Lessons learned

The 2018 Norfolk superhero challenge 

It was hot last year.  Hot, sweaty and faintly delirious.  Having failed to win the wooden spoon, at the height of the 2017 Norfolk superhero post-race endorphin rush, we made a pact to do it all again: properly.  Lessons would have to be learned.  

Would an even larger breakfast help?  Was wheezing in a wetsuit a wise idea? Could the superhobbit have some leg extensions so the kayak could be carried? Could the super-bad multitasker’s knee-creak be resolved on a different bike?  Would barefoot running enable actual running??

Are rain dances effective?

singin in the rain
singing in the rain

Would we actually do some training?………

Training

The superhobbit was committed (to training – not an institution….)  There was a progression plan.  February – half marathon, April – duathlon, May – Olympic triathlon, June – superhero.  In theory, we should have won!  In practice, she broke wonder woman on the half marathon, broke herself in the duathlon (ITB) got broken by the “Kent Himalayas” in the tonbridge tri and realised “beating yesterday” is really tricky when you’re older, fatter & slower than yesterday…

wonderwoman is broken
wonderwoman – broken but still smiling!
i like to ride my bicycle
i like to ride my bicycle
broken hobbit
broken hobbit with horse boy

The multitasker had multiple tasks, none of which included directly training for superhero. Luckily, she’s naturally fit and “bossed” her accelerated training plan with only minimal moaning about the creaky knee & how hard it was….

And suddenly it was June 15th.  The superhero car park was full of people furiously pumping up their bike tyres, registration was full of very kindly pink ladies who agreed a “large” t-shirt was wise “because they come up small”.  The superhobbit mused on how Saga Noren might have said “well, you would have fitted into the small t-shirt if you’d eaten less pie.”

just eat less pie
just eat less pie

 

Not for the last time, grateful to pink ladies.  Outside, people were kayak mangling.  There was jockeying for position and the usual dilemma about which end of the paddle might be which.  Backrests were being inexpertly fitted for no apparent reason other than to prove your zimmer credentials.

Humblebragging – the sanity salvage of the woefully unprepared – was in the air.  A slight and gorgeous brunette was being harangued by a gnarly iron veteran about not wearing her wetsuit.  This was clearly insane and only for the “nails” among us. Little did he know, she normally swims the serpentine all year round with no wetsuit being attacked by giant parasitic leg sucking snails. (Not exaggerating!)

swimmers itch

Eventually, the safety briefing was had, last rites read (ok, I’m exaggerating slightly….) the last supper was eaten and a poor night’s sleep had by all.

1 – breakfast

05.15 – tea

05.45 – other superheroes happily eating breakfast – but not hungry

06.00 – superhero HQ – tagged, tattooed, assembled.  Pink swim hats for “may need assistance” collected.

06.30 tea.  The multitasker feels sick & claims she hates exercise.

Still not hungry

06.45 boat ride (best bit of the day) – also – didn’t fall in, although we heard “the legend of the capsize”….

07.00 we haven’t had breakfast 😱.  Reframe this epic fail by reminding selves there is lots of evidence that fasted exercise is good for you (?)

breakfast fail

2 – swim – 37 minute mile

It was a tad chilly on gun hill.  However, we all felt warmer at the sight of the “budgie smuggler” – a man so iron he was out there clad only in the weeniest speedos.  (No photo here, out of respect).  No wetsuit for the superhobbit but serpentine-girl had succumbed to the nagging and looked toasty and happy in hers.

The water was warm!  The 4 breaststrokers pottered along nattering happily.  The multitasker was so comfortable this year she took time to swap out her safety consort for a younger beefier model.

What a glorious thing to be doing !  How smug we were with our early rising, open water swimming selves.

early bird gets worm
early bird gets worm, feels smug

How pride comes before a fall.  

There was no walking involved in the swim leg this year.  This meant, by halfway, the hobbit was a bit puffed from talking the multitasker down from potential panic and certain doom.  A little rest with the “mature” safety kayaker who had so far refrained from any words of advice, but couldn’t help agreeing that the hobbit might do a bit better if she stopped talking.

The multitasker suddenly turned into “Major Hardman”.  Faced with the potential demise of her littlest & most troublesome squaddie, she forgot all the sharks and sea monsters making a beeline for her flailing limbs and steered a course for home.  

