Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Back in the saddle

My first 'Tuesday Night Club' ride tonight since April. On the way down to meet the guys I was all stiff legs and slow revolutions. My bum was bouncing up and down on the saddle (it's been 5 months since I rode a singlespeed off road). I felt skewed and wrong.

The ride up the hill was fine. Fast, sore, sweat ringing down my face, breathing laboured and heavy. But good.

Once into the singletrack I lost the plot. I couldn't keep the pace. It was so fast flying round the trees, sliding out on the corners and dipping over the rocky drops and into the black shadows beyond them. They fly, those boys.

PC overtook us all on the road between the woods manualling and one hand in the air, pedalling fast and giggling like a child. I laughed until my ribs ached.

Despite the rasping breathe, my 'race cough' and my aching legs I had a great night. Back to normal. Tired Tuesdays, happy Tuesdays, muddy kit on the bathroom floor, half drunk bottles of FGS strewn around the kitchen. Piles of work ignored in favour of a good hard bike ride.

Mojo... welcome back.


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Old dog new tricks.

One of the benefits of living where I do is proximity to that great cathedral of cycling, Manchester Velodrome. I've ridden here before and loved it, so when the chance turns up to grab a place on one of the one-day accreditation courses I don't have to think twice about it. I'm in. And then promptly forget all about it until the week beforehand. No track practise has occurred at all and a rushed reminder session only serves to remind me just how scared I was last time and how steep that banking is. Eek.

Sunday rolls around and a domino rally of disasters leads to the car and the borrowed track bike being left behind and the road bike and I cruising into Manchester at what is really quite an uncivilised hour for a Sunday morning. The mist is lifting and the roads are empty - swooping in and out of the white lines on the A62 is a treat to be savoured but it's bloody cold and bloody dark at 6am and by the time I get to the track and swap Times for Looks my toes are numb and blue and I already have that chill hunger gnawing away. The hire bikes here are not half bad these days and after a few cursory words of introduction we're clipped in, pedalling raggedly and utterly failing to maintain the most basic of warm-up lines.

The shambles fails to sort itself out and we're beckoned down from the boards for stern words and further instruction. Back up, and we manage a few more laps this time before the neat changes disintegrate into a chaos of slowing riders, elastic gaps and wobbling wheels. Down again for more words. Nobody is laughing. There are frowns. And, after being forced off the track for the second time I'm starting to wonder if this will not work for me. Being openly critiqued for efforts to mitigate someone else's mistakes is unpleasant but required learning. These are "old legs" and we would do well to listen. Even though it seems some still can't and our really-quite-handy chain gang disintegrates at the eleventh hour.

Still, we're getting there and the mood has lifted. Encouragement and criticism distributed even-handedly. Bad jokes, better riding. Soon we are reeling off laps of the black, the red, the blue and the fence, we're sweeping (gingerly) up and down the banking and riding in pairs right around the top of the track, nervous chatting interspersed with polite calls of "pace!" and "move up please". It's entrancing how slowly you can actually go around the banking before the heart-stopping squeak and slide of one or other wheels kicks in.

Thankfully I don't have to deal with that because my own personal bugbear turns out to be learning not to put the power down as soon as I have an open track in front of me. It's not 'red mist', as the coach sagely assumes; just the release of riding unimpeded, relief at not having to watch the riders in front, the change in the feel of the air we're flying through that feels thinner, cooler, faster (faster, faster). Well, pink mist, perhaps, but it means I pull an unnecessary and unhelpful gap when I'm at the head of the line and take far, far too long to rejoin the back of it once I've swung off.

I resort to counting pedal strokes; the required pace is 20mph, 20mph on this gear is 90rpm, the maths is easy and soon enough I think I've got the hang of it. Then the rider three places in front slows right up or pulls a gap and I have to start all over again. It has been a while since I've had to apply my brain to learning. I had forgotten it can sometimes be a two-way street. Progress is not always forward, fast or easy and maybe I have been coasting too often. Perhaps I should stop thinking about this and just concentrate on counting the pedal strokes...

