompanied by an ice cold beer.

But it would be wrong to say I’m not intending to finish. Oh no. That’d just be too rubbish even for me. So no more than two pub stops. Three, at the most.

* My bro especially although he’s slimmed down quite impressively this year. Bit of a worry.

** Looking at the forecast, I may be able to harvest my own.

Not Again.

Enjoying one road ride is probably acceptable, enjoying two is tantamount to MTB treason.  Before my skinny tired bike is behead-tubed*, let me at least present a case for the defence.

Firstly it wasn’t a long ride. The plan for a metric century was curtailed by a lack of time. Further scaling back became necessary once a small mechanical oversight popped up in the first 200 metres.

Not so much popped up, more popped out, with a cranked chain spinning uselessly over  un-indexable cogs. Look with that many little sprockets and associated spacers, anyone could have inadvertently misaligned the two.

It was me of course. And as such, I was deemed unfit to effect a repair which saw Jezz seemingly chase the wheel around the workshop using his biggest hammer. An opportune time perhaps for a quick spanner twirl elsewhere on the innocent frame.

First time out on Mr. Plastic Fantastic in 2011, all a-bling with new wheels (cassette not fitted properly, tyres under-inflated), new saddle (testicle splitting angle due to poor fitment) and new carbon post (unfitted due to it being entirely the wrong size).

Eventually, after some embarrassment and more excuses, the good ship Malvern-Route set sail under fair conditions with little wind and temperatures close to double digits.

Riding the Boardman after Woger Wibble was something of a revelation.  Best described as being gifted a proper cyclist’s set of legs, and an extra lung. Crikey it’s light – at least six pounds under the honest toiler of my winter bike – and *ahem* stiff. Having campaigned the thick end of 600k this winter on Wog sets a telling precedent on what a proper race bike feels like.

Feels fast for a start. Emboldened by climatic conditions, super light bike, dry road and an inability to clip out (new road shoes, new road pedals, stopping and starting involved lampposts and increasingly agitated foot waggling) my pace was both brisk and entirely inappropriate.

The latter I would only discover some two hours later when that “little wind” could be more accurately described as “a bastard headwind seeking to reduce me to a little cry”. Still having a trick bike is a great leveller.

Jezz was riding a oversized Wibble that puts one in mind of a farm gate cleverly accessorised with a wheel at either end. Not only tall, it has sufficient length to factory-fit a claxon and speaking tube for turns: “All Ahead Flank Engine Room” can often be heard bouncing off random Malvern hills.

So my bike is light and fast which is an almost perfect juxtaposition to the rider. Whereas Jezz – an Etape veteran and unapologetic semi-roadie –  can normally rip my little stumps off at will.  At this point, I can share with you that it is entirely about the bike.

For two hours, we jested and jousted up and over hilly terrain. I still lost more than I won but derived some pleasure from the look on Jezz’s fizog a couple of times. One I recognised as “Just give me a minute, once the black spots have faded, we’ll be on our way”.

Somewhere in between such hyper-competitivety, I realised with horror this was really quite enjoyable. Even a jaunt through Malvern traffic didn’t disappoint as my “London Commuter Elbows” have lost nothing in their vigorousness over the last few years.

And then the headwind. With all the climbing done, I was ready for an easy 25k spin home along the valley bottom.  The only match to that idyllic description was the distance. Not flat, slight climb all the way home, arrow straight roads horizon long, and into the teeth of a headwind that sought out my tiring limbs and made them tireder still.

I swallowed a little water, slightly more pride and hid behind Jezz for a while until we mercifully turned the relentless blast into a crosswind.  That couldn’t hide the fact I’d shot my bolt though and – light bike or not – the last few climbs were properly hurty.

Lesson learned? Probably not, ego not generally gapped my ambition. 70k, 890m of climbing, similar average speed to last time out but on a route made far tougher by elevation.  Riding in this morning was a fairly sedate affair, but not for a minute did I consider driving.

Actually I was looking forward to getting back on the (heavy) bike. That’s a worrying development.

* Been reading lots of Tudor history. After considering disease, poverty, hangman’s noose and executioner’s blade, hard to believe the population of England during that time could be more than about 7.

That’s not a forecast..

.. that’s somewhere between a wild guess and an electronic shrug. Obsessed by the weather as I am, three sites lurk in my favourites offering – generally – biblical visions of the prevailing conditions come home time

1) between -3 and 8 degrees

2) Between -6 and 1 degree

3) Between -2 and 4 degrees.

