I’m gonna live forever

Legwarmers

“Baby look at me, and tell me what do you see?”

You don’t need to answer that, I know I look a bit of a knobber but there’s good reason I assure you.

I’ve been likened to an extra from Fame in recent days (again this morning – thanks Hendo) but my striking electric blue and neon orange outfit has a purpose:

I don’t expect to live forever but I do want to increase my life expectancy by being as visible as possible along my daily commute.  Thankfully the dark mornings and evening are mostly behind me for the next 6 months (Happy vernal equinox BTW) and one common observation made of my fellow cycling brethren is that they don’t do themselves any favours by cycling around in stealth mode.

I cannot be accused of that.

In addition to my orange GMCC cycle gillet I have started buying bits of orange to ‘tone’ with my new orange Fuji Declaration but it’s beginning to look dull against my vivid cycling wardrobe.

Sadly there’s only so much you can do and I got Smidsy’d at the mini roundabout around the corner from my house a couple of months ago despite having lights on and wearing a luminous yellow jacket. The driver was cool though. Although we collided, he didn’t knock me to the ground and I still went ape at him (without swearing). He said all the right things to pacify me and ensure I was unhurt and in a fit mental state to start riding again.

So I might look even sillier than previously but I think it reduces my chances of not being seen.

 

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A Certain Ratio

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I’ve bought a 5th bike and it’s a single speed and it’s gorgeous.

I decided I needed to add to my fleet of bikes after I was easily overtaken by Ed on his Dolan single speed about 3 weeks ago: The Saracen was labouring along Bury New Road (okay, so was I a little bit) and Ed drifted past me.  This set me thinking. I tried to catch him at the next lights but in my excitement and efforts to catch up my rear light jumped off and I had to stop and pick it up. Ed was long gone, but I messaged him later asking what gear ratio he had on his bike.

Whatever it was I didn’t want to be that high if I was to commit to a single gear.  The ride to work is slightly downhill and thus the return is slightly uphill.  Going home there are a lot more stops and starts for lights and congestion so I definitely needed to focus more on the return ride when choosing the ratio for my primary commuting bike.

Over the next few days I experimented by committing to certain gears on the Saracen:  5th gear against the middle cog was comfortable, 6th was a little less but still manageable.

A couple of days later I was overtaken by another single speed on the way home. Using a bit of local knowledge I regained my position by taking the cobbles at the end of Great Clowes St rather than Knoll St and as she passed me for a second time along Bury New Road I asked her what gear ratio she had.  She didn’t know but said something about it being a 72″ cog and had the option of 68″ or something and this confused me.

About 10 minutes later whilst walking through Prestwich Precinct I met another single speed cyclist and quizzed him about his ratio.  This Eastern European chap didn’t really understand what I was asking (on reflection a bizarre initial question from a complete stranger) but assured me he could hit 30mph on his bike. Nice.

Whilst in London a couple of weeks ago I popped into an Evans shop and looked at what they had to offer. Plenty of single speed bikes there but mostly with drop handle bars whilst I wanted straight ones. They had a 2013 model Fuji Declaration reduced from £475 to £310 and in orange too and suddenly whatever the ratio it had I wanted it.  A couple of days later I was told by the Manchester store that it was out of stock but then the magic of browser history induced adverts made the same bike pop up on my screen whilst I was considering a cheap (and probably rubbish) ebay single speed.  Low and behold it was not actually out of stock, I ordered it and it arrived yesterday.

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It looks gorgeous and I am going to have to change my cycling wardrobe to feel worthy enough to ride it.  Tomorrow will be spent rearranging the bikes in my garage to make space for this 5th bike. I’ll grease and hang up the Mighty Saracen which has served me very well over the last 3 years.  She is the only bike I have ridden over 100 miles upon and whilst I might not ride her as often my message to her is “I won’t stop loving you”.

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King of the Simister Mountains

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Look at those legs! Glorious aren’t they?

Ignore the slightly comedic spotty socks and Aldi’s cheapest SPD MTB shoes and SWOON at those legs of STEEL!  Mud splattered, ever-so-slightly bramble scratched, pillars of pure POWER!

