Laughing (through tears) in the face of gruesome headwinds

There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity and choosing to go out cycling for a couple of hours in the foulest of weather would not conventionally be considered to be brave. However, with the UK suffering from a frustratingly prolonged Winter there isn’t really much of an option at the moment.

My work situation has recently changed so I no longer have my daily commute to rely on for cycling mileage. However my time is now more flexible which can present opportune windows for mid-week cycle rides. I had earmarked Friday morning as time for a three hour hilly ride and wasn’t about to change my mind just because howling winds and driving rain woke me before dawn.

After a long and cold Winter we are unfortunately again suffering from heavy rains and flooding. The roads are absolutely foul – mud, puddles, gravel and potholes everywhere and completely unsuitable for a decent bike. Thick socks, waterproof cycling shoes, leggings and mudguards are still the order of the day.

Sporting the wooly sock look with pride

Sporting the wooly-sock look with pride

Flooded roads

Flooded roads

After a few miles at flooded lower levels I climbed my way to the top of the Mendip Hills. The wind was vicious and hardly ever favourable. I was leaning heavily into crosswinds (momentarily losing balance whenever a hedge cut out the wind) and then had to laugh when a full-on headwind limited my speed on a descent to 9 mph. I seriously contemplated turning back but realised I’d never escape the dastardly wind so ploughed on, letting out irregular gasps of despair through gritted-teeth.

A grizzly morning

A grizzly morning

Mucky roads

Mucky roads

Even muckier roads

Even muckier roads

Mucky bike

Mucky bike

I was hoping to ride for 3 hours, but when conditions are this unfavourable (and you’ve long-lost the feeling in fingers and toes) then sometimes you have to know when to call it a day. After covering just 27 miles in two long hours, I headed home, showered, ate a hearty breakfast of poached eggs (3), muffins (2) and chocolate brownies (4), and then headed out for a long day of meetings. At least the good thing about cycling is being that skinny bloke scoffing all the biscuits in every meeting.

The velodrome virgin

Last weekend I had my first experience of riding on a velodrome. It was also my first time on a fixed gear bike. A few people at my wife’s work had organised a two hour introductory session at Newport Velodrome and I was invited along. I was however forewarned that several of them were as nutty as me about bikes and that I would be given a good run for my money.

Bike hire was included in the session

Bike hire was included in the session

The velodrome hires bikes, although if you don’t have the correct cleats you have to use flat pedals with toe clips. We had the track to ourselves and a cycling coach to take us through the basics. Despite being eager to just thrash it around the boards, we spent a little time getting used to riding fixed-gear without brakes before taking on the sloping circuit. In hindsight this was probably wise as our group had a couple of falls. These were nothing too serious and our coach even instructed us to point and laugh as we cycled past. We duly obliged.

Showing little sympathy for a fallen man

Showing little sympathy for a fallen man

Once we all had a feel for the bikes we worked our way onto the black racing line and then up onto the higher red & blue lines which required a steady speed to be maintained. On the corners the track banks to a very steep angle so any loss of momentum could result in a sideways collapse followed by a splinter or two in the backside. It was a little unnerving at first, feeling like I should be trying to lean up into the bend. But after a few laps I just followed the lines on the floor and tried to concentrate on speed and form, rather than wiping out.

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Then it was time for a few games. First, riding in two pace lines on opposite sides of the track with individuals sprinting to catch the group in front. Then a 500 metre time trial where our fastest rider completed the two laps in an impressive 36 seconds. Impressive until we heard that the Under 14 club riders can match this, but from a standing start. I managed 38 seconds and magnanimously blamed the toe clips.

Velo 6

 

Velodrome 2

Velo 10

Velo 9

And finally we participated in a staggered-start endurance race where you were out if caught from behind. I fared a little better in this, probably thanks to the endless miles I churn out each week while commuting. However I think I must have ridden about two kilometres at full gas, to the point where I couldn’t differentiate between the straights and the corners and my whole world became a narrow, rushing wooden tunnel containing just a single black line. I think it was the sour taste of swallowing a bit of sick that unfortunately brought me back to reality.

Pain-face

The face of pain

Pain-face

More pain-face

a

Yet more pain-face

It was a really enjoyable evening with some decent coaching and a healthy dose of competitiveness. The feeling of speed produced a real adrenalin rush which was a world away from the potholes, traffic lights, rain and cars I am now back to riding through.

Velo 11

A wintry century

I was a free man this weekend so decided it was a suitable occasion for a first attempt of the year at riding 100 miles. However, with daytime temperatures currently hovering around freezing and my bike with mudguards currently out of action I was having second thoughts this morning.