The final one is the venerable beeb, the first two are clearly programmed by some stoner quiche-eater stroking a hamster. I mean really, potential statisical inacurracy of 11 degrees bounded by a total of about 30.

I could do better leaning out of the window and declaring “h’mm chilly, potentially parky later“. In fact I just have. I think the workers from the building opposite were crowded round thinking it was a suicide attempt.

It may well be if forecast 2) is correct. I appear to have contracted “frost-willy” after a sub zero ride in earlier.

I spent ages dithering this morning trying to find stuff. I failed to uncover my motivation which has been lost for the last week. Apparently it was last seen holding Spring hostage.

Large reward for its’ return.

That’s really annoying.

Cotswold Road Ride

Many – and most would say far too many – times have I banged on about how rubbish road riding is. The key thrust of what passed as my argument was blacktop wheeling was dull, painful and entirely missing the joy, risk and skill of Mountain Biking. It appears I may have been more than a little wrong.

Before lambasting me for a U-Turn not seen since, er let me think – oh yes, last week by the not-Forest selling lunatics as Westminster, let me first explain that the change of heart is based entirely on context. I’ve always maintained that half the fun of riding MTBs is who you are with, with the other half being where you are riding. What I failed to understand is this has a 100% crossover with road bikes.

Over 1200 kilometres have passed under skinny wheel in the last twelve months, and – until today – only 40 of them had been shared with others. The majority of the remainder are tagged onto work days, chasing trains weighed down with commuting collateral – while a very few fired the guilt trigger and had me yomping around local lanes feeling more miserable that worthy.

Today failed to deliver any promising portents. Cold, grey and wet. Chance of dampness in the air, lots of it already on the ground. 8am start, 80k plugged into Jezz’s GPS and an Al mentally porpoising between fear and boredom. The really bloody annoying thing was not just that I enjoyed it, but rather I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Cotswold Road Ride Cotswold Road Ride

Some reasons; Jezz – who is properly fit and fast – generously refused to roast me over the tarmac spit with a maximum attack from the first minute. The lack of rucksack, darkness, desperation to make a train/get home removed any real reason to whinge. A route winding pleasantly thought the Cotswolds, without climbing over any monstrous hills, made for looking around rather than looking for a spare lung.

But mainly it was not being solo. If I’d ridden this on my own a finish would be doubtful, excuses and early baleouts almost guaranteed. Which is pretty much how Billy-no-mates MTB rides end as well. Arguably You could even argue that road riding is more social on traffic free roads and without the standard straining Malvern Gurn in place.

For balance, important to state quite clearly it’s not as good as Mountain Biking. But it was today when off road trails would have been a muddy horror show. I learned some things as well: “How to trim my big ring” which I’d always assumed was some lycra-creepy initiation ceremony. And – even being a roadie novice – the art of drafting came easily to a man for whom cheating is a life skill.

First 20k were fine, second not so bad. Break for coffee and food was welcome, certainly more welcome than next 20k which dragged a little on less fun roads marked by traffic and gradients. Last 20k was surprisingly painless even with tiring legs and ice cold feet. Descending on twisty roads was friskier than I expected, and even some of the climbing felt kind of nice.

Don’t worry tho; the dark side shall not claim me. Chunky winter boots, flappy clothing and an absolute refusal to stay-press my willy in an orgy of lycra categorised me perfectly. I’m a Mountain Biker who will ride anything rather than not ride at all.  Having said all that, a nice 100k out to Broadway is planned for next month, and I find myself looking forward to it.

Best hide the razor.

The hardest month

Wet Wibble

Or, February – it’s a proper bastard. Aside from a few over-medicated nutjobs, there is a collective and plaintive whinge from the cycling community come November.  Too cold, too dark, too bloody miserable to ride, too much effort for too little gain. Too much kit, too much washing, hit the hibernate button and wake me in Spring.

I am one of the over-medicated nutters. Although individual rides may trigger mad delusions that my life had ended only to be reincarnated as a dolphin, the collective revolution of a million* moist pedal strokes leaves Al’s world sunny side up.

Not that much of that sun is going on outside. Which brings me back to why February can only be conquered through gritted teeth, and the vague promise of something better soon.

November is fine, really. Some ace riding on still dry trails, bits of the commute lack benightment, still time for a trip away or two. December can go either way, but dicking about in the snow is the only Christmas present that makes you feel ten years old again.

