Absence makes the heart grow fonder … or maybe it just makes you forget the pain

The local roads seem to be swarming in cyclists at the moment. I’ve been on the mend from surgery and not cycling, so maybe my perception has been slightly warped as I notice and envy every cyclist I see. But I think it’s more likely down to the ever-increasing popularity of cycling combined with New Years fitness resolutions. I’m all in favour of increasing cycling participation: the more who do it, the more normal it becomes and the more likely it will be for non-cyclists to have close friends and family who cycle. And you would hope when these non-cyclists are behind the wheel of their cars or vans, they might be a little more careful and courteous to cyclists. I guess there are a few other barriers to harmony on the roads, such as rude cyclists and obscene amounts of lycra, but at least this strength-in-numbers approach is a good start. On most of my own rides I usually confront a driver when it was me who made the mistake and then return home to look in the mirror and think “WTF am I wearing?!”

"Smile for the camera .... ok, well at least try not to look completely pissed off"

“Smile for the camera …. ok, well at least try not to look completely pissed off”

This weekend I headed out for my first ride of the year. It was cold and windy and I immediately found myself wondering what I’d been missing so much. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but I think injury and illness can make you a bit deluded. I kept thinking: “I’d be enjoying this a lot more if it was sunny and I was fit.” It’s difficult finding a window to get out and ride at this time of year. The roads are icy in the mornings and it gets dark late afternoon. Plus we have a small human child and a crumbly house which are both in constant need of my time and energy. And certainly more deserving of my time than riding around in circles dressed like Peter Pan. Peter Pan was definitely a cyclist, prancing around in those stretchy trousers and never growing up. Anyway, at least the benefit of cycling is that it’s relatively low overhead time-wise when compared to other sports. When you get a small window of opportunity you can just race out the door and do your thing for as long as you’ve got.

Litte cold bike on the hills

Litte cold bike on the hills

Cold, wet, windy, dark and muddy. The perfect ride

Cold, wet, windy, dark and muddy. The perfect ride

I decided to do a ride of two halves, firstly a flat lap of the lake and then a climb up into the hills. This is then capped off with an enjoyable long descent home … so it’s technically a ride of three halves. I’ve been riding the turbo trainer a little bit lately as part of my rehab and it’s helped me to feel the difference in efficiency between a beautiful, smooth and fast pedaling speed and my own slow, cumbersome pedal-mashing technique. The French call it ‘souplesse’, a fluid and even technique. I might be able to say it, but I can’t do it. Anyway, I kept the cadence sensor on my bike and tried to translate some of this into reality on the roads. It’s pretty hilly around these parts which can quickly kill momentum. Plus I quite like getting out of the saddle on a climb, but I did find it helped my stamina to keep the legs spinning quickly … at least when I remembered. Once up on the hills I thought I’d finally found my sweet-spot, souplesse Nirvana as I flew along at speed for several miles without feeling pain or tiredness. Unfortunately it turned out to be a tail-wind! It doesn’t matter how many times this happens, it still fools me every time. Ah well … it was a beautiful tailwind and with a long and sweeping descent home, at least I realised what I’d been missing so much.

Back on the bike

Today I made my return to cycling following appendix surgery. I opted for the turbo trainer, the logic being that if I felt any pain I could stop straight away. I had been advised by the surgeon to give it 2 weeks before returning to ‘normal duties’ and this felt about right for making a return to light cycling. It still feels a bit soon to be running or heavy lifting but I thought an easy spin on the bike would be good for the body and mind. It’s been surprising how quickly my body has recovered from the op. If I’d had open surgery rather than keyhole, my recovery period would have been far longer. This is an approximate timeline:

Day 1 – Recovery in hospital. Immediately following surgery, the acute pain to my abdomen disappeared. A constant supply of strong drugs eased the pain of surgery and I was discharged from hospital that evening.

Days 2 – 5 : Recovery at home. Mostly laying in bed taking painkillers and antibiotics and watching old DVDs.

Days 5 – 7 : Moving around the house with minimal discomfort. I stopped taking the strong painkillers and tried to be guided by my body. If I felt any pain or discomfort I stopped whatever it was that I was doing and rested.

Days 7 – 10 : Returned to light duties. No pain from the abdomen area. Soreness from the incisions, particularly the central one. This was possibly from clothing rubbing on the hardening scar. I used ‘Bio Oil’ and did some light massaging of the scar at the recommendation of my wife who’d had a caesarean last year. It should be pointed out that the level of sympathy I was receiving at this stage from Mrs BikeVCar was understandably hovering between minimal and none. “Pffft, Call that a scar?!”

