Monthly Archives: December 2017

Silver bullets vs blood, sweat and tears


Looking down from White Horse Hill, Uffington. This is the last of the four White Horses on the WHC – a testing 1km at 9% after 136km

While I’ve been off the bike I’ve signed up for the White Horse Challenge on 22nd April. It’s billed as a 90 mile route (145km) with 1400m of climbing (although last year I recorded it as 1862m – 6100ft).

This is my 8th successive entry, with 6 attempts completed out of the 7 so far – with one missed due to a bereavement. The first time I rode it I took just over 6 hours – I’ve got faster in each of the following years (but one) and in 2017 managed a p.b. of 5hr 5min.

That was well inside the ‘gold standard’ time for the 40-49 age group (I was 61 at the time) but the aim is sub 5 hours. It needs less than a 2% improvement …. but I’m struggling to see how I can get there.

I don’t seem to drink much while on the bike (in normal April weather one bottle gets me round comfortably, although that’s a fifth of what conventional wisdom would suggest) and I carry some food with me.  That means I haven’t stopped at either of the food stops for the last 4 times I’ve ridden the event. That suggests there’s no saving to be made here, unless, with a bit of lateral thinking, I would actually be faster if I did stop to drink and eat more, even if I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty – does that make sense?

Clearly, I need to get into one or more good groups to share the effort. That’s worked on and off in the past but the groups tend to blow apart on the bigger hills and often break up at the food stops. I worked really hard to catch a group this year, only for it to pull off into the first food stop half a mile later.

I think 17 members of my club have entered but I guess only two others, at most, might have a go to break the 5 hour barrier – not enough for our own group alone. As far as I can see, the presence or absence of a good group is largely a matter of chance – I can be on the lookout for them and be ready to react (if I can) but beyond that there’s a limited amount I can do in this respect.

My bike weighs about 7.3kg and I’m too mean (or sensible) to want to invest enough to bring that down much further. As I remember, I was probably about 67kg for this year’s WHC so I should be able to improve that a bit, but it won’t be enough.

Aero wheels might help but also might lose something on the hills in comparison with my current lightweight wheels. The tri-bars will help if I find myself riding alone, but not much if I get into any groups for any length of time and they won’t help with the climbing.

What does that leave? Sadly, it just leaves training more and training better.

This year I did quite a few hill reps early on, in preparation for the ‘everesting’ in July. I’m sure that helped but I’m equally sure I missed out on the essential longer rides. By the time the WHC came around I’d done only 4 rides over 50km, and only one of those was over 100km (63 miles) – that can’t be anywhere near enough for a 90 mile (145km) sportive.

Reluctantly, I have to conclude that I’ve already taken the quick wins and there is no silver bullet. If I’m going to get under 5 hours I simply need to man up and become a better cyclist – and that’s going to take hard work and time on the bike.


Happy Christmas, wherever you may be.

Back in the saddle (actually)


Turbo trainer in the conservatory with olive trees, over-wintering geraniums and hyacinths that, yet again, I have completely failed to get to flower for Christmas

In the twinkling of nearly six weeks since falling off, I got back in the saddle this evening, if only on the turbo trainer.

With the sciatica gone (I hope never to return), if the weather had been better I’d have been on the club ride last Saturday and led the ride the week before but, happily, both were cancelled and only the hardiest souls went out.

I’m not sure what I’ve been doing while I’ve been off exercise – but the scales suggest that, mostly, I’ve been eating. If I’m planning to do stupid cycling up hills I hope to be under 65kg (143lbs) and otherwise about 67kg (148lbs).

Apparently, hope is not a good weight control mechanism. I now appear to be nearly 71kg (156lbs), thanks to some very good dinner and drinks parties recently, coupled with a general lack of self control and moderation. Not a disaster at about 5ft 10in but certainly more than I’d like with Christmas excesses to come.

One thing I have been doing is reading some more great cycle travel blogs (including Sharron Yaxley’s, Alex Mason’s, TaityRay, Josh Day and veloelle). I’m getting a bit apprehensive about the plan to  cycle out to the alps this summer but I’m determined to follow in such excellent footsteps (tyre-tracks).


Back to the turbo – it’s rudimentary, no adjustability other than through the bike’s gears. When I bought it I was following advice to spend the least possible on my first turbo on the basis that a very significant percentage of people simply don’t get on with them and use them fewer than 6 times. Happily, with the leaves off the neighbouring Chestnut tree I can now get TV reception in the conservatory.