And while the road bike is tending to the grim, it’s worth it for the looks on the be-suited faces of people not quite like you. Short month as well, before the excesses of a holiday period where getting out is the pefect release valve for being stuck inside with relatives who are not obsessed by cycling. Honestly, what’s wrong with these people?

January is brutal. Always cold, not much light, the misery on the faces of those swapping pasties for lentils. A spike in the number of off road riders spotted spluttering up the hills early Sunday morning. It is always like this – when the year turns – and it never lasts.

February tho, you feel cheated. Daffodils break through the winter crust, white ice is replaced by snowdrops of the same colour, occasional bright and warm days are snatched away by freezing easterlies and bands of spiteful rain. And you know it might snow again, which gets old so damn quickly and sends you back indoors in a grump.

Having missed a couple of rides already, my last commute was powered from a position of weather forecast denial. 6am in the wind and the wet confirmed the tea-leaf readers actually had it about right. After drying out at the office, the train home provided a further opportunity to view the  hard rain slashing at the windows.

Wet weather gear is fantastic, but the problem is that it does not wateproof your brain. It’s a struggle sometimes to install the “it’ll all be alright in a few minutes” template as everyone else is rushing for their cars.

No choice but to get on with it. Displacement strategies include marvelling at how damn fab this is going to be in the light and warmth, calculating savings over the easy-drive option and wondering if hitting something is the right approach, as road bike brakes have a “work to rule” clause in the pissing rain.

Arriving home, you signal to the family that – contrary to all appearances – you are not an avenging swamp monster in control of an epic storm. Accept you’ve lost a bike and acquired a wheeled shed, peel off layers of dampness and hurry into the light.

Then do the same again on the Mountain bike the next night. The mud is up, the grip is down, the brakes are so much better but tyres – slicked by slushy crap – offers them nothing to work with. A dirty brown protest marks your rucksack, crack and back, but two hours of this beats an inside job with the TV.

So it’s time for a change. No more low-rent, truculent light mocking your motivation. Spring has to crank the season-ratchet and turn up the sun. What do we want?Double digit temperatures, more light that dark, sunshine and no snow“, When do we want it?RIGHT NOW”.

Maybe I’ll get some posters made up.

* well possibly not that many. But close enough if my not insignificant investment in bottom brackets is anything to go by.

Danger of Death

H'mm shiny

As a man who has been categorised as “unsafe at any speed“, I’ve always viewed wheels as an accessory to murder. If one irresponsibly rotates them to terminal velocity, then their part in the ensuing accident can be robustly defended by the claim that no other choice was available.

But it seems I was wrong. In a three card trick where parts are shuffled between my extensive bicycle collection, woger has lost a bit of rotating mass and gained a set of gear ratios chosen specifically to prolong my knee joints. This has been facilitated by Mr Plastic-Fantastic – the hibernated horizon foreshortening road bike – receiving a late Christmas pimping of some Italian loveliness.

Although having read the instructions* I was more than a little geographically confused. Because not only had Health and Safety gone mad, it had taken over the asylum. And yet rather than the product origin being some European Nanny State or our litigious colonial cousins, these revolutionary lovelies have apparently been hand crafted on the thighs of an Italian virgin**

Let me summarise the multi-lingual sheet accompanying what – after we’ve waded through the marketing nonsense trumpeting innovative spoke design and juxtaposed nipple alignment – are nothing more dangerous that something first installed on an ox-cart.  If you fit a tyre that is too big, YOU WILL DIE, if you fit a tyre that is too small YOU WILL DIE, if the cassette is not precision installed by a 3rd generation mechanic steeped in bicycle law THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT YOU SHALL DIE.

Incorrectly inflated inner tubes? CERTAIN DEATH. Rider over 82kgs (I’m not too many pies short) LUCKY TO MAKE IT ONTO THE ROAD. Under 82s? Might survive until the END OF THE DAY. Riding at Night? Put your affairs in order, YOU ARE TOAST. I could go on as the instructions did, but instead let me share with you the comedy catch all which suffixed the death threats “And if you die – as you inevitably will – don’t try blaming us for any manufacturing fault known, unknown or hushed up to get the product out, as we’ve got  lawyers crossed with Rotweillers'”

Nice. So it seems that I have not in fact purchased some fast riding wheels for summer jaunts to far off places, nope what we have here are weapons of mass rotation. Best thing would be to hide  the box underground and hope they don’t blow up the neighbourhood because “you looked at them in a funny way. Don’t call us, see note re: Lawyers

Light tho. Didn’t think there was anything in the box. In fact the weightiest item by far were the YOU WILL DIE instructions in nine different languages and signed for the blind. Somewhere hidden was the procedure for correct fitment but frankly I was so terrified by this time, I just went with my standard tongue out, hammer handed approach to percussion engineering.

