Tuesday 27 July 2010

London Cycle Revolution? I Hope So!

As I sit here watching a full evening's worth of cycling themed programmes on BBC4, having returned from a bicycle maintenance class in one of the London bike shops, and ridden on a "cycling superhighway" to get home, I realise that things could be picking up for cycling in London.

Is cycling really growing in popularity and in the conscience of the everyday Londoner, or is it just something us cycling folks would like to believe? Some type of optical illusion?
Who knows.

London now has a cycling specific cafe, Look Mum No Hands. Good old Bojo, our Mayor has launched two cycling Superhighways that are meant to make cycling from the suburbs into central London safer for cyclists. We've even got a cycle hire scheme (like what you get in Paris or Barcelona), which will be launched this Friday. Apparently over 3,000 people have already registered to use the scheme.

This all sounds very good, and a great advert to the rest of the world that London is making inroads to becoming a bicycle friendly city.
I suppose the fact that people from all sections of society have been paying a little attention to the world's most famous bike race, the Tour de France, makes July an apt time to launch all things cycling related, and uptake is always going to be better during the summer months.

I hope that the people marketing these schemes have properly thought the whole process through. The music will eventually stop and suddenly there won't be enough chairs (or bicycles) for everyone.

The cycling superhighways will no longer be sporting the lovely luminous blue that makes the motorists give cyclists more room - there may be a few vehicles too many parked in the cycle lane - people out on a Barclays Hire Bike may get lost, have nowhere to redeposit their bike after use and get overcharged. Such are the potential hazards and teething problems when significant changes are made in cycling.
I'm not against these changes at all. I am very pleased to see that Boris Johnson and Transport for London are doing their bit to improve cycling facilities in London. I just hope that they will follow their plans through thick and thin. No one ever said the road to success would be smooth.

Friday 23 July 2010

The Hurting

Isn't it a mad world when crowds of people gather along a steep hill to watch us suffer on a slopy bit of road with a horrendous gradient. We are probably madder for signing up to these challenges.

Entering the start gantry arms a-quaking, legs a-wobbling, adrenaline rising, I realise that in a few moments I should explode out of the blocks and tackle The Beast (aka Swains Lane). The time is now! I can't get out of it. OK, I'll put my hands up and say I did the crime. I had the strange moment of excitement and I signed a form to do the race, and took myself off to Highgate yesterday evening. So, I'm on the start line doing the time. Yes, I am the prisoner - I'm held in place, unable to move. I'm trapped in a wobbly body on an overweight bike about to try and defeat gravity and get up the hill! If only I could get out of this "contraption" - I can't walk away, as I'm all set with my number on. I can't get going either - must wait for the countdown. I so just want to release the tension in my body and stop the shaking. Shout, shout let it all out!

The countdown begins - 30 seconds and my breathing's getting shorter - 15 seconds, body's getting more tense - 5,4,3,2,1 and I'm released - I break out ready to tear on up the road. Trying to find the right gear - or at least the gear I'd run through in my pre-race strategy. Oh well, I press on, using my energy but not feeling like I'm going anywhere. Is this the start of the breakdown?

A few metres in, I remember what I'm supposed to do and begin to focus. The first 100m seem long, and drawn out. A few people shout words of encouragement. Then, just as I'm getting used to the gradient, another "step up" appears in the road and the high wall of the cemetery becomes visible at the side of the road - the net is closing in on me! There's no way out of this! The road is getting steeper, the crowds are getting thicker. People cheer, but I can't make out what they're saying. I'm just hurting, I think I will burst, or faint or both. Have the people come to watch me bleed? Oh God, how do I get out of this? Pedalling is the only answer - and hard, if I don't want to fall head over heels! I focus as much as my body will allow me, and pump the pedals with what limited energy I have left.

The finish line comes into view, but it's still so far away. Someone shouts "sprint for the line." I feel sick, I try, but I just crawl to the chequered flag and turn right into the side street. All flaked out, I throw myself off the bike and sit at the side of the road. My legs have buckled and I can't walk anywhere for several minutes. I see other riders finish in a similar state. We are broken!

So that was my hill climb - 2mins 40s up Swains Lane, and alot of pain! But hey, I did it. Memories fade, and I will probably do something like this again!

Photo by John Mullineaux, London Cyclesport

[I couldn't help make references to that 80s band, Tears for Fears - it seemed apt at the time!]

Monday 19 July 2010

A Sucker for Punishment!

I don't know what's gotten into me this year. I keep complicating matters for myself by signing up for different cycle challenges. It's true that I like to do cyclosportives or challenge rides of 200km. Those type of events are as much about discovering new scenic places to cycle and meeting new folks as they are about the mission of the ride itself. In any case, I have got to the stage where I know what to do in order to get through a 100mile hilly bike, and I have confidence in my ability to complete such events. (Of course the time I take is a different matter!)

