Thursday 31 December 2009

A decade of new millenium pedalling

Back in the 90's there was so much talk about the new millenium and how things were going to change. I remember phoning the Sony and Phillips helpline to check that my TV and video were not going to blow up on the stroke of midnight!

The whole dot com era was really taking off and it was a fashionable sector to work in. Less than half the people in my entourage had an email address.

And now look at us. My TV still works and so does my video recorder (yes I still use it when I'm feeling nostalgic!), and everyone I know has an email address.

On the cycling front, the late 90s was a new time for me cycling wise. So it's quite appropriate that I now reflect on the first decade of this millenium in the same breath as my first decade of regular cycling.

Early Beginnings

I learned to ride a bicycle as a 6 year old when my dad abruptly took the stabilisers off my bike and said "now ride!". Three days and several bruises later I was riding. After that, cycling was a very intermittent activity for me, partly because my parents were not mad keen on me doing what they believed to be a dangerous activity. From time to time, I rode on the footpaths near my house with mates, I rode to the shops as a teenager and was strictly under orders to keep to the pavements. I did a brief stint of cycling as a student and rode to lectures when I lived off campus.
I also did a few trips around the country - to the Lake District, the Peak District, the Mendips, the Cotswolds, Malvern Hills. Those had been real adventures for a noncyclist who was trying to discover the world! My family wondered why I couldn't have saved up for a car and used that to visit these places!

Up until 1998 I could probably recall all the moments that I'd been out on a bicycle as I cycled quite infrequently, and had focused on other sports.

Getting my pedalling started

So, in late 1998, spurred on by my running ability, I got this idea of joining a triathlon club. I'd been very pleased to have a bicycle that I could ride and train on regularly. That Dawes hybrid with the flat pedals that I rode with my trainers and my town shoes, as well as in a few triathlons was my pride and joy!

Naturally, I soon realised that I would need a "proper" bike. So in 1999 the very kind Maurice Burton of De Ver cycles built me a lovely red road bike from a generic aluminium frame and Shimano 105 components. This was my new pride and joy.
I had spent £80 on my Dawes bicycle, and to me that amount of money was reasonable but neverthesless non-negligeable. The red bicycle was a "whopping" £400. Gosh, I would really have to get my money's worth with this bike! I guarded it with my life!

So I began to take part in more events - starting with a few local triathlons at Crystal Palace, White Oak, Sevenoaks and Southwater. Being able to knock 30 minutes off my previous times for a sprint triathlon was thrilling. Now was the time to make it into the big world of travelling to national series triathlons - at Shropshire, Windsor, Milton Keynes and Docklands. I even did an event while in the French Alps and bumbled my way through a triathlon around Lake Annecy!
1999 was the year things began to kick off.

So the noughties was when I learned alot and became more of a biker and less of a runner.

Club Runs, Training Camps and Commuting

Club runs were tough for me as I didn't have a clue where I was when we went into the Kent and Surrey lanes. I was so anxious about not being able to keep up, and being left in the wilds to find my own way home. Thankfully the nice people at Crystal Palace triathlon club helped me along, even when I bonked after 25 miles!

I had very similar problems when I rode with the Addiscombe Cycling Club. That was tougher as they were proper cyclists, some of whom rode alot quicker than any of the local triathletes! I felt enormous embarrassment when I needed to stop and rest my legs on the 15 mile ride from Charlwood back to Croydon! Thankfully people like Andrew (Monty) Montgomery and Marco Faimali made sure I was ok.

My first cycling training camp was in 2000. It was with Graham Baxters Sporting Tours in hills near Benidorm. Keeping up with the slowest groups was a real struggle, and I ended up with a badly grazed elbow when I crashed while riding along a tarmacced road in a straight line!
I did another trip with Baxters around the Andalucian villages. Making it through the week was a real sense of achievement, having ridden from Malaga, round to Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera, Carmona, Cordoba and back.

As the noughties wore on I made progress in my cycling. The ride from Crystal Palace to Box Hill and back was now no trouble for me at all. I actually began to spar with other girls (albeit at the back of the field) in a triathlon!

