Category Archives: climbing by bike

Psycho and the Pacific in Piccadilly

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‘PsychoBarn’ by Cornelia Parker – a rather nice contrast to the Neoclassical surroundings of the Royal Academy, London

We stayed in London for the rest of the week. The plan was to run on Sunday morning with Mrs O – but it was cold and raining. Happily, I’m not yet at the point of having to train in bad weather …. so we didn’t.

Friday was full of domestic duties but on Saturday we went to the Royal Academy. It was pot luck as to what exhibition they might have on but we were lucky a they had one called ‘Oceania’ – showcasing art from the South Pacific islands, including New Zealand. Although we might not have put this one down as a ‘must visit’ we were very pleased to have stumbled across it and it was excellent.

There was also a small gallery with English watercolours which was lovely too. Mrs O can trace her family tree back to the sister of Thomas Gainsborough, the famous 18th C English artist and there was a watercolour by Gainsborough in the exhibition. We were tempted to take it with us on the basis that, surely, it was ours but decided the Academy might not understand.

We carried on into Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square where we came across ‘Africa on the square’ – a festival of music and arts with pop-up food stalls and a African market – very good entertainment.

I think it’s those sorts of thing that show the benefits of city life – and we are particularly lucky to be able to enjoy both London and Bournemouth – but I was still happy to get back to rural Oxfordshire on Sunday afternoon.

If we are going to spend more time in Bournemouth and London I’ll have to think about leaving bikes there. With space at a premium in London, perhaps there’s an excuse for the purchase of a Brompton?

So, a decent week returning from 3 week’s rest for the Achilles tendons – about 19.5km (12 miles) of running and a very rare week without any time on a bike. I’ll put that right in the next few days.

To be honest, I can’t wait for the start of my 20 weeks training programme leading up to the Rotterdam Marathon.

The route for the 2019 Tour de France was released last week. It doesn’t come very close to Les Carroz so it may be a year that we give a miss to viewing a stage. I love the tour but have seen enough stages over the years (about 15, I think) that I’m happy to give it a miss if it takes too much time from my own cycling in the alps.

Without any mad ideas like cycling out there next year I’m going to see if I can take on my friends Phil and Philip for our own king of the mountains title. This year the ride out to the alps had rather taken the edge off my legs’ performance by the time I arrived!

Yet again, it looks like the Tour’s organisers are trying to set an ‘anti-Sky domination’ route. What’s the chance that Sky will again thwart their attempts?

 

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The big debate: to hell in a helmet, or to hell with the helmet?

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Setting a good example – helmets are compulsory in UCI events (but, I think, only since 2003)

Geraint Thomas has recently been reported as saying that he thinks helmets should be compulsory for cyclists.

He is said to argue that the development of helmet design in recent years now means there is “no reason not to” wear one, that he “always” wears a helmet – and feels that others should do the same.

It’s important to note that this is a news report and that the quotes attributed directly to him are also entirely compatible with him merely making a recommendation that helmets should be worn.

Since the article appeared he’s tweeted:

Wow! This was one question in an hour interview. It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about. So when asked I thought… I always wear one and I’d advise all children to wear them. Didn’t realise people felt so passionately about helmets!!

So, let’s be kind and say he was just unprepared and naive … however, whatever he said and whatever he thinks, it has reignited the helmet-wearing debate in the UK.

To put my cards on the table, I don’t pretend that I have understood (or even read) all the research on the topic – but I always wear a helmet when riding a bike (other than on the turbo!).

As far as I am concerned, I hope I won’t fall off, I try very hard not to fall off but if I do fall off I’m keen to have sensible protection to my brain, my most valuable and vulnerable organ. I also always wear a helmet for skiing.

Most members of my cycling group wear helmets – but a few very intelligent and rational riders do not. The non helmet wearers either simply do not like helmets, or have reasons for believing that they are not the answer to preventing injuries from falls.

One argument is that wearing a helmet gives a false sense of security such that it can promote less careful riding.

I don’t go along with that – I know that if I fall off my helmet won’t save me from road rash, bruises and other injuries to arms and legs, broken collar-bones or hips. I certainly hope that my helmet will offer some protection to me head, but with everything else remaining so vulnerable, the helmet in no way makes me less careful.