It took a long time.  The water felt less warm.  Blood supply was shut off to expendable items – toes feel like they have a ring of steel around them.  Hands are numb.  Blue goggles hamper colour vision so that steering by coloured buoys is only approximate.

The hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy has this to say:

“Small animals like mice and hobbits (not illustrated) have a large surface area compared to their volume. They lose heat to their surroundings very quickly and must eat a lot of food to replace the energy lost.”

surface area to volume ratio

OMG!  No breakfast fail!  The superhobbit was getting hypothermic – but at least she now had scientific proof that two breakfasts are definitely in order.

Eventually, the end was in sight and FINALLY the much promised helpful current swept us in.  Paramedic blanket most welcome (thank you!) & Major Hardman was commandeering troops to carry the kayak (thank you!) on behalf of the hypothermic and vertically challenged hobbit.

3 – kayak – 13.6 minute mile average

The kayak leg is by far the best bit.  Being last, we got the added benefit of a tutorial from the safety kayaker (push as well as pull!)  The bonus of the high tide was appreciated by less mud sliding and only a quick up and over the marsh and then we were back in the melee as the lemmingry of male kayakers swooped past us from their extra dog leg.

Joyfully, we saw a seal.  It gave a weary “Seen it all, now” kind of a look and sank back to pursue some fish.

world weary seal

Major Hardman retired and the multitasker was back in the boat, this time for a quick game of speed dating on the water.  It took our minds off tired arms and abs. Some boys refused to play, far too singlemindedly pursuing Lord Nelson’s bust.  (titter ye not) 

spoilsports

We negotiated the wooden posts, press-ganged another victim into kayak carrying (& he didn’t even get rum! Thank you!) and we were done.

4 – bike – 4.6 minute mile average

There was a naked man in transition- or maybe hypothermia causes hallucinations……

The superhobbit was shivering so uncontrollably transition took longer than it should have.  Gotta love a sport that includes a “getting dressed” phase, with rules!  The first five miles on the bike were intolerably slow as the defrost kicked in.  Not as slow as those who already picked up punctures.  Always a tragedy to see fine bikes and men standing agonised by the wayside, waiting for a puncture repair kit……  

superheroes with a puncture

The first lot of pink ladies proffering bananas were a sight for sore eyes and the bike leg was cooler, faster and hugely more enjoyable with a better bike we borrowed (Thank you!) for the multitasker.

When themultitasker morphed into “Major Hardman”, the superhobbit simply obeyed the frequent orders to drink more water.  Consequences ensued.  It wasn’t as hot as last year.  Once thawed out, the hobbitly renal function proved outstanding.  We may not have won the Lady Hamilton cup but there was a Guinness world record pee stop (just after passing the queen’s estate ……. gotta respect Ma’am).  There was a curious man in a van nearby who only moved on afterwards so if my arse has ended up on YouTube please forward only to Norris McWhirter……

The cattle grids: 

We had a race plan in advance

1 – hobbit talk to multitasker on swim

2 – phone a friend on the kayak leg for porterage

3a take every banana & water opportunity offered by a pink lady (as an excuse to have a stop & a natter)

3b hope for an (minor) accident early in the bike leg so the multitasker can do first aid and have a good excuse for not finishing. Failing that, get off and walk over the cattle grids (if reached)  

4 – walk on the “run” anytime anyone’s wrist monitor heart rate exceeds 180

(I’m sure your race plan was similar….?? #hopeful face)

race plan

Well, we were doing fine!   Without the burden of 3 litres of urine on board the bike average mph rocketed.  We were approaching cattle grid number one.  There was a man down.  We got off and walked.  He already had assistance but I volunteered the multitasker as being a doctor anyway.  Forgot to mention the small matter of my own MBChB……luckily, he had a “doctor who looked like he knew what he was doing” with him, so I pottered off with a clear conscience.

After the obelisk, the multitasker hoped it was nearly over, and it nearly was!  Had a lovely lovely bike ride this year – have learned that taking in a “rolling buffet” may not make you go that much faster but you definitely enjoy it more.

