Saturday, 31 December 2011

Can we all slow down and enjoy right now?

Five thousand, five hundred and eight and a half miles. That's how far I have cycled on real bikes this year, about 401 more than last year. I have oodles of statistics I could throw at you, but I've settled on just two. First, I cycled my miles 2% quicker than last year. Which must qualify as a marginal gain. Second, I divided my cycling into six categories (with Skip, with Bunny, Sportives, solo, commuting and other) and the largest in terms of mileage, by quite a long way, with nearly a third of the total, was my commuting. The BBC stuff, toiling away on the same roads, week after week. Sportives were second by the way, with nearly a quarter.

So it's been an incremental year all in all, on the bike front at least, and today was nice way to finish, a 60 mile trundle around mid Somerset with Skip, a few small hills but mainly on the flat. I'm still feeling my way back on the bike after the break, and as I type there have been no ill effects from Wednesday's crash. By the time I went to bed that day, I had a very sore left neck indeed, and was starting to get some other niggles. By Thursday lunchtime my neck was very sore indeed, and a trip to the osteopath confirmed a sideways whiplash from where my head had pivoted too far into the mud.

Fortunately, the medical advice was to go out and cycle 60 miles on Saturday. Well, not quite, he told me to keep moving the neck and apply heat every now and then, and take plenty of painkillers. Given that I think these sorts of things should be interpreted liberally, I'd say that equates to cycling. With paracetamol plus. The only thing I couldn't work into the ride was the exercise with the tennis ball, but three out of four is a good start.

There was more muck than the top shelf of a newsagent on the road, and a good sprinkling of double entendre too. (The large male chicken made an appearance, suitably remarked on, as did the inevitable comments about cycling locks when we got to the cafe at Rich's cider farm). The ride was a bit longer than planned, as we played a new game of "hunt the open cafe", a number were shut, perhaps in anticipation of the riotous time to be had at Langport on New Year's Eve. Blink and you could well miss it. Still, our rides wouldn't be our rides if we stuck to the plan, and you have to be flexible. Well I do anyway, spontaneity is my middle name don't you know.

So all was right with the world, a bit of a breeze, which we tacked around, and no rain. We even got a flock of sheep on the road in front of us, although disappointingly they turned into a field before they could envelop us. I have a fancy that they may have cleaned our bikes as they brushed past us. Or they may just have crapped all over my over shoes, either way it was an experience missed. They did behave like sheep though, predictably unpredictable, as you'd expect.

So with the bike washed and in the shed it's time to look forward. If I am to do well in my target ride in the Pyrenees in August, I will have to do things differently and this may mean cycling less. As in "less is more". This particular piece of management bollocks is not very appealing. Who wants to cycle less? Maybe I'll just have to cycle "harder" as in "harder is more". I just made that up, obviously. More hills, greater distances, low fat food, no chocolate,  faster, more stylishly, fewer crashes (so none then). Yes, that could work. I'd probably have no family and no job, but then at least I'd be a great cyclist.

This time a year ago I set out to enjoy myself more on the bike, that was the main goal. Know what? It still is. Bring on 2012, it's going to be great.

I hope your New Year is a healthy and happy one.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

But you'll never see the end of the road while you're travelling with me

OK, let's get it out of the way. That moment. I've had a few crashes in my time, quite a lot when I used to go mountain biking, and one on the mountain bike on an icy road.  The most recent one before today was over in Ireland when the bike slipped from under me as I went round a corner, a combination of old tyres and oil on the road.

Today's was different in that it was the first one I have had in the middle of a group. I would not claim to be an experienced group rider but I have done enough miles (hundreds? thousands?) following people's wheels, and not just people I know either.

Today was a Somersetcycling arranged ride, a great idea for getting an eclectic bunch of people, and we had 25 at the start, together for a run over the levels from Burnham to Street. People came from all over, both geographically and in cycling terms, culturally. That meant that people had different expectations, and also perhaps different rules about how to behave and most importantly, whether to give warnings and signals or not. And that's the problem with eclectic groups.

So to the chap I rear-ended, I'd say only this. I didn't hear you give a warning and I don't think you gave one, and that is what every group ride I've ever been on has led me to expect. So I am sorry if I caused you to fall off when you stopped and I ran into the back of you and I hope you are OK. Maybe we should have a two minute briefing before these kind of rides to agree the etiquette we will all follow.