The nice bike received some winter abuse today

The favourite bike received some winter abuse today

The first few miles were uncomfortable. It was snowing lightly, my face was burning from the cold and the bike was making a strange buzzing noise. I needed to stop three times to twist and turn a few bits before managing to stop the worst of the buzzing noise. I also adjusted my head buff so that it was covering my face and ears. A balaclava might have been more appropriate headwear today.

Uncomfortable but effective

Uncomfortable but necessary

I opted for two different 50 mile loops so that I could return to the house at lunch to warm myself up with soup, toast and tea. Leaving the house again after lunch I bumped into a neighbour walking his dog. He remarked that it was too cold to cycle and asked how far I was going. I said around three hours, to which he replied that I was mad. He was probably right so I decided not to tell him I’d already been out for three and half hours in the morning.

Hills and light snow

Hills and light snow

The furthest I’d ridden over the last few months was two hours. So today’s ride of 6 & 1/2 hours really took me beyond my threshold. The endless hills left my legs with little strength in the last hour and the cold seemed to keep finding its way up my sleeves, down my collar and into my face.

Two separate loops with a midway lunch stop

Two separate loops with a midway lunch stop

The Cotswolds is typically uphill and downhill with little flat riding

The Cotswolds is typically very hilly with little flat riding. In total I climbed 2200 metres today

The final test was arriving home for the second time with 96 miles on the clock. I rode past the house and down the hill for 2 miles knowing I would have to climb my way back to finish. By the time I arrived home I felt completely deflated. I’d been out from 8am to 3:30pm, it had snowed for most of the time and the temperature had never risen above 0’C. So I lit the fire, poured myself a beer and collapsed onto the sofa. This ride will certainly have put my body under quite a lot of stress so I’m planning to take a few days off the bike to fully recover. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.

Winter in the Cotswolds

Winter in the Cotswolds – I’m looking forward to Spring …

Bike And Car – “why can’t we be friends”

To quickly dispel any concerns raised about my previous post, I do not intend to wipe the slate clean and start the Bike V Car graph from scratch. Having made it through this Winter with minimal damage from the car I’m hoping for another year of cycling further than I drive. And with any luck, this year I will recover the deficit and level the scores in a proper manner.

This Sunday was a gloriously sunny Spring day. A perfect day for a cycle. I wanted to take the car out for a drive so I decided to combine the two and headed down to Exmoor National Park for some riding on the moors. This was also a good opportunity to take the fancy bike on its first outing of the year. I would certainly appreciate its lighter weight on the hills.

Bike and Car

Bike and Car. Mrs BikeVCar said that maybe this car should be more friendly rather than being versus the bikes!

Despite the sun being out it was still quite cold. However I was blessed with a strong tail wind on the ride up onto the moors. It was a 400+ metres single ascent and was certainly the longest climb I’ve ridden in a while. I opted to take the Porlock Toll Road with its gentler ascent, rather than the viciously steep main road. It was well worth the £1 premium:

Who says bikes have less rights on the road because they don't pay for it? Not

Who says bikes have less rights on the roads because they don’t pay for them? The Porlock Manor Estate astutely show no such prejudices against cyclists!

The views along the toll road were great

The views along the toll road were great …

On top of the moors

… however the wind was wild on top of the moors

Within the first 30 minutes I had climbed over 500 metres and when combined with the wall of wind I then faced on top of the moors, meant that I only covered about 12 miles in the first hour. However it felt good to be covering some tough miles on unfamiliar roads with a variety of changing scenery.

Sun-dappled, forest roads

Sun-dappled, forest roads

Winding roads stretching out into the long distance

Winding, undulating roads stretching out into the long distance

Bleak moorland

Bleak moorland

Obligatory bike photo

Obligatory bike photo

In total I rode for two hours, climbing over 1000 vertical metres. And the car performed well. Impressively it managed the whole trip at an unbelievable fuel economy of over 60 miles to the gallon. The same energy-efficiency could not be said for the cyclist who opted for more ‘honest’ fuel than the usual cyclist’s fodder of energy gels and flapjacks:

A quick banana and pork pie picnic was *burp* consumed mid-ride

A quick banana and pork pie picnic was *burp* consumed mid-ride

In search of lost fitness

January ended up being a very quiet month on the cycling front. I tried commuting a couple of times but the total darkness made it very unpleasant on the narrow country lanes. Bone-jarring potholes appeared out of nowhere, and the temporary blindness caused by the headlights of oncoming cars was unpleasant. Then a couple of punctures in quick succession all combined to lead me back to the relative comfort and safety of the indoor trainer. We had our annual week of snow and I caught a cold. So January wasn’t a great month for the bike.

