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.

photo (1)

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

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.

Brrrr

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.

    Laters.

  • We can share the road

    If you read this blog or follow me on twitter, you’re probably aware that I’m a cyclist. Like most cyclists I own and drive a car, but my preferred mode of transport is the humble bicycle.

    “But why?” You don’t ask.

    Mostly because I’m insufferable and self-righteous. But also because it keeps me fit and gets me out of the house (where the kids also live). The freedom enjoyed by the cyclist is what drives us on.

    What also drives us on is the attitudes of drivers. Drivers who honk and shout obscenities because we have the temerity to attempt to share the road with them.

    Like I said, I’m also a motorist. Every day I do the commute and every night I’m ferrying the kids around to swimming, tennis or some other activity. Yet whenever I come across a cyclist, I slow down, wait, and make sure I give them plenty of space when I pass. And you know what? I seem to get around and do what I need to do pretty much okay.

    I don’t need to hurl a load of abuse at other road users. I don’t need to buzz cyclists to scare the living bejesus out them. Because I am sane enough to realise that these cyclists are wives, husbands, fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, and children. They’re not just obstructions — they’re people. They have a place to go, and people to go home to.

    When you buzz a cyclist, you risk ripping the heart out of a family. Denying a little girl her daddy, or stealing a son or daughter from a loving parent. Is it worth it?

    Is sharing the road really that much of an inconvenience?

    It’s because of this animosity that cyclists are so uppity. Cyclists don’t want to be at war with motorists. We just want to ride without the BS and grief that’s handed out to us daily.

    There are of course douchebag cyclists. But there are also many many douchebag motorists that treat every interaction on the road as some sort of contest. For every cyclist you saw jump a light, think about all the drivers who cut you up at a junction, or rear up behind you on the outside lane when you’re overtaking a lorry at 70mph — aggressively looking to push you out of the way, or pressuring you to match their law-breaking speed. People are dicks… it’s not a matter of dick-cyclists or dick-drivers.

    What exact privileges do you think being a driver gives you?

    You sat a couple of short tests that “prove” that you have some basic control of a vehicle and a passing familiarity with the highway code. Then you’re allowed to operate a tonne of steal at speeds where if you hit another human being, he or she is near vaporised. Bicycle on pedestrian fatalities are rare. Bicycle on driver fatalities are near impossible.

    So after sitting a ridiculously easy driving test, do you really expect a cyclist to sit a similar test? Tell you what… I will happily support compulsory cycling proficiency testing, if drivers are subject to the sort of testing that weeds out bad drivers, and ensures only the most “proficient” drivers are allowed to use the roads.

    Let’s be generous and say that the driving exams are only once every 3-years. I mean, you’re operating a potential killing machine… we need to be super careful, no? We all want safe and efficient roads, yes?

    Exactly.

    Back on the bike

    Recently I have begun cycling again. In my early-to-mid 20’s I was an avid and passionate mountain biker. I rode most evenings, and I would be out on the trails almost all of the weekend. I stopped cycling when working shifts and having kids meant time had become a premium commodity.

    When I was about 24 I was fit — I mean really fit. I regularly went away to the Lake District for a long-weekend and rode up and down hills for 8-10 hours a day. I loved it. But then I stopped. I stopped and I got fat. I even gave up football.

    I am now several stones over my ideal weight (if several can be stretched to about 5?). I’m unfit and I drink too much. My weight has meant that I have a bad back and I get out of breath if I try moderate exercise.

    I started cycling again before Christmas. I took on a local trail that before would have been a quick week-night blast in my heyday. I was fucked. I could barely do it. If it hadn’t have been for a puncture half-way around, I think my riding buddies would have just shot me.

    Obviously, with long winter nights and working through the day, riding opportunities are rare. But I have made sure I get in at least one ride each weekend — even when the ground is covered in snow and ice. And yes, I’ve started to build up my stamina and general fitness. The impressive leg muscles I used to display have woken from their decade long slumber, and while still yawning and getting used to the bright light of routine exercise, awake they certainly are.

    Cycling isn’t cheap. Well it could be if I wasn’t such an insufferable geek. Anyway, since December I have bought a £1,000 slick-tyre hybrid, and my beloved Orange mountain bike has been booked in for a serious overhaul (well-worn late 90’s kit is no good on the fashionable trails). A full new 2012 Deore XT transmission, Race Face finishing kit and set of fancy new Rock Shox forks are sitting in a Merlin Cycles checkout basket, waiting for me to find the funds to pay for them.

    To finance my rekindled interest in cycling I have started selling my hi-fi and other gear on eBay. I have never sold anything on eBay before so it’s a new experience for me, and I have to say it, I’ve been bitten by the eBay bug… C’mon everybody, let’s party like it’s 1997!!

    Every ping of my phone gives me the shivers. Is it a bid on my loudspeakers or my CD player? Or maybe it’s another 50p placed on the XBOX X-Factor game the kids never even opened? Anyway it’s all coming along beautifully, and my Paypal account is beginning to swell, ready for the day when I click buy on that bumper Merlin shopping cart.

    To make the most of this cycle-based spending, I need to continue to work hard on my fitness, and that includes making time in the evening to do some exercise every day — either on my hybrid, my fixed bike, or getting out for those runs I’ve been threatening for weeks. So that’s why I have written this post. I want to document (and shame myself into) getting down to the twelve-and-a-half stone target I have set myself. I have 18-months from today. You with me? Great.

    UPDATE: While I’ve just posted this, I actually wrote this on Tuesday. Since then I have got two of those runs in and a decent bike ride today.