Those are the very limbs that this evening reclaimed a prestigious Strava King of the Mountains crown that was lost for less than 24 hours. To be honest I didn’t know I had a KOM and wouldn’t have been particularly arsed about losing it until a notification came through to my phone that my crown had been taken, nay STOLEN.

My first reaction was what? where? why? but sure enough, on a tired return from a first ever ride over the Pennines back in March I had passed through a mile long ‘segment’ between the M60 and Heaton Park’s perimeter.  I don’t know who defines these segments along which people can compete but I have no desire to define any and whoever defined the ‘Boundary Wall’ segment mustn’t have set a challenging target.  Nevertheless ‘Darren’ from Middleton (though probably equally oblivious at the time) snatched MY title from me.  I followed him on Strava and (grudgingly) gave him ‘Kudos’ and commented that I had noticed he had my crown. He followed me back and replied.

It was dry, the sun was shining this evening and to show I really meant business I put my shorts on for the homeward commute.  I was to be taken over 3km out of my way to take in the segment but I figured it was worth the extra effort.  A good run of lights got the legs spinning and well warmed up but I remembered to ease them as I climbed Leicester Road.  I attacked from the start of the segment with my legs spinning, sadly only one clipped in as my left leg would have fouled the pannier hanging on the frame at the back. I went through at least 2 big puddles not caring one jot for the spray, people I was in the ZONE.  I know this stretch well enough to know I find it a little uncomfortable (it’s a bit bumpy for a hybrid commuting hack) but I powered through, teeth gritted and eyes bulging.

I now have my title back.  You may bow down before me.  And for your information, the incline of this particular mountain on the outskirts of Simister that I was crowned king of was 1.5%

Oh Yeah!

Legs of steel!

Lungs of iron!

Eye of the tiger!

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My first 100 mile ride

Yesterday I completed my first 100 mile ride, but as I’ve discovered there are easy miles and there are harder miles. Prior to yesterday I’d ridden 75 miles a couple of times but one of those trips had taken twice as long as the other. Liverpool and back on a road bike was completed before lunchtime whereas the first day of my C2C ride didn’t end until 8pm.

I’d pretty much stopped commuting by bike at the end of last year and found in January I’d lost the base fitness I needed for a painless 2 hour ride so I put together a programme of a dozen rides to bring me up to 75 mile fitness again.

The training rides were completed on my trusty Saracen commuting hybrid, the bike I knew I’d be using yesterday, but almost all of the riding was on the road and straight uninterrupted roads wherever possible. I kept an excel sheet with distance, time, average speed also factored in the relative lumpiness of the rides with a ft/hour climbing ratio. I could see progress as the rides got longer in time and distance but I hadn’t made any allowance for trail riding.

So yesterday 6 of us set off from the Sage offices at 8am in glorious early morning sunshine. Ian, Chris and James are riding from London to Paris in a couple of months time so the 60 trail ride fitted nicely into their spring cycling programme. Amy like myself had set the ride as an ultimate challenge and she was going to be travelling twice as far as she’d ever ridden before. I, however, was the only one who would be riding back from Southport.

The mixed terrain (as well as the A frames and barriers along the trail) nags at you and compromises your pace in a manner that is more significant than you expect. Progress was slower than we all anticipated and the incentive of a late Nandos lunch in Southport to fuel me for the 40 mile on road return was quickly disappearing.

We paused at Hale, just short of half way along the trail and I grabbed a hot steak and kidney pie to supplement my stash of supplements. An hour later we were at the Knotty Ash Sainbury’s for another scheduled stop, but rather than wait for hot food I grabbed a sandwich and decided to split from the rest of the group. I had to be back home for 6:30 so needed to be leaving Southport no later than 3pm. I made quick progress along the remaining 3rd of the trail with Endomondo chirping out lots of sub 2 minute kilometre splits. Although I noticed it start to drizzle I didn’t appreciate the stiffening easterly breeze that was giving me a helping hand. I reached Southport just before 3pm, put on my waterproof and then turned around to face the wind. I then realised how much help I’d had during the previous hour. I shouted and swore at the elements as I took the A570 out of the town and tried to comfort myself by tucking into my supply of caffeine energy gels.

