I haven’t written on this blog for a while, in truth there hasn’t been a lot to write. The eat, sleep, work, ride, repeat nature of life during a global pandemic didn’t exactly generate lots of interesting things to write about. Covid put paid to the chances of any new and exciting experiences, birthdays and holidays were missed out on and Christmas was a bit of a damp squib. However, I sit here (in a freshly decorated home office) feeling grateful that my family are happy, healthy and, while far from wealthy, we have fairly secure jobs and a roof over our heads. Compared to some less fortunate, that is something to be thankful for.
The only thing of real note that has happened, albeit with less fanfare/protest than originally expected, is Brexit. As the bells rang in 2021, I ceased to be an EU citizen, though still European. It isn’t something that sits well with me, I always thought the straight in/out vote was too extreme and that the benefits of being in the EU warranted a more collaborative course to reform and evolve the EU. Personally, I voted remain. While I was never too enamoured with the bureaucrats of the EU (I don’t like them here either!) I love the countries and the people of Europe and I want my kids to grow up with that same love of a wonderful and diverse continent. Plus, it has many excellent bike races to attend!
So here I sit, in my new home office with a distinct cycling feel to it. You wouldn’t expect anything less, would you?
The Band of Climbers prints represent my home (Surrey) and my northern roots through my Dad (Lake District)
The ‘2021 Plans’ page of my notebook has a lot of asterisks on it, a lot of ‘maybes’. Nobody really knows what is going to happen this year but here’s what I’m aiming at!
Etape du Tour – Nice (July)
Little Lumpy Sportive – Surrey (May)
Giro Grand Partenza – Sicily (May) TBC
World Championships – Flanders (September)
……then ????? Who knows?! I’d like to get up to the Lakes to ride some of the roads my Dad would have ridden on his old boneshaker bike when he was a boy in the 50s. I really feel like I need to reconnect with that part of my heritage, it will be 10 years this year since my Dad passed away.
Whatever happens, I’m planning to make 2021 into some kind of success. There are still goals that can be achieved and new things that can be learned. Keep those spirits up and we’ll see you on the other side!
Here’s a selection of photos from my travels over the past few months…..
All the best for 2021, the only way is up, right?!
Ok, so it’s maybe not that bad, but the nights are starting to draw in and it’s dark in the mornings. Autumn is here and soon winter will be upon us, time to dig out the warm stuff! It’s been a couple of months since I posted any updates to this blog, but things have been far from quiet despite the ongoing situation with Covid-19.
I completed my commuter project in readiness for a return to work
It’s like having a brand new bike and I’m surprised how easy many of the tasks were, considering I have avoided them in the past. The jobs list read:
Install new hydraulic brake hoses and fully bleed brakes
Install new gear cables
New bar tape
New Fabric saddle
Clip on mudguards for those less than desirable mornings!
The only part that had me scratching my head was the internal cabling, but a magnetic cabling kit and some solid use of electrical tape sorted that out for me!
Bleeding the brakes was the part that I was most concerned about, considering the potential impact for injury or worse on a steep downhill, however a couple of YouTube videos and some very handy hacks and tips (see plastic bag!) made it quite straightforward. I have an increased confidence to complete the majority of bicycle maintenance tasks now.
The bike rode wonderfully well and, for the couple of times I’ve been in to the office, I’ve really enjoyed riding it.
Outside of that I’ve been using the relative freedom of working from home to increase my riding time, making the most of the last of the sun before that dip in temperatures and weather conditions. We’ve been fairly lucky throughout September and I’ve been doing more 50-70km rides rather than going all out on the longer distances
Today was the first day that the bib tights and the Endura Classics jersey came out and what a great decision it was as the heavens opened and I got soaked!
What else? Oh, the Tour was great, Loulou in Rainbow is great and the pro racing is coming thick and fast! I’m off to watch the Binckbank Tour!
While Adam has been putting the finishing touches to the Charge Plug single speed that he bought, I have been looking for a similar project. Adam found a completely unloved Charge going for a decent price and set to work turning it into a fully fledged, drop bar, single speed commuter machine.