After lunch comes exam time. We warm up, getting it halfway to correct and nobody panics when a shout and a clatter behind indicates a minor crash. The same exercises are reeled off and before I've even clipped in I've forgotten them and the order they will come in. Instead, I concentrate on remembering the first and hope the rest will follow by association. It works. We are up there for a while, long enough to become dizzy, long enough to swing through each and every line, make reasonably tidy sine curves up and down the banking, change on every lap and half lap, pair up and take the chain gang's square dance beyond the point of its previous untimely demise to fruition.

Then come flying half laps, not enough, there could never be enough of cruising round with a wary eye on the pace of the group on the other side of the track waiting for the whistle that marks your turn to swing down - no, look and then swing down to the black line leaving the line behind on the blue, momentum increasing as the shorter distance pulls you hard into the curves, breathing, working, concentrating on the sprinter's lane until you come up on the rear of the group you were until moments ago only matching, looking again and then swinging up above them, waiting for the gradient of the banking to draw away the excess speed, dropping onto the back of the line to begin the whole hypnotising sequence again...

At the end of the session we have all passed. Smiles of relief all round and I confess I'm paying only cursory attention to the brief descriptions of derny etiquette, because I'm too busy looking with glee at the form which says I am now accredited to train here and at every other track in Britain and trying to work out where I can slot a weekly SQT session into the calendar in my head. Best buy that overwintering Pista some new tyres, then.


Saturday, 19 September 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Emily writes:

It's been a particularly trying week. You know when someone says 'well, at least things can only get better now', and then they proceed to get much much worse? Well, quite.

On Tuesday it rained all day, which was initially horrible (think getting into a cold shower with all your clothes on, then getting out, drying off briefly, then having to get back in, over and over again), and eventually just became miserable. (It was the first time I'd really tested my new Montane 'waterproof', and I'm sorry to report that, since they changed the design, it's about as much use as a paper napkin for keeping the rain out.) All the marble floors in receptions were super-slippery, and I have new cleats that stick out just a little bit more, so I fell over twice - both times in front of lots of people, and the second time skinning both my knees and knocking over a pile of chairs with a big clatter.

And of course, rain means punctures - and Sod's Law means I only ever get a puncture when I have four packages on board, two of them urgent. So, after riding very quickly, yet very carefully across town with a rapidly deflating tube, I got rid of the packages, settled down to fix it, and discovered a hole in my tyre so big I could see daylight through it. (That's the last time I'm buying Gatorskins.)

And then, when I was finally rolling again, I discovered that my padlock had all-of-a-sudden seized up, so my lock was stuck around my waist. It took a gallant chap in a bike shop half an hour, GT85, and lots of fiddling and swearing to free me. (Another bad review: Abus locks are brilliant security-wise, but they don't stand up to rain - this is the second one I've got through this year.)

I got home, discovered that my 4-month-old SIDIs already have a hole in them (bother!), hung up my wet kit (most of it would still be damp the next day), and woke up the next morning to discover just what a stupid idea it is to lock your bike up with a lock you know to be on its way out.

I had given myself two blisters on my right index finger before I reluctantly admitted that there was no way I was going to get the key to turn, apologized to my controller, and spent the rest of the morning desperately chasing bike shops, firemen, and anyone else who might be able to cut the lock off, and fielding calls from the office, who kept saying that it was the busiest day of the year, and why wasn't I working?

Eventually someone with boltcutters agreed to come round that evening, a friend lent me a bike so I could work the rest of the day, and I wobbled off uneasily, having not ridden with a freewheel for the best part of three years. The first hour was absolutely terrifying - habitual fixie-riders will know that sliding-around-all-over-the-place feeling you get when going back to gears and, given the run of bad luck I appeared to be having, I was frightened that I'd end up crashing and writing off my friend's bike.

But after a while, things started to look up - once I got used to not being able to trackstand or leg-brake, once I worked out what do do with my legs when descending, once I got over how counter-intuitive it feels to be controlling the bike with your hands rather than your legs, once I remembered that you can change gear to make you faster (and realized that doing so made me quite a bit faster), once the cold sweat of fear subsided, I realized that riding a 'normal' bike is actually quite fun.

