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.

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.

Cyclonomics

Etymologically speaking*, we in a select group here; static friction became stiction, a spork is the bastard utensil child of a Spoon and Fork, and if you see a Geep, it’s half sheep/half goat and entirely confused. People with little better to do than show off can be pant-wearingly boring on the subject of portmanteau – my strong advice is if you ever encounter such a beard, make tracks for the tree line.

Cyclonomics is my stab at a meeting point between those who have a non negotiating standpoint of “You Could Buy A Car For That” and the rationally sane who see speculation in all things bicycle as a sound investment. Take Woger for example, a single weekly commute time banded by the lunacy of GMT sees me on the smug side of fiscal responsibility.

And that’s before we factor in one less car/services to the bacon sandwich industry/public transport time banked for chilling out, and a little winter fitness. This is Cyclonomics at work; hard cash saved and soft power spent on being something other than one of a thousand wheeled cages.

This happy thought accompanied me on a freezing journey to the station where the mercury never troubled the zero point. A thought that was somewhat diluted as the cost of my snugness accumulated in a minds eye. First up, the playful dawn half light – promising horizon busting azure later – was pierced by a£150 bar mounted illumination justified for winter riding. Moving on to cold weather gear, we find thermal boots and socks, fluffy bib tights, a super warm and clever technical top under an even more expensive softshell.

Even my now somewhat troubled head is encased in a helmet bought only for road riding. What this adds up to is Cyclonomics might not be quite the slam dunk I first thought. Apply the “cold light of day” weighting and really how many two legged beings really need six bikes? Or a shedfull of kit/clothes/spares that are mostly discards begot from magpie kleptomania.

But spending on bikes is not bounded by disposable income. It is an agony of want versus guilt. Nice things make you ride, but they don’t make a ride. There’s almost no situation where a£50 handlebar is 50% superior to another that looks the same but costs half. Most of us started with two thirds of bugger all, and somehow we ended up here. Twisted justification is a neat way of lying, but I’m not sure anyone is actually being fooled.

And yet somewhere we have started to confuse cost with value. Strip it down and Cyclonomics is nothing more than an excuses buffer. Against apathy making the easy choices; against smacking the snooze button, against fading motivation when rain slashes spitefully at the window. A mental buttress to hang happy thoughts from. Knowing absolutely it might be shit now, but in five minutes it will be epic. Shivering off a late night train and feeling pity, not envy, for those heading into heated cars.

Riding bikes is a privilege. Any bike, any time, with friendships cemented by shared memories or with nothing but the howling wind and your own laughter at the stupidity of it all. A two fingered salute at not being quite like you. An intenseness of experience I cannot get from anything else.

You cannot put a price on that.

* Two words, one tautology. That’s a skill that cannot be learned.

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.

Return of the rant

On the one hand, there is my well reasoned discourse – forensically arguing the case for universal benefits with reference to the unfairness of the proposed changes to Child Benefit, and more specifically the devastating financial impact on my secret bike buying funds, on the other a short sweary note on some welly-booted twat trying to kill me.

I have always maintained that a shared passion for something does not automatically engender kindred spirits. Many – in fact most – of my friends ride bikes but that doesn’t represent anything but the slightest dent in a world of cycling cocks. Nor does everyone who lives outside London* assume the gentler, kinder, less hurried characteristics of many we’ve met since heading west.

Last night point entirely proven. LandRover with massive trailer rattles up behind as I made my exit from Ledbury. Set of lights 300 yards ahead on red, but he can’t wait even tho I’m the far side of 20mph and pedalling hard. No, he pulls out to pass, realises there isn’t room for me, him, his trailer and the co-op lorry approaching from the opposite direction, and so removes me from the sizing equation.

How the swinging death metal of the trailer missed me I do not know. I did ask him though – politely knocking on the window before demanding a explanation quickly followed by an apology of exactly what the fuck he thought he might be doing. A standard response I’ve learned well from my time in our fine capital was again trotted out “didn’t see you, didn’t realise you were going so fast, wasn’t that close was it?”. “Blind Idiot, Stupid Idiot, Yes it bloody was, I was there, honestly I know” was pretty much my comeback only with lots more swearing.