It’s come out looking great and it set me off down a part of looking for a bike to do up. I thought I’d had a very short and successful search when I spied a blue Charge Plug with bullhorn bars for £50 but upon messaging the seller it transpired that he ‘had to take it down because it needed a couple of things doing to it before he sold it’. That, to me, sounded like code for wasn’t allowed to sell it or he’d realised what a silly price he’d put it on at.
After a few days of looking I couldn’t find anything near what I wanted or what I wanted to pay so my mind started to turn to other ideas. I had originally planned to do up my old Felt bike that had served me so admirably on our journey to France and I had done that, to a certain degree. There wasn’t much to upgrade in truth, it already packed a solid 105 chainset so fresh bar tape and a good old clean was all that it seemed to need.
However, a couple of things were bothering me about the bike and it’s continued use for anything other than a turbo trainer bike.
Brakes – The Felt bike came with TRP Spyre cable disc brakes and while these were enough for me when I first got the bike, having used hydraulic brakes on my Specialized I realised how poor cable disc brakes are in relation. The stopping power was such that it made me uneasy about using the brakes on the road.
Wheels – So, not a deal breaker by any means but most bicycle reviews will nod to the wheels being the first parts of a bike that will deliver the biggest benefit if upgraded. I certainly noticed that on my Specialized when I bought the Hunt CAD30 wheels, they are phenomenal value. I had put the DT Swiss stock wheels from the Speicalized onto the Felt but there was an annoying rub between one of the spokes on the front wheel and the fork that I just could not get rid of so the Felt stock wheels went back on! (Any ideas on this gratefully received!)
The bike is in good nick and would make a brilliant commuter with a few things doing to it. With a potential September return to the office looming, now appears to be the right time to consider making some changes.
The first thing I am going to do (another first in my list) is to swap out the TRP Spyre cable disc brakes for Shimano 105 hydraulic brakes. I think this is the one thing that is holding me back from using this bike more as I don’t have the trust in the current brakes compared to the Tarmac. It’s a pricey move but I think it will give me confidence and a bike that I will ride not only to and from work.
The second thing I am going to do, possibly at a much later date, is to get some Hunt 4 Season Disc Wheels for it. I have been so impressed with the CAD30s that I bought for my Tarmac that I doubt I will buy wheels from any other company in the future. The 4 Season Disc wheels weigh in at 1,588g which, considering they are alloy wheels, is amazing. The carbon aero disc wheels that I have weigh 1,367g as a comparison, but are £460 more expensive. The 4 Seasons, dressed with a set of tubeless Schwalbe Pro One Evo tyres will make a hard wearing team for the winter months.
The last thing I have been looking into is mudguards. My only option here is clip on guards as the bike doesn’t have the pre-drilled mudguard bolt holes and it isn’t a product that I know a lot about so if anyone does, please let me know in the comments!
Ok so this post doesn’t have anything to do with running, but it’s 4 years to the day since Chris Froome had to run up Mont Ventoux to Chalet Reynard after a crash with a moto left him without a bike….
…..it’s also the name of a Kate Bush song that I really like and it does involve a hill (of sorts).
I’ve talked on here before about continuous improvement, about how I measure myself against certain segments on Strava rather than people I know or my power numbers to assess my performance. I shared a screen grab of Veloviewer which detailed my improving times on a segment called Ide Hill since my weight loss and my more dedicated focus on training. The past weekend gave me a further indication of just how far I have come in fitness and ability.
I had planned a route to give a pal of mine, Harry, his first crack at Box Hill since he took up cycling just over a month ago. Now Box Hill isn’t particularly difficult (the Zwift version is harder in my opinion!) but I’m not one of those people that scoffs at the iconic climb as it is a lovely road to ride and it is a great achievement for someone like Harry, giving him a boat load of confidence to keep cycling.
