Monday, 24 September 2012

What is a MAMIL exactly?

EDIT: if you want to read a more full series of posts on the MAMIL you can see the first one HERE

Recently there have been a few articles in the mainstream press about MAMIL's (middle aged men in Lycra).

Before reading any further I have a confession to make, I am a MAMIL and I am proud of it - I feel I should be sitting in a group in some community centre with everyone standing up and applauding, meanwhile the group leader gives me a manly pat on the back and a middle aged woman sits beside me wiping a tear drop from her cheek.

So here is a brief outline of what my interpretation of a MAMIL is:

1) middle aged (obviously) for me I reckon this is 40 - 55 years old
2) money to spend
3) loves gadgets
4) wears Lycra

Here are some other interpretations:

1) suffering from a mid-life crisis
2) wastes money on pointless cycling items he doesn't need
3) Rides around looking like a fool in Lycra
4) Rides around looking fat in Lycra
5) Rides around puffing in Lycra
6) Rides around on a bike in Lycra, when he should be driving a car like other sane people
7) Rides through red lights wearing Lycra
8) Rides on pavements in Lycra, knocking down old ladies who are not in Lycra

Note a trend? There is a heavy focus on Lycra, it is as if people are going out in public dressed in a gimp suit!

I will attempt to move away from stereo types and exaggeration and take a look at what a MAMIL really is, and ask why do middle aged men get all dressed up and go out on their bikes? People assume men should stop using a bike once they pass their driving test - only children and those on a drunk driving charge should be riding a bike surely.

This is a list of my thoughts on why I and many others are MAMIL's

1) Cycling is a sport that you can do in your later years. It is possible with a sensible level of effort to still be able to mix it with people 20 years younger and even be faster than they are. Often it is your aerobic fitness that counts along with your weight / strength ratios. Yes of course someone genetically the same as you but younger putting in the same effort will be faster but given all the variables you stand a better chance on a bike than you do on a run. This I think is a major appeal in cycling for older people.

2) I think cycling appeals because it is a social sport - it is something you can do at the weekend with a friend and have a bit of a chat en-route, for me and many others it is a social and physical activity.

3) There is the gadget element - bikes offer infinite permutations of equipment across a broad range of items and prices. Older men man have spent their previous 20 years glueing back on the hand of the stars wars action figures, carried out minor engineering miracles to keep a favourite toy going, or to make sure that a shelf can handle 3 kids swinging from it. In our DNA there is a love and appreciation of mechanical things.

Often nowadays, cars can no longer be fixed without a raft of special tools and computers, besides all that, the car engine is often hidden by some plastic cover designed to make it look "cool" and to stop you fiddling with it beyond adding water and oil. But bikes on the other hand are totally accessible, fairly easy to tinker with and build and are, to the eyes of men in the know, a thing of beauty!

4) We want to stay healthy - many sports are just too likely to give painful injuries. Last time I had a rugby kick around with my sons I broke two ribs - my sons are just too damn big and my bones a lot less dense than they used to be. But I can cycle all day and unless my eldest son decides to make any effort, I can still beat him at one sport.  Besides (and no I wont admit it to them) I enjoy getting out, on the rare occasions we cycle together, with my sons

Why should men accept that they have to grow fat and unhealthy just because they have passed 40? Gyms have lost their allure often, either our joints just can't take that heavy pounding any more, or we can't stand looking at some 20 year old thinking he is the bees knees, when we know we were twice as fit at his age but nowadays it would take two of us just to spot him. Also (and maybe this is just me) but I seem to be a lot more sensitive to the unwashed masses in the gym now than I was before (or maybe young people wash less nowadays).

5) We get a little time at last to have a hobby - it is not just about the physical side of cycling that appeals, there are a plethora of gadgets for us to read and learn about; and what can be better if we find that must have gadget, we can then buy it! We justify the benefits we will feel from that carbon bottle cage that is 2 grams lighter - maybe it will be difference between first and second on the imaginary TDF we cycle in every day we cycle off to work.