Eventually, I stopped in St James's Square for a well deserved rest, sat back, got out a sandwich, and told myself that things were finally starting to look up. It was then that I felt a sharp pain in my ankle, looked down, and saw a horsefly...

Thursday, 17 September 2009


I've been back on the bike. In the best way possible. Great friend, check. Newly fettled bike running beautifully, check. Perfect dry trails, check. Perfect sunset with suitably picturesque silhouettes, check and double check.

I snuck in a ride in the High Peak on Tuesday night whilst Op North with work. Fab. The Husband (hers, not mine) put the tea on and conversed with The Arthur (5 months old, budding adventure racer) while The Wife (his not mine) and I ragged around the local trails.

I was really nervous after my 4 week sabbatical, but the spin classes I've been sneaking in meant fitness was reasonable and The Wife is an adventurous and technically charismatic rider so the route was varied and challenging.

I breathed in the evening air and the darkness and felt that old bubble of excitement as the lights start picking up deep shadows on the far side of mystery drops. Sun down, moon up, MOOD up. Flying.

I found rattling down the broken Peak pathways a bit battering but that's just time off the bike. I also found the marbles on one particular descent rather difficult to brake on and rode full pelt into a gate. It was closed. We'll skip over that (although I won't be doing much skipping in a while).

Anyway let's raise our glasses... night riding is HERE!


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

long days.

Up at 6.30am to ride cross bikes before the day begins. Catch the sunrise and blue sky before the lifting fog smudges it grey again. A quick one-two with the time concertina as things fall magically into place and off to Manchester for a track session. Monstrously painful fun and so absorbing I forget to save anything for the ride home with Trio, which turns out to be a long one, skies turning chillier with every mile that passes, endless back alleyways and secret trails on a bike that ought to fit but doesn't, really, making everything sore and doubly tired.

Part ways and the slog goes solo, quiet and with purpose, just want to be home but there are miles and miles still to go. Head down, get on with it.

The hill out of Bacup is significantly easier than it looks but still, I'm crawling. Legs grumbling, tummy aching with emptiness after riding straight past lunch and tea.

Pause in the layby at the top. Adjust bag, jersey, jacket for four mile descent. Tug, wriggle, zip. Couple in the car aren't paying me, or the view, any attention at all. Cows stare rudely from the verge and my knees hurt like hell. Weary sigh. Clip in, push off, shrug the bag, roll past the car into the empty road and -


They're. Eating. Chips.

They're sitting in there eating chips with the window open just far enough to let the crossswind grab a hefty waft of salt and vinegar fumes and drag it under my twitching nose setting every sense a-tingle. It smells so good I'm already half-turning the bars to swing round and back to the layby before common decency kicks in and reminds me that they are quite likely to think I'm a murdering two-wheeled psychopath rather than a half-starved rider who just wants to mug them for their tea and it really is only ten miles to the chip shop. And at least half of that's downhill.

Just ten miles.



Monday, 14 September 2009

long weekends.

Life has somewhat sucked of late. Disappointed by my inability to say no to fixing other people's problems, let down by people full of promises that turned out to be lies.

Time to make things better. Kielder was a beginning. I haven't ridden a century, on the road or off it, for, er... Well, 'a while'. Finishing in second and in a good time was a big, confidence boosting surprise when I wasn't even sure I would finish at all. Cracking event, flawlessly organised and I'm proud to have been part of the new chapter, but the racing thing still just doesn't excite me. Hard to keep your head down and concentrate on the job in hand when you know that trail disappearing off to the left might go somewhere more fun than this.

Then a concerted effort to commit to a proper working week. Fifty hours may fill the coffers but when it's scattered in a hairbrained fashion over seven days it drags and drags and drags. One or two transgressions of switching daytime rides for evening typing when the lure of sunshine got too strong but the regular Thursday night ride was appreciably more enjoyable for having worked harder to get there.

