Category Archives: Cycling

Does my bum look big in this?

I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world, but over time I’ve become more comfortable with the internet.  Given my general dislike of shops, I have also embraced internet shopping for many of my (infrequent) purchases.

I am, however, still relatively conservative so there are some things that I believe should only be bought in person.  Shoes, for example, should be tested before purchase.  The thought of having to return shoes that are unsatisfactory just seems like too much hassle.  Why not make sure you’re happy with them before you buy and take a lot of work out of the process?

Whatever you do, don’t come back with shoes!

 

It turns out that bicycle saddles are also on my “must buy in person” list.

Up until now I have survived with the saddle that came with my bike.  Having initially experienced significant discomfort when riding, the level of discomfort has reduced over time,  Most of this is due to be unwittingly obeying Rule #5: I’ve “toughened up” (See comments for Bad Habits),

Given the amount of time I’m going to be spending in the saddle over the coming weeks, I figure that I should target “minimal discomfort”.  If there’s one area I can invest in to help accomplish this, it’s my rear.  So, being close to a Cycle Shop today, I decided to pop in to check out the range of saddles.

It appears that the key factors in selecting a saddle are (1) Posture, the more upright your position the more padding you’re likely to require, and (2) Sit Bone Width, the distance between the key pressure points when sitting.

Selecting the “right” saddle therefore required my seat to be measured… another new experience for me!  The Shop had a sophisticated, reusable measurement device (You can safely try this at home*).  It required me to sit on a piece of soft foam cut into a figure of eight for about 30 seconds.  The distance between the centre of the indentations were then measured.

Somehow the process looks even less dignified without flesh, skin and clothing! Surely a tape measure would do the trip!?

The first attempt resulted in an unconvincing reading.  When checked against the available seats my derriere was “off the scale”  (too small),  A re-measurement resulted in a slightly higher reading, but it was still on the very low end.

So, after having suffered the indignity of the process, I selected a saddle.  Unfortunately, there are no guarantees on comfort, but a money back offer will soften the blow.

However the saddle works out, I can be confident in the fact that irrespective of the answer to the question (“Does my bum look big in this?”), I’m a petite deep down inside!

***

* According to Bike Radar, to check your Sit Bone Width:

“Take a piece of aluminium kitchen foil and place it on a carpeted stair. Sit on the foil, lean forward a bit to approximate your riding position, then lift your feet. This should leave a good impression of your rear in the foil, and you can measure between the two points of deepest impression to get your sit bone width.

‘Narrow’ sit bone width would be 100mm or less, medium 100-130mm, wide over 130mm. “

Bad habits

I’ve recently developed a bad habit.  It’s not a habit that will cause me problems in the years to come, slowly building from a “habit” to a “problem”, but one that has the potential for immediate and catastrophic outcomes…

On three separate occasions now I have ridden off after a food / drink break without zipping up my saddle bag, only to discover my mistake several miles later.

On the face of it, it may not seem like it’s the world’s worst habit, but it’s already starting to ruin my life.  The bag is only small.  As a result, it’s usually stuffed with important items:  essential bike supplies, tools, food, emergency medication, mobile telephone, etc.

Extensive testing has proved the bag to be more reliable if you zip it up before moving!

 

The first time it resulted in a lost key.  It was a non-descript key, lost somewhere in the nether regions of Aberdeenshire, so more of a frustration than anything else.  On Sunday however the memory resulted in me going out for a ride without a house key.

It was a conscious decision:  I was only going out for a quick spin, the girls were sleeping, we were all due to go out together upon my return, I had plenty of time… I wouldn’t need a key.

Unfortunately, my reasoning proved to be flawed on a number of different fronts.

[So far my cycling career has been a series of slightly painful lessons.  I’m learning from all of them, however I fear there are a huge number more to learn before we’re done!]

I’ve given some thought to my saddle bag habit:  I could blame it on me achieving some level of transcendental trance while out on my bike, becoming at one with my surroundings, a different level of consciousness in which zips have little meaning.  However, I suspect it’s more likely to be due to tiredness (a little) and shear stupidity (a lot).  If Homer Simpson rode a bike…

My most recent lesson meant I had to “case the joint” when I arrived home.  I was desperately hoping one of the doors had been left unlocked.  Apparently I leave them unlocked “all the time”, but unfortunately not on this occasion.

