Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A massive milestone (just not for me)

Last weekend, my youngest child learned to ride without the help of stabilisers (training wheels in the US)!  I am so pleased as it is a really important milestone in my view marking the start of a lifetime of cycling, one way or another.

Now, current wisdom dictates that kids learn to ride much faster if they can ride a balance bike first (a bicycle without pedals that you sit on and push along with your feet) rather than learning to pedal and then having the grief of balancing (or not) when the stabilisers are removed!  We bought a balance bike from friends a couple of years back but could never get the youngest to ride it.  She'd tootled around on her bike for several months with stabilisers attached and resited all attempts to ride with them removed.

The other week, a friend's child came to play who had only ever riden a balance bike.  Both my wife and I watched amazed as he picked up a "proper" bike and pedaled away with no problems and very little wobbling!  He literally had it down on his first go! 

Quick as a wink, I removed the crank from my daughter's bike and told her that if she wanted to ride it, it was as a balance bike or nothing.  Tough love!  Within a couple of days she was scooting along on it, clearly able to balance in motion with her feet off the floor.  We took the plucge and refitted the crank.

Once again, I was stunned.  With a minimal effort, she got on the bike, set it rolling and then pedaled away!  As easy as that and she hasn't looked back since.

So my message to you is, if you have a youngster learning to ride a bike, don't go anywhere near a set of stabilisers!  Get a balance bike (or take the crank out of a regular one) and leave them to it.

This week I shall mostly be a proud Dad! :-)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A lovely evening out

There is a group of guys at work who go out cycling once a week during the longer days (April – September).  I’ve been out with them before but not as often as I’d like to.  The busy evenings of a husband and father sometimes preclude it and, to be honest, I’m getting plenty of cycling in on my own!
Nevertheless, last night I went out for a spin after work.  The weather was really nice (apart from one random heavy shower) and our 24 mile route took us out through some leafy lanes, VERY nice villages and even a couple of those “special” barely-surfaced tracks so beloved of sat-nav devices!  The bikes coped with it better than many cars would to be honest.
They are a good crowd of lads who, for the most part, ride lightweight race bikes although the outings tend to be pretty sedate.  Even so, it was with a little trepidation last night that I took the Dahon out with them.  I know it’s not really up to the same sort of average speeds I manage on a 21 speed bike but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised!  I was nothing like the slowest in the group and didn’t feel at any point as though I was holding them up at all.  More than one person commented on how capable my bike was on its little wheels.  Distances of that order on country roads are no problem for the Dahon - they are the bread and butter of my commute and I’ve done 20 miles+ on it several times.  I think the slightly raised gearing (of which more later…) have helped to boost my average speed too.  Both the Dahon and I are capable of a lot more and I have a numerous adventure plans bubbling away as I type…
Of course, once we returned to the office, I still had to get home and so tacked my usual commute onto the end of the ride.  I ended up cycling the last leg back from the railway station in the half light after sunset which, on such a clear evening, was a beautiful treat.  All in all (both commuting legs included) I covered 47 miles yesterday and I arrived home starving for a hot shower, fajitas and a mug of tea – lovely!  My legs were a little tender last night but I still felt OK this morning and got straight back on the bike for another day in the office.
Another highlight of last night’s ride was the bike ridden by another of my colleagues.  It is a 45 year old, 5 speed British road bike with proper “old-school” handlebars and pedals.  It really is a cracking machine and the guy who rides it has owned it since receiving for Christmas at the age of 14.  How lovely to see a nice bike like that being cherished for so long and not struggling to keep up with the pack either!  I’ll get some picks and do a bit of a write up for the vintage bike fans when I have the chance.
Which brings me neatly (!) to my most recent mileage update.  I will at some point figure out how to put mileage tracker on the front page of this blog (like I’ve seen others do) but for now, the latest stats, to the end of last week) are as follows:
Week 21 – 95 miles
Week 22 – 89 miles
Week 23 – 74 miles
Grand total to date = 1,496 miles

There will clearly be a load more to add in from this week as well when I next do an update.  Happy riding all! :-)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


Just a small but self indulgent post to celebrate the fact that I got more than 100 hits in one day for the first time ever!  140 in fact which is ace, so thanks to all and keep on coming back!

In celebration, we had a small firework display here at Folding Bike Towers.  Here is a snapshot of some of the smaller ones:

Cheers all :-)

A random musing

I’ve written before about the need to plan ahead a bit when cycle commuting, especially if (like me) each commute could be to one of a few different locations. 
Now that I have taken the plunge and sold my car though, the need for planning is even more important.  With one car for the family, which is needed most days by my wife for running the kids around, the option to just jump in the car has disappeared.*  Car driving friends are full of such cautionary, critical advice as “Oh, it must be really difficult having just one car”.  Well no it isn’t, not at all - it is a wonderful and liberating experience!  You just have to be smart about it.
A simple week is, well, simple really.  If I am in the same office for five days running (which happens but not too often), all of the heavy kit (lapdog etc.) can be left there and I cycle pretty light.  Once things get more complex than that, I have to think around the issues a bit.  What I’ve found though is that I’m becoming less afraid to ask people for help.  I have a number of workmates who live nearer to the office than me and cycling to their house for a lift in makes a heavy day (or one that starts at a train-unfriendly time) much easier.  I don’t need to do it that often, but it’s nice to have the option there if required.
I think that as a race, we humans have become more and more insular, suspicious of others and self-absorbed.  Hardly anyone asks for help these days (maybe it’s seen as a weakness?) but I find to do so genuinely humbling.  All the more so when you then find out how generous and happy-to-help people really are.  For centuries, monks and nuns of every denomination have known that to live for a spell in poverty, dependant on the goodwill of others is rich development for the spirit.  I’m not planning to go that far, but the principles work on a small scale too.
I knew that cycling to work would benefit my health and cost less.  I never expected it to be so good for my soul. J

