New Years Resolutions. Bah!

A new year. A new start. And all that other bullshit…

Next Tuesday half the country will uselessly commit to a bunch of “resolutions” that they will have abandoned by the end of February. The mainstream media will of course feed this fever, much like they feed everything else that is a waste of everyone’s time and attention.

The thing is, if losing weight, paying down your credit card or finding a new job was really important to you, you wouldn’t be waiting for an arbitrary day in the year to make a start. You would stop eating crap, start living to a budget and begin applying for jobs now. The whole New Year’s Resolution thing is a load of bollocks.

So with that in mind, I give you my New Years Resolutions. All of which kick off on Tuesday.

1.         No alcohol at home. I will enjoy the odd night out with my colleagues though; I won’t be that guy. Oh… and only the best beer or whiskey

2.         I will do my base-miles every week (other than holidays). I think 100km (62-miles) is a decent target for a guy with a young family and an occasionally busy job. Commuting 3 times a week will easy exceed that – so even on my 2-commute weeks, a Sunday ride will easily cover it

3.         I will swim an average of 4km a week. That’s 160 lengths – around three 1-hour sessions at my leisurely pace

Of course this was essentially the fitness regime I adhered to during November when I started commuting again. So really it’s more of a reboot after the excesses of Christmas.

For me it isn’t the mince pies, chocolate or turkey sandwiches that cause me problems, more the hours a manager in the food industry has to work. Rather than a festival of booze and food, Christmas represents 7-day weeks, long hours and the odd bottle of festive Rioja on expenses.  So no, it’s not all bad.

Cycling and especially commuting have taken a back seat over the past month. My Strava has been barren and the only rides I’ve indulged in are spiky little jaunts to Asda on my singlespeed.

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So yeah…. January 1st, I plan to kick on.

Off the bike

My last bike ride was the commute last Monday. The ride home became very dicey as the road surface had begun to freeze over. I pulled and let some air out of my cross tyres to give the grip a touch more tack and I got home safe.

Tuesday and Wednesday were worse, so I decided against a 22km ride along un-gritted country roads and trail. Thursday was my work Christmas Party, which involved me hovering up any and all alcohol I could find. Friday morning was not a good look for me.

So it was Saturday morning for my first opportunity to get out on a bike. I decided to take my singlespeed hack bike out for a spin. It’s a ’94 Marin Palisades Trail mountain bike that I have bought recently. I binned the Alivio transmission, and converted it with a single cog and tensioner. I also added a new SRAM chainset, grips, brake levers and a set of SKS Chromoplast fenders.

The Marin runs like a dream, and will even freewheel better than my skinny wheeled road bike. It has 26” Schwable CX Comp tyres that roll super fast. However I must have put a dodgy link in the chain when I shortened it (I’d shortened it a few times as I was seeing a fair bit of skipping), as when I hit my first hill and hammered down, the chain snapped and the jolt pulled my back.

I didn’t have a chain tool (I’d left my tool pouch on the side at home), so I was left to a ginger hobble home pushing my bike through the streets of Newark.

So I’m off the bike for a few days. I was in a terrible mood on the way to work this morning as I past cyclists doing their daily commute – the weather is much milder and sitting in my car is not where I want to be. My back is sore and I’m sure the car seat feels even worse that then saddle would. However I need to keep it warm give it time to ease up. So the car it is.

On the subject of being sour behind the wheel, recently I began following a twitter feed called Cyclehatred. The account curates hateful tweets about cyclists. If you’re a cyclist it can make your blood boil, and sometimes the temptation to reply to some of the haters can be too much. Check out some of the “conversations” each of these rants generates. It’s great fun watching these folk get bombarded by cyclists.

This got me thinking – why are drivers so angry all the time? It’s not just cyclists. Anything that hinders their progress is the subject of anger and bile. Is it actually the car that makes these people unhappy? Is the automobile just an unhappy place to be?

When I cycle to work I feel energised and buoyant. The endorphins that are released after exercise flush through me, and the fresh air makes me feel alive. Conversely, a half-hour stuck in the car with the inane cackles of commercial radio and my own farts makes me feel depressed.

Christmas ideas for the cyclist…. yawn

It’s the holiday season, so it seems that every other cycling blog is doing a post about gifts for the cyclist in your life. Seriously, is it really that hard?