Days 11 – 13 : Feeling back to normal. Going about my normal day but resisting the urge to exercise.

Day 14 : Did an easy 30 minutes on the turbo trainer. It’s been quite cold and wet recently so despite my normal reluctance to use the turbo, today it seemed preferable to stay indoors.

Looking ahead I plan to take another week or two of light exercise before doing anything more strenuous to ensure I’m fully healed. It’s probably the best time of year to have something like this happen. With the short days and grim weather I don’t feel like I’m missing too much at the moment. Roll on Spring …

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Sweat and sawdust mingling on the workshop floor 

Random riding

I’m not commuting or training at the moment. Previously my cycling has always fallen into one of these two categories; commuting to work, or training for some kind of climbing or time-trialling. I’m still getting out a coupe of times a week, but now for a mix between pleasure and keeping fit. It’s difficult to ride exclusively for pleasure – as with most forms of exercise there needs to be a certain amount of discomfort to make it worthwhile. Fortunately I’m starting to feel fitness levels improving which brings a level of satisfaction and pleasure to cycling.

This morning I headed out to ride a random route along unfamiliar roads. Using the GPS as a digital compass it’s possible to create a new route on the hoof without getting completely lost. I never pre-programme routes on the Garmin – the less interaction I have with complex computer software the better for everyone. I did try once and spent an evening frustratingly asking my “stupid computer” why-wont-it-do-this and why-wont-it-do-that until my wife finally pointed out that maybe it was the operator who was stupid. Using a £350 GPS for a compass and using an expensive laptop purely to write inane blog posts and watch ‘epic fail videos’ on youtube she might have a point.

I was up and out the house early. Despite the weather forecast showing a warm day ahead I felt a nasty bite in the air when I went to fetch the bike from the shed. So I added an extra layer and set off. East.

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First decision – none of these place names took my fancy so I carried straight on

The sky was blue and it seemed to be warming up, just as predicted by the weather forecast. But then I saw a field full of cows laying down. And I thought: who do I trust, the clever computers or the dumb old cows?

Rain coming ...

Rain coming …

The cows were right. It started to rain and I got wet. Then I made a bad decision and ended up riding up a flooded and mucky road.

I got wetter

I got wetter

At some point or other I popped out in the City of Wells. It was still early so I decided to go via the cathedral.

Familiar ground ahead

Familiar ground ahead

A bad picture of Wells Cathedral

Not the brightest street light in the world – just a bad photo

I headed back home over the hills via a little road above Westbury-sub-Mendip. It was no hidden treasure unfortunately – 2 miles of evil steepness with a fair dose of gravel and potholes. But it felt good to reach the top. Typically, the fine weather seemed to break through the clouds just as I neared home.

Home in sight

Home in sight

Despite a few dodgy moments it was a nice to add some spontaneity to the ride and experience some new roads. And to get back home after an hour and a half in the saddle for a well-earned breakfast. Fortunately my wife had completed breakfast duty with the little one and she was patiently reading the paper and waiting.

Little Miss contemplates the tricky Wiggins / Tour de France issue

Little Miss contemplates Team Sky’s tricky Wiggins / Tour de France issue

A new dawn

Life has completely changed at La Maison de BikeVCar. With my wife returning to work after her 6 months maternity leave I decided to capitalise on the relatively new UK legislation that allows fathers to take additional paternity leave and share the duty of childcare. Which has meant an end to my arduous bike & car commute to Chippenham.

 

A farewell to commuting

A farewell to commuting

As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. And despite the strenuous complications of driving to Bath with the bike in the boot and then cycling the final 18 miles to work, there was a paradoxical simpleness of just doing the same thing every day.

But with my internal body-clock still adjusted to waking at silly-o’clock, I have now begun a new regime of cycling or running at dawn a few times a week. However, unlike commuting by bike which satisfied my physical need to exercise while still serving a useful purpose in getting me to work; my new ‘regime’ feels exactly that – some sort of system of regulated exercise designed to make you fit. This is all well and good if you are “in training” for something or other, but when your rides are a reminder that you’re nowhere near as fit as you used to be, you begin to miss those commuting rides where you could just zone-out and blame the loaded panniers as the reason for going so slowly.

The recent weather has been extraordinarily good in England for this time of year. Blue skies and sun with no real memory of the last time it rained. However as a reminder that it’s still April the mornings have been bitterly cold. In the last week I brought the carbon fibre bike out of hibernation and have been riding the country lanes and remembering how fast I used to be.