I went on at some length that the highway code applied equally to us all, and that “no his road fund license was not funding some secret cult where it was okay to kill cyclists for being in the way“, at which point the lights changed, and I decamped haughtily down a one way street. In the wrong direction. Throwing my moral high ground behind me.

If we meet again I shall hope he is suitably chastised and has learned a hard lesson. More likely it’ll be a shotgun out of the window and picking pellets out of my arse for weeks.

For the sake of balance, my reasoned argument went something like “tax those bastards who got us into this first, yeah you know the ones paying themselves six figure bonuses for lending more cheap money. The gits that don’t need child allowance to prop up their boarding school fees“. I feel it’s a populist cause I’m fronting here.

* almost all those inside are nutters tho.

Going Nowhere, slowly.

Today’s little quiz? How many trains does it take to travel from Ledbury to Paddington? Come on, who said “One”? You’ve not enjoyed the legendary efficiencies of First Great Western I take it? “Two”? Oh please, it’s nearly 150 miles and you cannot expect 40 year old rolling stock to bridge that distance with only two engines.

Three?” Indeed. The first one failed squibly due to an electrical fault* apparently disabling the speedometer. Now these trains travel slowly enough to make any instrumentation relating to velocity largely irrelevant. If the driver hangs his head from the window and feels anything other than a small breeze, his reaction is to throttle back so as not to asphyxiate the customers in the cheap seats.

The second coming of the Cathedral Express put in a turn between Worcester and Oxford before expiring with some unspecified engine fault. I can only assume the hamster passed away, and no shoving of dylithium crystals up its bum could revive it.

This third train spent a useful twenty minutes idling in a siding while FGW appeared to forget that the Dead-Hamster Express was blocking all of Platform 1. The back-pressure from ever more cancellations means this carriage is full of tossers shouting their importance down mobile phones. My favourite so far is “I don’t give a fuck if it says 10 o’ clock, the meeting starts when I get there”.

And while I cannot relate to these self-aggrandising empathetic voids, I can entirely understand their frustration as we slow and stop again. The increasingly desperate train manager** explains a downstream train has arrived in the station with an open door, and we’re on a go-slow to ensure nothing has fallen out.

I suggest it’s probably some poor bastard who can take no more and has thrown himself from the train. Various curt nods and grunts put me in mind of the movie Falling Down, only with assault weapons being replaced by aggressive tutting.

Some days you know you are going to be tested every minute of every hour. And when I hear “we’re adding Slough to our itinerary” I know this to be one of those days. Apparently they have to change drivers, which is understandable considering the poor lad’s been at the controls for a good thirty minutes. I overhear a terse “fucking Trade Unionists” and that makes me smile.

Which was quickly replaced by a frown after being marooned in the seventh circle of hell that is Slough Central station for the last 20 minutes. The vox pop train manager is either hiding or has been hunted down and killed by an increasingly feral pack of sweary customers.

Still got the tube to look forward to if we ever get to London. I will certainly run out of life force way before FGW run out of trains. Apparently I am due a refund? What of? Getting out of bed at 5am? Being shuttled between broken bits of ageing and fading rolling stock? Bits of my life that could have been better spent doing almost anything else?

This can’t go on? Anyone know anything about SCRAM Jets?

* Which – in my world – is any engineering quandary that cannot be solved by smacking it with a mallet.

** Will someone – anyone – tell me what the hell was wrong with “Conductor” or “Guard”?

Long Way Round.

Yesterday I planned a cautious extension to my home-bound commute. London Midland clearly felt my idea lacked ambition so abandoned a train-full of us weary commuters in Worcester instead, offering only the delight of a possible service resumption sometime before the weekend, or hoofing it away with Shank’s pony. The fat controller, somewhat gleefully delivering the news, reviewed my transport choice before chortling “you can ride home can’t you then Sir”

Yes I can” I replied evenly “and you can fuck off fat-man” before taking my leave, phoning home for directions then launching a one man bicycled assault on the Worcester Rush Hour. Amazing such a compact town centre can have quite such epic traffic jams come six pm. No matter, four years of London commuting saw off their frankly pathetic and barely committed attempts to kill me. For the look of the thing, I removed one earphone and swore mostly under my breath.