My times on the segment have improved massively over the time that I’ve been cycling, the first time I attempted Box Hill it took me a massive 12 minutes, including a 2 minute stop! Over time I had got that down to just over 7 minutes (with no stops!) and I was eyeing a sub 7 minute crack at it. A glance at friends I follow on Strava suggested to me that a sub 7 minute time would be a really good achievement. I felt pretty good on Sunday so I told Harry I’d see him at the top and got on my way. It felt like a good attempt but I obviously had to wait until I got home to find out….
Sub 7 would have been good, 6:40 was an amazing result for me! I was delighted with that. So, now, my continuous improvement on Box Hill looks like this
I completely understand that this improvement can’t go on for ever, but it is a huge vindication of everything I’ve done to improve myself over the last 10 months
What’s in a name? Well, it describes us, gives us identity, brings people together under one banner. In truth, lots of things go into a name as I know well from trying to agree on such things with my wife for our kids! So what happens when that name is no longer fit for purpose, no longer relevant to the subject or the people it represents? The obvious answer is to change the name, but that in itself brings challenges and sometimes a backlash. Remember when Marathon changed to Snickers?!
Over the past few months, as I’ve continued to shed a few pounds, several people have joked with me that I’ll have to change the name of the account soon. They’re right and we agree. The Fat Blokes On Bikes moniker was a name of its time, dreamt up as a call to action to sponsor us and really drive home how hard it was going to be for myself and Adam to pedal to Paris. It did its job and we raised over £7,500 for charity. Since then we’ve continued to share a love of bicycles and everything that goes with them. From pro racing to podcasts to clothing, art and literature we seem to have immersed ourselves in all aspects of cycling, keenly observing everything that is associated with life on two wheels. With that in mind we have decided to change our name to…..
The official definition of flâneur is as follows
We feel this is the perfect description of our approach to cycling, observing all that is going on but at a gentle pace and without taking life too seriously! Hope you dig the new name and logo, this will become consistent across the blog, Instagram and Twitter this week
Working from home has had its pros and cons, but one of the biggest advantages has been the time that has become available to exercise. I was used to getting up early on a Tuesday and Thursday to do a Zwift workout before heading to the office, but working from home has meant that I’ve been able to squeeze in some of the shorter 20-30 minute workouts on my lunch breaks. The Lavender Unicorn and Vault workouts on Zwift have quickly become favourites!
My Zwift setup resides in my shed, I don’t have a garage and there is a lack of space indoors so the shed it is for me!
The issue I’ve always had is that the WiFi connection is temperamental at best due to the distance of the shed from the house. Any kind of disruptive weather like wind or rain and the WiFi connection drops out quickly and that can be infuriating, particularly when you’ve signed up for a group ride. I recently had some new patio doors installed at the back of the house and it would seem that the glazing of these has only served to dampen further the WiFi signal so something had to be done!
Now I’m not a technogeek by any means, but I’m fairly confident with tasks involving electronics so (with the help of YouTube) I decided to run a Cat5 cable from my house to the shed so I would have an uninterrupted internet connection for my Zwift set up. I ordered:
100m Cat5 outdoor ethernet cable
Ethernet cable testing tool
Fortunately we already had a pre-drilled hole in the wall at the back of my house where a satellite television cable from the previous owners had run, so I used that for my cable and ran it through to the back of my router. YouTube came in very handy for the connecting of the cable plugs as the order of the individual wires inside the cable are not very intuitive! I ran the cable along the side of the garden to the back of the shed and drilled another hole for the cable to pass through, then I attached the other connector and tested the connection with the testing tool I’d bought. All good!
I connected the cable to my MacBook and ran a speed test to check the connection, I’m sure I got better speeds than I do in the house!
Since then I have enjoyed instant and stable connections for my Zwift sessions and for that I feel (rightly) smug.
As guidelines have changed recently around who you can meet and where, Ben and I decided to meet up for a ride this Sunday just gone. It is the first time that I’ve ridden with anybody since the original lockdown period started back in March (aside from those inadvertent times where you meet someone who is just going the same direction and pace as you!). It was a breezy day so it was good to have someone to share the work with and the kilometres ticked by unnoticed as we chatted our way around the lanes of Surrey and Kent, both of us enjoying the forgotten dynamic of riding with someone other than our own thoughts.
