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.


Chilly morning taking a break atop a hill


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 

A warped sense of distance

I’ve been out running quite a bit recently. A few recurring cycling injuries and some advice from a physiotherapist have lead me to establishing a more balanced approach to exercise. I went out for a ‘little’ 6 mile run yesterday: 3 miles out-and-back to the other side of Chew Lake. But it was only when I got home and looked out of the window to the lake in the distant horizon that I realised 3 miles is still quite a long way. Cycling is clearly to blame for warping my sense of distances.

As well as thinking 3 miles is hardly worth getting out of bed for, cycling has also deceived me into thinking I work close to home. Due to injuries I drove the car to work for most of December and the exhausting tedium of the journey also brought a sense of perspective to 18 miles. It’s far. As cyclists we are nuts for considering it a short distance.

To cap off 2013 I went out for a 30-something mile ride today. The horizontal distance wasn’t really important, it was all about taking on a few challenging climbs. I made three separate climbs of the Mendip hills interspersed by a few descents to catch my breath, the highlight being a recently discovered 4 mile gradual descent along a quiet back lane. This gives an opportunity to savour the exhilaration of descending rather than most of the steeper and busier roads which can be a bit sketchy in these slippery, winter conditions.


The roads were wet but conditions were great for Winter riding

I was dressed up for the cold and riding the weighty steel frame complete with mudguards and rack, all of which provided some additional ballast to drag up the hills and raised the spirits when I overtook a couple of cyclists climbing Burrington Combe on their carbon fibre bikes without mudguards. The roads were soaked from the morning rain so maybe their slowness was a result of having pants full of puddle but I showed no sympathy as I mashed my way past. The second climb was Cheddar Gorge where I was overtaken near the top. This gently humbling experience paled into insignificance compared to the final climb where I looked down at my speedo on the steepest section of East Harptree Hill and read 4mph. 4mph! I dug deep and pushed on, trying to ignore my mischievous inner voice trash-talking me by saying this was definitely the slowest I had ever ridden. Shut up brain.

Once home - if you don't have mudguards this is what your arse looks like

If you don’t have mudguards this is what your arse looks like for half of the year

You can’t really post on 31 December without some sort of year in summary / outlook to the new year. This year I rode over 5500 miles which is a great achievement but still a few miles short of 2012. While the recent injuries are par-for-the-course for cycling a whole year, I think I can claim some extenuating circumstances for the new baby in the house. However my plan for next year is to cycle less. This might sound surprising but I intend to quit my current job and do something closer to home, hence less cycle-commuting which makes up the bulk of my riding. Working long hours and commuting long distances leaves very little time for family life and I think the arrival of our baby has been the catalyst for making a positive change in my life. I’m not exactly sure where this journey will take me, but hopefully will also involve significantly less driving in the Bike v Car Challenge. I’m excited about the future. Roll on 2014 …

Calvin and Hobbes - Let's go exploring

Calvin and Hobbes – Let’s go exploring

A change of priorities

It had been six weeks since I last cycled to work. With the arrival of a baby in the house our lives are barely recognisable from before with all of the time and energy required to cycle disappearing into the all-consuming baby vacuum. Recently, however, I have been able to juggle some my of my work commitments (‘juggle’ is a business euphemism for ‘avoid’) and have reallocated this time to getting back on the bike.

This morning was perfect for a long-awaited cycle to work

This morning was perfect for a return to cycling

This week I commuted to work twice by bike and noticed that it is not only our personal lives which have changed dramatically over the last 6 weeks. Summer appears to have turned to Winter, the clocks have changed, the days are shorter, the temperature has plummeted and for all of this I have had no breaking-in period. I was gasping my way up the hills feeling a lack of fitness in my legs and a disgusting burning taste in the back of my throat, before grimacing my way back down chilled to the bones and feeling like a bit of a wimp.

When your colleagues are complaining about having to scrape ice off their windscreens you can join in my saying you had to defrost your beard when you arrived this morning

When your colleagues are complaining about having to scrape ice off their windscreens you can still join in this conversation by saying you had to defrost your beard when you arrived

I’ve also been seeing a physio once a week to try and restore my lower back. Sitting down at work, sitting down in the car and cycling have all contributed to a tight lower back and thighs and a lack of ‘gluteal’ muscles. For years my wife has joked that I don’t actually have a bum but to have it confirmed by a medical expert made her day. Being massaged for half an hour sounds like an enjoyable experience, but it turns out to be an expensive form of torture. The only way to get through each session is to repeat the mantra that if it hurts it must be doing some good. And to yelp like a little girl if it gets too much!

The best way to combat shorter days is to work less hours

The best way to combat shorter days is to work less hours – seems only fair

My plan leading up to Christmas is to find the best balance between work, cycling and family. With the available hours for cycling getting ever shorter, and the cutest little baby back at the house, it seems that work may need to stick to the back-burners for now.

Cycling isn’t hard work. Hard work is hard work

I’ve  been working lots the last couple of weeks but cycling hasn’t suffered too badly as a consequence. Although at times it’s been a real test to find ways to incorporate cycling into my day. Cycling to van-hire depots (and then driving off in a big white van wearing Lycra), driving to sites and cycling home (and vice-versa the next day) and lastly doing a 55 mile round trip to a site which in hindsight was probably a stretch too far, but nothing ventured nothing gained.