I knew I had two climbs on the way home: Parbold and Haigh. I’d done the latter a couple of months earlier and didn’t like the way it dragged on, Parbold was unknown to me and as it turns out, a bit steeper. Though feeling more mentally than physically weary, I got off to push the bike up the Parabold hill and to stretch out my legs. As I reached Haigh, again I dismounted for the initial steepest section. I was looking forward to the descent through Aspull but it was at that point my gear shifter broke and found myself stuck in 2nd gear. I still had the front derailleur to give me a choice of 3 speeds but all of them were to low to do anything but coast on the downhill sections. So the last 15 miles dragged but there were a couple of moments when I was grateful that I was stuck in 2nd and not anything higher.

I got home about 6:30 and had to be showered and out for 7pm so no relaxing soak in the bath but other than some saddle soreness from 11 hours of riding and a left hand that still feels a bit fizzy as I type, I got away without any aches in my back or legs. The bike is already at the local bike shop to have the shifter replaced so I don’t feel quite so bad about driving to work tomorrow.

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored and encouraged us, I enjoyed the challenge of the ride though next time I set myself a distance target I’ll ensure it’s all on tarmac.Image

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Big weekend ride

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The training rides are over and despite the cold weather this year I seem to have missed the worst of it and only ducked out of a couple of Saturday morning rides.  As the mileages have increased thankfully the backpain I’ve suffered in the past has not returned.

I ran out of new football grounds to cycle to having found Huddersfield, Stockport and Preston’s Deepdale for the first time, so I returned to Goodison Park and Anfield for my last big ride.  I found a few rugby grounds too with Warrington, St Helens, Widnes and Salford ticked off and as it was Grand National day on Saturday I visited Aintree for the first time   

Despite ridiculously early starts I enjoyed all the rides out to these destinations.  The ride to Huddersfield was my favourite as I was heading towards the sunrise and once up on the moors with the climbing out of the way I could admire some early morning views.  As the distances increased I struggled but mostly because I was riding with an uncomfortable urgency, clock watching and wanting to get back home before too much of the weekend had disappeared and so not allowing time to fuel up properly before or during.  A steady flow of budget caffeine drinks seemed to get me through.  Although I spent most of last weekend’s 75 mile ride pounding up and down the East Lancs, I did appreciate the sunshine and similar weather this weekend would be perfect though I think the forecast is warmer but wetter.

I’ve ridden to Southport before and the TPT trail is flat but not smooth enough for a road bike.  A cyclecross bike would be perfect but I don’t have one amongst my fleet so I’ll be on the trusty Saracen hybrid commuting hack.  The 40 mile return from Southport on road will be when I’ll be tested and I might have to stop for a pint to help me through. 

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Huddersfield or bust

ImageAs the days are lengthening I’m finally shaking off the winter blues and looking forward to spring and summer.  I’ve got 3 events lined up to get me training again after a couple of lazy months in the depths of winter.  I’ve booked in to the Salford Triathlon in August which will be the first one held there for a few years.  I intended to compete in my first full distance tri last autumn but the event I was signed up to got cancelled as only 5 of us fancied an 8am October morning dip in Capernwray’s flooded quarry.  The Salford event gives me a more convenient opportunity to finally tick that particular box and then a week after that I’ll be defending my veteran’s title at the UK Backwards running championship in Heaton Park so I should be in good shape for that.  I ran the course on Sunday and was a couple of minutes off my best time.  If I train for it (rather than do a handful of practice runs as last year) I should be able to improve on my 2012 time though don’t expect to get anywhere close to overall champion and multiple world record holder Garret. 

The other challenge I’ve set myself is a first bike ride over 100 miles.  The most I’ve done before is about 75 miles and to make things tougher I’ll be riding to Southport on the Trans Pennine Trail which is flat but along surfaces that prevent me using my road bike to eat up the miles.  Instead I’ll be doing the ride on a 10 year old £300 hybrid with kickstand and honky horn. 