After the crash I carried on with Skip for about an hour, rejoined the main group before peeling off for home. As it was I ended up doing about 53 miles, in a hideously spaghetti-shaped profile:

I did feel quite sluggish, the conditions didn't help, neither did the fact that it's 18 days since i last sat on the bike, but it felt good to be out in the fresh air at least. I was a bit shakey when I got home, Skip reckons it was shock (see her award-winning and soon to be very widely available blog below), but it was also a combination of cold and lack of energy. Still, left-over turkey (again) and a couple of glasses of chardonnay is the perfect tonic for a wet, cold and eventful morning. All in all, it was good to be back on the bike, and I'm looking to get one more ride in before the end of December, for I am 53 miles off 5500 miles for the year. That would be nice.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Fly along with me I can't quite make it alone

Let's get the moaning over and done with.

1. Weather forecasters

They have the best of intentions, and let's face it, they got half the forecast right. It was very, very cold. They were not to know that Doc and I would pick a route that followed every mucky lane on the levels, and tracked the rainclouds while we could see sunshine on the horizons we were heading to, and those we had come from. And we saw a lovely rainbow, and a heron standing on the road in front of us, numerous swans and a murmuration of starlings swooped all over us, though fortunately they didn't poop all over us. And there was barely a breath of wind.

So a big thanks to Kettley et al for their encouragement out onto the roads of Somerset. And a stunning exposition of Rule 9.

2. Italian cycle kit manufacturers

Clearly the Italians have a very different concept of "Winter" to us. The cold rain allied with the slightly flimsy bib tights, and moderately warm jacket, left me pretty cold by the end of the ride. That said, it's probably my own fault for going out at noon, on nothing more than a bowl of cereal. And I have to say the gloves are very toasty, and of course, the whole thing looks fantastic. So whilst there is a lot to be said for practicality and function, there is, on balance, tiny, tiny bit more to be said for style and aesthetics, and I stayed on the right side of Rule 17.

3. We nearly had a fantastic breach of Rule 59, when the Doc, on the right, and me, on the left, riding abreast (concentrate at the back) approached a turn and decided to go left and right respectively. Disaster, in the form of a tumble and even muckier and perhaps ripped kit, was averted at the last moment. I am particularly grateful to the Doc for answering the call and providing some great company today, and we mostly rode side by side, except where traffic forced us into said line. And I think we also saw good observance of Rule 67 on those occasions.

4. There was a point when it had been raining for a bit, when I was becoming a bit wimpy, and thinking of taking the short route home. But then, encouraged by the sterling presence of the Doc, I remembered Rule 5, and carried on, despite my foolish nutrition, kit choice, weather research and the mucky roads. No doubt about it, sometimes it's the only way to enjoy yourself.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Every precious dream and vision underneath the stars

Picture the scene. Moonlight cascading down upon a sheltered glade in the Mendip Hills, wind swirls around the chimney of the quaint cottage nestling in the dell. An owl hoots, and the gentle sound of the other birds is disturbed by the call of the lesser-spotted commutius cylistius, and his early morning call.

"F**k, ahh", as he fails to clip in with the winter cycling boots that have not been worn for nearly 9 months.

Well, winter has arrived hasn't it? There I was this morning on my  first proper cold morning commute of the season. Skull cap (freshly washed after rescuing Military Nurse from his spoke-breaking hypothermia), fleecy buff (sounds rude but is in fact a highly practical garment, enabling a balaclava effect), warm jersey AND windstopper softshell, long tights with built-in (not transfers, real patches) of reflective material, the warm winter socks that Bunny gave me for my birthday last year (helpfully embroidered, not by Bunny, with an R and an L, to avoid confusion), and the winter boots.

I vaguely remember thinking that the cleats on them were knackered and worn out last March, but it was the Spring so I thought I'll sort those out next Winter, as you do. Well, as I do and that bit of obfuscation led to a slight delay as I rooted out the mud of last Winter and trimmed the offending cleat. Just had to remember not to unclip my left foot and I was fine.

It was a beautiful ride in. Strangely quiet and with a nice tailwind I fair flew into the metropolis. It was quite a spectacular moon as well, especially when away from the streetlights.  As a nod towards the off season I went in on the A370 and came home the same way. Despite the moon, and my bright lights, it can be hard to see potholes and thorns on the back roads, and the main road is also relatively clear. The A370 is marginally quieter than the A38 too, and it gives good options for nipping off down reasonable B roads and cycle paths.

