The Quest for the Perfect Commute

For a long time I have been taking stock of my cycling situation, specifically in regards to commuting. My focus has been on finding the right bicycle, one that is portable, fun to ride but which still gets me around fast. Well, so help me oh lord but I think that I may have finally found it.

Thoughts on Foldies

Folding bikes, and I would also suggest city bikes in general, are enjoying something of a resurgent era. I live in the north of England, about thirty minutes from Manchester and I have watched with keen interest the efforts of mayor Andy Burnham as he has been attempting, and at last succeeding, to take the city bus network back into public ownership. As the country tries to remember that there are people in places other than London who would like to get to work, he has been grafting hard on this and his recent court victory is a huge step forward. The news that he is capping bus fares at £1 and £2 for children and adults respectively is great news for a city, and indeed a country, that is being strangled by car usage and corporations using public services to gouge people with extortionate fares.

All of this means that cycle commuting is becoming attractive, notwithstanding some absolute terrible biking infrastructure. For me the folding bicycle has always been problematic. Some of this is due to them being relatively expensive, Bromptons for example are absurdly priced, and some of this is because of the 16/20 inch wheels that tend to be standard. A full size foldie would, for me, negate the whole point of having one as I need something I can put in the car also. The small wheels are an issue because, where I live, wherever you cycle if heading out of town is uphill. Cycling uphill on small wheels isn’t particularly difficult but it just takes so long to do it. These bikes are anything but fast. I know that the Brompton Elite Fanbase (TM) swear by them but if I did have upwards of £1000 to splurge on yet another bike, it would not be a sixteen inch wheel, overpriced luxury machine. I have nothing against them but that amount of money is preposterous.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that a foldie is a great solution to many problems and so I spent a long time scouring the web for one, eventually coming to settle on a middling price 20 inch wheeler. My hand hovered over the checkout for many days until I suddenly spotted something beautiful…

Tern Bicycles

Tern are a company that formed after the father and son ownership team of Dahon split in a dispute, with Tern being the new business venture of the latter. They make all sorts of bikes, including the now-discontinued Tern Node D7i:

Tern Node D7i

On the Tern website they now sell the Node D8, however if one Googles the D7i then the page is still accessible. The D8 differs from the D7i in that it does not have the hub gearing and he chain is not sealed, two features that I think they ought to have kept as they are great for stopping oil getting on clothes or chain slap in general.

The D7i appears to be a rare find. I could only locate the one I bought, used, via eBay. The previous owner very kindly gave me two Tern baskets that attach to it, one front and one rear. It has 24 inch wheels as opposed to the bog standard 20 found on most foldies, and it is beautiful. The bigger wheels make for a much faster bike than my previous 20 inch wheel foldie, and it is also lighter than that bike and folds down better, faster and smaller. The caveat there is that the other one was older and cheaper, but nonetheless the D7i is way ahead. The front light is dynamo powered so I only need a rear lamp, and the bike is far easier to carry in its folded state than the old one. This might be the best bike I have ever had for commuting and general city and urban cycling.

So I appear to have raised the standard of my commute. As I have ridden it twice around the block to test it you can expect more detail on here later…

Bicycle Odyssey

I am on a bicycle odyssey right now. I have been running solidly all winter and cycling season is but a twinkle in the eye, except that it always turns up quickly. I now have four bicycles as I have just bought what I expect will be the first of many vintage cycles. It is a Wolfman road tourer, pictured below.

Wolfman Road Bicycle

It is clearly an ancient thing but I think it, like many other older bicycles, is beautiful. Let us be frank also, one bicycle is never enough. I obtained this for zipping around town so as not to have to break out my more expensive bikes for that purpose. Not only is there a substantial risk of theft in urban settings, there is also the fact that wearing out parts and risking punctures for the sake of a couple of miles is a wee little bit silly.

The look on the face of the servicing technician when I asked for a tune up to get it roadworthy told me that there are not very many vintage bikes on the road in the north of England. To me that is a great shame. When I think about the health issues we have such as obesity, diabetes and the myriad problems associated with inactivity and sedentary living I find the solution to these generational challenges is plain to see. The normalisation of cycling as everyday transport would tackle so much of this with very little effort or expenditure. It is a matter of the political will to have the courage to put motorists back in their collective box and make active travel the priority. It is happening here in the UK, albeit very slowly. We all glance over at Amsterdam and Copenhagen with green eyed envy but I think that the change is coming and it is inevitable. Every time I use the roads in a car I look around, aghast at the sheer lunacy of it all. Hundreds, thousands of single people driving around in box with a sofa and two armchairs, which uses fuel that is running out, polluting an ecosystem we cannot afford to lose, and using up time that could be spent doing exercise and commuting simultaneously, and I can only reach one conclusion. This cannot go on. It simply cannot. This utter insanity of packing people into dirty, polluting metal boxes that make them lazy, fat, entitled and angry has to come to an end.

