My new old bike

My first bike was not a road bike. Back in the day, when I considered one bike to be entirely sufficient, that one bike was not a road bike.

These days, I have lots of bikes. I can justify them all, I really can.

Well I probably can.

These days, the road bikes are my favourites.

I love my cargo bike and I probably spend more time riding it than any other bike. It is my source of day-to-day transport. It saves me the trauma of school run parking. It allows me to be mummy and a cyclist at the same time. It is a magical vehicle which can be transformed into any kind of carriage on the whim of my childrens’ imaginations.

But it is on a road bike that I truly know who I am.

My first road bike was a Giant OCR. I bought it in 2003 and it was the most expensive thing I had ever bought. I still have it and I still love it. It’s not the most lightweight bike and its not the fastest bike. But then, I’m not the most lightweight rider and I’m not the fastest rider. My Giant and I have been through a lot together – quite often at the instigation of my brother!

I like to feel that the bike was suffering as much as me in the Alps.

When I met the man who became my husband, I maybe got a bit of bike envy and decided it was time for a carbon road bike.

Enter Contessa.

Contessa was light and fast and totally beautiful. I felt like a real speedy cyclist. I could talk about my summer bike and my winter bike. I even entered a couple of road races.

When we had the children it was difficult to find the time to cycle and I decided to sell a couple of bikes. I sadly waved goodbye to Contessa. I kept my Giant though.

I was happy with the decision. Life was different now. There wasn’t time for speeding around the countryside on a carbon bike.

I was fine with it.

For a couple of months anyway.

Without cycling, I realised how much I am a cyclist. Riding bikes is a part of me. I had to find a way to find the time. A five hour cycle may now be a luxury, but a one hour cycle is a necessity. I need that time for me.

I have been hankering for a new road bike pretty much since I sold Contessa. Riding the Giant again made me realise how comfortable I was on it. Giant have now moved in to produce the Liv range of womens’ bikes. A little light googling and I had my heart set on a Liv avail – totally beautiful bikes. Kind of pricey though.

I decided that for now, I would keep an eye on Gumtree and see if I could pick something up secondhand. The bike of my dreams would have to wait. At least until we go back to being a two income family.

It was my husband who spotted the advert for the Planet X.

Not the bike of my dreams, but a great quality bike, barely used and an excellent price.

I was prepared to compromise.

And then I rode it.

It turns out that my compromise was not a compromise. This bike is fantastic. I have never been so comfortable on a bike. I have never felt so strong on a bike. I could honestly ride this bike all day long given the chance.

I love my new old bike.

I actually love it so much that, although I still drool over the Liv bikes, I don’t think I ever want a bike with even slightly different geometry again.

So, if anyone is looking to buy a new bike, my advise would be to seriously consider a new old bike. There are some fantastic secondhand bikes out there. The wonderful thing about buying secondhand is that you get to try out a bike different from everything you thought you wanted. If it doesn’t suit you, you just sell it on again for exactly what you paid for it.

Secondhand bikes are a great way to save money.

And who doesn’t need just one more bike when they are saving money by buying them….

Turbo Powered

For the past three months, I have spent my weekend and evening cycle time in the garage. We have a fantastic garage set up. Race bikes on turbo trainers with a TV and a huge range of box sets, plus a range of cooling fans.

I resort to the turbo in the winter because the daylight hours are so limited and riding in the dark, even with great lights, makes me feel very vulnerable.

Even at the weekends, the light is low early in the mornings when I would normally ride. The roads and cycle paths are often wet / icy / 6 inches deep in fallen leaves. All this amounts to an hour of very gentle, cautious and frustrating cycling.

On the turbo I can spend my very limited time doing a really tough session that will make me a faster cyclist. Brilliant. Fantastic use of time.

But it’s still not quite the cycling I love.