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Chilly morning taking a break atop a hill

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Descending into the chilly fog

Fortunately today’s ride provided a silver lining to my unfit cloud when I realised I had improved in my ability to descend. It was nice to be able to prove the scientific fact that when combined with gravity, an increase in mass results in an increase in speed. It may be some time before I’m ascending at anything that resembles ‘speed’. Next project – Harptree Woodworks 

Post-cyclone cycling

Yesterday was my first experience of a tornado. We were safely indoors when it passed through, and were on its periphery so didn’t see much more than wild winds and horizontal rain. But when we went out later we saw trees on cars, across roads, through fences and on top of power lines. There were also branches and debris scattered everywhere.

We were without power all evening but by this morning the electricity was back and an impressive number of government and private contractors were out chopping and chipping the fallen trees and clearing all the debris. We went out for a ride.

We took Route 28 – a beautifully smooth road with a designated bike lane and perfect for just putting your head down and riding fast. At the turnaround point we headed off for a short, hilly loop on country lanes. It quickly became evident that the tornado clear-up effort was concentrated on the main roads and we were faced with several trees across the road.

Faced with a fallen tree

Faced with a fallen tree

Road cycling becomes cyclocross

Road cycling becomes cyclo-cross

A more tricky obstacle

A more tricky obstacle (note the squashed power line to add an extra danger factor!)

After our short detour we headed back to Route 28 for a clear run back home. We had intended to ride further but the obstacles had slowed our progress and so we decided not to complete the full route and potentially test the patience of wives at home waiting to go for a walk.

A great day for a walk

A great day for a walk

A well earned beer at the end of it all

A well earned beer at the end of it all

Push it to the limit

A few weeks ago I wrote that riding less and resting more seemed to be improving my cycling ability. I’ve no idea whether this assumption was true. There are so many other factors that could be involved in improved fitness, and my general approach to cycling is so unscientific that I really have no idea. The only certainty is that I will cycle whenever I can, and that my approach to life is to stay active because there’ll be plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.

Over the last week my ride hard & then rest strategy has been long forgotten. I’ve ridden 175 miles in 5 days and plan to cover another 40 miles tomorrow. Mostly this has been commuting to work, although Wednesday was a day of extremes. I rode the 16 miles to work in the morning, 16 miles back home before quickly changing bikes and cycling 5 miles to the start of a local time-trial. I then raced the 10 mile time-trial at a personal best before another 5 quick miles back home to watch the football. Unfortunately, upon arriving home I was too far beyond the point of being hungry and so exhausted that I found myself struggling to breathe properly. After munching a banana I dropped to the floor of the lounge in an ungainly heap, much to my wife’s bemusement.

"who is this funny man that I married?"

“who is this funny man that I married?”

After a few minutes I stepped back into reality and peeled myself off the floor. Tomorrow is my last day of riding, after which I will take a couple of day’s rest. Long may this haphazard approach to life & cycling continue.

Making hay while the sun shines

For most of last year I had a clear opportunity to rack up the cycling miles. A fixed place of work within a cyclable commute allowed me to live without a car for 9 months. However, things changed this year and I have to make the most of any opportunity to ride. Rather than churning out daily miles and conserving energy for the next day I now ride hard and rest. This week I had one day to cycle to work so I opted for the special bike and thrashed it like there was no tomorrow. I rode the 16 miles in at an average of 21mph and made the more uphill return at an average of 20mph, arriving into my village with dribble foaming at the corners of the mouth like some rabid dog. The next day my legs felt dead which was fine as I had to drive.

Another enjoyable side-effect of my new regime was dropping a friend a few times on a recent ride. He has always been a stronger rider than me so it felt strange to be slowing down for him, or waiting at the top of climbs. Last year I was convinced that the more I rode the better cyclist I would become. However I seem to be getting better by doing less.

Nothing feels better than dropping a mate on a climb

Saying “that photographer got the exact moment I dropped you” is a sure-fire way to lose a friend

Castle Combe Race Circuit

It wasn’t until right at the end of last year that I found out that Castle Combe motor-racing circuit was open to cyclists once a week between April and September. A two mile loop of smooth tarmac with no potholes, cats eyes, cars or traffic lights seemed like an open invitation to have fun and I resolved to get involved this season.

Arriving trackside on a beautiful, Spring evening

Arriving trackside on a beautiful, Spring evening

One of my new projects is coincidentally based in Chippenham, a few miles up the road from the race track so I conveniently arranged an afternoon site visit on the same day the track was open. The majority of cyclists using the track were on road bikes, however there was a good number of families out with young children and a few hand bikes.