The Normalisation of Cycling

The unsustainable nature of car culture is why is think that vintage bikes are coming back with a bang. Every time we all see a child cycling to school in uniform, an adult cycling in jeans, a young lady riding in a dress with her shopping in a front mounted basket; these all serve to normalise everyday practical cycling. Yes, I wear Lycra to cycle but only because I am a sport cyclist covering great distances. The change we crave will come from a critical mass of people using their bikes as their primary mode of transport.

My motive for buying this vintage is precisely that, to play my part in the normalisation of day to day cycling. I have for years zipped around doing errands and collecting shopping on my bike, but only now have I bought some decent urban cycling kit, including the bike, and also shoes and clothing. I have been using the Wolfman and my foldie and I am cycling at a leisurely pace. I am not interested in calorie burn or raising a sweat. Just cycling for the utility and pleasure of it. I will still do my distance rides on my carbon fibre racer, but in order to normalise utility cycling I am doing my bit. Why? Well, as I said, the lunacy cannot go on. The fuel is running out, the environment needs to be pollution free, people need to get thinner and fitter, and diseases of laziness and inactivity must be beaten. Simply put: the world must change.

To see how we got here and why change is coming, I recommend you watch Bicycle, a documentary about cycling, where it began, what went wrong, and how we will put it all right in the future. In the meantime, get on your bike. Don’t race, don’t Lycra up, just take a leisurely ride and do something to normalise utility cycling. Your kids and your future are waiting to say thanks.

Exploring Thieveley Pike

I managed to get out yesterday on my bike, with my drone so I went exploring over the tops of Burnley and Dunnockshaw. It was beautiful.

It is amazing how, even in a relatively small and unimpressive town like Burnley there is such beauty everywhere. If you enjoy the video please do like, share and subscribe.

Shaking Things Up – Time Over Distance – Bonus Content: Gout Can Eat my Ass and Balls

A brief summary of the key points in this post today:

  • I have gone over to the new Apple Watch, using the native workout app and Healthfit for syncing and export
  • I have recovered from another gout flare
  • I am tweaking my diet again
  • I have started running for speed
  • I have upgraded from Garmin Edge 1000 to the Edge 1030 sensor bundle for cycling

Details

So that list is quite a lot. Thankfully I have quite a lot to say so hopefully this will be a blog post of a kind most revelatory.

Apple Watch

I continually flirt with gear and currently I have left my Garmin Vivoactive HR aside and turned to the might of Apple with its Watch Series 6. I avoided Apple Watch for a while as the notifications are so annoying, however I have been able to turn most off so now it seems to be an option. Additionally, and I hate to sound shallow, but media functions matter to me. Running without a long form podcast or an audiobook is, for me, intolerable. Not only due to boredom but also I view it as a missed opportunity to work my brain whilst I exercise my body. Right now the best Garmin can do is sync media to its watches using a wired connection to a computer and I am sad to say that that is just not good enough. This is supposed to be cutting edge fitness and navigation technology. When Apple Watch will synchronise it all as I need, wirelessly whilst I sleep is Garmin really offering nothing better than a 25 year old method to get media to listen to? Plus, now that Apple has retired iTunes and separated music, podcasts and video I would have to wait for Garmin to update its sync software, to say nothing of the fact that the software that Audible provides for getting audiobooks onto devices looks like the ancient software I used to use when I owned a Palm PDA – now there is a retro tech reference for you.

It seems to me that for someone in my demographic Apple Watch is the best I can get, so I did. The options and apps available are superb and now that Healthfit (£3.99) will export everything I need and connect to Strava I have to say that I am sold on Apple Watch going forward. For massive day hikes such as the Yorkshire Three Peaks I have my Vivoactive HR ready to go but as an everyday device it is surpassed. Things can change in future as always, but that is my roadmap for the time being.

Health

Gout is garbage. I still curse my bad luck at being susceptible. Even my GP cannot believe it. A teetotal, outdoors-obsessed plant muncher should not be so unfortunate, but there we are. My body simply cannot process uric acid as efficiently as necessary and from time to time I will have to put up with this crap. This time I needed two courses of prednisolone to get rid of it, and be under no illusions about what a horrible drug that is. Naturally I have not done much exercise recently, until the last couple of days.

Diet

I am attempting to tweak my diet to see if I can get the drop on gout. The current view is to get my kidneys to flush – more efficiently – the uric acid, so I am consciously drinking even more water but also I am adding pomegranate juice and powder to my diet. Allegedly this can help. The science seems to suggest that free radicals are raised during a flare and pomegranate contains a powerful antioxidant that will counter this problem. I will also be creating a tincture out of which I will make a herbal infusion to drink daily.

Speed

Today I ran 2.5 miles, prioritising speed over distance for a change, and with relative ease ran my first and second fastest miles, and weirdly Strava said that, according to my heart rate, this was easier than usual, so I need to do some thinking on this front. I do remain convinced that my diet is affecting my performance massively however, and all for the better.

This is much faster than normal and I definitely felt I had more to give.