Bicycle bling - new blue tyres to match the frame

Bicycle bling – I bought some new coloured tyres to match the frame

But February has started well. I’ve been out twice for rides of an hour a piece. Today I had hoped to go for a longer ride but a combination of persistent drizzle and my inability to fully recover after a steep climb made me call time a little early. We live in the middle of a valley which gives a great opportunity for a variety of challenging climbs. But it doesn’t offer much flat, easy riding. I opted for a long, drawn-out climb which ends with a 1:5 slog to the top. There was no hiding place for my loss of fitness as I gasped and groaned my way up the road. But the most noticeable thing was my inability to fully recover from the exertion. 20 minutes later I was still feeling the effects of the effort so I decided to head home for a cup of tea and a hot shower. Knowing when to call it day is all part of the journey.

Fighting the elements … and losing

A cold snap is on its way. As ever, the newspapers and radio are being sensational about it (even though it happens every year and is rarely much more than a week or two of cold weather and a bit of snow). However, in preparation for a period of not cycling I decided to take advantage of a free afternoon and went out for a ride. The temperature was just below zero but once I got moving the added wind-chill factor made it feel much colder. My face was stinging and my fingers froze beneath my thick gloves.

Conditions at the foot of the climb appeared ok

Conditions at the foot of the climb appeared ok

I headed for a long climb hoping that it would warm me up. It seemed to be doing the trick, but the higher I climbed the icier the roads became – to the point where it became impossible to get enough traction on my skinny road tyres. I decided to turn around. Not that I had any other option really.

But the top was impassable

The top was impassable

IMG_1137

The descent was miserable and chilled me to the bones. I was going almost as slowly as I’d climbed through fear of hitting ice, and then I got a puncture. My second in a week.

Black & blue hands

Black & blue hands

Again I spent time checking the inside of the tyre for anything that might have penetrated it but found nothing. So I put in a new tube and pumped it up. By this point my hands had gone purple and my teeth were chattering. I decided that I’d taken enough punishment and headed home to sit in front of a nice warm fire. I’d been out for an hour but had only covered about 7 miles. I probably would have been quicker if I’d just gone for a run.

Tomorrow I will be ordering a new tyre, and will probably contemplate the turbo trainer before going for a run instead.

The small pleasures of a few choice words while riding in unpleasant conditions

I went out for a ride on Saturday in foul weather. Snow is forecast and you can feel it coming with the temperature hovering around zero degrees in the daytime. I set off in the persistent drizzle with no plan other than to climb up the Mendip hills a couple of times mostly just to keep warm. The first climb went ok and I surprised myself at one point by getting out of the saddle to accelerate a little. For the last few months I have only really stood up while climbing in order to transfer the pain to a different part of my legs so it felt good to be riding uphill with just the smallest amount of control over my effort.

On top of the Mendips I was blown all over the roads by the strong gusts and when combined with the drizzle from above and muddy spray from below I was soon ready for another climb to warm me up. On the way down towards Cheddar Gorge a delivery van pulled out in front of me forcing me to hit the brakes. Normally I would have shouted out in frustration (possibly combined with a hand gesture) but on this occasion I was using up all my mental energy to fight the weather so I just let it go.

However, half a mile later I was gifted a golden opportunity for some rare revenge: I saw the van up ahead with the driver getting out and going around the back to fetch a parcel. He then closed the back doors and went to cross the road without looking. Maybe he was listening out for traffic or maybe he walked like he drove. Just as he went to step in front of my line I shouted out “WOAH, WOAH! LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING, PAL!” The size of his jump back towards the van combined with the look of terror on his face was priceless. I approached the climb of Cheddar Gorge with a smile on my face.

Due to the recent bad weather the gorge is now closed to traffic making what is normally a busy tourist attraction quite a peaceful and solitary experience. It was almost enjoyable until the headwind hit and my lungs and legs exploded.

At the top I saw a fellow cyclist and we rode together for a few minutes. Communication was limited to shouting to be heard over the wind, both slurring our words due to frozen, rubbery faces. I think we both garbled the same sort of thing about struggling up the gorge and hoping it would all be worth it come the summer. I noticed he had a big, dried smear of saliva down the side of his face and I realised I was probably displaying a frozen bogey or two. Not the most attractive of scenes but I think we both offered some encouragement to each other before sinking back into our private worlds and heading our separate ways home.

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Getting back out there

The last few weekends I haven’t been able to get out on the bike due to an annoying lower back injury. This week I was starting to feel much better and not even the forecast rain and thunder was going to stop me cycling. So when I woke this morning to see the sun shining and no niggling pain in my back it didn’t take long to get ready for a ride.