Stuck outside, I didn’t have a huge number of options available to me.  A few desperate but unanswered calls later reduced my options still further.  I knew where the girls were, and it was within range.  Given I was starting to get cold, I decided I should catch them up on my bike.

Fortunately (for once!) my plan came off.  In the process I introduced my bike to a novel new use… transportation.  I did get a few strange looks for turning up at the Sports Relief Run with my cycling shoes on, but what can a man do!?

Fortune favours the brave

Last night, the forecast for this morning wasn’t promising.  It was looking ominously like winter may return.  This morning’s ride promised strong winds, icy roads and below freezing conditions.  Not nice.  Potentially miserable, in fact.

Who knew what weather this morning would bring!

The fact that we were planning an early start didn’t help.  It would mean a 5.45 alarm for me so I had time to eat and digest a decent breakfast.  Despite doing as much advance preparation as possible, there was always a chance that I’d disturb the slumber of other members of the household. This had the potential to add further misery to proceedings.

The worst case scenario was that I set the alarm, woke everyone up, and the weather was too bad to head out.  This would result in me being frustrated and extremely unpopular.

So, there was a suggestion that we cancel our outing.  Given there are just six weeks until the Euro City Cycle, and I’ve only recently started cycling outside again after a winter on the Turbo Trainer, I was really keen (bordering on desperate) to get out.  So we took a chance.

Fortunately I awoke to a bright, still day.  There was a bit of frost around resulting in a “crisp” morning, but it was far better than we had hoped for.  Result!

The River Dee from the bridge in Ballater this morning

Unfortunately we lost one of our group (of three) before our ride began (I must make a note to add my cycling shoes to the “essential items of kit” for the Euro City Cycle!).  However, Mr P and I enjoyed a nice ride which included a half-way coffee in the sun in Ballater, on Royal Deeside.

A bright morning in Ballater!

Today was the first time I’ve cycled over 50 miles.  The ride wasn’t fast, but it wasn’t easy either.  It’s great to get another decent ride into my legs.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to back it up with a short outing tomorrow to get more used to cycling on consecutive days.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get out early again in the morning.  What a difference the longer days make… let’s hope I’m fortunate with the weather again!

Homeward bound

We live at the top of a hill.  It’s a hill of reasonable stature that gets gradually steeper as you approach the top.  As a place to live it’s good it you’re concerned about rising sea levels or floods in general.  It isn’t so good however as a starting point for exercise if you’re recovering from a Heart Attack.

There are some other benefits of living at the top of a hill!

In the early days of my rehabilitation, when I first arrived home from hospital, I tried to avoid the slopes as much as possible (see An athlete’s pulse and “little” walks).  It was possible to do with a 5 minute walk, but I soon had to take them on.  My twice daily walks would incorporate slow, steady ascents, allowing me to gradually build my strength and confidence.

Since I’ve been riding my bike I’ve avoided the hill completely.  Instead, I’ve put the bike rack on the car and driven to a flatter area to start and finish my rides.  It’s been a pain, but it reduced the risk of pushing myself too hard.

Given the girls have never managed to scale the hill on their bikes either it has held fear for the whole family.  I have therefore had strong support for my conservative, risk averse approach.

Over the past few months the hill seems to have grown.  Like a volcanic island, it has risen a few inches every time I have driven up it.  Concern over the impact the hill might have on my health has allowed in to grow into a challenge of almost biblical proportions.

Yesterday, however, I decided to take it on…

The gentle ascent to our house

I finally managed to get away from work early enough to get out for a ride before darkness descended, taking advantage of another beautiful afternoon.  I did a reasonable mid-week ride (my first), but the majority of it was just a warm up for the final ascent.

As I approached the lower slopes I felt strong but a little anxious.  I applied the lessons learned at the weekend;  low gear, steady cadence, maintain momentum. always try to keep something in reserve.

It turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax.  I made it without any distress and not even a thought of getting off to walk.  An anti-climax, but another major milestone!  Overcoming this hurdle will take about 30 minutes off most of my rides.  It’ll make heading out in the evening more doable, and also finish them off with a cheeky little ascent.

It also served as a reminder of how far I’ve come since last June and my “little” walks!

Inverness, here I come!

The arrival of Spring?

Having spent many an hour inside on the Turbo Trainer during the Winter, I am now back in the routine of getting outside on my bike.

On Saturday however the elements were against me.  I stayed dry, which was a saving grace, but the wind was brutal.  I got buffeted and battered.  The strong wind even made descending hard work; tough to control my direction and difficult to maintain forward momentum.  It was “fresh” too; cold enough to make one side of my face feel numb, anaesthetised.  Stringing a sentence together was a challenge, the movement of my jaw was restricted, frozen.

As I fought my way around, I started to dream of warmth.  Some sun on my back.  A gentle breeze.  Cycling in shorts.  Ski gloves discarded.  Bare arms.  Summer.

Summer in Scotland. What could possibly go wrong?!

At the time it seemed like a distant dream.  Almost too much to hope for.  However we didn’t have to wait for long…

This afternoon the weather was perfect; clear skies, sun, calmness and warmth.  Not a breath of wind.  Prepared as ever, I was in the office watching the weather enviously.  Having braved the early morning chill for a swim I was in no position to go out on my bike.

A disappointment today, but the dream gets closer all the time.  I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to the Summer this much.  I just hope the Summer decides to visit us in the North of Scotland again this year!  Fingers crossed!

An Introduction to Climbing

Until now, I have tried to make my cycling trips as flat as possible.  I have focused on trying to get some miles into my legs without making the miles too hard.  Although this is easier said than done in the North of Scotland, the distances I’ve been covering have made it possible.

This has been a good strategy in building my general strength and fitness, as well as developing my bike handling skills, but it’s only going to take me so far.  In particular, I’m going to need to get used to some more challenging hills before I am ready to take on the “Ride the North” (RtN)challenge in late August.

Today was the first of my introduction to hills.  To provide the education, I rode with two friends who will be joining me on the RtN.  They are experienced cyclists and more than happy to share their knowledge (if only it was so easy to share strength and stamina!).

The plan was to head into the hills and attempt the most challenging climb we’d face during the RtN (The infamous Suie).  Recognising that it’s not to be taken lightly, we took the hill on the “easy” way.  This meant it would be less steep, but longer.  A stiff and chilly wind, bordering on “brutal” at times, made the whole outing a bit more “fun”.

The top of The Suie… blowing a gale today!

The first two lessons of the day had surprisingly little to do with hills:

  1. Be precise on your meeting instructions
    It turns out that even relatively small towns can have more than one shop of the same brand.  Our plan to “Meet outside the Co-Op at 07.45” was slightly flawed.  Less than 100 metres apart, the two shops were not in line of sight from each other.  Inevitably, therefore I waited outside one, while Mr P & Mr W waited around the corner, thinking I’d slept in.
  2. Check your bike after it’s been to the shop
    It wasn’t until we’d set off that Mr W discovered his seat had been adjusted while it had been in the (bike) shop.  This resulted in an abortive start to our outing.  Fortunately it was a simple fix, and we had the necessary tools.  Today it was an amusing irritation, but t could easily have been something more material which would have ruined the ride.
  3. Start slow, build momentum
    I struggled on the first two significant climbs of the day.  My heart rate shot up quickly, rocketing above my maximum level.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the gears to allow me to change down and catch a breath.  Instead, I had to experience the humiliation of completing some of the climbs on foot.
    By the third climb I had a better strategy:  Rather than pushing hard, I eased right off at the start of the climb, changing down into an “easy” gear.  It’s much easier to avoid hitting the wall, than it is to re-cover from it (while still on the bike at least!).
    Even with this approach, I may still invest in some new chainrings before the RtN to give me a little extra scope on the steeper hills.
  4. Don’t expect to do it all in one go
    When I did athletics, we’d describe a sudden and catastrophic loss of strength / energy as “dying”.  This phrase has taken on different connotations for me over the past 9 months.
    I now recognise that it’s important to stay within safe limits and not push myself too hard.  There is absolutely no reason to risk hurting myself.
    If this means getting off and walking from time to time, so be it.  There’s always next time.,,  next time I will be better prepared, and more able.
stelvio-pass

Maybe next year…

So, I’ve had my initial introduction.  The big hills still make me nervous.  We’ve confirmed that I have a long way to go before I’m ready to take them on, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.  After all, I can only prepare one turn of the pedals at a time!