6) We get away from it all - there is just so many benefits to getting some quiet time, either in the garage building bike things, or out on the road. It offers such an opportunity to de-stress that it is hard to explain. Often when I come back from a ride the noise in the house is a real shock.

7) Cycling is a practical exercise, you see the world about you, or if you are like me you get to commute to work (I am not going into all the cost savings, health benefits etc. in this post) maybe it is a middle aged thing but I can't see the point of spinning my legs in a gym going nowhere fast and I loathe getting on public transport (maybe it is that not liking the small of unwashed people again)?

So why the negative connections to the term MAMIL?

1) I suppose the one item from above that annoys me the most is the "mid-life crisis" tag.Why is it that everything a man does in his mid-life a crisis? Maybe there are some logical reasons for what we do, once a man passes 40 he doesn't go a bit mad, but it seems that the media takes the easy route of labelling everything we do as a mid-life crisis, in just the same way they have to label us MAMIL's

2) Do MAMIL's waste too much money on cycling? Yes we do! Is that such a bad thing? If you own a cycle store a MAMIL is heaven sent, as explained above, we love all the gadgets and have the ability to buy them. Do all the gadgets make a difference - well yes they do. Do they make as big a difference as their cost - well no of course they don't - does that matter - hell no! If you can afford it then why can't you have it? What is annoying though is when you compare the money you spend on a bike etc. to that of your spending on a car - the bike is many times cheaper, but we have been conditioned nowadays to accept the spiralling cost of car ownership and it seen as a necessity and a bike as a luxury item - I am sure it was that way round 50 years ago even. 

3) Your other half (sorry "better half") - how should she feel about this, after all you are out on your bike instead of lying on the sofa at home. Obviously I am going to have to make some assumptions here but I would think the following applies:

a) You are out on your bike - not in the arms another woman. My wife is all I need, and my bikes are my hobby (though my wife thinks I treat them as if they are mistresses). My bikes take up my attention and thoughts outside of the family, I worry about when I should clean or service them, not about should I try and continue my youth by chasing another woman.

Once I forgot my phone when I went out to the shops, my wife needed to contact me, She thought about going to look for me, but she admitted she would not have gone looking around the pubs but around the bike shops instead.

b) My bike keeps me fit - what wife wants her husband unhealthy and fat before his time  (feeders excepted).

c) When we have a dinner with friends, fellow MAMIL's have loads of exciting things to talk about rather than get into some argument about politics.Gear ratios can take up many an hour of dinner conversations!

4) So how do you justify buying expensive bike bling? Well if your wife thinks it is fine to always buy her shoes from ASDA then I guess you have no right to buy bike bling. But as no woman wants to buy all her shoes at ASDA I think we are safe in using that as an excuse for buying more expensive components. Besides we get years out of our bikes as opposed to one season for a pair of shoes which often cost more than a reasonable level carbon frame!

5) And this is probably the main reason for all the media slagging off - it is so cool to be negative about something. It is real easy to be a critic and laugh at someone else, but a damn sight harder to get off the sofa and push yourself to be fit and slimmer.

A MAMIL will ordinarily have a more positive outlook on life, maybe be a little less cynical. Yes that's it the word I have been searching for CYNICAL - the mocking of a MAMIL is far too easy, be cynical and delude yourself you are cool, after all MAMIL's are far too busy living life (or too busy deluding ourselves that we are just one more training hill away from being called up to Team Sky) to waste time in arguing back to cynicism. 

The dreaded Lycra

OK that is all the non-controversial things covered, now for the tricky one - LYCRA. It is fair to say that a fat man in Lycra is not a good sight! So I suggest we take a sensible approach here, yes Lycra does help;

a) padding in all right places
b) gets rid of the sweat
c) reduces drag.
d) lightweight
e) dries quickly

The above advantages do pale into insignificance when compared to the sight of a fat man wearing it, at least for the more refined people. So for all would be MAMIL's I suggest the following approach - if slightly overweight start off in more normal clothing, then as you progress and the fat starts to go - then introduce Lycra in step process, keep the baggy clothes covering the flabby parts and introduce the Lycra where it will not induce onlookers to vomit (or much worse mock you). Nowadays there are so many choices though, where you can wear baggy shorts over Lycra - so you can get the best of both worlds with a little compromise.

