Saturday 28 February 2009

Cycling in Holland

Fred spent a few months living in Scheveningen (that town with the unpronounceable name near The Hague). I visited him a few times, and while out there I tried to get a feel for what the cycling scene was like in those parts.

Cycling in Holland is very inclusive. It’s just another mode of transport and open to anyone, not just those that are either fit enough or steady enough to ride on car-filled roads. People of all ages and sizes are happy to get on their bikes. It’s not unusual to see a mother bringing her children to school all on their own bikes. Everybody is equal on the bike, regardless of what you ride.

You don't get the same friction between motorists and cyclists. Most car drivers will also be part-time cyclists or a member of their family cycles. This is a powerful factor as it develops a better understanding between the different road users. The cyclists are generally not reckless. Reckless cyclists still get a similar reaction to the UK though.

The Highway Code is generally observed. Hand signals are important more for other cyclists than for anybody else. A few take their chances at a red light but most don’t. With typical bikes having no acceleration, slow brakes and slow steering this doesn't lend itself to cyclists doing anything quickly though! So you'd feel a bit exposed rolling across a junction on a red light, especially when you also have to dodge trams!

Bikes are almost exclusively the upright Dutch roadster type. They might look basic with no gears and a back pedal brake but every one will have mudguards, chain-guard, dynamo lights and a big saddle.

Braking is done by pedalling backwards. At first it's daunting but it's easy to pick up. Because nobody goes that quickly and pedestrians or cars don’t encroach on the cycle paths there’s less need to suddenly slow down or stop.

On weekdays club cyclists and road bikes are almost never seen. Commuting is done in ordinary day clothes (civvies) and there is almost a competition to see who has the most upright stance on their bike! Overtaking is almost frowned upon.

There are lots of cycle paths within the town. Also most main roads have parallel cycle tracks. The average person will consider cycling journeys of about 10-15km each way so inter town cycle paths are all an essential part of the cycle path network.
Having lots of cycle lanes means you are not really expected to ride on the road. However, cycle lanes are not really made for training pace rides on a road bike - mainly because the surface can be quite rough, and also the cycle lane traffic doesn't move that fast.

I didn't get the chance to check out the club cycling scene but I saw alot of club cyclists out at the weekends - especially on Saturday mornings. They mainly frequented the dune cycle path which connected the Hook of Holland, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. There I saw a constant stream of club riders.

Holland also has a strong cyclo cross tradition, and we were quite close to Pijnacker, the venue for a few World Cup cyclo cross races.

If you are going to be in Holland for a while why not hire a bicycle as a way of travelling. Most train stations will hire bikes by the hour or by the day. Cycle shops might have a better quality bike for rent but these tend to be outside the town centres. Typical prices for a "High Nelly"/Dutch roadster bike in The Hague were: 7euros per day, 100euros per month or 300euros to buy a bike outright.

Just as people have said, I found the place to be very bike friendly. Sadly, the UK still has a long way to go in terms of public opinion and cycling infrastructure. We could learn alot from the Dutch.

Back in the Running

Cycling is my main activity and this blog is mainly about all things two-wheeled, but every now and again I like to stray off the designated path and do something else. So, for once I actually did something that didn't involve a bicycle.
Well, I rode my bike to get from my office to the race in Hyde Park. But after that, it was all about the feet.

Once upon a time I was a runner - and not a bad one at that. But then, age and injury set in so I had to find something else to do. That was when I discovered cycling (via triathlon and duathlon), and so over the last few years it has been mainly about the bike.

Now, over the last few years it has been a ritual of mine to send off an entry for the New York Marathon - and just as everyone around me said would happen, I get rejected. But as I have been rejected 3 times on the trot I have now struck it lucky and have a guaranteed place. So, that means cripes - I've gotta start running again!

Ok, so the race is not until November, but I need to give myself time to adjust mentally and physically to the whole running thing. I have run 26 and bit miles before - I've done the London Marathon twice. But then I was a thirty something. Having a FV40 beside my name might mean that my legs start protesting that bit sooner, or my childhood asthma might return. Who knows. Anyway, I like to think that the 8 months I have left should be long enough to prepare myself and identify any potential pitfalls along the way.

My first step has been to find out exactly where I am as a runner. So that's how I ended up on the start line for the Last Friday of the Month 5km race at Hyde Park. I wasn't starting completely from zero, as my perpetual habit of jogging 5km twice a week (to keep the weight down) ensured that I would be able to cover the distance.

So, on a sunny lunchtime I set off with the 200 or so other runners. In running terms, this race is described as flat. In reality when you're pelting along at 85% intensity any slight rise of the tarmac is painful - and there were a few of these in Hyde Park. It was also pretty warm considering the time of year.

