By Alexander Rhodes (he’s the guy on the right)
It is 8:30 am new years day 2014…..
Actually, we are going to need some context here. Back in the early part of this decade, I was post-rave, post-relationship and very much in the era of depression and self-loathing. I knew things were getting out of hand when a friend I hadn’t seen in a while commented via Facebook, with complete sincerity, how cruel it was that someone had “Photoshopped my head onto that obese body.” No such manipulation had taken place. This was exacerbated weeks later when popping in to see an old clubbing acquaintance at their place of work. He looked at me open mouthed and, shaking his head, muttered the immortal words, “My God, what happened to you?” Things had to change.
I am a single-minded and determined character. If I decide on something, it is often taken up with 150% commitment, within minutes of making that decision. Even so, had you have told me that in just short twelve months I would be cycling the welsh hills in the pouring rain, completing a 101-mile course in just 6 ½ hours I would have thought you in some way deranged. So back to the story……
It is 8:30 am new years day 2014…..
I am bleary eyed and disorientated. The alien sound of my smartphones alarm confuses me. I don’t set alarms as a rule. As the world comes into focus I jab at the smartphone screen to silence the sounds of “Rousing Forest”. I am awake. Not as a result of all night partying and copious chemicals coursing through my veins as would have been true the year before. No! The reason for my early start is sat in the spare room downstairs. I have bought a “racer”.
For the younger readers of these ramblings, a “racer” is the anachronistic title given to what you would call a “Road Bike.” This is the first push bike I have owned in the best part of 26 years. The last being a mail order mountain bike which I used to ride to work in my early 20’s. (I should point out that I had not, at this juncture, referenced a cycling magazine, googled any kind of background information or studied any forums. For the older readers, a forum is one up from Ceefax and Oracle. For the younger readers, it is where retired people go to moan).
The “Racer” in question was purchased from a high street retailer for a ridiculous £350!! Who would ever dream of spending so much on a bike! My shopping trip had revealed exotic machines of £1000 and more. I could not ever see me spending this much on a “Racer”. It had taken me all summer to save up the £65 required to purchase my last one.
It is my new year’s intention to ride this bike today, whatever the weather and accomplish a massive 10-mile ride! Yes, you heard me correctly. 10 miles! I know right? 10 whole actual miles. It is ridiculous, but I am sure I can do it. I am excited, scared, I feel like I am about to embark on some foolhardy, epic voyage into the unknown. TEN MILES! Even the horizontal rain that drums violently onto the window and the foreboding howling wind will not be stopping me. In fact what stops me, in the end, is me. Around 2 miles in, huffing and puffing, red-faced and heart pounding in my chest, I see the city border and beyond it, the wild green countryside of rural Devon.
I feel the security of the city and its hustle and bustle tugging at my ankles. The harsh, cold wind and driving rain lash out at me with ice like talons as if to warn me of my impending doom. Basically, I bottle it. I turn the bike around and, consoling myself that to ride 10 miles on a “racer” is the preserve of fools and super-humans, I slowly grind my way home. 4 miles completed, I collapse into a heap with a hot coffee and a laptop. I decided that I should start researching cycling with a view to improvement.
One of the single most influential web hits on that fateful day was the discovery of Strava. I was excited by the idea that I could track my progress and see how my ride had gone. Even more excited that I would be able to compare previous efforts and the efforts of other people in my network. I downloaded the app to my phone and tentatively filled in some details. I then, as instructed, searched for friends who also used this app. A few tenuous acquaintances were suggested. One was a middle-aged man that I kind of know through a social network and that I surmised, was about my level of fitness. I looked at his rides. I was blown away. 42 miles!! Surely that was kilometres. No. It is miles. He managed this feat of athletic prowess in just over four hours. That is incredible! How on earth had he managed this?