The advantages of proper clothing though are not to be underestimated, there will always be the people who mock and have an indelibly burned image in their head of someone in Lycra who really should have known better from a few years back. But provided you are reasonably healthy (as most cyclists are, or soon will be) then wearing Lycra should not offer up such disconcerting sights.

The thing that does rile me personally though is the people who say "I rode my bike once 50 miles and I didn't need Lycra". Well yes maybe they didn't, maybe they made it without too much hassle, but please tell me where it says I should put myself through unnecessary discomfort just to meet their satirical requirements? I have never dressed to impress (much to my wife's chagrin) and I as sure as hell am not going to do it on a bike where there are practical considerations to take into account as well. As a final point I would just like to say, even if you think we look a fool in our Lycra, quite frankly we are just too old to give a damn about what you and others think.

So forget about hugging a hoodie - hug a MAMIL - we are a much more maligned section of the community!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Oh wait - something sensible of Cycle Safety

First of all apologies for total lack of posts recently! Just been one of those times where other things in life have taken precedent.

For those of you who missed this on BBC News today - he is a video of a news piece on cycle safety. What is the best part though is Chris Boardman's discussion of cycle safety after the report, he gives a balanced argument about the benefits of cycling and what needs to be done to improve safety.

If you didn't see it, then it is well worth a view - I sense cycling may have a new and media savy (at last) spokesman!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

London Nightrider - post event.

Do you think we look like we need a nights sleep?
Previously I have written about the Nightrider event prior to doing it, and in the natural course of events there now follows a post dealing with the post event. Firstly lets get the main point out of the way - yes I completed the course and I may also, modestly state, the I think it was completed with a reasonable amount of panache.

My first draft of this post included a whole lot of info of how I managed my diabetes during the ride - but this made the post far too long and in retrospect I think it is a subject that demands a post of it's own, so I will work on that for the next post. 

The week prior to the event I completed a fast but not too punishing 30 miles ride and then rode into work two times during the week (Tuesday and Wednesday). On the Thursday I took the bike for a service, this was a mixture of a check-over but also just to get a professional spanner merchant to check over my self build. The bike ended up needing both the front and back wheel trued (I have hit a number of potholes at speed during training), also the rear mech hanger needed straightening and I needed a new front derailleur cable as I had not connected that properly when I built the bike - but apart from that error the mechanic said I had done a very good job which left me feeling more than a little chuffed! I also stocked up on energy bars, drinks and Gels and hydration powders and Mars bars.

Peter (my ride partner) and I had a 12:35 start - this was the last start of the night. We chose this time deliberately because we thought it would be better to have people to chase after as we expected to be going a little faster than the majority and certainly the last thing I wanted to do was to set off early and then feel the need to try and be one off the first people in. Whilst we wanted to do a reasonable speed we did not want to be pushing it beyond a comfortable fast pace - we are both mid to late forties and sadly I don't think either of us have got used to the idea that we cannot race everybody; a case of the mind being willing but the body wants to be in the armchair having a nap.

I spent the whole week prior to the event weather watching - and what a turbulent week it was - gale force wind on Thursday and Friday and flooding on Sunday evening and Monday, all I can say is God was feeling gracious to me and the 3,000 other riders! Saturday night / Sunday morning was rain free - a little cold but nothing too bad. How we were so lucky to get that small window in the appalling weather I will never know but I am eternally grateful for it!

So, that was the bike ticked off, weather ticked off and me half ticked off all that was needed was to get the ride done. I have never done an organised bike ride like this before so the whole experience was new - I got a couple of hours nap during the day to help me make it through the night and Peter and I turned up at Crystal Palace (our start point - the other was at Alexandra Palace) feeling fairly refreshed. I was lucky in that Peter had a roof rack for our bikes and we were able to park only 1/4 of a mile from the start.