Other arguments are that helmets can actually cause some twisting neck injuries, that research has suggested that drivers may give less room to helmet wearers than they give to riders without helmets – and that helmets do not offer significant protection in many cases.

It is also said that we should be promoting healthy lifestyles so that anything that might put people off cycling – like compulsory helmet-wearing – should be avoided. It was reported that Western Australia’s helmet law reduced cycling in Perth by 30-40% and that in Melbourne, cycling levels reduced by 36% in children and 44% amongst teenagers as a result of helmet compulsion – I do not know if participant numbers later recovered.

I know we have compulsory seatbelt wearing in cars and compulsory crash helmets for motorcyclists in the UK, but is the legislative programme so empty that cycle helmets get national scrutiny?

If you’ll forgive the ‘reductio ad absurdum’, I believe that there are significant numbers of people who damage their health by being inadequately dressed in cold weather or by over-exposing themselves to the sun. Anyone for compulsory coat wearing if it’s below 10℃, or compulsory long sleeves, hats and sun cream when it goes over 25℃?

It’s complicated but although I choose to wear a helmet I am not in favour of legislating on this.

I know the BMA (the British Medical Association) advocates compulsory helmet-wearing, and you can call me a wishy washy liberal but I prefer to give people freedom of choice on issues that affect their own well-being and safety – all the more so when the case for legislation does not seem to have been made beyond reasonable doubt.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906.

“I recommend helmet-wearing, but although I may not fight to the death over the matter, I am in favour of the rights of others not to wear one” – The Omil, 2018.

Post big ride blues?

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The bike has had a couple of short rides out but has a horrible ‘clunk’ so will not be undertaking any challenges for a while

The very hot dry spell has ended – it’s still fairly warm but wet and cold compared to the previous 80+℉. I’m taking the true British approach and have started to complain about the bad weather.

I’m not sure if there is anything such as ‘post big ride blues’ but since I’ve got back from the alps I’ve certainly lacked motivation and enthusiasm.

Last week I ran with Mrs O and had a couple of social rides with friends to a total of under 50 miles – but I missed the club ride on Saturday and have simply backed out of a couple of times when I thought I might have gone for a longer run. I’ve got to start increasing the running soon, if I’m going to know if I have another marathon in me by the time entry for the Rotterdam marathon opens.

The bike is making a loud ‘clunking’ noise at the moment – but I can’t work out what it is. Nothing seems to be loose but I’ll work through it step by step and am sure it will be something obvious.

I’ve been watching the Transcontinental Race on the laptop (‘dot watching’ on the tracking screen is strangely compulsive) but that is drawing towards an end. James Hayden won for the second successive year in under 9 days – for 3,790km with 50,396m of climbing (2,354 miles and 165,338 feet). That’s a totally solo and unsupported ride through, I think, 12 countries. He rode for 606km (377 miles) in the first 24 hours of the race – and at that stage he was not in the lead. Incredible!

At present, 65 riders have finished and 83 have scratched out of 254 starters. The rest are scattered over at least 8 different countries. What an event – and yes, I would be tempted if I thought I could make a reasonable fist of it. It’s so far beyond anything I’ve ever attempted …. but there again ‘everesting’ and riding out to the alps were too before I did them.

Le Tour – wonderful. Transcontinental Race – more phenomenal cycling

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More from stage 10 of Le Tour

I have never been mistaken for Mick Jagger – nor do we apparently have anything in common. However, having finished my ride to the alps, I can at least get some small sense of what it must be to try to come down from the high of a big performance.

The point is that the ride was quite all-consuming and, I’ve already said, that was one of the great things about it – the glorious simplification of life down to ‘eat, sleep, ride’.

Once I got to the alps I was occupied by the cycling with my friends and following Le Tour but having returned to what passes for normal life, it’s difficult not to think about the next challenges.

My promise to Mrs O that I won’t go for a solo challenge next year means I’ve got to recruit a fellow idiot or accept that I’ve got quite a while to ponder the issue – the main thing that might come off in the meantime being a marathon with our younger son in April 2019.

Happily, I can get the challenge experience second hand by following the Transcontinental Race that started on Sunday. I know it’s well beyond me but I can dream ….

As I write, the leader has ridden for 1 day 18 hours and 30 minutes and been stopped for only 4 hours 18 minutes. His average moving speed is 28.4kph (17.65mph). Quite phenomenal.