My session consisted of a few minutes warming up through a couple of gears followed by an hour of pushing the biggest gear (52/12, I think) before short cool down. I treated myself to no sprint intervals (normally I’d do 4 in an hour’s session). When I say sprint, it’s a relative thing at best – I must have been off sick when they handed out fast twitch muscle fibres.

Although I was breathing fairly hard worryingly quickly, I was happy to get through it OK – and that is good enough for me at this stage.

Back in the saddle (nearly)


Yew arch ‘work in progress’ (and the apple tree needs to be pruned)

I was down to lead the club ‘red’ ride yesterday and it was going to be my first day back in the saddle after the crash and (more importantly) the sciatica. It’s not quite 100% but very close – only the occasional stretch or quick turn reminds me that it’s been there at all.

The weather forecast was not great so I prepared to ride my wife’s hybrid (which is a man’s bike really and one I can ride OK with just a fairly small raising of the saddle).

As it was, the forecasts worsened throughout the week and on Friday (perhaps with last week’s accident in mind) the rides were called off. [Speaking of last week’s accident, 5 of the 6 fallers are on the mend and the 6th was operated on in the week and all went well, so wishing him the very best for his recovery although it’s going to several months before we see him back on his bike].


Not convinced it’s really blowing from the east – more likely the weather vane is frozen solid

Another local club has a mince pie ride every December – ending with mulled wine and mince pies at the top of White Horse Hill. A couple of years ago I got the time wrong and found myself at the top of the hill, alone and an hour early so I missed the whole thing. Last year I got it right and cycled out with a group from the Farcycles – an excellent event. It was due to take place today so I thought perhaps that might be the occasion of getting back on the bike but we woke this morning to a few inches of snow and that ride too was called off.

That’s a real shame as it raises money for the club. By my reckoning I’ve ridden the hill 176 times this year training for the ‘everesting’ in July, and I was looking forward to number 177 done in a more leisurely manner.

Perhaps it’s nature’s way of telling me that I’m not ready to ride yet …. or perhaps, more likely, nature doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about me and it’s just a meteorological phenomenon.


10 foot Bay tree bent double by weight of the snow

It’s been snowing for about 10 hours now and we have something like 4 inches on the ground. No doubt the affected regions will have largely ground to a halt. I’m not planning to go out and see for myself.


I’ll leave the mowing for now

We get snow frequently enough that it can be a problem, but not frequently enough that we are ever really well prepared for it.

‘Stiff upper lips’ and ‘spirit of the blitz’ to the fore!

Stay safe out there this winter

It’s nearly four weeks since I came off the bike and I’ve not ridden since (but that’s more to do with the sciatica I gave myself through inexpert and over-enthusiastic furniture moving). The road rash has healed well and I plan to test out the leg later this week as I’m down as leader for one of the club rides this weekend.

A group of seven friends was out last Saturday – chilly but not frosty and, I think, dry. As I understand it, as they came round a corner they hit a road covered in mud from an adjoining field. Six of the seven came down, with two temporarily knocked out and one hurt badly with a broken collarbone and pelvis. They were good and experienced riders, riding well-maintained bikes and not going particularly fast – but had no chance of staying on.

For my fall, I didn’t even hit any visible mud or leaves – I was riding third or fourth wheel round an innocuous bend and while the others all got round safely, my front wheel simply went away from under me.

It’s got me thinking about winter cycling and what can be done sensibly to reduce the risks of falls like these (quite apart from the obvious other safety measures about seeing and being seen).

I had a pair of new Continental 4000 Sii tyres on when I fell and have no reason to think badly of them – but am wondering if I could have had them inflated a little less. Beyond that, I’m thinking of consigning them to the ‘summer use only’ kit list.

I don’t ride if it’s freezing or if there are obvious issues with frosty roads, but I’m wondering whether that’s going far enough. Do I either go for winter specific tyres on one of the road bikes, or go all the way and ride the mountain bike in the winter months – quite apart from the grip issues, being very old and having led a hard life, it would handle a crash rather better than any of the road bikes.

I wonder if I could keep up with a slower group on my mountain bike? I have some other friends who largely abandon the roads through the winter and ride mountain bikes off road from November to March. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Some of the group that fell were able to warn riders behind them but as a group we are re-thinking our processes for keeping in touch on the road and having contact numbers for all riders and a nominated family member. For the first time I’m putting steri strips, plasters and antiseptic wipes in my saddlebag.

Whatever your approach to poorer weather or road conditions, stay safe out there.

(And for those closer to the equator or in the southern hemisphere, I’m not jealous … much).