And before unfair and hurtful accusations of wanton spending to no good effect, let me explain this is all part of my wider strategy. That’s what I am calling it anyway as “Internet Magpie Geekery” sounds a bit lame. Sure I’ve spent about £5*** on essential components absolutely necessary for me to commute by bike/possibly die by my own wheel, while slimming down the bike fleet by a significant one.

Come Tuesday, the Pace goes. To a man who really wants it and shall probably ride it more than the three times I managed last year. Of course the second it’s gone, every other bike will  fail in some spectacular way, and I’ll be left wondering if strategy is clever anagram of stupidity. Already there is talk of a DH day at Cwmcarn which I’ll probably undertake/die on my faithful old hardtail, and – even more worryingly – of the tiny fleet of five bikes remaining, two of them are entirely configured for the road.

That’s not a strategy, that’s heading off towards lunacy and accelerating. I think we all know what might happen next 🙂

* There’s always a first time. It won’t happen again. No highlighting of most expensive parts to adjust with a hammer. Useless.

** Assuming they could find one.

*** Hi Carol 🙂

Politeness costs nothing.

Roadrat on the train

So it is said, but – as with  many such proclamations – it is nothing more than a anodyne lie. Certainly for the lazy, the graceless, the empathy-voids and the arrogant even the lowest common denominator of human decency seems to be beyond them.

I find in any situation where such an arse is being an arse, the most satisfying solution is some form of petty revenge. Sure it lacks a high minded ‘turning the other cheek‘ response and scores not at all in persuasive education, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

That picture represents London Midland’s concession to bicycles, baby buggies and wheel chairs. Not all at the same time obviously with it being such a spiteful little space. Somehow during high summer, we crack the code to sequence up to six bikes in there which – as an added bonus – prevents the fat ticket inspector getting through, and traps any poor soul whose dived into the loo while carriage re-alignment was under way.

And it’s done generally in good humour and a “to me, to you” kind of way with layers unpeeled based on exit station. Sure there are occasional flash points when a rusty pedal gouges out a man sized chunk of prized carbon chainstay, but generally it just works because everyone is polite and helpful.

Come winter, it’s just me. Except occasionally some random spod cruises up with some worthless nasty which is carelessly thrown into the space from the next carriage.  Tonight a man with a supercilious expression supported by a tweed jacket really broke all the unwritten rules.

Firstly he showed no interest in my destination, second he shoved his bike roughly against mine failing – or not caring – to notice his horrid bar end was repeatedly beating my expensive Exposure Light. Thirdly he showed no contrition when this was pointed out, instead continuing to mine his bike into some kind of stable position. Fourth he knobbed off into some unspecified carriage leaving me to shift his bike some two stops down the line.

I did shift it. But not before I’d sabotaged it. Both tyres, down to about 5 psi, the guilty air sizzling loudly in the now almost empty carriage. I would have nicked his pump as well, if he’d had one. The only other occupant was staring, pointing and giggling as I reduced his future mobility to pushing.

“What if he notices?” she asked looking slightly concerned “Oh tell him I did it, and that I travel on this train at least twice a week if he’d like to discuss it“. I didn’t add that any such discussion would start and end with “Well I hope a walk home in the wind and pissing rain taught you a lesson eh? And if it didn’t, no worries it kept me amused for a few hours

On reflection, both tyres may not have been a proportional response. I think it was the tweed jacket that pushed me over the edge.

Blown out.

Finally my experimental* nutrional approach to create a God Like cycling persona is paying off. This morning me and Wog completed the inbound commute a massive 15% quicker than the one only three days previous.

I’m going to be RICH. That kind of performance improvement is only normally available to those nose down in a bag of Bolivian Marching Powder. People will be flocking to my door demanding I furnish them with a Bacon Butty and a bill for a thousand pounds.

As I was contemplating the myriad ways to spend my impending windfall, I couldn’t help noticing that “Wind” and “Fall” seemed to be playing merry havoc with the trees. Bent almost double under the power of an Autumn gale, it would seem my velocity gains may be horribly reversed come home time.

I was going to write some more but then realised I aleady had some time ago

Instead, let me share a quote from our train driver this morning: “I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen about the late running of this service. Railtrack appear to have been surprised by Autumn, and we are operating at restricted speed so we don’t pass through our next scheduled stop at 40mph”

Apparently the train operating company has a £1m leaf cleaning machine. This was not in evidence, although two blokes in high viz jackets alighted at Worcester carrying a pair of petrol leaf blowers.