I’ve also been doing a fair bit of DIY recently. First was a vanity project – removing the Shimano logo from the brake callipers of my new bike. I’d bought the Campagnolo Athena groupset for the bike … all except the brake callipers because Campag don’t make brakes with enough clearance for mudguards and tyres wider than 23mm. Maybe they don’t have to worry about mud and Winter tyres in Vicenza, but on the wild and wet roads of Bristol I had to choose a set of brakes capable of straddling my clumpy Winter equipment. However, not wanting to besmirch the elegant image of my bike with a mongrel groupset I dug out the paint-stripper and went to work.

Shimano brakes with a coating of paint-stripper

Au-revoir Shimano


Simple chrome brakes

Simple chrome brakes – vanity project complete

The next project was far more arduous. Three solid days of refurbishment to our flat. Anybody who thinks that spending hours on a bicycle is the definition of hard work should try wallpaper stripping, painting, cutting, drilling, sawing and hammering three days in a row. It’s brutal. Fortunately the paint fumes and a few alcoholic drinks at the end of each day probably took the edge off the pain. For this project I enlisted the help of my Mum, a dab-hand at DIY with amazing energy levels. I thought I possessed high energy levels, but at 6pm on Day 2 when I had collapsed on the sofa she was just getting her second wind.

The great thing about DIY is being able to stand back at the end of the project, look at the results with pride and think to yourself – “We did that”.

Before we began

The Front Room before



Once the dust had settled (and been vacuumed up), I realised I hadn’t been out on the bike for 5 days. Not even heavy legs or heavy rain could put me off a thrash across the Mendip Hills so I set off on an enjoyable ride. It was the sort of weather that forces you to explain to your body that you do actually enjoy this. Driving rain, blustery winds, deep grey skies and huge puddles across the roads. It was refreshing to say the least.

An hour on the bike

Leather saddle soaking from the exposed front end & blurred grasses blowing in the wind

When is a 'waterproof' not a waterproof? When it's not waterproof

When is a ‘waterproof’ not a waterproof? When it’s not waterproof

It also lead to much pondering on the pointlessness of waterproof cycling jackets. I own a few and they either seem to fall into two categories – ones which are completely impermeable and cause a ‘boil in the bag’ sweat-inducing effect; or ones which are ‘breathable’ and hence not actually waterproof at all. Either way you end up soaked inside. It was a tough ride, but it wasn’t ‘hard work’. Hard work has been redefined.

From compact to standard cranks

Both my bikes were originally set up with compact 50×34 cranks. For my commuter bike which is normally loaded up with panniers this is ok, but on the fast bike I decided to change to standard 52×39 cranks as I was mostly riding in the big ring and smallest couple of cogs. When I ride uphill I find my rhythm at a slow cadence and despite reading that a higher cadence is more efficient, I still felt this change would suit my style of cycling better.

Old compact chain rings

Old compact chain rings (50×34)

Ironically, after going to such effort to change something on my bike I was actually glad not to notice a significant change with the new rings. I had been a little concerned that I might regret ditching the 34 little ring as soon as I hit a steep climb. But the first few hills I’ve climbed have not defeated me and I was also pleased that shifting from the big to the little ring has been a less drastic difference than before.

New standard cranks

New standard cranks (52×39)

Disappointingly I don’t seem to have magically gained an extra few mph on the flat as a result of the change. But with a trip to the Alps coming up in a few weeks I may still be tempted to pack the 34 little ring in case I need it for proper climbing  …

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

A short break to replace the brakes

Having hammered the hell out of my commuter bike over the past Winter and Spring, and currently being between projects, I decided it was time to attend to several persisting problems. I currently own 2 bikes, one of which is an expensive race bike which I am terrified of damaging by subjecting it to my bodging nature and which I am currently in the midst of covering many miles on. The other is a cheapo bike which I regularly ride to work and would be too ashamed to drag into the local bike shop for repair. I mostly just ride it and ignore all of the ingrained rust, dirt and technical problems. But every now and again I give it some much needed TLC.

Tonight’s project was replacing the brake callipers, brake cables and consequently the bar tape. The brake callipers were the original ones that came with the bike. Bog-standard Tektro brakes which have worked ok for something like 12,000 hilly miles. So I was entering unchartered territory in this mechanical mission.

An evening in the man-cave, complete with tools, instructions, grease and beer

An evening in the man-cave, complete with tools, instructions, greasy hands and a beer

The beauty of the bicycle is its simplicity – just a couple of hours giving it a go and following some instructions can massively increase your knowledge and understanding and give you the confidence to try more stuff. The side-effect can be the odd moment of doubt on a 40mph descent where you start wondering whether you remembered to tighten everything back up after you finished.

Dismantled commuter bike

Dismantled commuter bike

This evening’s project went very smoothly. I replaced and re-cabled the rear brake first. It was a little fiddly and took about an hour; but then I managed to do the front brake and cable in about 10 minutes which was evidence of the newly acquired skill.

The debris of an evening's work. The patch of worn paint on the rear brake from water spray off the mudguard shows the mileage it's taken

The debris of an evening’s work. The small patch of worn-away paint on the rear brake caused by water spray from the mudguard shows the mileage it’s taken

Fully-upgraded to bottom-of-the-range Shimano!

Fully-upgraded to bottom-of-the-range Shimano and hopefully ready for another maintenance-free 12,000 miles