I was quite tired today as well, so into the wind coming home I just wanted to get it over with. I had one of those long meetings to attend at work this morning. One of those meetings where there are about 20 or so people (including me) all sat around the table, largely listening to the presenter, and occasionally the presenter would ask someone a random question. And as the presenter also happened to be the Managing Partner, and the rest of the audience were pretty influential, I dosed up on coffee before hand and during to ensure maximum alertness on my part.

This led to a caffeine crash about 4.30PM, and I was a bit slow on the way home into the wind, despite the lack of significant gradients.

I have also finally capitulated and given in to the ageing process. Its my eyes. About two years ago I started to struggle to read books and other close work, like keyboards on a PC for instance, although that is not an excuse for some of the drivel I have posted on the blogosphere.

My initial reaction was one of denial. Carry on and ignore the fact it's happening. Then I started to follow the advice of a wimpy optician, who pandered to my denial. Pull your glasses for distance down to the end of your nose. That was the advice, to change their focal length when you are reading. The next gem was to lessen my contact lens prescription to compensate. The result was I then couldn't see in the distance, and couldn't read either. So if I have ignored you in public in the last year, it has nothing to do with you, it's that I can't recognise your features.

Eventually I got fed up with all of that and gave in. This week I got full power back on the contact lenses (so now, for instance, I can read number plates again!), (and if I seem to ignore you it means that I am being my introverted self), and took delivery of a very fetching pair of varifocal glasses. Mrs Mendip Rouleur says I look like a dork but I don't care, I can now read books without contorting my face up into weird expressions, and see better distance than I have been able to for a long time.

And finally Esther, check out MN's great blog, I do hope his um, "seat" recovers, we were all sat in injury corner at the ACG do last Saturday, and I'm next at this rate:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

I found it hard it's hard to find......

Eight days I'd been off the bike, but it felt more like eight years. We had a three little pigs situation, a huff and a puff, and I'll climb that hill less efficiently than I've done for ages. And somehow I've managed to do close on 55 miles, at various points today I thought I'd "ride into form", but it never really happened and I felt like 2011 is ending on something of a damp squib.

That said, I still enjoyed myself, after all it is cycling, and there are few things in life more enjoyable. And the company was great too, for it was an official ACG ride, to which Skip, Boy Wonder and Military Nurse had made it. Life being life, there had to be the added complication of dropping the car off at the garage in Weston, for its 150K service (no wasp nest today though), but fortunately the strong westerly breeze propelled me to Axbridge in time to do Mrs Mendip Rouleur a favour and erect (steady) the Christmas tree, and get to Skip's house before the scheduled departure time.

It was my route too, and you know there is nothing I like better than taking people up the gorge. Look, I know it's childish, you know it's juvenile, but you still smirked or giggled didn't you? I find it odd we don't have a word in English for double entendre, as far as I know the French don't take it like we do.

From there we looped around the top, and as we were coming towards Burrington, "ping" one of the Nurse's spokes snapped, leaving his wheel slightly buckled and unrideable. He called the cavalry, or should that be the infantry, I don't know, and I gave him my emergency skull cap and gilet. For on the top of the Mendips, that brisk sea level breeze was now approaching a blustery wind, and no-one appreciates that when they are hanging around waiting for a rescue.

Chivalrously (hard to say and harder to spell), we left him there and carried on down Burrington Coombe, which was still fun, despite the headwind. Across to Wrington, and I thought I knew a short cut from the top of Long Lane to cut out that short stretch on the A38. It did the latter, but not the former, and we managed to find the messiest cut hedge in North Somerset. They may not always cut hedges well up here, but they do know how to re-surface a road, as we found out going down Brockley Coombe, and again later on up Ghost Hill (which is not really called that but I'm convinced there is a ghost there).

In between we blasted out into the full force of the wind as it whipped across the levels on the way into Yatton. Grateful for sure to reach the nice warm cafe at the station. I'm sure it will be making an appearance in next year's competition, the Strawberry Line cafe:

The soup and bread was lovely as was the coffee. So muddy were we by  now that we left a bit too much of it on their nice clean seats, but they seemed OK despite my profuse apology.

All that was left was for me to peel off in Sandford as the others headed back to Axbridge and I headed back to pick up my car in Weston. Unlike the cafe, they seemed quite keen to keep me out of their nice sparkly showroom, even to the extent they were happy for me to pay over the phone on Monday!

In a little over an hour's time I'm off to the ACG Christmas meal, so I better go and make myself even more beautiful than I am already. I wonder what we are going to talk about......