I settle into turbo training every winter. I can list all the benefits of turbo training:

  • I am quite a numbers junkie and my turbo has a power meter which the part of me that keeps a training log, loves.
  • I now have a reliable heart rate monitor which my inner number junkie loves even more than the power meter – this is much easier to watch when I don’t have to think about staying upright.
  • No clothing layers, no overshoes, no gloves, no earwarmers Just shorts and t-shirt with no huge pile of washing afterwards.
  • TV boxsets. The turbo has led me to obsessive watching of TV boxsets. ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Ashes to ashes’ and ‘House’ have been some of the highlights over the years. For longer sessions, you can’t beat ‘Chasing Legends’. For the past 2 winters I have been kept motivated by the 15 series boxset of ER (I’m still only on series 7).
  • No post ride bike cleaning.

But it’s still not quite the cycling I love.

This week has been February break so no nursery or playgroup. My husband took a couple of days off work and my road bike needed a test ride before my monthly club ride. So off I headed on my road bike. Outside.

It was only an hour.

It was an hour from which a bit of a quandary has been born.

I am now looking at the turbo with disgust. I no longer care whether Carter gets over Lucy’s death and whether Carol Hathaway manages to balance her new role as a mother with her job as a nurse (I have been watching a lot of ER).

I want to ride on the road.

I want to be outside in the fresh air.

I want to struggle up hills and kamikaze down the other side.

And it’s almost possible. It’s light enough at the weekends. It’s not that long until the clocks change and it’s light enough in the evenings.

But there was a reason for hitting the turbo. I want to race. I want to get back to time trialling like I used to.

I definitely wanted to.

But do I still want to?

I ride a bike because I am a cyclist and I cannot be myself without riding a bike.

I ride a bike because I want to be fit.

I ride a bike because it gives me the alone time I need to be a part of a close family.

Do I really ride a bike to race?

For me it comes down to time. For me to ride a time trial I have to get the bike in the car, drive at least half an hour to wherever the race is, sign on and wait about a bit, ride the race, get everything back in the car, drive home and unpack it all. That amounts to about three hours. Of that three hours, maybe an hour is spent on the bike.

What if I just binned the race, went out of the door and rode my bike for three hours.

Three whole hours.

That sounds amazing.

But what if I went to the race and did well. Went as fast as I used to. Beat my pre-parenthood pb’s even.

Faster than ever.

That sounds amazing.

So, I am back to an identity crisis.

To race or not to race. That is the question……

My ill-informed views on Cycling clubs

My opinions on road cycling clubs have been formed by those clubs I have been involved with. That is really not very many clubs at all. I can count them all on the fingers of one hand. I wrote an earlier post about my first experience with a cycling club.

In addition to my very limited first hand experience, I have also chatted to other women about cycle clubs.

So, it is more than likely that my views on cycle clubs are entirely unfounded and unfair. Nevertheless, my experiences with these clubs had a huge impact on me and on my cycling. I thought I’d share my views. Feel free to disagree with me.

I think bike clubs can be quite intimidating, especially for women.

I think women often lack the confidence to try riding in a club. The fear of not being fast enough or skilled enough stops women from giving it a go.

This is not helped when existing club riders don’t always remember to identify and help new riders. If you are new to group riding then the gestures used to communicate in groups can be something of a mystery.

It is also not helped when club riders forget to consider how they come across to others on the road. If a bunch of riders wearing club kit speed past me without as much as a wave, I am unlikely to consider joining them.

I wonder too if women look for something different in a club to men.

Personally, what I want out of a club is that feeling of being a part of something. I’m not too bothered about training hard when I ride with a club. I can do that by myself. I really just want to ride my bike and have a good natter.

I am now a member of a cycling club which I absolutely love. Hervelo Cycling is a womens club. It is split between the ‘skinnies’ (road cyclists) and ‘mudhonies’ (mountain bikers). There are women in the club who race, there are women in the club who ride sportives and audaxes, there are women in the club competing in triathlons.

I do not believe that there is a single woman in the club who would not give a friendly wave to another cyclist.

I do not believe that there has ever been a rider with Hervelo dropped and left behind on a club ride.

I don’t know if this is down to being a womens club or just down to being a small club.

I do know that it is the club I will remain loyal to and whose kit I am proud to wear.

I think great things have happened in womens cycling in the past few years. But there is still a long way to go. We need to encourage more women to get out on a bike at all levels.

I would like to see more women racing, more women using bikes on the school run, more women riding together.