And then a proper weekend off, doing what I wanted to because it was what I wanted to do. Inadvertently left the phone devoid of charge and whilst that was inconvenient it was also a blessing. No texts, no tweets, just riding bikes in the sunshine, celebrating a birthday and the coming together of the crowd, ride-carry-ride-carry through stunning Welsh greenness, digging into epic climbs, falling into bogs, running out of food and water, infuriating the guide, confounding the walkers, smiling and laughing with a group of friends who are a comfortable and unobtrusive presence in my life. Fish and chips and champagne on the beach, bikes lined up and shining, toes in the sand, smiling and laughing, finally feeling warm again after a long, cold summer.

No pictures, the camera's still broken, but I'm working my way down the list.


Friday, 11 September 2009

I've been inexcusably remiss where this blog is concerned over the past few months. The trouble is, cycling is really the least reader-friendly part of my job. Those moments where I'm storming along Clerkenwell Road with the wind in my hair and the sun in my eyes may be indescribably exhilarating, my pinnacle of mental and physical wellbeing, the whole reason I do it, etc., but they really don't make for very interesting posts.

What's far more entertaining is the age-old courier lore of 'stupid things I have done on, near, or involving my bike'. Glance through any courier forum, and you're bound to find whole threads of various laughable and hair-raising anecdotes. And without further ado, here's my latest...

I spent the night at a friend's, and when I left for work the next morning he was already long gone, so I let myself out. He lives in the ground floor of a house, and so has two front doors - the main one, that opens onto the street, and his own personal one, that leads into his flat. In between the doors there's a tiny porch area, about a metre square - just big enough for my friend's two doors, and the one that leads to the upstairs flat.

This in-between area is exactly the right size to contain a half-awake courier and an upended bike - as I discovered that morning, when I left the flat, closed the first door behind me, and immediately realized that I was trapped, since the second door only opens inwards, and with my bike there, didn't have room to do so. And I didn't have a key to get back into the flat.

I spent a good ten minutes thinking 'this is ridiculous - don't panic - there's bound to be some way out', and twisting my bike into various positions to try and give the door enough room to open. And when I realized that it really wasn't going to happen, and that I was probably trapped in this confined space (smaller than any of the lifts I usually spend half my time in) until my friend (or the people from the upstairs flat) came home from work to rescue me, I spent another ten minutes imagining all the worst-case scenarios - not least the likely results of the pot of coffee I'd just had with my breakfast.

And I was on the verge of calling my controller, to admit my folly, and explain that I wouldn't be in work today, because I was trapped in Camberwell between two doors, when I realized (oh miracle!) that someone almost as absent-minded as me had left the door to the upstairs flat unlocked.

So all was well. I (guiltily) pushed open the door, shuffled my bike aside, finally got the front door opened, and was free! Goodness knows what I'd have done if that door hadn't been unlocked. (And this is the first time I've admitted to my stupidity.)


Work rest and play

So the new job has already grabbed my life with both hands and shaken it by the neck with a death grip. And I'm loving it... For 5 years it's been up, tea, paper, bit of work, paper, bike... and now its up, OFFICE and thinking and planning and wanting to take over the world...

I still daydream at the computer about what my next adventure is and of course am running to work and back quite a bit; plus spin classes snuck in between lectures at the uni gym. Naturally my top filing cabinet drawer is full of bike kit, gym kit, For Goodness Shakes! recovery drinks and spare knickers.

Sport is a life long love affair.

I'm enjoying the new balance and soon my beautiful mountain bikes will be dusted off from their stable and taken for a gallop. But I'm in no rush and enjoying the rest.


Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Cake or Kielder


I'm not going to race this weekend. Cycling is a hobby - an integral, enjoyable, beautiful part of 'me' but still a hobby. Nothing more. I don't owe it anything and it doesn't owe me anything. We have a mutually agreeable relationship.

At at the moment we aren't speaking.

So I'm going to spend the weekend with my other friends. Running and climbing. Cycling will get over it.

Does anyone want my Kielder number?