Think about it, cyclists might just be about the easiest people in the world to buy for. The lifestyle of the cyclist is all about gadgets, funny clothes and repairs. A new jacket, some shorts (black, always black) or even a couple of inner tubes stuffed in a merino sock. All of these would be greatly appreciated by any cyclist.

Or think a little more outside of the box. A subscription to arty fredzine Rouleur, or maybe a professional bicycle fitting, where they stick magic electro-whatsits all over your body and you dance around like a cheap toy marionette in front of a camera (at least that what I would do if I were covered in magic electro-whatsits).

Wait… I have a good one: jot down the make and model of the cyclist’s favourite bike (they’ll have several, trust me), and get it priced for new quality gear and brake cables. A local bike shop (LBS) should be up for pricing and setting up this awesome gift – make sure they have a full season to use up the voucher, just in case they have recently had a cable overhaul.

You see? I’m an ideas man. Boom!

The thing is you really don’t need a blog to tell you what to buy a cyclist. If they’re anything like every single cyclist I know, they’ve already written down a lengthy list of gear they want.


Last week, my friend and I took on a 50km hack through Sherwood Forest on our mountain bikes. It was super fun but really, really cold.

Usually on a long ride I will shed the arm and leg warmers after half hour. Sunday was different, other than a sunny half mile of singletrack as we arrived in the village of Walesby, it was bitterly cold.

The temperature made for a tough ride. We struggled to keep our muscles warm and this dramatically increased the fatigue. 50km is par for us at the weekend, and often we push on past 65km off road. But I can’t remember ever being so exhausted – even when we double up on the red and blue routes at Sherwood Pines (including the windy ride in and back from Mansfield). I’d even been riding in the week, so short-term fitness shouldn’t have been an issue.

Like a windy day, a cold day means for a tougher workout. But I wonder if exercising in the cold actually makes you fitter? Probably not, I assume the cold weather means that wear and tear is increased.

Anyway, I faced another sort of temperature-based danger today. As I powered up one of the hills on my commute home, I could feel the back wheel slip in a fresh sheen of ice forming on the tarmac. Tonight will be an icy on, be careful out there tomorrow.

Commuting tips

I have been commuting for about a month now. Soon I will break-even on the fuel savings I have made against the additional equipment I have bought.

People who think commuting is “free” are deluded. To commute properly, especially over the sort of distances I travel (44 km roundtrip), you need the right equipment and it needs to be maintained.

Racks, panniers and lights are needed. My rack was around £30, my cheap starter panniers around the the £40 mark, my SKS Raceblades were also in the same ballpark, and I have spent around £100 on lighting: (2 x Knog Blinders, and a SSC-P7 lamp). You need to be seen, and you need to see where you’re going.

I already had a yellow hi-vis cycling jacket, shorts, jerseys and base-layers. But these things get worn out quickly with regular all-weather riding — especially when you come off at the level crossing just outside Collingham! So replacements have to be funded.

I also had to invest in winter gloves, new shoes covers, and some arm and leg warmers. So as you can see, this gig ain’t free…

That said, I’ve halved my weekly diesel bill and I will continue to save every time I ride to work.

The thing is, every time I commute I learn something new and become a better cyclist. So I thought it would be cool to share a few tips on here.

  • You need lights, but they don’t have to cost the earth. Get a rechargeable blinker (front and back) and a cheap SSC-P7 headlight from Amazon or eBay. You will be amazed how powerful they are for around £30

  • Fenders (aka mudguards) are a must. Fenders will keep your bike and your legs much drier and cleaner. Grit and dirt in your drive chain or brakes will lessen the equipment’s lifecycle and create all sorts of annoying creeks and squeaks — I mistakenly bought Raceblades as the bike shop said they would be the only ones that would fit my disc brakes. A crock. You want a full length fender like the SKS Chromoplastic (I have just ordered some) or Crud RoadRacer Mk2

  • Don’t worry about weight. You want your bike to be reasonably light, especially if your commute has some climbs, but don’t get hung up on carbon or the most expensive lightweight gear. You’re going to be carrying a second set of clothes, some waterproofs, possibly a laptop and your lunch. So shaving a few grams off your bar-ends won’t really make that much difference. Also, replacing carbon parts is expensive if you take a fall (and you will)

  • Tyres. Tyres. Tyres. I have had two tumbles because my skinny race tyres are simply not up to the conditions. It’s November — the roads are slippery and the cycle trails are boggy. Today I ordered a pair of cyclocross tyres to see me through the rest of the winter. My slicks will have to sit this out