Fortunately for me, none of these factors affected me. As I this was my first race since 2005, and I was just getting over tendinitis I would be taking it easy and running on perceived feeling - no watch or heart rate monitor.

I felt comfortable as I tapped out a regular rhythm with my legs and my breathing, while following another lady who seemed to be of a similar pace me. We crossed the line within a few seconds of each other. Out of interest I asked her what time she had recorded for our run, and she said 34 minutes. Ok, I thought to myself. Not very fast, but then I was taking it easy.

However, when I got back to my office, 10minute ride away, the time was 1.15pm. But the race had started at 12.30pm and I had spent around 10 minutes chatting and warming down after the race. Could I have mis-heard her and she'd actually said 24 mins??

Serpentine running club, the organisers, being highly efficient texted me my result later that day. I actually did 23mins 43 seconds! Quel Surprise! I had only wanted to do an easy run on half an hour! Ok, so it's not the fastest time I've done for 5km and I only finished 147th out of 200 runners. But I couldn't complain. I was not feeling 100% on par, I haven't raced for 4 years, haven't done any speed training, and I am getting to be a slightly old codger!

This has given me confidence to re-start my running and do a few more races. I'll even renew my Serpentine Running Club membership.
Of course, I won't ditch cycling just yet though!

Sunday 22 February 2009

More Yorkshire Rides

Two contrasting rides. One went to the West of Hull, the other went to the East.
Hull - Cottingham - Skidby - Market Weighton - Londesborough - Pocklington - North Dalton - Middleton on the Wold - Bainton - Beverley - Hull
Distance - 60miles
Weather - mild and sunny
Terrain - rolling/hilly
Scenery - Pretty. Lots of small quaint villages with a pond, a church and horsey things.
The road between Pocklington has a number of steep hills in rapid succession.
The road from Bainton to Beverley (B1248) is constantly twists and rolls and is a favourite with motorbikers.

View Larger Map

Hull - Bilton - Hedon - Patrington - Easington - Holmpton - Withernsea - Roos - Aldborough - Flinton - Sproatley - Bilton - Hull
Distance - 55miles
Weather - windy and cloudy with an extra cold breeze from the North sea
Terrain - flat/gently undulating
Scenery - largely uninteresting, with expanses of flat farmland. Nearer the coast were caravan parks, and an oil/gas refinery at Easington
The terrain twists and turns alot from Easington to Aldborough, quite exposed and a windy ride. Apart from the wind, the terrain is easy to ride. Watch out for refinery traffic near Easington.

View Larger Map

I liked both of the rides for different reasons. Saturday was obviously the prettier ride and gave a better feel-good factor. It was the more taxing ride though. Sunday wasn't a pretty ride, but I appreciated being able to get out for an easy spin.

Friday 20 February 2009

A season in 'Cross

Having had a frantic time in the sharp end world of road racing I took a winter break and headed for the world of cyclo cross.

I had a great time. I experienced almost six months of full-on, mud-infested two-wheeled fun.
There were highs - like from the top of the climb at Stanmer Park.
There were lows - like the ditch I kept falling into at Penshurst.
We had lovely warm weather - like at Hainault Country Park.
We had quasi Siberian conditions - like at Herne Hill.
There was craziness - like the slippery descents at Wilmington.
There was serenity - like the non-technical course at Dunsfold.
We had laughs - like when George ran across the course, leaping over taping to pick up his mountain bike after a mechanical failure.
We had pains - like when Giles somersaulted over the handlebars at Wilmington.

There was camaraderie - like when Nicola, riding ahead of me in the race, pointed out hazards at Reed Court Farm when I hadn't recce'd the course.
There was rivalry - like when Sarah, Abi and Nicola constantly swapped places in a 3-way battle at Temple School.
We had disappointment - like when Helen either crashed out or had mechanicals which took her out of the races at Dunton, Herne Hill, Lydden Hill.....and others.
We had elation - like when Claire won the women's league in her debut season.

It was tough, it was fast, it was frustrating, it was fun, it was muddy, it was exciting, it was scary, it was exhilarating, it was emotional, it was cyclo cross.

Top and bottom photos by
middle photo by Julene Knox

Monday 16 February 2009

Dulwich Women's Cyclo Cross Team - Success !

Last year we tried to get 4 women from the London area to the start line for the Inter-Area cyclo cross championships. We failed, though it wasn't for want of trying. Things just didn't go our way.

Last week we tried to get 4 women from Dulwich Paragon (my club) to the start line for the London Cyclo Cross Association Team Championships. This time things went a bit differently.