I spent the rest of the day visiting cycle blogs, articles and magazines. It was at some point mid-afternoon that I hit a site dedicated to the Tour De France. Needless to say, the numbers that I saw there rendered me speechless. I had not even realised that a human could achieve such levels. It had also become increasingly obvious that a 60 to 80-mile ride was deemed to be a reasonable weekend jaunt for a considerable number of everyday people. Right there and then I set my goal. I would get comfortable with my bike. I would spend a couple of weekends addressing some of the obvious issues that I was becoming aware of through my reading, largely concerning kit, diet and personal motivation. I would then head out with a local club. I was going to ride 25 miles. I was going to achieve this before the end of February and, before the end of spring, I was going to hit 50 miles.
So much of human ability is set by our attitude. As a diploma qualified hypnotherapist, I am well aware of how positive mental attitude, re-framing and peer group influence can shape our reality. If I want to achieve certain goals I have to first adopt the can-do attitude. Then I to visualise the success and believe it be unequivocally possible. To do this it is wise to surround one’s self with the right people. Not the naysayers or the ridiculer’s. We have friends and family for that! Rather, with the people that share our aspirations and see our goal as a viable and achievable norm. All that we have to do then, in the most simplistic of terms and with no nod to Nike intended, is Just do it!
You can keep abreast of the unfolding story of how a middle-aged, ex-drug using, lard arse succeeded in changing his perception of what can be achieved on a bike by following this blog. This feed will divulge cycle hacks and shortcuts, inspirational tales, bike purchases, more bike purchases, honest and frank confessions and hopefully a few laughs too. As well as my Cycling stories, it will provide friends cycling stories, your cycling stories and cycling videos too!
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An early example of a “long ride” (10 days after purchasing the bike)
Not your average combination in the UK, but here on the Costa Blanca both are synonymous with a good day’s cycling. This unlikely combo is what today was all about. Having researched the hills, country byways (caminos), national parks and lakes of this region, a cycling break would not be complete without a gentle amble to the beach. Perhaps the perfect antidote to a longer day. With promises of rich and creamy gateaux, apple tarts, sticky toffee delights and strawberry or lemon cheese-cake our route and destiny to dine was set.
We started at 4 meters above sea level in Dolores, with our repose being at La Marina…unsurprisingly at sea level. The ride was pan flat passing through La Fondo nature reserve, home to tall windrushes, bulls, deer and assorted wading birds. After 10 miles we were dismounting at the restaurant (La Candela) situated by itself, away from the bustle, directly on the beach.
We were joined by a charming French couple on an electric tandem, having cycled themselves down from Alicante. Well if e-bikes are your thing, this was a stretch limo version. Talking of e-bikes, ie those with a small electric motor to power you up hills and gradients, almost every local bike shop rents and sells them, so really there is no barrier to cycling if you need a little extra help. More power to you !
Having left a suitable time for cake digestion and the last drop of the obligatory Cortado to be consumed, we headed back to the villa, making a good pace, and arriving with sufficient time for a quick dip in the pool, cleansing shower and stroll into Dolores for lunch.
Tapas and cerveza anyone ?
Well after yesterday’s 50 mile ride with just one hill, (okay it was 25km long and took us up to 493 meters), it was time to go searching for the elusive blue birds which supposedly occupy the marshes just down the road.
Now we know there are pink flamingoes, there are pictures of them everywhere, but that is to be expected when you frequent a world heritage site, the pink and blue salt lakes of Torrevieja. But blue flamingoes…we’d have to see.
Now I happened to mention in the last blog that we would be doing hills or lakes….well now we have done both, and I have to say that two rides cannot be different in nature if you tried. For the hills, we struck south west into the Sierra de la Pila mountains, and as Dolores is only 4 feet above sea level required a small level of physical exertion, nothing dramatic, just a long 2% climb with the occasional kick. Midway we stopped at Albanilla for a short milky Cortado and a wonderful homemade honey cake which gave us sufficient surges of energy to continue up to the plains.
There we were treated to a “moonscape”, in which the barren land was score-marked with deep crevices and ravines; it felt like bandit country from one of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western films with one house villages called “El Tolle” and “El Rebals”. The plains are fertile with olive groves and the black stumps of promising vines. However, what goes up, does come down, and we enjoyed a wonderful descent, somewhat technical towards the top of the mountain, but full of well crafted bends that embrace you and then send you safely on your way.
