Thursday, April 27, 2017

To push, or not to push, that is the question!

Since turning to a single speed bike, and commuting to work, I have learned a lot, about both about myself, and cycling in general.
Having spent the past year on 22 speed bikes, it turns out I have been spoilt. Learning to ride within rather variable thresholds, and if the going gets tough, drop a gear.
Obviously with a single speed (SS) this is not possible, so it is all about planning a manageable route, and at the same time approaching it with the right mindset. Something that has taken me a while to grasp. I have already found a few hills which have defeated me, but will be giving them another go in months to come.

Starting out with my first SS being the Claud Butler Lombard St with a 46/16 set up, I learned the basics of getting into a comfortable rhythm, and discovered what my pace was, or there abouts. Then switching to the Specialized Langster, with a 48/16 set up, the going got a little tougher, especially on the inclines. To give an idea of the sort of elevation I am doing on an SS, I average about 500-750ft on a 10-15 mile commute. So not terrible, but there are a couple of little climbs that get the old ticker working harder.

One thing I have really learned to respect, especially over the past couple of windy weeks, is when to push and when to just go with the flow. Riding a roadie with 22 options of gear to be in, it is so easy to just drop a cog and keep pushing. It takes a while to learn the difference between change in elevation and road surfaces, to the resistance of the wind. When its just elevation, and fatigue, dropping a gear makes sense. But when you are into a steady headwind, it is pointless pushing too hard, otherwise you are just burning energy for nothing. In some winds, you can only push so hard.

With the SS, it is quite obvious when such a moment arises, your speed drops rapidly, the effort increases, and you quickly learn to ease up and go with the flow. Something I have struggled with for a long time now, feeling its all about attacking with all you have, all the time.
For me, pushing too hard at the wrong times, causes rapid muscle fatigue, which takes some time to recover from. So on the SS I have slowly learned my limits for pushing, and how long and hard I can push for, before reaching the stage of really slow recovery (1-2 mins before I can push on at normal pace again)

Having grasped that basic, it has enabled me to work on my next weakness, standing and pedalling. For the whole of last year, standing to do a climb has been impossible, because of my stubbornness to train. However with the SS, it is something I have had to just shut up and get on with. And I am pleased to say that I have seen a huge improvement in my ability. To the point that I lapped Richmond last weekend, and managed to stay in a higher gear, while pushing on up one of the little climbs, and reached the top with only a short period of recovery riding needed. Still more than I had planned on, but the power and cadence figures made me smile, so that's what counts.

As the ability has grown, so has the confidence. And with that comes more miles. First few weeks I did the straight point to point ride to and from work. 5 miles each way, no elevation to speak of, and a 20 min ride at best each way. As I got braver, adding a few extra miles in here and there seemed the right thing to do, and before I knew it I was doing 7-10 miles each way. Seeing the miles clocking up on Strava, I suddenly got motivated. With 2 months of no riding leaving me with a mileage deficit for the year on my 3,000 mile goal, commuting was going to get me back on track. Sure enough, as the weeks have gone by, so have the miles, and today I am finally back ahead of the curve.

I can average 100 miles a week now, double that of which is required. And with the weather improving (not including this cold windy spell we are going through) the distances are creeping up more. With 144 miles being the most for a week this year, this week is looking pretty good, with just shy of 100 miles up until Thurs AM ride, plenty of time to add to that, and ever closer to my first 1,000 miles of the year. 4 months in, 1/3 of the way, and with some time spent away from the bike, I feel positive.

The SS has really helped me find my riding style, and for anyone looking to build themselves up from a plateau, I can't recommend it enough. What was a simple cost saving exercise, and a replacement for my Smart Car commute to work, has become a new passion for me. Constantly wanting to broaden my horizons, and push the boundaries of the commute. In recent days I have been doing 20 mile one way journeys, with slightly shorter return trips, clocking up 30 miles a day, rather than the 10 required. I am hooked. Now I find myself wanting to make changes to Luigi too (the Langster SS)

Today I ventured to Woolwich in the hope of catching the ferry to the North side, then passing City Airport on my way to work. Alas it was not running, so maybe next time eh.  Til then, I will keep pushing, look forwards to any rides on the Mekk's I can get in with friends, and watch that mileage tally rise.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Me and my health.

The good news is, mentally I am fine. Phew, that's a relief.

However physically, things are a little more grim for me.
The first couple of months of the year I have struggled with foot pain. To the point where shoes and walking were a no no. Occasionally venturing out on the bike, desperate to keep my legs spinning, only to be rewarded with even worse foot pain.

With that now somewhat under control, my body thought long and hard, before giving me the next challenge. Delivered in a gold envelope by a smug looking twat in a lab coat, no wait, that's Top Gear...
Over the past few weeks, both at work and at home, people have commented on me breathing heavily. At the same time I have noticed that I labour a little with certain tasks. Usually walking or climbing stairs. Up until this time, I have been fine, walked at a good pace, climbed stairs with no issue. (Remember taking the stairs to the 22nd floor at Guys Hospital?). So obviously this has caused some concern for me.

This time of year, a lot of people with asthma (like me) struggle a little more with hayfever and other allergies causing complications. But for me that usually appears along with a chesty cough getting me all blocked up. This time, nothing. Antihistamines don't seem to help either, again they usually would. And finally my inhaler has little if no effect whatsoever.