5 – “run” – 16.6 minute mile average

A speedy transition this time and off on the “run”, smiling through gritted teeth at all those cool cucumbers with superhero medals already strung round their necks.

We managed some running and I ditched the shoes with the first pink ladies (thank you!) for a true hobbit quest.  This surprised all the hard-bitten speedy superheroes passing us in the other direction- what did they know that I’d forgotten from last year!?  Oh yes, the stony path….

Luckily serpentine-girl and her sidekick were there to help us along and I think the multitasker necked some rum (& after that had a curious loss of pace….)

We had a short episode of “woman versus horse” on the beach, which we won, and then we were trotting back along the beach marvelling at our luck being out under the huge sky on a huge beach with 3/4 of a huge task behind us.

beach

And then we reached the marsh.  The mud is really nice on bare feet, but it was a bit slippy and slow and people overtook us. There were some more stones and an offer of a piggyback declined on account of not (this year) having lost all dignity….

Then the crevasses.  Who put those extra ones there!?  Did the multitasker tread on last year’s lost trainers?

But we could hear the drums beating and see the family waving.  A splosh across the creek, up the slippery slope over the timing mat and done!!!

A very kindly race organiser wisely held the superhobbit up for a bit having identified collapse-potential a mile off!  Then medals, photos and coconut water and best of all – husband bearing chocolate milk!!!

shiny medals

No wooden spoon for us!  We live to race another day!

You can still sponsor us, too 🙂

6 – recovery

Pint of beer, 2 hour drive and a wedding for the multitasker.  

Delayed 1st & 2nd breakfast and a nice nap for the hobbit.  Each unto his own.

“alt.” recovery for the frayed nerves of the spectators:

alternative superhero
alternative superhero

And we’ve agreed: next year we’re giving something back – please can we be pink ladies?

Thank you (again and again and again) one and all involved, we couldn’t have had a nicer time.

Lessons learned:

Breakfast is optional (heretic but true)

Hypothermia is better than wheezing, but slows you down 

There is no shame in playing on a height disadvantage 

Expensive bikes hurt less and go faster (sad but true)

Barefoot running only works on sand……

Your race reflects your training.  But allow for the unexpected gargantuan pee stop……

Until next year……

Sport on Sunday

Week 16

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

superhobbit, second breakfsat goings on in hobbiton
Sunday Easter Sunday – a day of rest!  Surprisingly got 10k steps in walking up Dover’s Hill.
Monday Slow 5km run but at least I did something
Tuesday Work – official rest day.  Snap General election announced. This means the justice crusader will be standing for parliament and my training will take a backseat.  Clearly we must get rid of the current government so this doesn’t happen again 😂
Wednesday 21 mile bike ride very slowly.  Apple crumble Torq gel is delicious and putting hydration tablet in water bottle meant I actually peed when I got home.  Neither of those things made me faster, but I definitely recovered better…….
Thursday Rest day – lego exhibition of superheroes! 24,000 steps, 3 godsons in a state of perpetual over-excitement and SUPERHEROES!
Friday  Election- related tasks
Saturday Election related campaigning.

So it is with sincere apologies that this is the last blog post. Hope you’ve enjoyed it and got something from it. Electioneering has taken over until June 8th and then I will need a rest.

If I recover I will post a report from the actual event, because I will need to moan about how much pain we both went through!

jongleur-de-vie, super-bad multitasker Multi-tasking major activities
Sunday  Easter Sunday – must be a day of rest?
Monday  

24.95km on the bike and the wonder that is new watch app feature 🙂

Tuesday  

3km run including dog collection.  (that’s the red splodges indicating slowness)

Wednesday probably horses were involved
Thursday Work, resting up!
Friday Work, so rest day
Saturday Lifesaving activities

Reflection Corner – man & machine

Man and Machine

Well that’s just a turn of phrase.  Woman and machine/ person and machine/ human machine and bike, today we reflect (slightly tongue in cheek) on oneness with your bicycle.

L’homme machine

Julien Offray de la Mettrie was a materialist philosopher who talked about man as a machine.  Certainly you could look at us as fuel in, energy out machines for – doing what exactly?  Get on your bike and suddenly you have purpose.  You are going somewhere.  The bike has all the obvious mechanics but you are the engine.