Of course, if I can’t exactly plan the next trip, I can think about cycling kit. Sometimes even that can be oddly entertaining. On the Chain Reaction Cycles website there is a Kask Rapido Road Helmet for sale. Apparently, they think one of its great attractions is the ‘Expanded polystyrene shell that optimises crash impacts’

Not sure about you but I’d go for a helmet than minimises crash impacts.

Tour de France 2018

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A rare picture – Geraint Thomas was more often ahead of Chris Froome. This is stage 10, just above Le Reposior on the Col de la Colombière – the last before Thomas took (and kept) the yellow jersey. 

No doubt, much of the cycling world would have wanted anyone but a Sky rider to win Le Tour. There is a strong argument that any domination of a sport becomes unhealthy over time and six wins in seven years certainly amounts to domination in my book.

However, I guess that if a Sky rider had to win, Geraint Thomas was a pretty good choice – a man who:

  • seems to be very popular in the peleton,
  • served his apprenticeship with good grace and humour (in 2007 he finished 140th out of 141),
  • handled the pressure commendably (rather in contrast with David Brailsford at times),
  • passes the ‘would you be happy to have a drink with him in the pub’ test, and
  • above all, is not Chris Froome.

Cards on the table, I am a big fan of Chris Froome and believe him to be a great champion – but I fear that the reception he’d have got when standing on the top step of the podium would have been ‘mixed’ at best (!) and, in some eyes, the victory would have been potentially tainted.

Of course, being a member of Sky since its creation, Geraint may be tarred with the same brush in the eyes of the sceptics but I believe that he’s never applied for any TUEs.

He doesn’t even have mild asthma – how many self-respecting pro cyclists can say that.

Chapeau Geraint.

Ride to the alps: round up and verdict

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Mont Blanc from Le Bettex. A lovely place to be – but was it worth riding out there?

The most important question from the experience: Would I do it again? Answer: Yes.

Eating, sleeping and riding: a simplified life, and very liberating. I loved it.

Some metrics:

  • Time – 84 hours elapsed
  • Distance – about 880km (c.550miles) and over 5600m of climbing (18400 feet)
  • Punctures – 3 (all on the last day, two within minutes of each other)
  • Gashed tyres – 1
  • Falls – 1
  • Mechanicals – 0 (other than the bent rear mech hanger as a result of the fall)
  • Sworn at by drivers – 0 (as far as I know)
  • Drivers sworn at – 4
  • Hooted at by drivers – 1 (a friendly warning as I was heading for a ‘no-cycles’ road)
  • Pills/medicines taken – 0
  • Shops visited – 1
  • McDonald’s visited – 1
  • Directions requested – 3
  • Raindrops felt – 0 (lucky – very hot but dry)
  • Cramps – 0
  • Water refills by knocking at random house – 1
  • Garmin ‘Off course’ messages – innumerable
  • Almost impassable cycle tracks – many
  • Phantom cycle tracks – loads
  • Time spent lost – a few hours
  • Fun had – immeasurable
  • Lessons learned – countless
  • Satisfaction gained – huge
  • Lunacy factor – off the scale

There were times when it was very hard – but they were vastly outweighed by the times when it was exhilarating, and by the feeling of satisfaction at having done it.

Would I do it differently? A bit.