Cycling heaven

2 miles of fun

I rode a couple of steady laps before somebody took my wheel and we rode together, taking turns on the front. The only rules seemed to be that you had to cycle anti-clockwise and that faster riders take the inside line with those slower on the outside. After a handful of hard laps I was contemplating a rest stop when our group suddenly grew to a dozen or so and it seemed a shame to leave. For the next half an hour we were covering laps at an average speed of 25mph which actually felt relatively comfortable in the middle of the bunch and I found I regularly had enough energy to move to the front for a pull. However, at that speed it was sometimes a little unnerving being so close to other wheels and putting your faith in unknown people to not do something stupid which might cause a crash.

The home straight

The home straight

After a while I grew a little bored of the monotony and decided to test my ability to break away. I’ve got absolutely no experience of this type of thing so just wheel-sucked for a lap and then on a quieter stretch of track charged my way around the outside at about 28mph on the drops and more than likely exploding in sweat and dribble. I felt a brief moment of freedom which lasted all of about 20 seconds before my speed began tumbling and then the train of cyclists slowly drifted past me. Before I knew it, I had lost everyone and it took a monstrous effort of over half a lap to catch back up again. I drafted on the back for a brief moment, and then decided to call it a day and pulled over to the outside of the track for a slow warm down.

On Tuesday nights the 'TT' stands for Time-Trial

On Tuesday nights the ‘TT’ stands for Time-Trial

I fully expect to be back again this summer. Castle Combe is a hidden cycling treasure.

Snow & hills

I’ve just noticed that I’ve ridden 1999.9 kilometres this year. While this endless Winter has mostly limited my cycling endurance to a maximum of two hour rides, all of those difficult rides have already added up to a satisfying sub-total for 2013. Last year I had ridden just over 1000 km at this point so this is a nice improvement already.

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Any opportunity at the moment to give yourself a warm feeling inside should be grasped

We are still in the Cotswolds for the long Easter weekend and enjoying the bracing weather. Yesterday we went for a walk to Broadway Tower from the aptly-named ‘Snowshill’. This is one of the highest points of the Cotswolds and the snow was several inches deep. My bike was also tucked away in the boot of my wife’s car and following our walk, Mrs BikeVCar drove home and I pedalled my way.

"What are ewe looking at?" Lambing season is upon us

“What are ewe looking at?” Lambing season is upon us, much to Mrs BikeVCar’s delight

Broadway Tower on snowy Snowshill

Broadway Tower on snowy Snowshill

Before heading home, I couldn’t resist a few climbs of Dovers Hill. The little winding road has been used for several National Hill Climb championships and is quite a challenge. At just over one mile in length and an average gradient of 10% it’s tough and seemed an ideal destination for my first attempt this year at the soul-destroying activity of hill-repeats. After the third and final climb I was slumped over the bars trying to catch my breath when a little old lady drove past honking her horn and giving me the thumbs up which made me smile and wave back. It was nice receiving a friendly gesture from a car driver and reminded me of being back in France last summer.

Interesting cycling conditions

Interesting cycling conditions

Rewarding views after a hard climb

Rewarding views after a hard climb

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After the climbing I got back on the main road and tried to find a fast rhythm for the 15 km back to Stow on the Wold. I have recently joined a local cycling club in Bristol and am hoping to participate in a few of their time trials this season. I managed to maintain just over 20mph for half an hour which felt good and will hopefully give me enough confidence to attend their first event next week. I’ve been doing this cycling lark for long enough now – it’s time to rub Lycra with a few other nutcases.

Stopping for a rest by a peaceful 11th Century church in Lower Oddington

Stopping for a rest by a peaceful 11th Century church in Lower Oddington

The first day of shorts

After coming off my bike midweek I took a couple of days rest before getting back on it today. We are up in the Cotswolds for the Easter weekend and the weather is still bitingly cold. Our time is mostly spent in front of the log fire and going out for short country walks, but one of us is also going out cycling in shorts. My healing knee has been going a bit gooey when covered up, so despite the temperatures hovering around freezing, keeping it uncovered in shorts seemed like the most sensible course of action.

Snow in every direction

Snow in every direction

It was a bit sharp on the legs for the first few miles, but once I’d warmed up they felt fine. My fingers, toes and ears all seem to suffer when cycling in the cold and need to be well wrapped, but my legs (including the fresh bald patch around the knee) seemed fine today.

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A lesser-spotted Bald-Knee ( a rare winter sighting )

I rode for two hours at an average speed of 18mph. I had a slight headwind on the way out which gave an opportunity for a faster return home. To avoid any potential ice I stuck to the busy main roads which meant dealing with traffic but also enjoying smoother, straighter roads than the back lanes. It’s difficult to say whether it was the tail-wind, the smooth roads or the aerodynamic bald knee which contributed most to the enhanced speed of today’s ride.

Definitely shorts weather

Definitely shorts weather