Flow

The goal of this?  To become one with your bike – the ultimate biomechanical machine experiencing a state of “flow“.  

Of course, that perfect mix of high skill and high challenge doesn’t happen very often.  Usually you ride along thinking “ooh, brake now” “oh, why is that pheasant not getting out of my way?” “did he HAVE to pass me so close?” “my butt hurts” “my quads are burning” “I wonder what I should have for tea?”  “I’m missing the Archers……..” as you spin around the 8 levels of flow in a state of flux.

But sometimes, you feel the power to the pedals, they seem to turn effortlessly, the wind is in your face not knocking you off and you stream along – man and machine in perfect harmony.

Theory Thursday

Pedal power

And lastly, to the pedals.  Adding to the list of “more things to buy for your bike”.  You can go with the pedals that come with your bike.

 

You should try to wear hard soled shoes if you do that – air-soled running shoes take the wind out of your pushing power.  You can add “clips” or little cages for your toes to lock in so you can pull up as well as push down.  

This takes a bit of getting used to – remembering when you slow down to stop that your feet aren’t free.  Or you can go “clip less”

Proper pedals

For the real cycling experience, you need pedals with bike shoes that lock in so that you smoothly pedal with power all round the turn.  There are a baffling amount of options, but the basic premise is you “clip in ” as you move off and you unclip by twisting your foot as your roll to a stop.  Forget that and you capsize!

Road bike shoes look like this:


With external cleats that make you walk like a duck when you stop at the cafe and are extremely slippy.

MTB shoes look like this:


With recessed cleats so you can walk normally.  

The difference is the ease of clipping in and out.  Road shoes clip more firmly for better power transfer to the pedals (faster!).  But easier to forget or get in a pickle and fall off.  MTBs have easier release so perfect for beginners.

Types of pedal

They mostly look like this:

Advantages being that the pressure on the ball of your foot is quite wide, disadvantages (for a novice)  being you get clipped in tightly = more falling off potential

But you can get these:


If you want an easier in and out and also you can clip in on either side which might make you feel more confident.  You can see these have a smaller area under the ball of your foot so some riders get a “hot spots” of pressure discomfort on a long ride.

There isn’t much theory to add, although there is an Australian study confirming that riders over the age of 26 get more foot pain when clipped in than younger riders.  But you didn’t need science to tell you that!

Tech Tuesday

Wheels

Wheeeeeeeeeels.  Help you go wheeeee!  You’re all set up with your helmet, frame, sizing and gears but don’t forget your wheels!  You might just go with your off-the-peg wheels, but you might want to think about a few things.

wooden wheels to match your bamboo frame?

Material

You mostly find your wheel rims made of aluminium, spokes can be stainless steel, but you can get carbon wheels for lightness.  You know you get what you pay for:

Keith Bontrager famously said of bicycle parts:

“Strong. Light. Cheap. Pick two.”

You pays your money and takes your choice – you could have a heavier frame and pay to upgrade to lighter wheels, that seems to make more sense than having a top of the range light frame & heavy wheels which counteract the benefit.

Size

It’s confusing.  However, generally adult road bike wheels are 700mm diameter.  There is a thought that smaller frames need smaller wheels (you can get “650”mm) to avoid your toes clipping the edge of the bike wheel as you turn a corner, but then you need different gearing to ensure you can go the same speed as everyone else.  You can see that in action on a Brompton bicycle with tiny wheel diameter but a huge great chain ring.

However, a smaller wheel is also lighter, which might suit a smaller rider.

Spokes

Just as you can vary wheel size you can vary the number of spokes.  There is all sorts of physics involved – from less resistance and lighter to better strength and you can read more (much more!) here, if you’re planning on building your own bike.

Rim depth

So, you can also spend your pennies on deep rims to reduce drag.  However, whilst that’s fine when you’re cycling forwards on the flat in a windless day, get a side wind up a hill and you may be over in seconds.  Get the feeling there’s a lot of money for old rope going on in wheel choices!?