  • My routing left much to be desired. I didn’t understand that going for cycle routing meant going for unsuitable paths and tracks in preference to perfectly good roads. Equally, I guess that going for road routing would not work perfectly as it would miss out on some great paths and would put me on some unsuitable roads.
  • On balance, if I were to do something similar, I’d go for routing using the driving option, avoiding highways, and then work out detours around any major roads that got included, and ways to include particularly good paths.
  • Not booking hotels in advance was a little bit of a pain – but added to the excitement. To be able to book ahead safely, my daily milage targets would have to be relatively modest to make sure I got to the hotel at the right time. That would take away a bit of the challenge but would give more time to stop en route to take in the scenery and any local attractions.
  • I guess you need to know why you are riding in the first place: is it to get somewhere as quickly as possible, or within a certain timescale, or is it to be a tourist or just to enjoy the ride?
  • I wanted to take my road bike because I was climbing mountains when I got out to the alps. Had that not been the case I would have gone for something better suited to long distances. I guess that would have slowed me down which might have made me feel more of a cycle tourist. Perhaps I’d have been more prepared to view the ride as an end in itself, rather than a means of getting to the alps as quickly as practicable.
  • I love my carbon saddle but it is probably best kept for rides up to about 6 hours. If I did a similar ride again I’d have to sacrifice some lightness for something more comfortable.
  • I can see the advantages of riding with one or more others – safety, companionship, the pleasure of a shared experience etc. On the other hand, I liked the independence and selfishness of just thinking about me – and you’d have to be well matched as cyclists not to get frustrated by the other’s speed, whether faster or slower.
  • I took, all packed in three bike bags:
    • cycling clothes – one jersey, one pair of gloves, glasses, helmet, one pair of socks, two pairs of shorts, rain jacket, shoes, arm and leg warmers:
    • evening clothes – one pair of shorts, one t-shirt, socks and underwear, one pair of trainers:
    • other, bike – Garmin, pump, bell, one spare tube, puncture repair kit, multi tool, tyre levers, lights (2 battery and 2 rechargeable), one bottle, lock and long cable,
    • other, non-bike – 9 oat bars, electrical tape, toothbrush, toothpaste, anti-perspirant, medicines and plasters, portable charger and adapter, passport, money, ferry ticket, credit cards, biro, reading and sun glasses, phone, plastic bags and dry sacks, two bungees, sheet of places passed through or nearby, wipes.
  • I used almost everything I took. The unused items were: the multitool, cable ties, lights (save for one small rear light that I used on the final run in to Les Carroz when it got a little bit darker as the storm clouds gathered – but delivered nothing), electrical tape, medicines (paracetamol and ibuprofen), tyre levers and spare plastic bags. All of them were pretty trivial extras – the only remotely significant items as far as weight went were the multitool and the lights and I think those were essential, even if I was lucky enough not to have needed them.
  • A slightly bigger frame bag would have been useful but for cheap and cheerful versions, the bags did really well.
  • Could I have done it in the hoped-for 3 days? Possibly, possibly not. Everything would have had to go in my favour to do that: no mechanicals, good weather, friendly winds, a route on roads and good paths, no getting lost, no falling off, perhaps an earlier start each day.
  • I’ve promised Mrs O, no big solo challenges next year, but our younger son is looking at April’s Rotterdam Marathon and it might be fun to run that with him …

 

Ride to the alps: day 4 (of three) ‘Climb every mountain’ (well, actually only the ones on the route)

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Well above Neuville-sur-Ain – a good way to warm up the legs first thing

In keeping with previous mornings I woke with a variety of minor aches (which eased very quickly) and an extremely sore backside (which didn’t). I left Neuville-sur-Ain at about 8.30 after a very good breakfast, in kit that had dried better overnight than previously.

Having already cycled for about 730km (453miles) out of an expected 820km (510 miles), I reckoned that I still had about 135km (84 miles) to go.

Almost immediately I was climbing into the Jura mountains, heading towards Ceignes. It was a very decent climb – there is a clue that you are on a reasonable climb when you pass a bar/restaurant called ‘Le Panoramique’ well before you reach the summit.

The climb was around 380m (1250 feet) but had a fairly gentle gradient. That was a good thing as my fall at the end of the second day had bent the rear mech hanger. For a day I’d been able to move the chain into the gap between the largest cog and the wheel, had suffered a rather ‘clackety’ drive train and couldn’t use the lowest gear as the bent hanger meant that the lower jockey wheel cage brushed the spokes.

I believe that mech hangers are designed to snap in the event of a big impact, to protect the frame. I’d decided that I wouldn’t need any very low gears for the rest of the journey and that I preferred it as it was, compared to being completely snapped – so I simply carried on.

Happily most of the roads followed the valleys or went over the shoulders of the hills. An early highlight was the lake at Nantua which I’ve often looked down on from the elevated roadway but had never visited before. It’s now on the list for a visit in the future.

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The lake at Nantua

All was going really well until I saw a rock late, missed it with the front wheel, but clipped it with the rear – which immediately decided that it no longer wanted to hold any air.