There are probably many safe and scenic ways to escape the Western approaches of Worcester and I found none of them, instead pinning my hopes on pinning my ears back and wildly changing lanes as vaguely familiar road names passed in front of me. It took a while but eventually my path was cleared of urban misery and nothing short of twenty five miles, two bastard hill climbs, fading light and two empty bottle cages stood between me and reaching home the same day I’d left.

Forgetting my water bottles was stupid, attempting to imprison the eye wateringly expensive replacements in the cages was even less clever. At about a quid a time*, my progress was fiscally halted on a number of occasions as I wearily fetched them from some few hundred yards behind me. Until a particularly broken road section catapulted the remaining bottle in a perfect parabola over my head and under the wheels of an oncoming truck.

Bugger.. And I had a few hundred dickheads in cars and most of a dual carriageway to keep me company before finally Malvern hoved into view via the poor part at the bottom of the hill. And what a hill that is, goes on for quite a while and then a bit more. I’d told Carol I might need fetching at Ledbury some ten miles from home if the light gave out before my lack of the same came into play, but secretly I was going for it.

Quite slowly on that hill encumbered by the laptop of doom and a raging thirst brought on by unexpected sunshine. A quick detour to a handy petrol station fuelled me up with sugary goodness and sufficient liquid to see me home. Liquid which was safely stored in that large bag I heft around. A great solution to a simple problem, and one I wished I’d thought of before lobbing watery grenades at the good citizens of Worcester.

The climb out of Malvern had me wondering if I could fit a proper granny ring without any proper roadie noticing and pointing aggressively. Such dark thoughts kept me occupied until a learner driver ground gears behind me but refused to pass. Eventually they picked the perfect moment – for a crash – on a blind double-lined corner into the path of oncoming traffic. Lights were flashed, v signs were flicked, heads were shook but nobody died.

Not yet anyway, because this was the last corner before the much anticipated crest and a headlong plunge down the other side. From my last road ride here, I knew that a big effort on the flat top section would be rewarded with a 40+mph one mile hoon down the steep, straight section. What I hadn’t bargained on was being able to slipstream the learner driver, who was being somewhat over cautious on a dry road with visibility of about 20 miles.

No matter, for one crazy minute I thought I was going past him, but the second I hit the wind first hand, a giant hand plucked me from an overtaking position to a spot some distance behind. Never mind, a quick look at the time and we’re still good for a fast fifteen to finish. I was surprised by the rapidity of my normal commute home having swept into Ledbury on the back of a few 25 MPH downhill corners and a big grin.

Knees were a bit sore. Some chafing from the cheap saddle but otherwise a warm peramble home including tackling the optional extra big hill because, well, it was there really. No obvious mouse lung, not getting wet, not freezing cold and not benighted. I could get used to this and in the 90 minutes since we’d been abandoned, mad ideas of a long way round all the way from the office in Birmingham were spinning in my head at the speed of my pedals.

I’ve looked at a map and I reckon it’s possible. Although Bromsgrove may be a likelier option – not so much the reduced distance more the chance of still being un-squashed which the manic route from Brum totally fails to guarantee. I don’t know if a big ride home two days before the HONC counts as tapering, but I’d not much to taper from and, anyway, my legs felt fine. Until I tried to chivvy them into action an hour or so later when my brain issued a “LEGS NOT AVAILABLE, GET BACK TO THE SOFA RIGHT NOW BEFORE YOU FALL OVER” instruction.

Still HONC is only about double that distance. Off Road. Probably riding my rigid Kona because otherwise it might not be miserable enough. I’m not worried.

Much.

* a QUID. FFS. A QUID. Next time I’m buying lager, it’d be cheaper.