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.

Approaching Double Figures, Ice Baths and Smoothie Bowls

My most recent two runs are below. I am making good progress. I also tried my first ice bath as an aid to recovery, and I screamed like a big girlie girl, especially when the water reached my nipples. In my defence it was so cold in there that it burned, however it seems to have been effective as my muscles are nowhere near as sore as they have been. This will be an interesting ongoing experiment. I will keep doing it to see what the effect is on my body. Right now I can tell you that it felt great afterwards. My whole body felt like my mouth does after brushing my teeth! Extreme cold exposure is linked to longevity and excellent health and muscles recovery so I hope that this will help me get fitter faster.

Strava Data

The eight mile one was agony but today I flew over a new route and trail. The first half was more or less nonstop climbing, but the second half was a beautiful trail. Photo below. You can see that my time vastly improved today, which is encouraging because I climbed a massive hill on the first half of the run.

Double figures for miles covered are imminent. I have my eye on a half marathon, then to pass my best ever distance, fifteen miles. Once that is done I am going all in to to complete a marathon-distance run.

Food

In the meantime I have been scoffing plenty of good food, recipes to come soon, and below are some lovely photos of my smoothie bowls. Be sure to check out my Instagram for more photos and recipes.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

It is amazing how profoundly important simple changes can be in regard to health and fitness. A while ago I cycled to a friend’s house on my tourer. Although my Garmin Edge 1000 took me on a bizarre detour – a six mile orbit of the target – my speed on average was much slower than the same journey completed yesterday using my racer. The fastest average speed I ever recorded is 19.2 miles per hour over a 24 mile commute. This was no doubt aided by my doing it at 0600 on mostly deserted roads. Yesterday was only 12.8 mph but still a good deal faster than anything I could have done on my tourer. Which all goes to show that one needs the right tool for the right job. Using my road bike made the journey way faster.

Garmin Data

So there you have it folks. Always be sure that you have the right tool for the right job.

Frozen Roads: Not My Friend

This week’s big weekend run was cut short, rather irritatingly, due to frozen roads. This cost me roughly four miles so it was still a substantial run and easily the longest of my week. I was annoyed at having to reduce my mileage but the map for my weekend run should illustrate that the main hill, Crown Point in Burnley is a pretty remote, intense climb and it is also a place where idiots like to drive their cars at unbelievable speeds. There is no street lighting, no police presence and it is an open country road operating under the UK national speed limit (60 MPH). In short, a frozen road added to those complications is asking for trouble and as such it is a death trap. Cutting my run short was the only sensible option. Had I known that it would be so cold I would have rearranged the run to do 11-12 miles over a different route, but we all would do things differently with 20/20 hindsight I am sure.

Map

Layering

The temperature last night I estimate to have been around -3 so it was very cold. I have spent time in the Arctic Circle at -37 so that is a little perspective for you there, however for running this is serious injury territory if one simply trots off out in a pair of shorts and a jacket. I have been studying the art of layering and this is something that is very important to a distance runner (a term I was surprised to learn means anyone who regularly runs over 3 miles – that does not seem too much to me). To be succinct; cold muscles get damaged very easily and so last night I had only one option: Spandex.

Okay, I am joking. I didn’t don Spandex last night, however decades of cycling in all manner of weather conditions has taught me a lot about how to manage the human body in extreme environments. I am sure it will surprise nobody to learn that the most important principle of keeping warm and injury free is to wear many thin layers rather than woolly clothes or what have you. The top half of the body is relatively simple to do. Wear a base layer, then a running top, then another if you can, then a windproof jacket. That is simple enough. The challenge here is to close off any holes where air can enter and for that I recommend one of the best inventions ever: a snood. Not just any old snood mind, I wear a children’s snood because they are tight and can be pulled up over the face and they will not slide down. This combined with my hat can reduce my exposed face to a slit for my eyes. When I run I wear on-ear headphones for music or podcasts so they clamp the hat onto my head. There isn’t a herd of wild horses that could get through my warmth armour on the top half of my body.

The bottom half is more interesting, and here one must be prepared to look like a bit of a prat. Layered legs have to be aerodynamic which means skin-tight (and I do mean TIGHT) clothing. I have previously cycled and run in subzero temperatures wearing shorts and whilst I never suffered serious injury, in retrospect I have to admit that this was stupid. It no doubt contributed to a good few niggling pains and stretched recovery times. Neither are painful in extremis but they are annoying and can be chronic. So, the solution? One of the best inventions EVER. Layer one for the legs must be compression tights. They cling to and squeeze the muscle, keeping blood flow at the surface and therefore muscles stay warm. Over that I wear my cycling long johns which are essentially running trousers with saddle padding in the crotch. I must get around to getting a pair without the pads. They are the same thing but the padding can be annoying and feels like a nappy, which is not ideal. I stress here that the worst thing to wear would be tracksuit bottoms. They flap in the air and reduce your speed. You will waste a great deal of energy and your running rhythm will be completely out of sync. Yes, you will look ridiculous in tight running trousers but you will be safer, less injury prone and they feel great. Forget form, this is all about function. Tracksuit pants are for recovery or, if racing, arriving and leaving.

Today is my rest day. Tomorrow is my 43(ish) mile round trip to university on the bike so I’ll be posting that tomorrow evening.