Sunday, 29 January 2012

Pattern Matching

How much do you know about the limbic system? It's not some strange accounting system for a firm of Bristol lawyers, it's in our brains. Have you ever wandered down a dark alley, late at night, with the wind whistling in the swaying trees? (I should stress, in case you think my description a little too familiar, that I'm not in the habit of doing this, just building the mood.) Suddenly, out of the corner of your ear, you hear a sound behind you, you half-turn your head, and see a dark shape moving towards you.

Panic!!!!! You're convinced someone is following you, intent on stealing your wallet, or worse, your new Oakley jawbones, custom-designed to match your best kit.

Your heart rate rises, your stomach knots and you start to speed up, upping the pace and accelerating away from danger. You look round, whoever it is, or whatever it is, it could be a ghost, or worse, Lance Armstrong, or even Jeremy Kyle with a DNA testing kit in his hand,  following you.

At last you reach the end of the alley, and emerge into the street, flooded with neon light, while your blood is flooded with adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones. Following you, harmlessly, is a small child on a Halfords bike, or a black cat, or a black bag being blown by the wind. You realise there was no threat, chuckle to yourself about how stupid you were, and continue on your way.

Your limbic system has stored an image of harmful things in alleyways. And when sights, sounds, smells, nearly match that unconscious image, your brain switches on the fight/flight/freeze response, or race/sprint/crash to give it its cycling equivalent. Until your cortex, your thinking brain, gets new information AND you are clam enough to process it, you will remain in the grip of that panic.

Today I tested out a new gilet come bib, which I bought recently from here:

As you can see it is a particular type of hi-viz, although it is pretty tight and has pockets, so not your usual flappy bib that makes you look like a dork. It was recommended to me by a friend on Facebook, and is amazing! Normally I shy away from this type of stuff, but I thouight it would be good for commuting because it can get pretty hairy cycling in rush hour traffic and I had heard good reports about drivers giving cyclists more space.

It says polite and there's nothing wrong with that!

Thank heavens my red top's not showing

So I bought one and tested it for the first time today as Skip and I rolled over the levels to Glastonbury and back on a bitterly cold day. I had tried to warm up by doing a recce up and over Shipham Hill, and there were a few patches of ice on the descent, so we stuck to the flat today. The reaction from drivers is obviously a pattern match. We were given loads of space, no-one overtook us in dangerous places or tried to squeeze through under the brow of a hill, or before a bollard. We were thanked, waited for, all in all it made for such a pleasant ride, I can't wait to wear it with the matching helmet band on my run to work.

Just goes to show the impact on drivers of a good pattern match, doesn't it?

Skip should post a picture on her blog later:

The ride itself was nice and fast, we had to, we'd have been frozen in ice if we hadn't kept moving. We stopped for coffee in Heaphys in Glastonbury, which is under new management, and being refurbished. Including a hole in the door, ao we didn't even warm up there.

But it was a great ride, I did just short of 50 miles, and feel very virtuous that I washed the bike too. Perhaps I'll have to get a white bike with a chequerboard blue and silver pattern on the frame, or maybe even a blue helmet, just to match the bib of course.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

I know a land where they live for today, 'cause tomorrow is too far away

Unfortunately not and I fear too little sleep for me today.

The Princess used to, and maybe still does, have trouble sleeping. Foolishly I used to think it was something that would never happen to me, slept like a log, could sleep anywhere, all that. But this Winter, well, it's been difficult. I'm off somewhere tropical myself in a few weeks, let's hope I don't meet that fate. But at least it will give me a boost before the real Spring kicks in. Once the sleep thing gets into your head, well, that's it, or rather it isn't. There's probably a German word for it.

Lots of plans being made for things to come at the moment, so today (or yesterday) it was nice to just get out and do a straightforward ride with like-minded souls in the ACG. Skip's great blog is descriptive, I really haven't the ability or desire to repeat it all, read hers, she does it better.

And I went to see War Horse yesterday. All the adults came out crying whilst the kids, well my 11-year old son, seemed to enjoy the explosions and the trench warfare. Good film (if a tad predictable), and Dartmoor looks spectacular, which is why I'm going to do my best to ride there as much as possible. It seemed to have touched another friend of mine last week too, although probably not for the same reasons.