85km and 1,000m of elevation later and I was home with that satisfied feeling that comes with a good ride out (Ben would go on to complete his century before he got home). I was even more satisfied as I managed to keep up with Ben on all of the testing points on our ride. Ben is a cyclist that I have the utmost respect for, he has completed the Etape on a couple of occasions as well as some big old rides including Mount Teide and Cap de Formentor so his level of ability is something that I aspire to get to. Keeping up with him on Sunday was a real boost for my confidence and a vindication of all the time, effort and hard work that I’ve put in over the past few months.
We had a lot to catch up on, having not seen each other for a while. From home schooling the kids and tattered holiday plans to work and trying to stay away from the temptations of kitchen cupboards or booze, there were plenty of topics covered but there was one that took up a fair chunk of the conversation time – the Etape du Tour.
The organisers of the Etape have committed to running the event this year if at all possible, with the revised date of 6th September (falling in line with the new dates for the Tour). The route is planned to remain the same, a tour of the Nice hinterland with the Colmiane, Turini and Eze providing the climbs to test the riders. Ben had confirmation from LoveVelo that they would move all of our original booking elements to the new dates unless we told them otherwise, our EasyJet flights for the original dates had already been cancelled. We chatted through all of the elements; the possible quarantine/isolation implications on return, the fact that the new weekend would coincide with our kids returning to school and the concern that is still very real over a mass participation event. While the hearts said do it this year after all the hard work we’ve put in, the heads prevailed and we concluded that the sensible option would be to defer our entries to next year. Disappointing, but in the long run I think that is the correct choice.
So to next year, where will it be? What climbs could we face? In some ways the anticipation of finding out the route will lift the excitement all over again!
This is a cycling blog first and foremost but, occasionally, I’ll indulge myself by delving into something completely different so please bear with me! Over the course of the last 12 weeks or so, my personal social media channels have been awash with friends and colleagues finding different ways to entertain themselves during the lockdown. From baking to yoga, from couch to 5k to home brewing I think I must have seen it all. I, however, decided to dabble more in my interest of photography by learning some new photo and video editing skills.
It would be a lie to say that this wasn’t in some way linked to cycling, it most definitely was. I wanted to learn some tips and tricks to make my Instagram photos look better, more professional, rather than using the bog standard filters and edit facilities within the application itself. I signed up for an Adobe Photoshop licence on a monthly basis for £9.99 and this included Lightroom, an application I had heard of but never used before
I was quite happy to pay £9.99 a month as updates and new versions of the software are automatically made available for you to download and you can use both mobile and desktop versions of Lightroom and Photoshop as well as the desktop version of Lightroom Classic (for more advanced users). I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube, mainly from an insanely enthusiastic but brilliant guy called Peter McKinnon. He is ace, check him out. I started by using Lightroom‘s automatic settings and, as you can see below, photos that I’d taken that I thought were pretty good were immediately enhanced! Check the before and after images….
I started to follow my new virtual friend McKinnon’s tutorials to learn some new effects, the floating objects one was a particular favourite
I started to play around with things myself and while some things haven’t quite worked due to a lack of skills (currently) on my part there have been some interesting compositions!
So, seemingly, a trajectory was set for touching up every single photo I’ve ever taken! That was the case until I volunteered to compile a leaving video for a colleague and a whole new rabbit hole popped into view, TAKE THE RED PILL, NEO! I’d used DaVinci Resolve for editing GoPro footage (mainly speeding it up) previously but that was about it so I knew I’d need to up the game a little bit, enter Adobe After Effects and a whole new bunch of videos to watch! After Effects is a bit more expensive at £19.97 per month, but boy is it powerful and fun to use!
With basic skills and following various tutorials I managed to make some pretty cool intros, outros and transitions…..