A ‘cool down’ cycle across the valley floor and we were ready for a dip in the pool and a well earned ice-cold cerzeva.
Today’s ride was different, we opted to head south into the Murcia region across the valley to the small town of Hurchillo. From there we climbed, helped by a breeze on our our backs, up to the region’s main reservoir called “Embalse de la Pedrera”. Well what a view, we simply had to stop to take in the gorgeousness of the glistening lake, bright turquoise in colour and sitting high above the valley to afford us views across the mountains to the sea.
We were accompanied by a flight of swallows that darted just ahead of us at road level, inviting us to join their parade. From there we were treated to a broad road with silky tarmac as we descended to the lunch stop of pork brochette, coke and of course, a Cortado.
From there it was a gentle cycle back to the villa via the local bike shop “Cyclelogic” in Benijofar for a some light fettling of Sean’s front wheel bearings…a friendly bunch, no charge.
So back to the blue flamingoes, did we spot them….well actually not this time, but there will be plenty of opportunities in the future. Fancy joining us ? Leave a comment if you do 🙂
The villa is set on the outskirts of a small town, Dolores, surrounded by fields; we are in the heartland of orange groves and lemon orchards. It’s clean, quiet and tastefully decorated with a view to calmness and tranquility. The only sounds to break the silent are of cicadas and the screeches of diving swallows.
Our first ride was a relaxed 20 miles, just to stretch the legs, to test the bikes and make sure that everyone is made aware of the rules of Spanish roads; unlike the UK, the drivers are courteous giving copious space and the occasional wave. Every major roundabout has a segregated path for us cyclists. We cycle on the right and are given more leeway than expected. It feels and is safe.
Our second ride, again gentle, included the obligatory cafe stop for tortilla (omelette) and Cortado (a short, milky coffee). A few steady climbs, nothing too testing, and the smoothness of the tarmac makes hills easy going. The 40 miles felt significantly less than at home, and so decided to have a small detour to introduce ourselves to the sea.
Now you may think of this part of Spain as “bustling”, but it is far from that…empty roads, empty beach, however with good company, the sun doesn’t go down alone (apologies for the homage to Don Henley).
Mid-afternoon is for chilling; we help ourselves to a small cerveza and muse over today’s ride, while talk turns to dinner with the promise of local tapas.
Ciclista Seguro !
Are you kidding me ? Why would anyone in their right mind deliberately take their pride and joy into a field or down a muddy trail, never mind the problems with punctures, getting stuck in mud, the hours needed afterward to fettle your beloved back to its shiny self ? After all it only takes a grain of dust to mess up my perfect gear shifting ! Madness !!
So, welcome to Cyclocross !!
So I am not advocating you take your road bike “off road”, no not at all…unless you’ve been bissfully unaware of developments, the world of cycling has gone mad for cyclocross (or CX)…and its more utilitarion cousin, the gravel bike. Now I am not going to talk here about the differences and pros/cons of Cyclocross versus Gravel versus 29er’s, etc, but what I will tell you is that this type of riding is not only a huge amount of fun, but will improve your bike handling skills and is a fantastic way to keep riding when the weather prevents your normal road cycling regime.
What’s the fun of it ? For a start, CX bikes are built for throwing around mud and sand (and snow!). At a technical level they have competitive geometries, wider wheels and disc brakes, but in essence they enable you to ride fast through most conditions and hit similar top end speeds to road bikes when you get back on the tarmac, ie perfect for mixed surface riding.
So I asked the Gemma Melton (@gemmamelton) the Queen of Suffolk’s cyclocross scene to tell us a litle more about the fun of mud…i mean cyclocross.
Gemma started by saying, “It’s an alternative to being on the turbo in the winter. You can go really fast on a CX bike, the early season races in September are usually the driest and the fastest ones to try if you aren’t keen on running or getting too muddy! You can improve your cornering and handling skills and when you next find yourself in a wet road race, you will be fearless! No one takes themselves to seriously – fall off no problem, covered in mud, who cares? You can practise in a park, in a large garden, in the forest, down some dirt tracks, it gets you out and about in places you may not normally ride. A little bit of mud never hurt anyone – it’s actually softer to land on! There’s a lot of cleaning of bike and kit to do but it’s well worth it for meeting new people and training hard during the winter months when motivation might otherwise be low”.