I have to say I think he's mental for wanting to do all that running, not a sabre-toothed tiger in sight. He'll be swimming in a couple of years, like the triathlete who came out with us today, all a bit too organised for my liking. Beauty, that is where it is, form over function, every time.
Charlie stats below:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

What have the Romans ever done for us?

If you have ever watched "Life of Brian" you'll know where that comes from. My favourite line from that particular snippet of genius?

"Well, yeah, obviously the roads, the roads go without saying don't they?"

I spent a lot of time pondering that quip today, about three and a half hours, give or take, and wondering where that wisdom went between the end of the Roman occupation of Briatin, and the jurisdiction of the various petty bureacracies that make our highways and metalled surfaces what they are.

I'm sure I learnt at school that the Roman roads were so good, that they were still the best roads in the UK over a thousand years after the Romans left. If that's the case, what happened? Our roads are shocking. Cracks, potholes, gravel, hedge debris, poor drainage. That's just the start.

There's one stretch of the Wells to Wedmore road, just after you come out of Wells and go down the hill towards Wookey. It was always a bit sketchy, so I was  delighted to see that they have re-surfaced it. Except, they have done whole sections  of the road, and then left big gaps of  rubbish in between the re-surfaced bits. What brain thought that would be a good idea? One obsessed with cost and not value that's who.

Now if you want to cheer yourself after reading that rant, have a look at the clip. Just be careful though. If you have limited time, this could lead to an evening's surfing on Youtube, looking at other Monty Python clips.

I particularly liked the self-defence class.

Today I was due to travel with Skip up to the Cotswolds to do a winter mini sportive. It was an opportunity to cycle with a change of scenery, but she wasn't feeling too good, having a recurring bug, and an unwillingness to consider that she could be over doing it. Who am I to disagree with her?

So I couldn't really be bothered to get up early and decided to fashion a local loop, with a few bail-out options in case she wanted to join me, which she didn't. So I re-fashioned the loop to make it nice and tidy, with no doubling back on myself and a little bit more climbing than I've been doing of late.

I headed north and flirted with the outskirts of Bristol as I climbed Belmont Hill, then back through Long Ashton and up to Barrow Gurney and over the shoulder to Winford and down into the Chew Valley. The wind was decidedly easterly, and was bitingly cold, so I did my best not to hang about. As I passed the lake, I overtook a couple on a tandem, the same couple who had done Bristol to Land's End back in September 2010. I chatted for a while, but didn't linger, as I headed up to Litton, Chewton Mendip and over the hill into Wells.

Now I had the wind at my back and got the speed up as I headed home across the flats, for a round trip of just over 56 miles (Charlie is a bit inaccurate, having lost reception in Backwell) and just over 3000 feet of climbing.

I've had a good week all in all, first one back at work after Christmas and New Year, and two commuting trips, a total of 150 miles all told. Good job I've banked them, I'm not going to get an opportunity this week, not till Sunday anyway.

As for those roads, the answer is quite simple. Aside from sending someone back in time, it's all about the camber and the drainage. In France, even the small back roads have a camber to them which generally seems to make the water run off and drain properly. Here we have kerbs, of concrete, or verges, of grass, that are higher than the road surface. So all the water stays on the road for longer and freezes when it gets cold. I suspect the materials are poor too, and there seems to be a mentality to repair the least amount possible. This all leads to the deterioration we see every time we cycle.
Oh don't get me started.........

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Somerset Birds

I found out today that these starlings are not as clever as I thought. Apparently a group of them recently murmured into the ground when they were doing their thing, and whether their beaks were twisted or not, it doesn't bode well for their chances at the Olympics this year, in the synchronised swooping competition.

Clearly our little flock was far more disciplined and together today, all nine of us on an official Axbridge Cycling Group murmuration across the Somerset levels. Who knows, once our fame has spread to Springwatch, perhaps even Jon Craven and hordes of twittering twitchers may tramp the muddy lanes hoping to gain sight of us as we swing this way and that from cafe to cafe.

And none of us fell off or hit the ground today, Skip, me, Military Nurse, King of the Hill, Figgy, their friend (to be named), Doc and his two domestiques, Axbridge's answer to the Schlecks. And we formed a good group as we headed first out into the wind before swinging south east across to our destination at Fenny Castle.