We started off with one rider who'd been riding the London League anyway (myself), so doing the team champs wouldn't have been a matter for debate. That rider was then joined by another woman who had only just started dabbling in cyclo cross, so she was reasonably keen to have a go (Delia). But even with just two of us that wouldn't make a team. The third woman had a cyclo cross bike that she was only just getting used to. She'd never done a cyclo cross race before, and besides she'd already marked Sunday as the day to do a cyclo sportive she was interested in (Sarah). With a little persuasion and the "your club needs you" pep talk, two then became three.

By now we had enough women to form a team - but we didn't want it to just stop there. Having a fourth rider would make life easier on the team, especially if mechanicals occurred. We were then blessed with another rider. She had never ridden off road before - let alone done a cyclo cross race. She didn't have a bicycle, and had spent Saturday running herself silly in a hockey match (Sarah). But she wanted to have a crack at the race.

So that was our 4 woman team. We all met up at Wilmington Grammar School, where I presented Sarah with her steed for the afternoon and we did a couple of laps' practice. We were all pretty positive and knew that we were going to try our best, and ride hard in spite of the sticky conditions we were faced with. We all wanted to make it round in one piece and enjoy ourselves too.

I think we achieved our goal. On top of that, we received medals for being the winning women's team. We were the only women's team ! Still, I think that our team are winners because we managed to pull off the feat of getting four women from the club to the start line (which many clubs don't manage), and all of us racing well in tough conditions. A good day was had by all.

Hopefully this will give other clubs something to aim for next year and we will be able to battle it out like men - or even women, to defend our crown!

top photo by 2wheelchick
bottom photo by John Mullineaux (London CycleSport)

Saturday 14 February 2009

Some days it just doesn't happen!

I was gonna get up and do join the Saturday club run from the local cafe where I live.
The frost on the ground made me think - "it's gonna be skid city in the Kent Lanes" so I decided to opt for the off road option.
Pondered whether or not to join the cyclo cross ride with my club, then decided to join Fred on his off-road training ride.
Which bike should I use? The mountain bike would make me feel safer - the cross bike would be quicker but bumpier and, in my case, scarier.
After lots of faffing, fettling and fooling around we left the house - Fred on his slick cross bike, and I on my thick tractor of a mountain bike.
"Don't worry," he said "With all this frost the ground will be hard so you won't be that slow."
Famous last words, eh.
The ground was as hard as soup, and I was worried - I kept falling around, at one point nearly spraining my ankle. But the biggest worry, was "I'm meant to keep this bike clean for Sarah who'll be racing on it tomorrow - I'm not gonna have time to clean off all this kak!"
Fred was getting far from a training ride as he kept stopping to wait for me while I hauled my sorry ass through the trails. I can't really say I was riding.
You get the picture.

I thought we'd been riding for an eternity but we'd only actually gone from Wallington to Banstead!

So without much further ado, I cut my losses, my embarrassment and Fred's wasted time by turning on my heel and heading for home.

"I can always cycle indoors" I thought. But then I remembered that my rollers were sitting in two broken pieces in the dining room, and my turbo trainer is "in hibernation" God knows where.

So, that was my training ride for the day. Maybe I'll be luckier tomorrow.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Birthday Honours

So, I've reached another birthday - it takes me that bit nearer to the menopause, that bit nearer to needing plastic surgery or liposuction, and I'll be running and riding that bit slower now. But hey, I was born on exactly the same day as Jennifer Aniston, so mustn't grumble!

Anyway, as it's a landmark birthday, I thought I might just, like our Queen Elizabeth II, do a birthday honours list.

I'd like to honour the following people for services to my life -

Trevor, the sports physiotherapist - he has done a great job in putting my legs right when they start going pear shaped.

Ann-Marie, my hairdresser - she has managed to keep my thick wild hair in place when a pure afro style would have made me look wilder. I'm sure that has spared me from scaring employers away, and from giving myself a nightmare when buying a cycling helmet.

Pat, the postman (I'm protecting his identity here!) - during the 11.5 years I lived in my flat he has dutifully delivered my fan mail from the likes of EDF, London Borough of Bromley and HBOS without fail. Hey, it has all helped to keep the wolf from the door!

John, the photographer - he's turned up at loads of races which I've done over the past few years - and has always had words of encouragement for me. Invaluable for the pre-race psyche.

And of course, I would like to thank my friends and family. They do not always understand this cycling madness that's gotten into me, but they have still been very supportive in my various exploits.

Finally, I would like to thank my other supporters - my legs, as well as my bones and muscles. Despite being put through 40 years of use and abuse, they have never failed to get me round a cycle race (or the triathlons and running races that I've done in the past). They've also got me to work and back on my bike, therefore saving me a packet which could have gone to London Transport. So overall, that has meant more money to spend on bikes, bike bits and other frivolities which have brightened up my life so far.

So, thank you legs - and thanks to everyone else!

Friday 6 February 2009