The Foul Mouthed Cyclist

Yesterday’s beautiful weather meant the countryside was a hive of activity.  As I headed home at the end of my ride I passed many cyclists going in the opposite direction.  Each time we passed, we repeated one of the accepted rituals of acknowledgement:  a nod, a subtle wave, the occasional word of greeting.

That was until I passed Mr X:

Me:  (Nodding head)  “Morning!”
Mr X:   (Waving fist in aggressive manner)  “You @#~%er!”
… and then he was gone.

It’s perhaps an understatement when I say our brief exchange took me by surprise.

Mr X

I understand that there’s tension between Car Drivers and Cyclists.  I am also led to believe that from time to time there’s no love lost between Mountain Bikers and Road Cyclists, however I was always under the impression that Road Cyclists were civil to each other… until now.

As I cycled on, I considered the potential reasons why Mr X might have behaved in this way.  To be honest, I couldn’t think of a huge number:

  1. I was flying at the time we passed each other.  I was on a long descent, averaging between 25-30 miles per hour.  I was on the final stretch of my ride and feeling pretty good about life.  Mr X, on the other hand, was at the start of a long, slow, tiring ascent.  Perhaps he was having a bad day and just couldn’t contain his frustration.   I have a small amount of sympathy if this was the case.
  2. Perhaps he had Tourette’s Syndrome and I was on the receiving end of a verbal tic.  The situation was completely irrelevant to his response.  If this was the case, I would not poke fun.  However I would encourage other cyclists to be ready for this eventuality so it doesn’t take them too much by surprise.
  3. The third option, of course, is that Mr X is an expert in body language and had watched me carefully as the distance closed between us.  Having performed a thorough assessment, he had a couple of seconds to deliver his considered opinion.  Perhaps he got it spot on!

Whatever the case, I would encourage you to be nice to each other, and if you can’t be nice, be honest!

A day of many firsts

1st March 2014.  The 1st day of Spring.

I beat the sun up (not physically!).  Not quite the crack of dawn, but early enough for a good morning ride.  Excited!

The clear, crisp morning promised an enjoyable outing on my bike.  The lack of wind was almost more than I could have hoped for!

I managed my longest ride to date; just under 40 miles.  I did more climbing than ever before, I even tackled what I would describe as a “proper” hill.  I also spent over 2.5 hours in the saddle for the first time.

The new route featured some beautiful countryside.  Spring was definitely in the air.  Scotland’s a fantastic place to be on days like today!

Today’s ride through the Aberdeenshire Countryside

Overall, I feel much better about the challenges I have in store for the Summer after today’s outing.  I even enjoyed the climbs.  I feel like I’m getting stronger all the time.  At no point did I feel like I was struggling or over-exerting myself.  Being able to get outside regularly should continue to make a huge difference.

There was one first from today that I don’t want to make a habit of though…

I was about 35km into my ride, in a world of my own, keeping up a nice cadence, not pushing too hard, when out of the blue, another cyclist appeared… from behind!  He just appeared.  No advance notice.  He was just there, and then he started to disappear down the road in front of me.  How rude!

He passed me with a friendly “Morning!”.  Once I had composed myself (I really was in a world of my own), I responded with a polite “Morning!” and followed up with “Of course, I would join you, but I recently had a Heart Attack.”  I may have spoken a little too quietly to bridge the (fast expanding) distance between us.  He continued on his merry way.  Humiliating.

To be honest, I was tempted to try and stick with him for a couple of seconds, but I managed to swallow my pride and let him go.  I suspect as I spend more time out and about it’s something I’m going to have to get used to, but don’t ever expect me to be happy about it!