Tyres

Road bike tyres are also an infinite discussion.  One of the worries beginners have is the narrowness and the lack of tread.  You can go for a mountain bike with fat tyres:

but the resistance of all that friction against the road might mean you can’t even move forwards -and look at the weight of it!  Skinny tyres (23mm) are light and no tread means less friction and it all means faster!  You can be reassured that bike tyres are too narrow to aquaplane at speeds below about 200mph.  However, they are vulnerable to skidding on gravel and sand on the road .  Also, you pump them up to 100PSi which means puncture-tasticness, especially if you end up hugging the kerb when a tractor overtakes you.

One option, now, is a slightly wider road tyre (25-27mm) with less pressure in it.  The theory being that it moulds over any potentially puncturing bits of gravel and where it’s wider the bit of tyre in road contact is shallower meaning the same of less overall rolling resistance.  I don’t know what the truth is, but that’s what I’ve gone because as a nervous beginner used to mountain bike tyres it makes me feel more stable!

Motivation Monday

Group vs. solo cycling

When you first decide to start cycling again, you can go alone, with someone, or with a group.  Depending on what sort of personality you are, you might have a preference, but it probably benefits us all to do both.

Going it alone

It’s really good to be able to brave getting out on your own.  You need to be more organised and prepared – if anything goes wrong there’s no-one to help you and you are totally responsible for route finding.  You need to be a “self-starter”, in order to get out of the door.  

How to do find the motivation?  One way would be to have a chore to do in the next door town that you would normally drive to.  Get on your bike instead.  Plan yourself a treat when you get there – coffee (and a cake if you rode fast enough!).  Venturing further afield might need some added motivation – something to see or do when you get there, a friend to meet for lunch.

But once you’re out on the road on your own, the benefits are felt immediately – you can hear the birds, you can go at your own pace, you can stop and start as you wish, you can take a diversion and you can whip that strava segment into submission (!?)

Cycling alone gives you the chance to experiment with pace, style, speed and distance in your own way to build your confidence up.  You also have to do all the work so you build up your fitness quickly.

The Peloton

But if you’re low on self-motivation, committing to going out in a group could really help.  

Just planning a ride with one friend immediately increases the chances you’ll do it!  You have someone to chat to, someone to help you change a punctured tyre and someone to have coffee with.  You can both motivate each other if one is flagging, but you do have to go at the pace of the slower rider.  Sometimes, this is a relief, sometimes it can be frustrating!  The advantage is all there for the beginner – your cycling mate gives you tips and technique and encourages you to do more and try harder, they’re rooting for you and pulling you on.

Group rides tend to feel more threatening to beginners.  Your mate knows you and your weaknesses, but in a group you have to get on with it.  However, in a group ride you can learn all sorts of useful things for your sportive or race.  Drafting – where you tuck into the slipstream of the person in front can save your legs, helpful warnings about potholes and turns, the joy of no responsibility for the route and the planned pitstop are all bonuses.  Generally, clubs tend to have 2 or three groups going at different stated speeds (e.g. 12mph average, 15mph average and 18mph average) so you can start of in the slowest group and often go up or down as you progress or tire.

Finding a cycling group

There are lots of UK cycling organisations that can help, try these links

 

Sport on Sunday

Week 15

What have we managed this week?

superhobbit, second breakfsat Goings on in Hobbiton
Sunday 33.65 miles on the new bike in glorious sunshine!  1343 kCal burned – more than my daily intake…….lesson one – take more fuel, had to walk up one hill due to exhaustion and Kendal mint cake had not yet kicked in.
Monday  Rest day – working

We’ve decided real superheroes only train 3 days a week! (see below)

Tuesday “active recovery” day (yes, I did make that up!)  a bit of treadmill at work at 3km/hr which I’m counting as active recovery.  Oh, and a mad dash over to a heart attack on the ward……which wasn’t!
Wednesday 6km run in 40 minutes, which is OK.  Didn’t have time for more as had leaflets to deliver for the justice crusader. 23091 steps in all today!

Bought a range of energy gels and hydration tablets for training bike ride tomorrow with super-bikegirl (the competition) – learning from my mistakes 😉

Thursday 31 mile bike ride with super-bikegirl in unexpectedly good weather – have tripled my average bike mileage this week!  I like riding with girls – we do civilised things like stop for coffee and stop for lunch!  No walking up hills this time.