This year I have hardly done any of the usual cyclosportives. Instead I have found myself signing up for tough challenges - the Fred Whitton, the Paris-Roubaix. These are the sort of challenges where you really don't know if you'll make it through.

Signing up to ride the Paris-Roubaix had made me quite nervous. I felt very anxious in the days leading up to the race, and was quite worried about what effect the cobbles would have on me and my bike. At times the feeling of going out of my comfort zone was overwhelming, to the point that the mere thought of battling through the event had my heart skipping a beat.

I'd had very similar feelings in the run-up to riding a cyclosportive event abroad for the first time about 8 years ago. The fact that I eventually made it through the race should have given me the confidence to know that I would be able to make it through this new challenge. But my mind was up to its old tricks and I didn't feel as if I'd be up to the job at all.
The smile on my face when I finally crossed the finish line at the Velodrome de Roubaix said it all, and I was elated to have accomplished this feat.

So, as if all that was not enough for me for one year, I now find myself once again faced with a challenge - two in fact.

Firstly, I've got a hill climb to do this Thursday. A hill climb taking place within striking distance of central London is completely unprecendented and sounds too cool an event to miss out on. So I signed up to do it - the Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb. Slight snag is that I must winch me and my bike up a 13% gradient for about 950m and endure stretches that reach 20%! I am not the best racer, and with a hill thrown in that complicates things even more!
Five minutes of pain and humiliation ?? Of course I'll survive it, but it will be very uncomfortable!

Secondly, I'm down to do The Three Peaks Cyclo Cross challenge. Now this goes off the scale in the cycling self harm stakes! Thirty eight miles of off road riding is not too bad. It's a different story when it involves riding up and down the 3 highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales. Actually, riding will not be the verb! The story goes that no one rides up them. The first climb involves scaling up the side of a mountain, bike slung over shoulder, gripping tufts of grass for leverage. It's impossible to wheel the bike along, especially when considering that riders go up the peak in a procession and to know who's in the line you look above your head or between your feet! The descents are rocky and treacherous, and have people and their bikes reduced to bits.

So, you've guessed it I've signed up for this challenge. While I do take part in cyclo cross events, this event is a completely different kettle of fish. Rather than the usual hour-long frenzy over grass and muddy trails usually with a small hillock, this will be around 5 hours of all types of terrain that can be thrown at the rider in mountains! The stakes are high in this one. I may not finish. I may finish but with a broken bike, or with broken bones, teeth and skin. I may be lucky and get round, having had a thoroughly miserable time carrying my bike up and down the "ultimate assault course"!
I don't know what possessed me to sign the dotted line and send in my cheque to commit to this event. Now that I am over the initial shock of seeing my name on the start list, I am ready to take on the challenge and punish myself in order to get through it.
I have yet to know the real answer as to why I keep on putting myself forward for these crazy challenges. Maybe I just like pain!

Monday 12 July 2010

Another Pleasurable Sunday

As the anti-dote to thrashing around on my road bike I went for a leisurely off-road ride with the guys from my second claim cycling club.
It wasn't exactly that leisurely as there were a few stiff climbs on the trails around Banstead and Epsom, but what I like about the off road rides is that because I'm no good at the rough stuff I do it with no expectation in mind. That in itself is a nice place to be when riding.

This was also a nice place to be - the lavender fields just outside Banstead. Loads of people were out picking them for their therapeutic and homeopathic needs. We were quite content to stop and marvel at the beauty of it all.

We pressed on with our loop to Epsom, Ashstead and then Reigate where a well deserved flap jack was waiting for me at the top of Colleys Hill.

So, a leisure bike ride on two Sundays on the trot. People will start to think I'm slacker!

I actually raced on both weekends but have no results to show for it as technical hitches gave me a dnf and a big fat zero on the score sheet. I look forward to doing more leisure bike rides. I hope that one of these days I can also finish a race!

Sunday 4 July 2010

Taking it Easy

Today was a leisure day in the saddle. I enjoy days like these. There's no pressure to ride to a particular pace or ride in a chain gang. You just ride along and enjoy your surroundings. A sunny summer's day on a Sunday is one of the best times to do this.
So a group of us from the cycling club did a social ride out to Knole House, Sevenoaks from Crystal Palace. The route went along a few of our regular lanes to Keston and Cudham, down Brasted Hill, and across to Sevenoaks via Ide Hill and Stubbs Wood.

By the time we reached Knole House we'd done almost 30 miles so were ready for scones and tea in the pleasant tea room gardens. The deer with their baby "Bambis" were happy to see us too! They are much friendlier than the ones in Richmond Park, as they are quite happy for people to go up to them and say hello!

After our little stop we made our way back to London - some, keen to get in their miles rode back, while the rest of us took the train. This was the first of our women's social rides and we wanted to make it do-able by all. Overall, people were glad to have tried out a few new parts of Kent, and also to have challenged themselves a little on the hills.
I was glad to have found another place to do a pleasant cafe stop!