I soon dropped swimming and became a duathlete, which was good for me as I immediately moved up the field since my running ability paid off too.

My work meant that I was going into central London so from 2001 I began to commute into town. Back then I used to race against other commuters or just race against myself. My commute became a race, and it gave me a buzz. There was something very exciting about racing through the streets of London on pedal power.

Nouvelles Frontieres

In 2003 I got more into the idea of going abroad with my bicycle. Organized packages had been fun, and there was something quite comforting about being in with a large group and a co-ordinator. There was the inherent protection from the hazards of being in a strange land - getting lost, eating something that you'd normally keep as a pet, or having to speak to a local!

So with my inquiring mind, my language skills and my bicycle I ventured to foreign places. I rode L'Etape du Tour and other high profile cyclosportives as an independent entrant. I also rode completely unheardof cycling events in France and Italy, where I was the only non-local in the village. There was real pleasure in just buzzing off on various trips to ride the lanes in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. And hey, I came back unscathed. I even had a good time!
I also managed to get in some cycling around South America, while on a long trip over there. The World's Most dangerous road (Death Road) in Bolivia was such a thrill, as were the cycling trails in the Sacred Valley around Cuzco, Peru. And if you really want an urban thrill, ride a bicycle down the main drag in Buenos Aires and see how many buses you can skirt around!

Of course, I didn't neglect the UK. I have done and still do cycling trips around various places of interest and will continue to do so, especially if Sterling goes into complete meltdown!

Right Here, Right Now

So here I am at the end of the first decade of the new millenium and cycling:

I still commute to work by bicycle, though just tend to ride at a leisurely pace. I still take my bicycle abroad and around the UK to race or just to pootle. I no longer do multisports, but have discovered the multifaceted world of cycling as a single discipline - road racing, cyclo cross, track cycling, cyclopsortives, time trialling, mountain biking.

Back in 2000 most of my friends were not particularly sporty and none of them were cyclists. I used to wish I had friends who shared my enthusiasm for cycling. Ten years on, most of my entourage is involved in cycling in some way, and I find it quite refreshing to be able to get away from that world at times, and hook up with non-cycling folks!

The red bicycle rarely gets taken outdoors now. It sits happily in my turbo trainer. I still feel an attachment to it, and I can't imagine getting rid of it.
It was replaced by a nicer looking younger model in 2003 - a Specialized. I still ride that and mean to change it, but a combination of gettting emotionally attached, not finding anything "wrong" with it, and not being able to justify spending money on a new road bikes means it could be with me for a while longer. Maybe 2010 will be the year that I fall for something else....I don't know what that will be, but I know that it will cost more than the £400 I paid for my road bike ten years ago!

These two bikes have been joined by cyclo cross bicycles - a Pearson bike, which was succeeded by a Planet X, a Specialized mountain bike that I bought on impulse while on a trip to Germany in 2000, and an Orbit track bike bought from Sophie Perez, though it resides at the velodrome.
My Dawes hybrid has gone to a better place and I now ride another hybrid for commuting with. It might have been very basic, but the Dawes was the bike that got me into cycling regularly, and started this wave of enthusiasm that I have had for two wheels over the last decade. I look forward to more two wheeled fun over the next decade.

On a related note, I'd like to thank the folks who have been very helpful and encouraging towards me as I've pedalled through time - the bike clubs, fellow cycling buddies, bike shops and event organisers.

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade!

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Around Dobbiaco

The cross country skiing that I did started from Dobbiaco and from there we went to other neighbouring villages - San Candido (Innichen), Sesto (Sexten), Durensee, Val Falacina. I didn't loads of the running on skis stuff, but the photos show that I was there!

Wednesday 23 December 2009

White Christmas

I guess the bookies have stopped taking bets on a white christmas in London. I don't know of a time when there was so much snow in December in England. It's lovely!
Well, maybe it isn't if you're suffering all the traffic delays or if you were stuck on a Eurostar train for 10 hours.