And in response to the comment about a lack of pictures, here's a gratuitous
"waiting at the train station" picture of my beloved Dahon.  How's that for client-focused? :-)
*As a side note, my wife has mentioned that she’d also like to cycle now and again when taking the kids to school.  We live a little bit out of it in a village and school is a good four miles each way.  However, my older two kids ride competently and my wife would pull our youngest along on the trail-gator.  Excellent stuff!  I doubt we could ever go totally car-free – I wouldn’t want to as they are very useful for certain things but cutting back bit by bit can only be a good thing.  In even the smallest way, being personally fitter and less dependent on the volatility of oil prices and fuel taxation has to be an all-round win!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Performance enhancement

Since starting to cycle more regularly, I have become more aware of the factors that influence my ability to cycle quickly (or not as the case may be…).  Nowadays, I generally make sure that I’m eating enough of the right things and not too many of the wrong things, drinking plenty (of water) and more recently trying to get enough rest and sleep. 
However, on my cycle all the way home the other Friday, I knew I needed a bit of a pick-up for the extra effort.  I don’t usually cycle with headphones in, but on a whim I decided to and was amazed at the effect that the right tunes had.  I now have a playlist on my iPhone entitled “Power and Motivation!” which is compiled from the hardest rocking and motivational songs from my collection. 
I tried it out the other night.  Fuelled by a medley of Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Skunk Anansie and Iron Maiden, I blasted home in what seemed like record time!  I love rock music and find that hard-rocking, riff-based metal is just the job for pushing me on to greater efforts. 
I even found the breath from somewhere to “sing” along and must apologise to the residents of one village who were subjected to my rendition of “Children of the Damned” at full volume!  Fortunately, one village further on, I held my tongue during the chorus of “Killing in the Name of..”  It’s a sleepy little place and I don’t think that they’d have got over it!
So keep your nandralone, EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs.  All of our nation’s sportsmen and women should be boosting their results using the pure, unbridled power of metal!
Let’s rock!!!

Thursday, 9 August 2012


Well since the opening ceremony of the Olympics the other week, it’s gone absolutely sport-mad over here in the UK!  The atmosphere is fantastic – helped in no small part by our impressive medal haul.  I’ve been so inspired to see how many of our medals have been won by our cyclists and in particular the track team in the velodrome.
The road race on the first Saturday was a bit of a disaster – I think the team just picked the wrong strategy and let the breakaway group get too far ahead.  It has to be remembered though that several of them had just completed the Tour de France little more than a week earlier (including Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – first and second respectively in the Tour) which puts their enormous effort into even sharper perspective.  Most mortals would be forgiven for spending months recovering after such an endeavour, not racing a 250km world-class road race so soon afterwards!
The men and women in the velodrome have been truly awesome.  Years and years of planning and preparation have gone into our success but ultimately it comes down to the person on the bike.  To see how much sheer power they are able to turn on in an instant for a sprint to the finish is stunning!
It seems like there are more cyclists out on the roads at the moment, no doubt inspired by Team GB.  Personally speaking, there has been more than one occasion that I'm sure I’ve dug deeper than usual – spurred on by our efforts on the road and track.
Team GB you have been simply amazing and I salute you!

On a considerably more human note, my mileage to date:

Week 21 - 95 miles

Total to date - 1,333 miles

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


An early meeting this morning, at a time that didn’t quite work with the train timetable, meant that I took a slightly different route into work.  I set off early and cycled 11 miles down to a friend’s house halfway to the office, and then got a lift the rest of the way.
To be honest, I was looking forward to the change of scenery and a slightly longer morning ride.  However, I was shocked to find that I had absolutely no power in my legs at all – all of the way there!
At first I thought that I just needed my legs to warm up a bit and then perhaps that I needed my breakfast to digest somewhat.  However, several miles into the ride I was still struggling up the hills and even along some flat sections (with a slight headwind).  I crawled along in second gear or struggled to heave against third – truly soul-destroying!  The route was slightly hillier than usual but that would not normally cause a problem.  I have ridden the same road in reverse when cycling the whole way home from work a couple of times and it has not presented significant problems.
My diet at the moment is pretty good so I don’t believe it was a stored energy issue.  The distance should not have been a problem either as I have ridden significantly further and faster.  My CV fitness is pretty good as I am rarely worse than slightly out of breath on any ride (unless I go for a mad sprint for some reason).  I wasn’t struggling for air this morning at all and my general health is fine.
I have however been going to bed far too late recently and getting up early.  Even on the weekend it is routinely beyond midnight before I turn in for the night and sometimes an hour or so after that.  I wish I could report that it was as a result of a hedonistic party lifestyle, but alas it is not.  It is a simple function of trying to enjoy a couple of hours of peace before bed but after the children have retired for the night.  Their summer-holiday induced later bedtimes have had a pro-rata impact on mine.
The upshot is though that my muscles don’t seem to be recovering as they should.  I feel tired.  Really tired and in need of a couple of good nights’ sleep.  I still have a few miles to go today though and short of resorting to sugar and caffeine overdose (the crash from which is truly awful) I’ll have to grit my teeth and then try for an early night.
Fingers crossed...