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.