So, while constructing my colleague’s video and a video for my teacher wife’s school, I started to think about whether I should make my own YouTube channel. I don’t really have a lot to say though and I have a face for radio. The channel I have is mainly used for housing videos that appear here but, using new skills and techniques that I’ve learnt, who knows where this will go?! It’s certainly given me something to focus on during the lockdown, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
One tip and one big shoutout I will give is for a little application called Handbrake. Sometimes, videos you take are at variable frame rates as that is what tech uses to keep the file size down but this can cause issues in post production. Quite often, dropping a video file into DaVinci Resolve will put the audio out of sync and that is crap. Handbrake allows you to convert all videos to a constant frame rate which will maintain the integrity of the audio/video sync. THIS was my biggest find!
I’ve always had my routine where cycling is concerned, my week usually consists of Zwift SST training twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6:30am, then a long ride on a Sunday. It suits my life and the other responsibilities that I have to work and my family, although sometimes I would love to just pick up the bike at any point and go! I have found that a dedicated effort to complete SST training, increasing the base watts every few weeks, has produced considerable improvements in the Sunday ride so it has worked well for me but the increase in online activity during the global lockdown led me to look at other events and group rides that were taking place in the online world.
A few weeks back Corine van der Zijden (former pro and Mike Teunissen’s partner) invited me to a Rapha CC meetup on Zwift that she was organising as she was doing some ambassadorial work for Rapha Amsterdam. Even though I’m not a member of the Rapha club I gladly accepted the invite and welcomed a new angle to the platform, the group ride. I enjoyed the experience (especially as it was a no drop ride!) and found that, actually, I was in a lot better shape than I thought I was and I wasn’t making an arse of myself by turning up! I’ve participated in a few since, where my dodgy shed WiFi connection has allowed me to!
Yesterday, however, I had a very strange thing happen to me and something that I’ve never seen before. As the group ride timer ticked to zero and the group rolled out on the streets of London town, I was left pedalling furiously on a virtual trainer going absolutely nowhere.
As I pressed various buttons and expelled a few choice words and colourful phrases the group moved ever further away and I remained there, spinning on the pavement, shackled by a luminous virtual turbo trainer. I had no choice but to concede defeat and quit the meetup. As soon as I pressed that button though the shackles were removed and I started to roll through town, albeit out of the group so no crazy boomerang effect back to them happened! As London wasn’t in rotation on that day there were very few rides on the map so I could still see the group on the the user list on the right hand side of the screen, I was 5 minutes and 12 seconds behind. I decided to try and make the catch, hopefully before Box Hill, the chase was on! I settled into kind of a combination of SST and TT and started to eat into the time gap
The image above shows the time gap down to 4:04 (forget Z Turner!) and it had already been a pretty big effort to get it down to that, I started to have doubts that I could pull this off. I couldn’t see any of the group chat so I didn’t know if they were even aware I was still in the game, they didn’t seem to let up at all so I concluded that they didn’t. Every time I got another chunk of time back, the gap would go out again as I’d hit a gradient or a slower section and it started to get in my head so I whacked the Chemical Brothers on loud and went for it.
At 1:35 behind I thought my heart was going to explode, I’d been pushing 160bpm for nearly 20 minutes and the graph was more in the red than yellow. It was at this point where I nearly quit.
I could still see them on the user list and the map now showed a little marker where Mike’s pro symbol shows up, I started to get a bit stubborn about it. I will catch them and I will catch them before Box Hill! Head down, I kept going. I was panting like a dog in a dry spell and the sauna like effect of the shed I was in wasn’t helping matters but that gap kept coming down, I realised that I could do this!
After 26 minutes of full on chasing I made the catch, just before the turn onto Box Hill. Rather than feeling spent I felt energised and I was buzzing so I continued on my merry way up the hill.
The Rapha guys were in a no drop grouping ride so they were going at a pace that suited the bunch but I was on cloud 9 after getting back on so I got stuck in to putting in a decent effort on a road I know very well, both virtually and in reality.