Did try the Torq rhubarb & custard gel which was addictively delicious & highly recommended and also the mango chew which saved me from shaky legs after a 9 mile top speed dash for the train home!  However, then I got a sugar crash 2 hours later despite milk and nuts for protein.  More fuel testing required!

Friday Rest day – with leaflets which don’t seem to deliver themselves 🙁
Saturday Ran 11km of a 12km loop.  Orange-banana torq gel during the 1km walk – effective but not very nice!  It was hard work in the Cotswolds: hills don’t really feature in Suffolk.  Had a rehydration tab after which was great and an Ote protein bar which I wouldn’t have again (a bit like a milky way…..).  Need to start thinking about a hydration belt……..
jongleur-de-vie, super-bad multitasker Multi-tasking Major activities
Sunday It’s official.  Running and biking hurts my knees.  Real superheroes only run once a week and train 3 days a week.  Overtraining syndrome is a thing, right?  So we’re avoiding that!
Monday New routine – 30 minutes biking and running on a Monday
Tuesday Rest day – spoiled by having to shout at children
Wednesday Walked 20km (that’s 12 of your old -fashioned miles!)
Thursday Shouting at kids instead of cycling with the hobbit & super-bikegirl – a bit cross.
Friday Good Friday – an hour’s cycle
Saturday Horses, so a Good Saturday 🙂

 

 

Reflection Corner – Hill Climbing

Hill Climbing

We’ve talked about gears this week.  Good gearing gets you up hills with less effort, but what do you need psychologically to climb hills?  What is your hill philosophy?  Should you adapt it?

appealing?

Sisyphus

Sisyphus (so the myth has it) was an ancient Greek who so loved life he put death in chains.  This angered the Gods who released death (they wanted to be the only immortals) and condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pushing a rock up a hill, only to see it roll back down again.  What’s this got to do with cycling?  Albert Camus, an “absurdist” writer, considered Sisyphus and decided that far from bemoaning his fate

one must consider Sisyphus happy

Some cyclists can well imagine his delight: rather than any sense of futility in the task.  They deliberately set out to toil up hills, for the joy of freewheeling down them again.  Psychologically it’s short term pain for a quick gain.

Achievement

Others find the adrenaline rush of the downhill a bit overwhelming but like the achievement of steaming up a steep hill and getting to the top, passing Sisypheans on the way.  But what do you need to get up the hill?  The right gear and fuel in the tank!  Preparation to be in the right gear before you need it when you see the hill coming is an investment and fuelling all ride, knowing there are hills ahead, is a wise strategy to adopt.  Psychologically this is taking the long view of your journey.

the long and winding path uphill

Avoidance

Of course you could plan a hill-free route.  Just go flat out on the flat.  Ignorance is bliss?  But if you never experience the pain of climbing you never get the joy (or a chance to rest your weary legs) of zooming down.

flat grey road?

Finish strong

Finally, do you gear mash all the way on your tiptoes or sit back and spin?  Or do you see the hill ahead, understand the size of the task start seated and slow and as you rise higher and higher and get nearer and nearer your goal do you change up, stand up and push for the top?  That’s probably what superheroes do.

pretending to be super

 

Theory Thursday

Gears

Now that you’ve got your helmet, your frame and your wet weather gear, you’ll want to be picking your gear-set for your bike.  You might go with what you’re given, or you might want to customise.

Gears make ALL the difference to your energy expenditure.  If you’re planning a long ride, or a run afterwards, you want to save your legs as much as possible.  So here’s the low down!

Gear Geek Corner

If you want to read all about it you can try this.  Or you can follow our random ramble through the gears:

“Fixies”

look ma – no brakes!

You might decide it’s all a bit complex.  You want to keep things simple and you don’t go up or downhill much.  You can get a bike with only one gear ratio.  You can have a “single-speed” bike where you can freewheel or you can have a single-speed bike with a fixed gear.  Fixed gear bikes (fixies) are “bang on trend” (as Cosmo would have it) with cute colours, retro styling and a subculture of reckless speed and perversity: you can’t coast so you have to keep pedalling (thus getting faster!), some people don’t even add brakes they just slowly stop pedalling/skip or skid to a stop.  If you go uphill you work harder.