Gemma continued, “Thinking about trying it? Borrow a bike if you don’t have one and try riding on a bridleway, in the forest or around a grassy playing field. Dismount and remount are tricky, don’t worry if you can’t do them, they come with practice and there’re some great youtube videos out there. In a race situation you will just naturally get on and off as quick as you can so not too loose too much time. Be fearless – what’s the worst that could happen – hit it hard and your bike will get over it/ around it, through it.”
So, there we have it from the expert. Cyclocross isn’t just for winter riding, but as long as we continue to have rain and mud, for me it’s a winner.
Never Say Never
13 Mar 2018
Storms and Statistics
1 Mar 2018
The importance of the correct bike setup, by Sean Holland
20 Feb 2018
Following up on the recent research cited by the BBC, Time Magazine and other press articles that confirm that cyclists over 55 can have immune systems of 20 year olds. So if you’ve never thought of cycling as a means to keep fit, or stay young, we need to consider is it ever too late or are you ever too unfit to take up cycling ?A quick reality check using Google will show you many pictures of spritely 70 years, or even 90 year olds still cycling their bikes as a means of keeping fit and for general well-being and recreation. But what about us 40-somethings and 50-somethings, heck even 60-somethings who’ve spent a considerable portion of their lives less active than they would have preferred. Maybe the dreaded middle age paunch or other areas of spread may have crept up on you, and hence you believe your days of having an active life are over. Maybe you are like I was, 48 at the time, drifting into sedentary life, high blood pressure and the spectre of type 2 diabetes knocking on the door.Questions and doubts are aplenty, dragging you back, such as “isn’t it too late in my life?”, “do I have the energy to make a change?”, “can I afford the time?” And “won’t I make a fool of myself?”. It’s all too easy to let these nagging doubts stop you.At Cycle For Fitness we understand, because we have stood in your shoes. We have looked out of the window, knowing we need to do something to change our situation, but will-power is a fickle friend, motivation is easily lost, and fear keeps us putting it off. We make excuses, just another month and I’ll do something about it… maybe you are like one of our friends who waited for that heart attack to happen as their kick up the backside.The truth is you are never too old, never too unfit. The secret is to understand where you are on your journey and plan accordingly. If you haven’t ridden for a while, then 20 minutes is all you need as a starting point, then with a series of short but well planned workouts you can begin to build up strength and stamina, increasing your distance, gaining more confidence in your ability to ride a bike and perhaps pushing your heart rate a little more to improve your fitness and begin to lose a little of those extra pounds you’ve been carrying.If this sounds like you, then please do get in touch, we have plans to suit all abilities, with advice and guidance on tap from a British Cycling certified coach who has been there, worn the tee-shirt and wishes more than anything else to pass along his experience.Remember, you are never too old or too unfit. It just takes one small step to start your journey.Cautionary note : Before you go jumping on any bike thinking you are Froome or Lizzie, contact me and I will be delighted to send you the standard Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire that will tell you if you should check with your doctor before you start any exercise.
Today is the first day of Spring…but someone needs to tell the weather gods that as Storm Emma approaches from the South to devour what is left of our resolve having already faced the Beast of the East.
As a cyclist with ambitions to ride almost come what may, I have succumbed to the misery that is ‘indoors’. My chain spins silently and cleanly as it tranverses onto the gears that I direct with a sublime touch of the levers, my tyres are pumped to optimum pressure for the wet roads and ache to feel the tarmac under their carcass, my all-weather gear lays sprawled across the bed like a lover waiting for their embrace.
But I hesitate, amber and red warnings flash across screens like demons teasing us to come on and have a go if you think you are hard enough.
Am I ?, should I ? can that wonderful feeling of freedom wait…just a one or two days longer.
There are many types of statistics, the ones you get from Strava for riding that hill or segment just a little harder than before, and the type where they put a little plastic band around your wrist (or toe) if you become the statistic.
So I’ll wave the Beast and Emma through, there’s always the weekend !
Safe Riding !!