But a white christmas is brilliant - just like in the Christmas cards.
Well where I am I know that it'll be a white Christmas here in the Dolomites. We've had lots of snow - both in the village and up on high. I've been doing cross country ski-ing, which is something very new to me and to my ankle (which is not enjoying the experience)!

I am looking forward to doing some downhill stuff at Cortina tomorrow, just like how Bing Crosby dreamt of how it used to be!

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Back in the Saddle and Happy

It's four weeks since I sprained my ankle. After all this time hobbling around with strapping and being beholden to London Transport to get around, I can now say I'm on the mend. I'm still getting twinges, but that's bearable.

I can now walk around for more than 10 minutes without my ankle swelling up, and more importantly I can ride my bicycle.
Not only can I pedal but I can also twist my foot into and out of the spd cleats - something I'd been completely incapable of doing previously. Caution, I say spd cleats. I'm not sure I can graduate to Look pedals just yet. As we are still in the cyclo cross season spd's are more the order of the day in any case so not using Look pedals isn't a great loss.

The bottom line is that I feel free again. I can walk around without worrying about the distance. I don't have to suffer the idiosyncracies of our public transportation system. I can skip up the stairs without thinking afterwards, "oh I shouldn't have done that", and I can do my favourite sport.

My ankle has returned to its customary duties and has let me get back in the saddle. I've ridden my bike a little abit every day since Sunday, and I can feel a few kgs coming off - which is always a bonus!

The other good reason why I'm pleased to be back in action is that I now know I can go on the cross country ski-ing trip I'd planned, and I will actually be able to make the most of it. It would have been a shame to have spent all that money just to stare out of the window at a snow-covered mountain. So I will hopefully return from the trip with even more vigour, zest and energy to do more bike riding.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Cafe Stop

I'm not a big fan of cafe stops when I'm out cycling. It's not that I'm no more antisocial than the next person, but I get worried about losing my rhythm when I'm riding. As I get older I feel more and more like an old car that needs a fair amount of revving and maybe a little push before it can get going. Normally I take about an hour to warm up, and a minute to cool down. At this time of year I need 2 hours to warm up and 30 seconds to cool down! Even if piping hot coffee warms me up, by the time I'm on my bike again the legs are moaning and the group is looking back at me wondering what I'm playing at. I'm not messing around, I'm just waiting for the engine to get going again. Please be patient guys! So for this reason, I prefer club runs which involve doing the ride straight through with limited stops and a cafe stop at the end of the ride. That's what my club does on its Saturday morning rides.

While injury may have kept me away from the club runs it has not kept me away from the cafe stop. What's more, because I don't have to worry about the cooling down effect after my gentle half mile pootle from my house to the cafe, I can do a cafe stop at my leisure, and even join my club-mates as they watch the world go by. That's how I found them when I arrived at the cafe this morning and I was happy to join them in doing the same! Of course, we eventually sat down for the customary bacon sandwich, cake, coffe and chat.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Worrying Trend - Part 2

A while ago I published a post about the worrying number of women cyclists killed by heavy goods vehicles this year in London.

Sadly there is now another name to add to the macabre list. Twenty-three year old fashion student Dorothy Rose Elder died on 22nd November as a result of horrific injuries she sustained when she was crushed by a London Transport bus on 11th November. The accident happened at the junction of Theobalds Road and Southampton Row, near Holborn.

Police are still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the accident, and are appealing for witnesses. I am very sorry to hear about yet another life that was taken unneccessarily and my thoughts go out to Dorothy's family.

Some of you may have already seen this BBC article about women cyclists and why we are more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents than men. Whatever your opinions are, I found this article adds food for thought. It also gives a few safety tips.

Note that I do not how this latest accident occurred and so I can't say if the tips in the article would have helped. These tips could still be useful to all commuters who cycle in built-up areas where there are HGVs, trucks and buses.
The London Cycling Campaign have launched various initiatives, including lobbying and signing of petitions to improve the safety of cyclists in London. They encourage as many people as possible to get involved and help to reduce the number of cycling accidents on our roads.