More women gaining all the benefits that cycling can bring. Health, sustainable transport, time outdoors, time in nature, time with like minded others, time with their children, time without their children, time to think, time to not think.

Cycle clubs have a huge roll to play in encouraging more women to get out and ride their bikes.

If you’re not already a member of a club, give it a go. Take a leap of faith and go out with your local club. And if it’s not what you hoped or what you’re looking for, start your own. Make it what you want. That’s what Hervelo came from and in my opinion, Hervelo is a fantastic club.

Descending: The Wisdom of Keith

Descending

As I have mentioned before, I absolutely love descending. My approach to descending is possibly best described as kamikaze. I have no idea why, but going downhill fast on a road bike is something that causes me very little fear.

I recently attended a coaching session and the coach suggested that a little more fear (and incidentally, a little more control) would not be a bad thing.

So, back to the legend that is Bob and Keith on the Majorca camps. As I said, Keith was phenomenal going downhill. This was possibly helped by the long rest he enjoyed whilst climbing…in the support van.

My brother will testify that the only person he ever saw overtake Keith descending, was me (I took him by surprise and he soon caught me back up). This came about, in part because Keith always gave a talk on descending at the start of the camp, and his advice, like Bob’s, was excellent.

So, here is the advice which really helped me:

  • Where to look. The most helpful gem, in the words of the man himself “Look at the place you want to get to. Don’t look at the road; you’ll hit it, don’t look at the view, you’ll join it”. Try it, it’s genius.
  • Keep your outside leg down around the corners, keep your legs level on the straights. Stick your inside knee out if it’s a tight corner and you’re going really fast.
  • Hold the drops and keep your fingertips on the brakes, you never know when you might need them.
  • Brake gently, if you need to brake. Unless there really is an emergency slamming on the brakes will only lock up your wheels and cause you to lose control. If you are cornering, you should be braking into the corner and off the brakes around it.

Taking the correct line is still very much something I am working on and have not got the hang of. My descending skills stop well short of switchbacks, fortunately there aren’t all that many switchbacks around Edinburgh.

At the recent coaching session, I did the same corner over and over and over again. It was the kind of corner that I sometimes really do feel fear on. One of those which gets just that bit tighter with no warning whatsoever.

The coach went over and over the correct line to take and by the last time I went down that hill, I felt great. Fast AND in control. Unfortunately, I’m having some difficulty applying that advice to any other hills so I remain an expert on one hill only and am still sometimes fast and just a teeny bit out of control.

Watch this space, at least I know what I need to work on.

One last thing on descending, it doesn’t matter how much fun you are having or how in control you are. Only muppets ride on the wrong side of the road.

Climbing: The Wisdom of Bob

Climbing hills is absolutely not my favourite aspect of cycling (descending is, I only excuse hills from going up because they obligingly go down again).

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Day 2 of the Raid Alpine. Not my finest hour on a bike

I am getting to be on better terms with uphill as my technique has improved, however, and on the few days of the year when I am actually on form, I love the feeling of strength you get when you know you’re climbing (relatively) well.

Years ago (pre husband and children) I used to meet my brother (also a cyclist) in Majorca for an organised spring ‘training camp’. Bob and Keith were legends of this camp.

Bob and Keith (I never knew their surnames) were ex-pros, well into retirement and still both enjoying cycling. Bob was slim and an excellent climber – legend tells of him pushing struggling riders up 10 mile long climbs while never once stopping the chatter. ‘Rotund’ is probably a good word to describe Keith’s build and he could descend like a cannonball. Keith climbed like a man who got into the van at the bottom of the longer hills, and got out again at the top.

Together, Bob and Keith led the slower and less experienced rides on the camp. They also offered advice to riders who wanted it with very few social niceties taken into account (“You’ll never make it around the Etape du Tour” – I was offended….Bob was quite correct).

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Enjoying the first climb of the Etape

Those camps in Majorca were really my first experience of group riding. When I first started going, I lived in the Highlands of Scotland and as ‘the only road cyclist in the village’ (well, more or less), I had a wonderful sense of what a great cyclist I was. Sadly, this turned out to be mainly due to the lack of comparison.