I have to say that the whole event was well organised (as it was) but I will make my two complaints now about things that could have been done better.
1) The food at the halfway point needed to be more Carb orientated (but I brought my own anyway).
2) the second stop had too few toilets and their was a long queue (once again I avoided this by seeking out a secluded bush). The second stop is where all the water you have taken onboard at the start, suddenly needs to go away.

Apart from the above two minor quibbles I thought the event was very well organised and every element was hassle free. We turned up and registered in about 5 minutes and got our free High-Vis vest. We then nervously chatted for a few minutes and had a go a pretending to stretch. A quick visit to the toilet before I left confirmed that I was not the most nervous person who had left that day!

Once we were on the the move things soon settled into a rhythm. It was very clear within 2 minutes of setting off that people were going to be completing this event at varying speeds. Within about 4 minutes we had already overtaken 15 or so people. This filled me with joy - not because we had overtaken people but because we knew there would be a nice mix of riders out there. Through the course of the night we met riders of varying degrees, some like Peter and I who were going for a time rather than managing a distance and others who were out there and had every intention of enjoying the view and taking as long as they damned well please. One thing remain consistent though - we were all in this together. I never saw one person at the side of the road with a puncture that didn't have at least one or two people helping them out, people chatted easily at the numerous traffic lights; at the half time break I had a nice chat with a couple in their 60's (I think) who were doing the ride on a tandem.

The only time I didn't enjoy the ride was just after we set off from the Alexandra Palace break - their was an initial nice downhill and then there was a long double hill climb - this was before you really had a chance to get warmed up and made the start of the second half far less enjoyable than it could have been for many. I had seen a fair few walk up the hill to the Alexandra Palace break and this was understandable - it was steep and at the 35 mile point, but the hill directly after the break was a cruel and long one and given the vary abilities of the cyclists should have been avoided (if possible) I think. Probably 1/2 the cyclist ended up walking some or all of this hill.

My bike computer has a "moment"
Peter and I managed to complete the course in 3 hours and 50 minutes ride time averaging about 17 miles an hour. This was 2 mph more than I had expected given the hills and numerous traffic lights. With respect to traffic lights generally all riders stuck to them, certainly at the start - by the end when the roads were empty and legs were getting more and more tired from stopping/starting and clipping in all the time a number of lights were jumped - but I saw no one doing this in a dangerous way and without taking care to check the path was clear.

My main regret of the night was not to have worn contact lenses! I use clear cycling glasses to keep wind and insects out of my eyes - normally on my commute I am focusing on the road and cars and don't need prescription glasses. But this ride was different - there are many sights to see - especially after 3am when the sun is coming up - I totally missed the detail of these sights - I also missed a lot of the arrows pointing out the route - I had to rely on seeing riders up front and the way they went or Peter shouting behind me to turn right or left, he was my personal SatNav.

Miles 50 to 60 of the ride seemed to go very slowly, punctuated by the strong smell of London Zoo when you ride past it (I have never noticed that before). Completing this ride makes you realise just how close all the parts of London are and how small the centre of London is compared to the hours you spend stuck on a stuffy tube travelling around it. Travelling at 20 to 25 mph around the centre of London areas just fly past. Another little favourite of mine was flying through Canary Wharf (I was having a bit of flashback to the Halfords professional tour ride that took part there the week before). I hate Muswell hill though!

The end of the ride was very cruel in having to climb up crystal Palace Hill at the end of all those miles - I think that I saw 90% of riders walking that bit - but it may have been different at other times.  Then there is a short downhill bit to the finish which is just long enough for you to gather your composure and finish with grace and speed.