To just spice things up a little more, my body decided to throw heart palpitations in the mix too. It's all the chest, right! Now as an avid cyclist, who strangely during all this, can actually still cycle like a nutter (confusing right!) I see my heart rate quite a lot, and push my body quite hard. Nothing abnormal shows on my HR, and there are no unexpected weaknesses or shortness of breath etc.

On speaking to my GP, he has arranged for a set of tests to be run. Bloods, heart trace, and a breathing function test. First two are done, 12 lead ECG appears fine, bloods we will see, and breathing function is being tested at the weekend. Hopefully they will point at something, as it would be a lie to say it doesn't concern me slightly. If not, the tests go on, to see what is going on in there.

I reminded myself to write this on the way back from the shops just now. Slow steady pace walking, warm but not uncomfortable day, 1 mile or so round trip. Being overtaken by people with walking trolleys, and feeling like I am labouring to carry on. Taking my heart rate on the way around, nothing shocking to see. 80-85 bpm, which is pretty good going for the conditions. Made the trip fine, but this is just one of many journeys on foot which I have made and struggled with.

The confusing part is, it can be walking or getting up that temporarily knocks me for six. But cycling, I can go on forever. The GP suggested, as expected, that weight may be a contributing factor, which I completely accept. I am indeed overweight, but should add I have not gained weight in months, so why suddenly now feel this way. And why do some less intense activities affect me worse than being bent over cycling?

Right now, it's all a mystery to me, and everyone else, but hopefully there will be some answers soon.

So that is my little update. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

It takes all sorts (of cyclists)

The more I ride in London, especially at peak time as a commuter, the more I can see the various groups of cyclists, and how they behave. I have reached the point now where my observations are complete enough to break cyclists down into categories, especially when it comes to behaviour at crossings and traffic signals.
So I thought I would dedicate this entry to those groups, and maybe ramble on a little more about other bits in the process.

If you ignore all the other habits and behaviours of cyclists for now, and just concentrate on how they behave when approaching, and when stopped (or not as the case may be) at traffic signals and crossings. So here we go.

Let us take a pretty standard traffic control signal. Traffic lights have gone red on the cyclists approach, and the stop line has an ASL (Advanced Stop Line) for cyclists to start ahead of the pack so to speak. The highways code would have they cyclist stop in the painted box forward of the stop line for traffic, and behind the ASL. This is deemed a safe and visible place for cyclists to wait. Obviously in some cases it is not possible to filter through to reach this. But for this scenario, you can.

On arrival at the lines, we then see different behaviours appear.
The Law Abider. The Creeper. The Ignorant Twat, are the main three.

The Law Abider, as the name suggests, will arrive at the box, stop inside it, and consider their road positioning ready for when the lights change, allowing where possible, traffic to pass them safely and ASAP.

The Creeper however will obey the stop line, for a moment at least. Before beginning to creep forwards. More common on longer sequences, in some cases The Creeper will decide the way is clear, it is pointless waiting for the lights to change, and off they go.
Similar to how a pedestrian behaves at a crossing really.

The Ignorant Twat however doesn't care for lights, instructions or signs, and has a PB to achieve, so just sails through any kind of stop sign, as they are untouchable, and VERY important! Or so they like to believe.

You have other variations of the above, such as Sailing Sally. A lady I see quite frequently with her little bike, complete with basket and flapping hi-vis jacket. Ignoring pelican crossings, swerving around people on zebra crossings, but obeying traffic lights at junctions where her safety may be compromised. So its all about YOU. Ignore the fact you might harm pedestrians or ever startle them, as long as you are not knocked off jumping lights at a junction.

We can't of course forget the pavement jumper. Hopping onto the pavement to pass the crossing, so not to wait for lights, before hopping back down the other side and carrying on along their merry way. Cheeky, yes, but also dangerous for pedestrians.

The funniest thing about these people, the ones too important or impatient to wait for lights is that they never seem to get anywhere. I commute on a single speed 46/16 heavy old steel bike, I am far from light either, and plod along at a leisurely 14mph average. However at least 75% of the people who jump lights etc to get ahead are not going hell for leather, and I in fact catch and pass them in a short time. Sometimes a few times in one journey. So what the hell is the point?

The bit I find most infuriating about this is the groups of cyclists who apparently spend a lot of their time riding about, but are completely blinkered to this sort of behaviour. Remember this blog entry is only about ONE behaviour, I will cover more another time.
Whenever there is an accident, cries of dangerous road users and conditions go out, but never accepting that sometimes, it is the exact behaviours discussed above, which have led to the accident.

I know from my own experience that there are some very dangerous drivers out there, in all sorts of vehicles. Only the other evening I had an articulated lorry over take me just going into a left hand bend. Thankfully I was aware of him, so backed out of it. Even more thankfully as I saw the trailer come in VERY close to the apex. I would have been hit for sure. So it's not all one sided, and I have never thought this.

If so much can go wrong when no one is even meant to be moving, imagine the stupid behaviour of some of these people when interacting with moving traffic. Something I will cover another time.

For now, cyclist, pedestrian, motorist. Keep your eyes open, and look at how different groups behave out there. Sadly there is no pattern of tell tale sign of how anyone is going to behave, so for now, treat them with caution.