When I rode in a group, I really struggled. It wasn’t that I was unfit, but I just could not keep up the pace on the hills. The bigger climbs weren’t all that much of a problem because the groups tended to split up during the climb and regroup at the top. I was slow, but I’d get there eventually. It was the short climbs. I was just fine on the flat, I kept up with the group, wasn’t hanging off the back, and wasn’t struggling. But the minute there was the slightest climb, the whole group gradually passed me as I got slower and slower and slower. At the top, I could catch back up, so I had the strength, I just could not climb. It was so frustrating.

So, I asked Bob to ride alongside me up some of the climbs I struggled with, and the advice he gave me was priceless. It took me about 6 months to change my technique in the ways he suggested and it really did make me a much better rider.

Recently, I started riding with a club again. Hervelo is a womens’ cycle club. At the moment the road cyclists are in a minority and we have a big mountain biking section. The majority of the road bike girls have not ridden with clubs before they found Hervelo. Like me, they just got a bike and rode it.

Quite a few of them struggle with climbing in exactly the way I struggled in Majorca. This made me wonder if there is a ‘girly’ way of riding a bike. It could also be that fewer women seem to join cycling clubs and therefore miss out on the kind of advice that traditionally, more experienced club riders offered to newer riders. Who knows. Anyway, it made me think it was maybe worth writing down the advice Bob gave me.

The wisdom of Bob:

·         Use your gears. Seriously, engineering gave us gearing for a reason – it makes it easier to ride a bike. It is not a sign of weakness to change down gears before your lungs are burning and your eyeballs are bulging. I have a triple chainset on my road bike and I love it. I don’t use the granny cog all that much, but when I do I am massively grateful for it.

·         Use your gears one at a time. Do not try and hold as big a gear as you can for as long as you can and then slam down 10 gears at once before you fall off your bike. Take at least one pedal stroke before you change each gear.

·         Think about your cadence. Personally, I don’t think it really matters what cadence you ride at if it is comfortable for you. But once you hit a climb, change down a gear as soon as your cadence drops. Equally, change up as soon as your cadence rises again.

·         Climb with your hands on the bars. Unless it’s steep enough that you can’t and you need to stand.

·         Climb with your legs, not with your upper body. Don’t waste energy bouncing up and down.

·         Don’t panic. If you look at a hill ahead, or you know it through reputation and you think you are going to struggle or not make it to the top, your body instantly follows your head in panicking. This raises your heart and breathing rate way before the hill has a chance to.

 And thus spoke Bob.

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I get there eventually

Finding the time to train

For me, this has been one of the biggest challenges to getting back on the bike since I had children. It’s the reason why I kept getting back into running. Running is quick and simple – straight out of the door and a half hour run 3 or 4 times a week is not too tricky. Cycling takes more time.

But there is time. For me, there is always time. I just have to find it. I really don’t have much truck with “I don’t have time to….” .

Before I enrage anyone, I should add that I am talking about me and my life. I am not working just now – my days are hectic but I can get the cooking, some shopping and the endless laundry done during the day. My children are 2 and 4 now, things are getting easier. Most days have gaps when they play really well together with no need for input from me. I am also very fortunate to have a supportive husband who understands that cycling is a need, not a want for me (because he is also a cyclist). He also wants to spend as much time with his children as he can. His work allows him to start and finish relatively early so he is always home by 5:30pm.

If you have a very young baby, if you are a single parent, if you have other dependent family members, if you or your partner work long hours, or if you have any of the other challenges in life which massively restrict your available time and energy, then you probably don’t have the time to…. and I would never presume to tell you that you do.

So for me, it has been a challenge to find the time, but it has not been an insurmountable challenge. Finding the time has come down to 2 elements:

  1. Manage my time
  2. Manage my expectations

This has had to be counterbalanced by another big issue:

  1. Don’t be a selfish dick.

1. Manage my time:

Or in other words – don’t fanny about. I’ve always had a tendency to be organised to the point of fault. Working as a primary school teacher forced me to get even more organised.

I have a pretty good idea at the start of each day what we are doing for the day, what chores need done and when they can be fitted in. My aim is always to have everything done by the time I come downstairs once the children are in bed.