I’d brought one spare tube and a repair kit so I removed the tyre with my bare hands to avoid damaging the tube further – but needn’t have bothered as I discovered a long slit in it from the rock. The need for the new tube wasn’t a great disaster but of more concern was the gash in the tyre itself. Not surprisingly, I’d not brought a spare tyre so I was left with no choice but a temporary bodge.

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Oops

I had some small wipes in individual ‘metallized’ sachets so I took one of those (keeping the wipe for my hands afterwards … waste not, want not) and put it under the gash, between the inner tube and the tyre. I left the tube a little under-inflated and rode on rather apprehensively, particularly on the descents.

The next few villages had no bike shops but as the miles clicked by I got a bit more confident in my bodge, crossed the Rhone and rolled into Switzerland – through an entirely unmanned border post. Welcome to the Schengen area!

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What would Pres. Trump say?

Switzerland looks like a really bike-friendly country with lots of very good paths alongside the roads and with bike lanes apparently well respected by motorists in Geneva itself. I got through Geneva (eventually) and headed out on the home run – only to be held up by the font wheel coming out in sympathy with the rear and picking up a puncture.

I repaired that and pressed on, only to pick up another in the rear wheel (unrelated to the first and the gash in the tyre) within another 5 miles. By the time I patched that, I was really annoyed and my hands had absolutely no strength left (having fixed all three without using tyre levers).

The other enduring disadvantage from the punctures was the square wheel syndrome of having patched inner tubes. I now remember why I just replace them once they are punctured.

That was probably the low point of the whole trip but it was compounded by being met with another ‘Route barrée’ somewhere between Geneva and Annemasse. It included ‘no cycling’ and ‘no pedestrians’ signs, just to show they really meant it.

I probably spent the next 15 miles (24km) off course, the other side of the River Arve, guessing it was a suitable alternative route – but it worked.

It was very hot and almost everything was shut (it was Bastille Day so I guess it was something of a national holiday) but I eventually found a supermarket in Bonneville that was open and gratefully bought some mini croissants, a can of coke and some water. I stopped again at a McDonald’s soon after for more coke and an ice cream – the only stop at the golden arches for the whole trip – but very gratefully received.

By now I was on roads that I’ve cycled before when getting to or from nearby climbs and I was getting confident of finishing. I’m sure I didn’t take the shortest way but soon I was on the route de Châtillon, through St Sigismond, Araches and into Les Carroz. I probably did my all-time slowest ascent for that final climb to the apartment.

I arrived just before 8 pm – under 84 hours since I set out from Caen. I had clocked up almost exactly 880km (c.550miles) and over 5600m of ascent (18372 feet). So, probably 40+ miles (64km) more than I’d expected – I guess that was due to detours, getting lost and otherwise going off course to find hotels.

Of the 135km I assumed I had to do on the last day, I did at least another 150km and climbed over 1800m (93 miles and 5900 feet) – presumably due to yet more detours.

Three of the others had already arrived and there was a cold beer (or three) waiting for me … and beer has rarely tasted as good. Sadly, we were one short on the trip as David’s wife had fractured her wrist and ankle playing tennis … and Mrs O says cycling is dangerous!

After a fine supper, I slept well and woke with no ill effects other than a very sore backside. I love my carbon saddle but it has its comfort limit, and 84 hours is well beyond it.

The following day (Sunday) I went out with the others on the bikes but on Monday I just rode down into the valley and back to get new inner tubes (a tube is charmingly called ‘chambre à air’ in French) and a new tyre as the original was bulging by now after more than 100 miles on the temporary repair.

The 5 of us rode together on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I took another easy day on the Friday but still did the Joux Plane (which nearly broke Armstrong in one tour and is described in my “Tour climbs” book as ‘hard as nails’).

Over the week we also did the Cols de Romme and Colombière, the Cote des Amerands, Bettex, Mont Saxonnex and the Sommet d’Andey – possibly the hardest road I’ve ever ridden. Watching a stage of Le Tour on the 17th at Le Reposoire, half way up Colombière was, as always, a great experience.

Altogether, the week out in the alps accounted for a further 340km and 7400m of climbing (210 miles, 24,300 feet) – my legs were still severely fatigued but it’s got to be done.

Saturday saw us return to the UK – with delays at the Channel Tunnel, just to make it a perfect trip.

I’ll try to reflect on the whole experience in a few days but the sense of relief and achievement is huge.