We had a plan, a very good and together one too, devised by me. The flaw was my wildly over-optimistic faith in the information on the Internet, Fenny Castle cafe virtually said they were open, but in reality we were greeted with a closed gate, and some shuffling of wheels, and flocking back to Sweets.

As the only cafe open by the looks of it, all the little birds were there, necessitating some roosting outside in the colder than expected westerly wind. I felt like one of those birds you see all puffed up, huddling outside in the cold, while the Doc, and his two sons, Frank and Andy, basked in the warmth of the inside.

On the way home it seemed to fall apart, after waiting for the Doc to fix his puncture, Skip was doing her best to flee the nest, and I struggled up Mudgley Hill, before taking my place as her loyal wing-person. By the time we got back to Cheddar we seemed to have lost half the group and by Axbridge it was just us. Doc and the boys came home to roost just afterwards, as I limped up home on a wing and a prayer.

I also learnt that the knee is fine as long as I unclip with my heel going anti-clockwise, and pedalling is fine. Let's hope it heals by itself, or I will really have to learn to fly.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Illicit pleasures

I have it on very good authority that if you want your blog to be read, you have to have the title of each post as something that is liable to show up in people's searches on the big G and the like. This obviously presents whole new possibilities, but it's quite likely to get me into trouble, so I'm going to play around with very tortuous titles this year, to see if it makes any difference at all.

Of course it might be that just like the song lyric game I played with you last year (what do you mean you never noticed?) I may get bored and give up, and they will have to be relevant. As this one most certainly is.

I had not planned to cycle today. Which of course meant the weather was perfect for riding.But I had other plans as I went to see Andy Morgan at Kinetic One bikes, this time to be properly measured and fitted for the Red Madone. I won't bore you with the technical stuff (ask me when you need to sleep) but it's surprising how little things can make a difference. (BTW would you like this blog to become a double entendre-free zone? Mrs MR says it's childish and not funny, what do you think?). It was a luxury though, or will be to have two bikes that I can sit on in total comfort for 100 miles a day. So as soon as I've got a longer stem and dropped the saddle 4.5mm, it will change the reach, and the angles of my arms so I don't get neck pain, and.....oh sorry, still awake?

I also discovered my knee is fine when I'm pedalling in straight lines, but I have to clip in and out very slowly to avoid a bit of pain. I'm certain that is how the injury happened, and the osteo reckons it will heal all by itself. I like him,  that's the kind of medical opinion I want to hear. There is a lot to be said for telling people what they want to hear, particularly when they are planning on crossing the Pyrenees again in August.

More great news is that Duratorq is coming with me, I'm really looking forward to watching his arse disappear up the road ahead of me on numerous cols and descents.

I was so fired up at all this good news, that I thought I'd head out for a quick spin on K-1 and enjoy the good weather. Checked the forecast, put something very naughty on underneath my red thermo jersey and re-checked the weather forecast for the 2 hours before sundown. Nothing to worry about, a bit of "light rain" so I thought I'd chuck on a lightweight raincoat just in case.

Imagine my horror at being spotted in Wedmore by Skip and Mr Skip, whilst I was wearing a "hi viz" rain jacket. Oh well, we've all done it, and at least my guilty secret was well hidden under two other layers.

I do at least have the satisfaction of knowing there is definitely a weather god, and that he, or possibly she, really hates me. Light rain? (imagine Jim Royal comment), soaked I was by the time I got home, lucky I took that rain jacket. Unfortunately mini Mendip Rouleur arrived home from school at the same time as me, (I'm still on holiday BTW) having attempted to re-enact the worst privations of the Battle of Passchendaele on the rugby field. Either that on they'd been making mud pies and stuffing them down each other's jerseys. Either way he got first dibs on the bath so I  had to shiver for the 4 hours it took to him to scrub himself clean.

Best of all, no knee pain at the moment, although many paracetamol have been consumed, I'll worry about the liver damage in a couple of months. Either that or get Military Nurse to rig up some kind of battlefield IV infusion of painkiller, that can be attached to the back of the seat post in the most aerodynamically advantageous position.

Happy New Year!