The ride is in memory of a colleague who died suddenly last year.  Ian was a keen time trial cyclist and having just moved to Manchester we were looking forward to riding around the velodrome together in one of their open sessions.  There will be a group of us from Sage riding 60 miles from our Salford office along the TPT to Southport with some of us turning it into a round trip.  We’ll be raising funds for Cardiac Risk in the Young and our sponsorship page is here if you are able to support us.

I started training soon after new year introducing a weekly long ride to more frequent cycle commutes.  I put together a programme of 12 rides (which I’m halfway through) to steadily increase my mileage and time in the saddle and all was going well up until a couple of weeks ago.  I rode 3 hours non-stop to Wigan and Standish and back which included a bit of a climb around Haigh Hall as well as making me more familiar with the second half of the road route home from Southport.  The weekend before last was a bit busy so I ducked out of even a 2 hour ride, but the weekend just past it was niggling lower back pain together with a fair measure of laziness that stopped me going out.  To get back on track I’m going to have to push hard this weekend and a route I’ve lined up is Huddersfield and back.  The Terrier’s Galpharm stadium is the next closest league football ground for me to tick off having found quite a number whilst training for a C2C ride a few years ago.  I’ll trick myself into considering the journey as a couple of 2 hour rides back to back with a McDonald’s breakfast close to the turning point.  I’ll be setting off before dawn and hope to enjoy the sunrise as I reach Saddleworth Moor.   It’ll be my first ride into the Pennines and if the weather’s bad I might postpone it another week but hopefully by blogging about this ride I’ll actually commit to doing it.

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Buffalo Gals

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I don’t know if it’s wrong of me to judge another rider by the shape of his legs and whether his feet are fixed to his pedals but that’s what I tend to do.  Last night on the homeward commute I was (yet again) faced with the question of whether or not to overtake the cyclist in front and the indicators were that I shouldn’t.  The guy in question was on a silver Trek hybrid and going a a good steady pace but looked like he had the potential to go faster and therefore might respond if I tried to go past him.

He had lycra cycling shorts on exposing chiselled and possibly shaven legs and his feet were attached to the pedals with toe clips.  So I patiently held back (astride the Mighty Saracen) as I progressed along Bury new Road between the McDonalds at Great Cheetham St West and the junction with Knoll St. However, after we passed though the green light at the top of Knoll St he hesitated and I knew I had to pass him using my special manoeuvre.

For those of you who don’t have the pleasure of the northward stretch of Bury New Road after 5pm on a Monday to Thursday, this is where the traffic is reduced to a crawl along the A56.  2 lanes merge to 1 after the junction with Northumberland St and a very welcome cycle lane appears but getting to it safely is tricky.  At the junction with Northumberland there is a 3rd turn right filter lane but the 2 lanes crossing the junction are packed together making it dangerous to either hug the curb or squeeze between the 2 northbound lanes of queuing traffic.  Our friend on the Trek (the dick) was looking to pavement hop past the junction and jump back on the road when the cycle lane appeared.  There was an alternative, my special manoeuvre, “Buffalo Gals”.

“Buffalo Gals go round the outside, round the outside, round the outside”

At the junction I took a line to the right hand side of the 2 lanes of traffic and then as the road narrowed went ’round the outside’ onto the opposite side of the road (because there was no southbound traffic) and once I’d got to the point where 2 lanes had merged to 1 and cycle lane was there, I swung across to a position close to the curb.  This looks dramatic and I’m sure lots of drivers curse me as I do it as they are so envious of my quicker progress but I swear it’s not putting me or anyone else at risk and I wouldn’t do it if there was on coming traffic.

So there you go, that was my Buffalo Gals move done.  Trek man was behind me now as we climbed up past the fire station but he caught me at a Moor Lane red light; he cycled past me as I was queued in traffic.  He was on the pavement again, not going quickly but his next manoeuvre was stupid as he crossed Moor Lane and skipped onto the road just in front of Witchway express bus that was about to stop at a bus stop.  I wasn’t trying to chase him but did catch him up as we climbed to the Hilton Lane lights.  This time he stayed on the road but as the lights were about to change and we were to set off from behind an advanced stop line box he deferred to me saying ‘I think you’d better go first’.

You bet your ass I’m going first knobhead.  He didn’t catch me again.

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