View of Chew Lake from halfway up the Mendips

View of the Chew Valley from halfway up the Mendips

I decided to head up onto the Mendip hills for some steady riding on the quiet and peaceful lanes. The only problem is getting up there. Every route I’ve tried from the Chew Lakes involves sustained steep climbing. Wanting to protect my back I went looking for an easier climb. On this occasion I tried a new route – a tiny, unassuming-looking little lane from West Harptree. I immediately regretted this decision as it ramped up to something vicious with mud, leaves, potholes, stones and running water on the road. After a couple of little switchbacks the road started going downhill very steeply. Knowing that any distance descended would have to be climbed again, this wasn’t great news. At the foot of the descent the road was flooded from the recent rain which had also washed the contents of someone’s stone driveway into the road. Skinny tyres on a rocky riverbed isn’t ideal but I made it across with just a few ungainly wiggles.

A river in a road. A road-river

A river in a road. A road-river

After more climbing I reached the top of the Mendips and was rewarded with some spectacular views, and chilly winds. I took it easy and covered about 45km in total including a quick loop of the Chew Lake on the way home. My back thankfully feels fine, in fact strong enough to cut and chop a couple of wheelbarrow loads of logs to take to my Mum’s for Christmas next weekend. I haven’t decided whether I will be taking the bike …

A nice day for riding

A nice day for riding

Indoor interval training – keeping it interesting

In order to alleviate the boredom of indoor training I have decided to carry out a couple of structured weekly workouts. I intend to use the turbo trainer twice during the week and try to get out on the road at the weekend if I have the chance.

Of these two indoor sessions I will be trying two different forms of interval training with the intention of increasing cycling speed and endurance (plus the need to continue burning body fat without my daily commute as we head towards the eating and drinking season of the year).

The first type of workout is a simple interval training session. This week, following a 5 minute warm up I carried out three 15 minute intervals of what I perceived to be a hard intensity. These were separated by a short break of about two minutes to allow myself to recover.

I tried to maintain a cadence of around 110rpm with a moderate resistance on the trainer. On the second and third interval I finished with a 60 second sprint

This resulted in a steady increase in heart rate (and a puddle of sweat beneath the bike)

The second type of interval training I have begun is a form of high intensity training known as ‘Tabata’. There’s a bunch of information available online about it, plus it’s been around for a while so I’m not going to bore people with too many details. But basically I warmed up for 4 minutes, rode 8 x 20 second intervals at my max speed with a short 10 second break between each set, and then ended with a 4 minute cool down. The attraction of this type of training is that it only lasts 12 minutes in total, and the pain is confined to a 4 minute window. The downside is that very little light comes through that window and the burning sensation in the legs, lungs and back of the throat never really has quite enough time to disappear.

Short, sharp spikes of activity

Small jumps in heart rate but not enough rest time to properly recover

There appears to be quite a lot of science behind both of these methods of training and it’s easy to find out more with a little searching on the internet. Personally I find that they offer enough of a challenge to motivate myself to complete each session properly and have alleviated the potential boredom from an essentially mundane activity.

A perfect afternoon to cycle

This week was a full week of commuting to work by car. It has been difficult breaking the habit of cycling every day and I’ve felt some frustrations in not being able to do the most enjoyable part of my day. On Tuesday night I did my first ever session on a turbo trainer. Ms BikeVCar bought the contraption a few months ago to do some training while recovering from a knee injury. I was sceptical about using it, but it was surprisingly enjoyable working up a sweat in the freezing cold garage. Not wanting to drip sweat over my nice bike I decided to use the commuter bike which seemed a bit odd using a bike with mudguards and rack on an indoor trainer.

This weekend we were back in London for a friend’s birthday. Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day, and definitely not a day to be stuck inside a car on the motorway. Fortunately we made it home in time to get outside and enjoy the last few hours of the weekend sunshine. Ms BikeVCar donned her welly boots and set off on a hike; I quickly geared up for a ride on the bike.

A few photos taken by Ms BikeVCar looking across the Chew Valley – at the time this photo was taken I was cycling up and down the Mendips Hills which can be seen in the background. A perfect day for hiking & cycling

I set off on a 40km route taking in both Burrington Coombe and Cheddar Gorge – the two most popular local climbs. Having recently noticed that my climbing times were increasing despite giving it 100%, I decided to try and pace myself on both climbs. This isn’t really my natural instinct but it paid dividends today and I achieved personal bests up both climbs. This is no mean feat on a Sunday afternoon when the foot of Cheddar Gorge is awash with cars full of tourists out to sample its tacky delights.

I’m not sure of my winter cycling plan, other than to keep fit on the turbo, keep sane by getting out on the road at the weekends and keep myself injury free by not trying to commute in total darkness. I had been in a bit of a funk this week but this afternoon’s hard ride has completely cheered me up.