Cycling

I have upgraded my cycling computer to the Garmin Edge 1030 sensor bundle so I now have a cadence sensor, speed sensor and a heart rate strap. I plan to spend the next few weeks and blog posts going through the Garmin sensor metrics to which I now have access and see what I can do with it all to improve my performance. Stay tuned for that.

Tribute

Today is a day of sadness, and those who understand will appreciate a simple pictorial reference. Goodnight to the Mozart of the Electric Guitar.

Picking up Speed: Distance Over Time

As the week draws in with the last dregs of summer being chugged as we speak I am picking up speed as quickly as I am dropping pounds. Yesterday’s bike rides were 13.5mph and 14.6mph average speeds respectively. This is significant progress, and interestingly the faster ride was just over 21 miles whereas the slower one was just over 11 miles. The former was a slightly greater climb, however it is over a much greater distance so proportionately it was easier, and the shorter ride is a whopper of a climb that goes on for almost four miles, and it starts as soon as I set off. Still, I am now, on decent length road courses, pushing the 15mph barrier.

Garmin Data

Data is the summary, splits, speed and elevation.

Pushing serious distance like this I am starting to feel young again, when I would cycle for miles and miles for the pure joy of cycling.

Should Cyclists Run?

Today’s Ride

This is an interesting topic. I am inspired to think about this for several reasons. Firstly, I want to run and cycle so I need to ensure that I do each well and safely. Secondly, I am now about to hit double figures for running distances so I am ready to start alternating cycling and running days, mainly to spare my body the pain of daily recovery from an impact sport like running.

Why?

Well, I am not one of those gym bores who bangs on endlessly about targeting muscle groups and suchlike. If that is your bag then crack on but I don’t really envy you. I still love cycling with an indescribable passion, much more so than running or any other sport. I consider myself a cyclist first and hope that whatever else I do will contribute to my prowess on two wheels. That being said, it stands to reason that better runners will be better cyclists, and so I am experimenting with a complimentary approach. Right now I am at the beginning of collecting data and analysing patterns so this is all very new and with that in mind I have to remember several caveats.

  • I have a small data set gathered over only a few weeks
  • I am slightly over eight pounds lighter than a month ago
  • I currently cannot measure things like power whilst cycling

Clearly in future I will need power meter pedals, and a full suite of Garmin tools to measure everything. I will also be a great deal lighter by the time that comes around.

Okay, my bets are now hedged, so I can report early findings. Today I did the Crown Point circuit. I last did this exact route on August 30th this year so below is a chronological data comparison.

The difference is striking and glaringly obvious. In roughly 2.5 weeks have gained 1.4 mph in average speed over the same course. Below is the speed graph comparison from my Garmin Edge 1000.

The results are again obvious. I did not have a particularly fast downhill segment today – there was quite a headwind as it happens – rather I was just faster over the whole course. This suggests a major improvement in physical performance.

Reasons

Is it running that has generated such powerful results? Possibly, however I have also refined my diet from plant- based to whole plant-based. I do not count calories or macros as I have long been convinced that weight gain is caused not by calorie intake but insulin. My commitment to eating whole foods, low glycemic load meals and eating plenty in general means that I am likely gaining significant muscle mass at the expense of body fat. Eight pounds lost in under four weeks is no fluke.

Takeaway Thoughts

Right now several things appear to be working in my favour.

  • Eating a plant-based, whole food diet
  • Fasting at least 16/8, although I often try to reduce my feeding window
  • Varying exercise routines by type
  • Also, forgetting about how fast I run and running on trails that, whilst slow because of the terrain, I actually enjoy. This is better than pounding endless pavement trying to pick up speed and being bored out of my mind.

Clearly things are working. I am on target to be under 14 stones by Christmas, although there is many a slip twixt cup and lip so I am not treating that as a serious target. What I do know is that yes, I think that cyclists should run, and that fasting and eating whole plants rather than just plants is causing me to shed weight so quickly that I’d better be getting some new threads as Christmas gifts!

Thinking as Hard as I Cycle

Today’s Ride

Relive

Breakdown

I am slowly adding power and pace to my rides. Yesterday’s and today’s bike ride data summaries are below, sourced from Strava.

As you can see I added distance, elevation and speed to my rides. This is important because I actually had to think about this. As I am increasingly coming to believe, almost all speed gains come from climbs rather than fast downhill cycling. This is partly because cycling where I do there are very few long stretches of downhill or flat road so I just cannot put together long speed segments, and also because I naturally rest a little during downhill segments. I also would suggest that there is more to be gained from working harder on climbs. There seems to me to be more capacity for improvement as I lose dead weight (fat) and add muscle bulk. An extra 2mph added to a climb is surely worth more than going ever faster on the downhill. Plus it is far easier to hit one’s natural speed limits on the downhill than on climbs.

Right now I am hovering around 12mph average speed (this has improved incrementally over time). I want to hit 15mph average as quickly as I can. Most of this gain should come from climbing intelligently and also weight loss. I am burning off fat so quickly that I am visibly changing shape almost daily.

Right now fasting hard and thoughtfully working hard on rides is working.