OK, so there may be a few people that it’s acceptable to get overtaken by!

Gaining inspiration

I’ve been fairly motivated to get myself in shape since my Heart Attack.  It gave me the “kick up the behind” I needed to get of the sofa and start exercising.

After building some initial momentum at Cardiac Rehabilitation, the Euro City Cycle has given me the focus to keep pushing through the winter.  Having something to work towards has really helped maintain my motivation through the cold, dark days.

Despite this, I sometimes find my work-outs tough.  I stay within my limits as far as pushing my Heart Rate and Stamina is concerned, but at the same time I try to work hard enough to push those limits further, to slowly build my strength and endurance.

Today marks 10 weeks until I head south to start the Euro City Cycle.  I really need to start upping my training to ensure I’m properly prepared.  To do this, I have to push myself a little harder.

I would like to avoid feeling like this on the Euro City Cycle!

When I’m tired it’s tempting to take short cuts, to give myself a break, to find an excuse to ease off or slow down.  Often the tiredness is mental rather than physical.  It’s difficult to keep pushing.

On Sunday I fortuitously stumbled across “Race across America (with James Cracknell)”.  I joined the story as he arrived in Death Valley, during his attempt to travel from West Coast to East Coast in 18 days.  Having arrived by bike, he had to cover about 80 miles on foot, the equivalent of 3 marathons in temperatures of 120+ degrees.  It was brutal!  If his challenge wasn’t great enough, he had an injured foot that made every step painful.

He lost 35 litres of sweat during this little stroll!

To be honest, the whole thing was bordering on nuts, but the effort and mental strength was amazing, a real source of inspiration.  Since I saw it, whenever I start to feel tired I compare my position with what he had to deal with.  It’s never failed to give me an extra boost of energy so far!

I also liked the fact that he really didn’t enjoy his ice bath afterwards.  I’ve always wondered how pleasurable they must be.  The answer appears to be “not very!”.  I understand the rejuvenational benefits an ice bath may have, but I’ll be giving them a miss if that’s OK.  If I were to have one it could literally turn out to be the last thing I did!

The part of the James Cracknell story I wasn’t expecting was that he got knocked off his bike and suffered a serious head injury from which he’s still recovering.  Ignoring how the injury happened, I also found his recovery inspiring.  It certainly helped me put my rehabilitation into some context.  Again, what he went through in the months after his accident was on a different scale to what I’ve had to deal with.  I am very lucky!

So, over the coming weeks I’m going to knuckle down and do the work.  No excuses.

Alternative energy sources

According to my Bike Computer I had a remarkably good session on the Turbo Trainer yesterday.

It was my third day on the bike in succession, so I was expecting to be a little jaded.  This would be compounded by the fact that it was Thursday evening, approaching the end of a long(ish) week.

Not last night I wasn’t!

As it turned out, I covered approximately 10% more distance than I have ever covered before following the same video workout and I didn’t feel like I had worked any harder than usual.

It was out of the norm enough for me to think something was different… the obvious answer is that there was something wrong with the Bike Computer, but in the spirit of positive thinking, let’s consider other options.

Mentally, I was slightly distracted, thinking about the exciting events of the day.  I know it’s good not to obsess about the time or distance, but I can’t imagine that distraction could have make such a significant difference.  After all, I still had to follow the instructions so I can’t have been so “out of it”, could I?

I may just have got stronger and fitter, but it was a huge improvement in just a couple of days, so I think we can rule that out.

Having considered the other potential factors, I can only identify a surprisingly refreshing cup of Lemon and Ginger Tea as the differentiating factor.  If it genuinely did make the difference, I need to get some more!

I’ve never been a fan of herbal teas.  For me they have always lacked body and depth, but this was different.  The fact that it gave me super-human powers was a complete bonus!

I’m not the only one to have discovered the Lemon and Ginger Tea!

Having discovered one alternative energy source, this morning a selection of Sports Nutrition Drinks and Gels arrived.  I’ve never used them before, but they’ll feature in my weekend ride.  I’m hoping they’ll provide an extra boost as the miles start to clock up.  If they’re half as effective as the Herbal Tea I’ll be flying!