Keeping up Appearances

Cycling and appearance has been making the news at the moment.

Chris Hoy declared in his new GQ style article that:

‘professional cycling gear generally looks awful on pretty much anyone heavier than eight stone and with more than five per cent body aerodynamic fat’

He has since apologised and said that the article was ‘tongue in cheek’.

For me though, the damage is kind of done. I don’t think I’ll be buying a Hoy bike any time soon.

After all, I might break it – I’m well over 8 stone.

What he said may not seem like that big a deal. I don’t think that Sir Chris really thinks that what he said is that big a deal. The thing is, it is that big a deal when it is said by someone like Chris Hoy. A man who is looked up to and admired by thousands of cyclists.

When I ride the cargo bike to get to places and ferry my kids about, I wear ‘normal’ clothes. Generally jeans because I frankly lack imagination when it comes to my wardrobe. I choose to dress like this because I am going about my normal daily business and the bike is just how I get there.

When I ride my road bike for pure enjoyment, I wear lycra. I choose to dress like this because it is so much more comfortable than jeans. I don’t actually care that much what it looks like. I care about whether I am warm enough. I care about not having my clothing flapping about in the breeze since this would slow me down. I may not be all that fast on the bike, but I would like to be as fast as I can be. Fast is fun. Quite frankly, I care about whether or not my arse is sore after a couple of hours on a bike saddle.

I have been cycling for years. I know why I do it (because I love it and it makes me feel like me). I don’t really care what other people think of my hobby or my clothing.

But that’s not the case for everyone.

Right now, more and more people are getting on bikes and this is fantastic. It is fantastic for individual people’s health. It is fantastic for easing congestion and pollution on our roads. It is fantastic for setting an example to our children.

Right now, more and more women are getting on bikes. Even more fantastic because women are under-represented in cycling at the moment.

Lots of these women will be concerned about what they look like. And lots of these women will have heard about Chris Hoy’s comments. And the vast majority of them will be over eight stone in weight. Where does this leave them? Are people sniggering at them when they walk into cafes like Sir Chris suggests?

Right now, there is a major problem with girls leaving all forms of sport and activity as they become teenagers. They leave sport and activity because they are worried about what they look like. They then fail to develop the habit of physical activity. A habit which would keep them healthy for life.

These girls are massively concerned about what they look like. And lots of these girls will have heard about Chris Hoy’s comments too.

Eight stone is not a healthy weight for many people. I’m sure that Chris Hoy didn’t intend to suggest that eight stone is a healthy weight to aim for. But the thing is, he is Chris Hoy. He is an icon that people look up to. I can make flippant comments all I want because very few people care about my opinion. If you are Chris Hoy and many many people care about your opinion, you need to be a bit more careful what you say.

In his defense, I think the article is so poorly written and confused that it’s hard to know what Sir Chris’s meaning really was.

Not that much of a defense though.

So cyclists, wear what you like. Be comfortable. Be whatever weight and shape makes you healthy and comfortable.

And be careful who you look up to.

And wear an aerodynamic helmet if you want to. Even if you’re not at the Olympics.

Me. Not at the Olympics.

 

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….

Why having children is like having bikes

Today, I was reflecting on the fact that my bikes were my babies before I had babies. Then it came to me just how many similarities there are between being a mother and being a cyclist.

Here is my reasoning:

  • Some days with them are truly wonderful. You feel alive and strong and joyful.
  • Some days with them are truly awful. You feel like you can’t do anything right and it is all so much slower than it ought to be.
  • Some days it seems to take forever just to get out.
  • Even when you’re not with them, you seem to think about them all the time.
  • There are any number of apps readily available to make you feel bad about how you are doing.
  • There are any number of people – family, friends and total strangers – who are more than happy to offer their opinions about where you are going wrong.
  • In the winter they make you feel trapped indoors but it’s just not worth the hassle to go out.
  • Sometimes you long for a day away from them. But when you finally get one, you just wish you were with them again.
  • There is never a good reason to leave the house without a banana.
  • You love them whatever age and stage they are at, but still there was something magical about the first time you held them.
  • It doesn’t matter how many or what sort you have, they all need your time and attention, and to know that you love them.

I thought about this for quite a long time.

And then I came to a wonderful conclusion:

Being a cyclist is like being a mum.

So cycling is like practicing parenting.

And practice makes perfect.

So I need to cycle more.

Pass me my bike!

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……

Cycling Siblings

There are just 15 months between my brother and I. I realised that we were always close when I recently scanned all our old family photo albums. So many of the pictures were of he and I together.

How we rolled in 1979

I think that is one of the reasons I wanted to have children with a fairly small age difference. I just assumed that they would be close because they were close in age.

My brother and I have always shared a love of cycling. Although I am adamant that I rode without stabilisers first, he was the cyclist first. I rode my bike for transport, he rode his for enjoyment.