Recommended for – hipster wannabes

Not recommended for  – the Lake district

Derailleurs

This is what you will commonly find on a road bike.  You can have multiple sprockets on the back (3-11) and up to three chain rings on the front to give you from 3 to 33 gear ratios.  Why do you want that?  So that if you cycle uphill the gears take the hard work out of your legs.  Like driving your car you change down to go uphill and “spin” your legs around faster but more easily and when you’re zooming downhill you can “change up” and get more power through your legs to make the bike go faster and faster.

Recommended for – long journeys and hills

Not recommended for – the easily confused 😉

Gear Technique

Assuming you’ve gone for a derailleur system you need to learn how and when to change gears.  Some of it is a matter of preference, some is common sense.  It’s easy to push the pedals round when the front cog is small and the back cog is large – it will slow you down but get you up a hill easily.  If both are medium sized you can roll along a flat road feeling a nice power transition and pedalling smoothly.  If you get a big front cog and small back you are working harder, but going faster.

Normal rides

So for a short to medium undulating ride you want to be in a middle gear on the flat, change down in advance of any hills and change up at the top to whizz down.

Long rides

But some people going for 60+ miles like to “spin” their legs all the time at a high cadence (rate of pedalling) and a low gear.  This saves the quads from working too hard & “feeling the burn” so you can endure the long ride.

Hilly rides

You’ve got two choices.  Sit down and spin or stand up & mash.  (or a bit of both?!)

Sit down & spin: the theory is that sitting down keeps your weight evenly distributed over the front and back wheel keeping contact with the road evenly spreading the friction and being more aerodynamic.  Also, bodyweight supported by the saddle = less energy expended.  You change down to a low gear at the bottom of the hill and spin your legs with a fast cadence allowing you to persevere up any hill.

proponents – Chris Froome, heavyweights

Stand up and mash: also known as “dancing on the pedals”, but I guess that’s a matter of framing!  This is where you stay in a higher gear and stand up and even start to rock the bike underneath you as you climb with a slower cadence.  Harder work on the quads but potentially less strain on your back and allows you to use more muscles to power up the hill.  Less aerodynamic.

proponents – Alberto Contador, flyweights

A bit of both:  probably the best thing to do is start seated in a low gear and slowly get up the hill.  As you reach the top and know you’ve got some “oomph” left in you and it gets steeper than 10% you might want to stand up and push the last little bit.

Tech Tuesday

Bike frame materials

So, you’ve got your helmet and you’re researching what bike frame size you’ll need within your budget.  Your budget might determine what your bike frame is made of, but if you have a choice – how to decide!?

bamboo bike frame, anyone?

4 options

You’ve got 4 main options, and there is a LOT of controversy out there about the pros and cons of each.  In the end it probably just comes down to preference – but here are a few things to consider:

Aluminium “Alloy”

If you want a cheap bike aluminium’s your pick.  It’s a bit light, it’s a bit stiff it’s moderately long lasting.  It’s the compromise at the cheap end of the range, and it might mean you can get pricier components if you self-build.  (or get your friendly bike shop to do it!)

Carbon

Carbon frames were all the rage, until they were all the rage and now people want something that isn’t ubiquitous.  They are not cheap, but they are cheaper than they were and they are light (very light if you pay!), fast and strong in the right direction.  This is good for light, small people like hobbits who don’t need to be pushing a bike that weighs more than they do……however, they are brittle if you crash, but they don’t rust!

Steel

If you want a workhorse, steel might be your answer.  They are heavy, unless you pay squillions, but they last a long time and you can crash and they might dent but it’s repairable.  They “dampen” road bumps so they are good for commuting but also long-distance comfort.  If you’re a larger bloke with powerhouse quads from a winter of turbo training you can move a steel bike and this might be your pick.  (They look “retro” cool, too).  Just don’t forget to clean it properly after a bad weather ride.

Titanium

If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket and you are an experienced rider so you know what size frame works for you then investing in titanium could be your bike for life.  Beautiful, uncorrodable, light, super-dampening of nasty road surfaces and comfortable it’s the best of all possible worlds!  They can be custom built for you and the lack of corrosion means they suit British winter riding!

doesn’t need painting!

Bamboo

and yes, you really can buy a bamboo bike – a sustainable material, this is light and handsome – perfect for the eco-warrior in your life.