  • Baby wipes and roll-on deodorant. Keep these in your locker or desk. If like me, you don’t have a shower at work, you can keep fresh and clean for the work day. Keep a spare pair of socks at work too

  • Clean and lube. Depending on how far you’re commuting and the conditions, you’ll need to ensure your bike is washed down and properly lubricated. You don’t need fancy cleaning sprays, but a bucket of soapy water and/or a hose are a must. Remember to use a water displacing lubricant spray around your components and chain oil to keep the drivetrain running nicely in all conditions

  • Finally, have a healthy snack at hand. You’re using far more calories than being sat behind the wheel. You might not make it to your usual lunchtime — so don’t get caught buying crap from the vending machine. Have a box of cereals in your drawer or some fruit — refuel properly, don’t throwaway all your hard work

    I’ll probably post some more tips from time to time, so do drop in or feel free to ask me any questions you might have.


  • Commute

    Yesterday I did my first full cycle commute for over 10-years. 

    I have ridden past my place of work numerous times on weekend and week-night training rides. Via cycleroute 64 it’s under 15-miles, so represents a decent commute — especially on a fresh October (almost November) morning. 

    So Sunday evening I ironed and rolled up my trousers and shirt and placed them in one of my panniers. In the other pannier I placed my U-lock and my waterproofs (my Hush Puppies were already positioned under my desk at work). 

    After filling up on fresh coffee and Shreddies, I braved the crisp morning air and began peddling to work. Dressed in my usual black Lycra, but with the addition of newly procured Planet X winter gloves and Pearl Izumi arm and leg warmers to ensure I didn’t reach work half frozen.

    To be honest it was fabulous. While my lightweight Boardman felt unusually lumbering under my rear — now fitted with a rack and laden panniers, the feeling of self-propelled progress through the waking streets of Newark was exhilarating. I knew the route well, but I gave myself a good twenty minutes buffer before I had to be at my desk. I didn’t need it.

    I arrived on-time and feeling brilliant. I could sense the quiet admiration of my colleagues, even if they did jest about my Lycra-clad legs.

    I was well prepared when I got to the office. My clothes were dry, and having been rolled not folded, looked fine. I’m someone who overheats easily, so I packed baby-wipes to freshen up and a roll-on deodorant to keeps things smelling good. It all worked a treat. The roll-on and wipes now live in my desk ready for the next cycle commute.

    Unfortunately, due to my wife working shifts, I will have to use the car for work most days, but I should be able to ride in at least twice a week. I worked out this will save me around £20 a week in fuel and help me continue to become a better cyclist. 

    The only issue being that my new Knog Blinders, while being absolutely brilliant at drawing driver attention, didn’t light up the journey enough for me to tackle the unlit trail part of Route 64 in the dark on the way home. Maybe next time, we’ll see.

    My next commute is Friday. I can’t bloody wait.🙂

    Halfords, occasionally Hellfrauds

    Halfords gets a bad press. Like the US gadget store Best Buy, it doesn’t lack annoyed critics on the internet eager to complain about the ineptitude of its employees. On cycling forums it is often cruelly dismissed as Hellfrauds. To those uninitiated or non-British, Halfords is an automotive retailer (and workshop) that is also the UK’s largest bicycle retailer.

    Last year I bought one of Halford’s flagship bikes — the Boardman Hybrid Pro (the only place to purchase this excellent range). It’s a smart aluminium framed flatbar road bike with a full carbon fork, Avid Elixir 5 hydraulic brakes, a BB30 FSA Energy chainset and a SRAM Rival groupset (with the lovely semi-carbon flatbar DoubleTap shifters). It’s lovely. I added a set of Easton EC90 carbon bar-ends for comfort and I haven’t looked back.

    Yep. The Richey wheelset isn’t the lightest, but I think along with cockroaches, they’re one of the few things that would survive a nuclear holocaust. 

    When I bought the bike (through my work’s tax-free Bike-to-Work scheme), I was dubious of Halfords’ reputation as a nasty faceless corporation with muppets manning the counters. 

    My first experience of Halfords’ customer service peeps was in January of this year when I placed my order at the Boardman-approved Lincoln store. I was delighted to find that the two guys assisting me were both knowledgable and helpful. They went through the pros and cons of each model, and explained what accessories I would need. I didn’t let them know at the time I was a cycle nerd (along with being many other kinds of nerd, as my wife would attest) who had already decided on his purchase. And I didn’t need to. It was a splendid experience, that was fortified later, when I popped in for some advice on some accessories, that sadly they didn’t have in stock (the assistant — a different but equally informed young chap, provided me with the product codes needed. We subsequently had an involved conversation about Orange mountain bikes — one of which I own and he was building).