If they’re available during the return journey, I’ll nick ’em and strap ’em to the frame to create a poor man’s rocket-bike. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “What could possibly go wrong?”

* Beer, Wine, Bacon Sandwiches, Pringles, Occasional lettuce.

Woger Wog!

Woger and out!

Shonky phone pic showing the end of the first commute.  Proper pea-souper it was this morning which pushed any thoughts of how the bike rode behind “where the bloody hell is the road then?”

However, some implications of swapping from the Angel-Delight Boardman to the Iron-Bru Ribble are apparent. Firstly, a combination of a couple of kg weight difference and that insanely small rear cassette will likely  be Making a Man of Me.

Or possibly an Internet Shopper looking to purchase a cassette with more teeth to make up for my less leg. Failing that, would a MTB block look out of place?

Mudguards are ace. Official. The hiss of road moistness being diverted down the shallow silver culvert is really quite gratifying. As are dry feet, and a bike the same colour at the end of the journey as the start.

The tyres are clearly remoulds from a Russian tractor and the saddle appears to be more in the Testicle “lift and separate” mould than providing much comfort for my arse, but otherwise we’re good to go for Winter.

With the caveat that the big climb at the end of the ride home can be dispatched without whimpering or walking.

Wibble

Woger Wibble

Meet Woger, the latest step on my journey to bike nirvana. Lately I’ve managed to convince almost no-one that the days of random bike purchases were long behind me. A strict one-in one-out policy was being ruthlessly augmented with a “cost per use” equation. Once I’d run out of wall hangers, I’d run out of excuses to buy anything new and shiny.

It’s important to understand these hard and fast rules were in fact no more than guidelines. And a lack of wall space can be simply solved by either leaning this one against a handy bench, or chucking Carol’s bike into the shed.

There is some method to what may seem absolute madness – especially to those whom I confidently explained that any instance of Lucifer’s preferred personal transportation device would burn up on entry into my cycling atmosphere – to why I now have two road bikes.

It’s about cash. Sort of. Mostly. In parts. If viewed from an oblique angle. By an alien. Every trip to our offices in England’s second city offers me not only a zero MPH view of the M5 most days, but also the fiscal opportunity to blow the thick end of FORTY QUID on petrol and parking. You could run a Space Shuttle on that, although I except it’s harder to find a space for it in the multi-story.

Riding 12 miles to Ledbury station costs nothing but a bit of commitment, planning and refusal to accept that dark and cold automatically equal cars with heaters.  From about now until the world revolves slowly round to BST, wibbling to work via the train will pay for Woger and some. And the time I spend slumped in the carriage of London Midland’s finest trundlers can be spent reading, writing, looking out of the window, or dribbly asleep.

Try that on the Motorway and see what happens*. And yes I could make that journey on my lovely Carbon boardman that’s seen 850ks of commuting and not much else this year. It’s not like I’m even a proper roadie**, it entirely fails to deliver the visceral pleasure of mountain biking, the pleasure is more about retaining fitness not actually what’s going on during the process.

So why buy another bike to do something that’s meant to be about saving money. Logic so twisted it requires a couple of extra dimensions. And yet,  my justification based entirely on the shitty state of the roads here, the cost of replacing expensive components the Boardman is hung with, and a guilt-free laziness of a bike that has “shed chuck” written all over it. Only way that bike is being cleaned before spring is if it gets rained on.

That was my rationale before I rode it. Didn’t expect to enjoy it at all, it’s cheap and that’s reflected everywhere with heavy stuff adorning an unsophisticated alloy frame. Surprisingly it’s pretty good fun once winched up to speed.  Lardy wheels make that a bit of a chore and the gearing is a bit aspirational when presented with the local geography, but get a wriggle on and there’s a racy little number trying very hard to get out.

It has the persona of a fat lass, downstream of a few Bicardi Breezers and looking for a good time. While the Boardman is all efficiency, lightness and power, Wibbly Wog is labrador-esque in its’ need to please.  Will I feel the same way at the end of winter?

Not sure, but there may be a road bike up for sale. Possibly two.

* Disclaimer. If you die horribly in a mass of twisted and burning wreckage, don’t come looking to me for sympathy.

** To fat, head not permanently stuck up one’s own fundament, occasionally noted for a sense of humour, has man-hairy legs, that kind of thing singles me out.