My children are at an age where they need 12 hours sleep a night. It doesn’t really matter which 12 hours these are. We are an early bed and early rise family because this is what works for us. This means that the evening is free from around 6:30pm but I have to be out of bed by 6:30am (often earlier, if the 2 year old has anything to do with it!).

The weekends are (over)organised too. Because my husband and I both want to train, one of us gets the early slot (on the bike around 7:30am) the other gets the late afternoon slot (about 3pm) . We each get an hour. This still leaves plenty of time to spend together as a family. When you get an hour, you use it. Doesn’t matter what the weather is doing (if you’re only going out for an hour, does it matter if it’s raining or windy?), doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you can really be bothered, just go. Don’t fanny about!

  1. Manage my expectations.

Before I had children, I would rarely bother going out for just an hour. Maybe midweek I would, but weekends were for long rides. I can’t do that anymore. But what’s wrong with cycling for just an hour, if that is all you have. I would love to do more long rides. I would love to do more coffee stop rides. But more than I want those things, I just want to ride. An hour is all I have and I would rather use it than waste it and moan that I can’t do more.

I ride for transport and I ride to train. My training aims vary. At the moment I am gearing myself up for time trialling. But essentially the aim is always to ride better, faster, stronger. So, if I am riding for training, I always need to be pushing myself. Personally, I think an hour pushing myself is greater value than 4 hours cruising along (don’t get me wrong, I love cruising along).

This is part of the reason that I switch to the turbo around this time of year. With limited light, low sunshine, icy roads and wet leaves everywhere I find I have to ride quite cautiously on the road which doesn’t really allow me to push myself. The turbo gives me a well used hour on the bike.

Riding for transport is a fantastic thing. I have said it many times…I love my cargo bike.  It allows me to burn calories and be active throughout the day which gives me the base fitness that enables me to push myself training.

I also have to be realistic about what I can expect of myself. Life with children is exhausting, regardless of whether you are also juggling a paid job. Some days, I am just so exhausted or exasperated that I just cannot bring myself to get off the sofa and I have to accept that this is perfectly acceptable.

Right now, my aim is to do 3 quality sessions a week, plus cycling for transport on the cargo bike. If I can manage 4 that’s great but it’s not essential. Doing less is ok as long as what I am doing is quality. Essentially, the junk miles have had to go.

I had a reminder recently about expectations. I was joining a coaching day with my club and, in my wisdom, decided to cycle to the venue and back. This would clock up around 75 miles. In the past this would have been no problem. I’d be tired after it, but it could be done. Apparently, it can no longer be done. 75 miles was too far. Suffice to say, the bike nearly ended up in a ditch when I ground to a halt and had to call for a lift home.

  1. Don’t be a selfish dick

I love cycling. I love training and seeing improvements in myself. But also love my children and they are not going to be children for long. Already, they are becoming more independent and needing me less. My greatest fear is that I might look back and regret missing parts of their childhood.

Given I’m not also juggling paid work at the moment, I am very lucky (most days) to be able to spend lots of time with my children. However, Martin wants to train too and we still want to have time together as a family. I don’t want to spend the weekends passing the children between us while we each rush out to spend hours training.

It’s hard because cycling is an obsessive sport. It’s all too easy to start trying to find ways to get more time on the bike. I constantly have to remind myself what really is important.

Cycling also has the ability to break me like running just doesn’t do. I’m talking lying on the sofa unable to move or think kind of broken. This means that, although there would be time in the summer for me to head out really early and cycle 3 hours yet still be ready for a family day out by 10am, I can’t do it. I would be tired and lacking the patience to deal with small children and that’s just not fair.

The hardest thing for me is often the evenings. As I said, our children are in bed early so there is time to train in the evening. But sometimes that just doesn’t work out. Flexibility is not my strong point and the evenings when I have my mind set on training but one or other child is refusing to go to bed without major delaying tactics are really tough. It all comes down to fairness. It’s not fair that they are stopping me from having the time to myself that I desperately need. But it’s even less fair to shout at them because they’re overtired and overwrought and they actually need patience and calm from their mum to help them settle. I need to keep working on this one.

In conclusion, there is time. But time is by no means the only consideration. And if you get the balance wrong, mummy guilt is never far away.