    My second visit to a Halfords store was in the middle of the summer when my hydraulic Avid brakes had gained a rather unfortunate air bubble. I checked YouTube and other sources and found that Avid Elixir brakes are a pure-breed bastard to bleed and require significant TLC. I decided to try out my warranty and the fact that I hadn’t yet used my promised 6-week service.

    This time I visited my local Newark (non-Boardman) store. I was apprehensive. Newark’s BikeHut (Halfords’ name for its bicycle arm) is small — tucked away to the back of a modest floorspace. I had visited a few weeks before to have a look and view its stock. On this first visit I was turned off by one of its employees — a middle aged hippy-type guy who was far too full of his own bicycling knowledge and prowess. He was waxing profusely about his own skill and subtly running down his eye-rolling colleague. I left thinking he was an epic douchebag.

    Upon returning with my hobbled air bubbled Boardman in tow I was relieved that the long-haired douchebag was nowhere to be seen and I approached the counter. Within seconds of explaining my issue to a different but likeable older gentleman, the very same shower-avoiding baby-boomer had emerged from the workshop dungeon and was taking over my query — no doubt desperate to have a go at something other than the usual fairy bikes and broken sub-£300 Carrera’s that must dominate his day. Now I must take much of what I have written above back. He proved to be the epitome of customer service and, when he learned I was quite the enthusiastic cyclist, proved understanding — never condescending — and was visually pleased to sort out my issue. I left perplexed, a little disappointed at myself, and hopeful.

    The next day I received a voicemail explaining that while the Avids had proved quite the bitch (as YouTube had promised), my hirsute friend had sorted my issue and had calibrated my gears for good measure. Even better, when I collected my beloved bicycle en route home that night, he had charged the work to my 6-week service and I had nothing to pay. Result! +2 Halfords!

    Today was my third visit to Halfords. I have decided to fully fulfil my dream of turning my Hybrid Pro into a proper commuter ride, so fulfilling the governments desire that I leave my car at home. I needed a rack, fenders, better commuter lights and panniers.

    I pulled up at the Mansfield store somewhat worried. The branch had large and numerous automotive doors down one side and the actual showroom looked squeezed off to one-side. But upon opening the doors I was buoyed by the sight of a mezzanine floor of cycle goodness with Boardman bikes clearly visible! This was a “Boardman approved Halfords!”

    Shame on me?

    I entered hopeful that all my needs would be satisfied.

    Upon perusing the store I found a Topeak rack marked “DX” that I assumed would be disc compatible (the Halfords website recommended a similar rack for the disc equipped Boardman). I approached the counter confident that what I held in my hand would service my needs. I was faced with the sort of gormless fuckwit only a Farrelly Brothers movie would dare present as a believable representation of an operational human being. He looked blankly at me as if I had asked him to name each and every star in the known and unknown galaxies. He was the sort of person who would find the request, “a Big Mac and fries”, utterly perplexing.

    As seconds ticked by, it felt like seasons and even years had passed, and then suddenly without words, he turned and looked helplessly at his colleague, who was busy looking confused at a sub-£300 Carrera mounted on a work-stand behind the counter. The other assistant rotated slowly as if using some archaic machinery built by tiny medieval rodents before explaining that it wouldn’t fit (I wasn’t convinced), but that he would he would find one that did. Clearly this guy was the one who had been on the course to use the apparently NASA-level Halfords computer that would answer my deeply complex universe bending question. Again the seasons passed. Embarrassed I began wandering the store looking at other wares, occasionally smiling when the second attendant said time and again that it, “would just be a minute”.

    Eventually the assistant, who apparently was the only one blessed with the power of speech, called me over and informed me of a rack that would sate my requirements. I quickly picked up the rack, some mudguards (fenders for any American readers), and some cheapish nylon panniers (it was 3 accessories for the price of 2 after all) and l left relieved, and somewhat unnerved that any self-respecting “bicycle store” could dredge the depths of the British workforce so deep, as to find two more incompetent people to work in it.

    So Halfords or Hellfrauds? My experiences are towards the former, but heavens help you if you step into the Mansfield store any time soon.