Two-wheeled rolling in 1981

As we got older, our lives grew apart but cycling was something that kept us connected. He moved to another country, got married and had children. For a number of years we met up in Majorca for a training camp. We didn’t ride in the same groups, but we had meals and beers together.

My brother is also responsible for some of the more absurd things I have found myself doing on a bike. If my brother called to ask if I wanted to enter some event with him, I just entered. Without question. Also without really finding out many details about what I was entering.

2003:

Brother: “I’m doing a challenge ride in Sweden called Vatternrundan, fancy joining me?”.

Me: “Sounds good, sign me up”.

The detail I never asked about: joining over 15 000 other cyclists for a 300km (that’s 186 miles) ride.

2006:

Brother: “I’m entering the Etape du Tour, fancy joining me?”

Me: “Sounds good, sign me up”.

The detail I never asked about: joining 7500 other cyclists on a 187km (116 mile) stage of the Tour de France, through the Alps.

Discovering that the Alps are actually quite tough

I would say that my brother and I are still close although we don’t see each other or even communicate that much any more. We live in different countries now. We each have our own children and a million other distractions keeping us busy.

We also have the constant ‘elephant in the room’ of our parents divorce. Suffice to say it was messy and it drove a wedge into my family which can never be removed.

But we still have cycling. We both still ride our bikes. We both define ourselves partly through cycling. We both cycle to keep ourselves sane when our children are driving us insane. My brother will always be a better cyclist than me, but that really doesn’t matter.

I look at my two children now and I can see how close they are. Most of my photos are of the two of them together. My eldest doesn’t remember a time when the youngest wasn’t in his life. Of course they argue on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. But their relationship is a great source of joy to me. Now that the youngest is speaking well, the two of them have the most incredible flights of fancy together and I love to eavesdrop on them playing.

Having a sibling is a unique relationship and it’s one which we take for granted. I hope that when my children are older they keep that connection. I hope that they find something positive to bind them together. That they are able to challenge and support each other through their lives.

Obviously, it would be nice if that something was cycling…

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.

Running and Me

I have something of a love / hate relationship with running.

I love how quickly running gets you fit. I love how little time it takes. I love how accepting and supportive the running community is. The phenomenally successful Parkrun movement, to me, exemplifies all that is good about running.

But I hate running. It’s hard work and gives me none of the exhilaration that I get from cycling. Running makes me self conscious – it took me a long time to get over feeling self conscious and t0 start running in the daylight without fearing passing someone who knew me.

I started running after entering a duathlon in the area I lived at the time. This involved a 20 mile off-road run followed by a 30 mile cycle. Not training for the run was really not an option if I wanted to survive it.

My choice of event possibly gives some insight into my personality. It seems that my basic approach to life is summed up by – if you’re going to do something, go completely overboard at it (my husband will vouch for this).

When I moved to Edinburgh from the back of beyond, I tried to find a cycle club to get involved with. I ended up not doing this at all, but joining the wonderful Musselburgh Running Club. They were so friendly and encouraging that I found my bike gathering dust while I started entering running races.

0172_08778

‘Consistent’ is possibly the best way to describe my racing performance. I was consistent in finishing towards the front of the back third of runners. But it didn’t matter. I was improving. I was getting new pb’s (personal bests). I was running longer distances. I was enjoying feeling part of something. I was gathering an impressive collection of medals (for taking part).

penicuik-10k-2

 

I got back to cycling when I met my husband but have gone through phases of running ever since.

Running was my way back into fitness after both my pregnancies. Suddenly my time was massively constrained, but running was something I could fit in. I just needed a 30 minute window, 3 times a week and I was a runner again. I was a sporty person again. I was almost me again.

I discovered running buggies. We bought a second hand Baby Jogger and I started to feel some sense of freedom. Martin and I could both do the local parkrun together every week (by together, I mean we started together and he waited for me at the finish line….he waited for quite a while sometimes). We both took pride in running with the buggy.

2013-01-05-1st-park-run
Danny’s first Parkrun, aged 8 months

Danny enjoyed it too, most weeks. He got to watch the world go by slightly faster than usual and watch all the people around. Sometimes he didn’t enjoy it and for whatever reason would just cry. Martin and I both agreed that these weeks we would just abandon the run. There was always another week. This was the beginning of my theory of finding time to train, in particular point 3. ‘Don’t be a selfish dick’.

Injuries are a big issue for me with running Because of my ‘if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth going completely overboard at it’ philosophy to life, I am more than a little prone to overuse injuries and burnout. I haven’t run for 18 months now. Partly because I have rediscovered my love of cycling. Partly because I ran too much, too far and too heavy. I hurt my knees and kept on running. Really not sensible.

I’m thinking of having a go at editing my philosophy to ‘if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth going completely overboard at it….unless it hurts. If it hurts, stop doing it’.

For now, I’ll not be running but I have no doubt that one day I’ll forget how much I hate it and head out for a run….and quite enjoy it after all. After that, it’s a slippery slope to “I’d still like to have a go at a sub-4 hour marathon”…

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.