As the ride finished I felt pretty damn pleased with myself, it was a solid workout forged from a weird glitch in the Zwift universe, but further info only served to improve my mood further
A rather fine chap from North London, Stephen Lowe, informed me that the group chat was awash with speculation on whether I would manage to chase them down and that he had been very vocal in his support of my plight. Mike, as it turns out, was not and lost a bet in the process! With friends like that eh?!
As the buzz of victory subsided and I started to ache, I had a look at the ride report for the chase section in Training Peaks
In the 26 minutes I had spent chasing the bunch I had averaged 243w and 154bpm, for me they are crazy numbers as my FTP is more like 220w……although, at the end of the ride, Zwift informed me that it is now 240w so my SST sessions are about to get a lot more difficult! But, progress!
As more and more people start to emerge from lockdown restrictions and online numbers start to return to pre-Covid levels, I hope these group rides continue and people continue to participate. They are a welcome change from the singularity of workouts or the over-competitiveness of the events and races. I’ll just be hoping I don’t get stuck on a trainer again…..
Last week was mental health awareness week in the UK. Though I have never suffered the extremes that someone with severe mental health problems can experience, I am all too aware that every fluctuation from the ‘normal’ trajectory of life, however small, can knock us off centre before we realise what is happening.
As I have grown older, traversed life, got married, had kids etc I have developed a heightened awareness of my own self, the things that can ‘disturb the force’ if you like. I will not apologise for the shameless Star Wars reference as I think the commentary around balance, hope and not giving in to darkness is a very real fight for many people who deal with their own mental health problems on a daily basis. Since my dad passed away, 9 years ago in October, I have faced into things that I have known were there for years but suppressed so as ‘not to cause a scene’. I had anger and guilt issues that, coupled with a tendency to bottle things up, would spin me out on occasions and would usually result in some form of outburst, whether that be in work or (latterly) when the kids are being loud or not doing as they’re told. I would sit quietly, wishing my life away to get ride of those feelings. It’s a scary place when you lose control.
I have, in all these instances since I ‘re-found’ the hobby, found solace and comfort in my bike. It’s no coincidence that I feel happier, healthier, more alert and more motivated on Tuesdays and Thursdays as those are the two working days where I get up early and complete a Zwift workout. The weekend brings the opportunity of a longer ride outdoors and I value this time above all other. It is the chance to clear my headspace of all that has gone before, to work through issues and formulate plans, to make a mental to do list for work, to de-stress and remind myself that I am an incredibly lucky man and most importantly it is the chance to feel free for a couple of hours. Cycling has also given me an incredible focus, embracing the pain the local hills dish out serving as a cathartic release valve to expel all of the frustrations of modern life. It has taken me a few years to get to this point but where once climbs were feared and avoided now the pain and suffering is embraced and welcomed. I’ve read about many similar instances from many different people at different life stages but all using a bike to improve their physical and emotional wellbeing. This needs to be harnessed and encouraged, not demonised and ridiculed.
Yesterday I went into London on my bike to experience the quiet city that Covid-19 has produced. It was a strange yet enthralling ride as I rode down The Mall and round Regents Park, I picked my way through the back streets of Soho and Covent Garden, out to Spitalfields and back south of the river via Tower Bridge. I smiled at all the families out riding together on the roads in Herne Hill and Dulwich, the kids smiling rather than frightened by oversized cars passing them. It was great to see so many people embracing new activities or things they’d forgotten that they love to do. 100km later I was home but, in truth, I could have just kept on going such was the positive mood it had put me in. It made me think, with more clarity than ever, how lucky we have been to be able to go outside and ride our bikes during this period of lockdown.
Stripped back to its most basic form, the bicycle is a simple machine. What is amazing about them is the positive impact they can have on the most complex of things, our minds.
If you are feeling anywhere off centre then please talk to someone, or at least go for a ride. If you’re feeling good do check in with friends and family even if it is just to say hi. Everyone is forging a different path through these different times, with different pitfalls and different highs and lows. Everyone is dealing with life in a different way so keep an eye on your loved ones, you could be just what they need.