I would like to give a special thanks to the people working at the event - they were supportive and clapped and cheered all riders and gave them words of encouragement. There were staff placed at various junctions throughout the ride to send people in the right direction. One of the worse sights I saw was a few people taking what looked like to be short cuts - for example you could save a mile or so if you went along Picadilly rather than go left down towards Trafalgar square, these people I am sad to say were fellow Carbon Bike warriors (or wimps) and I think they are just fooling themselves for taking shortcuts. Some of the nicest things I saw were people on tandems doing the ride together - husband and wife going up a hill with the husband telling the wife to ignore the people overtaking them and to just worry about her line and getting up the hill at a steady pace (even though I had the sense he wanted to be with the people doing the overtaking). Or the young couple about 2 miles out from the finish, the woman was obviously totally knackered and he just had his arm around her helping her muster up the final energy to completed the ride and what would obviously be a major achievement that they would remember. These are the people I like to ride with - out there doing there bit for their charity and also having a go at facing a big personal challenge and not giving in. Some people I saw seemed to be inadequately prepared in equipment and personal health, they looked like a flight of stairs would be a daunting obstacle - but there they were walking up that last hill or stuffing their breakfast down at the end of the ride like they hadn't eaten in a week, well done to all of them!

I would also like to thank Diabetes Care UK for letting me ride for them - I hope my sponsorship help with the ongoing battle against Diabetes. One small request though - next year don't give us things to put on our head! They don't fit on a bike helmet - a simple sticker to put on our his-vis vest or and armband would be better - no really it would!

I think I was having a John Inman "moment" on Westminster Bridge
Would I advise people to do the ride - yes I would - but you need to make sure you get a few good rides in beforehand. I would definitely recommend doing at least three or four 30 mile rides and one or two 50 mile rides beforehand and get some general fitness training. If you can, do as I do, and commute some or all the way into work (you would be surprised how much you enjoy it). With this minimal training under your belt - the ride will be well within your range and the fitter you are the more you will enjoy the ride, but don't forget to your glasses / contact lenses!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

London Nightrider - Pre event post.

As per my earlier post HERE - the night of the LONDON NIGHTRIDER event is drawing very close. I wanted to post about it and how it went etc. But last night I thought that maybe it would be better to do a post both before and after the actual event. Once you have completed something, your opinion of it changes and you forget some of your initial fears suddenly those big obstacles you thought you would face turn out not to be so big - after all why worry about something you have completed? Therefore I have decided to write the first half of this post before the event and I will complete it next week when I have done it.

Firstly lets deal with why I decided to do it? Well after being hit by a car back in December last year it took me until March before I could ride again - I have written about this already HERE. I knew I needed to give myself a challenge otherwise I felt I would spend the year not really progressing in my cycling and start to get bored - yes 22 miles a day is OK but it has become fairly routine and I had plateaued as to increasing my fitness, and I was bored of reading about people doing 100 mile rides in a day on a regular basis without actually experiencing it myself.

After the bike crash I had an insurance payout which I was allowed to invest in a new go faster road bike - I invested in a self build very slick bike (I must do a proper post on it sometime) this bike demands a rider who goes places it would be a total sin not to use it properly! So I had the bike, I had the basic fitness need - lastly I needed a reason. I was told about the London Nightrider event and it seemed a like a good one to aim for - further than the London to Brighton (it is 100km - plus travel to and from start / end) and different in that it was through London at night - I felt it would offer up something different and certainly a different aspect on London.

I am riding the event for Diabetes UK (if you would like to donate you can do so HERE through Virgin Giving - go on I know you ant to). The reason for choosing Diabetes UK is because I have been Type1 (i.e. I need to inject 4 times a day) diabetic myself for 30 years.

Before I started this challenge the most I had ridden in a day was 40 miles (and that was only twice) and these were both very much stop start affairs and at quite a gentle pace. My partner in crime for this event (and training buddy) was Peter. Peter has done a number of longer distance rides up to 70 miles and so doesn't face the fear of the unknown I do, he also happens to know the country lanes around us very well and so was able to lead me on weekend rides of about 30 miles through nice areas. The problem with Peter is he loves hills - the man is mad! I on the other hand, hate them with a vengeance - on one particular ride up a two mile hill which I think had 7 or 8% gradients at points the only thing that kept me going was the thought that I will kill him when I caught up with him at the top - fortunately I couldn't even breath let alone kill anyone by the time I reached the top. On the plus side I am faster than Peter on the flat - sadly this is down to my new "go-faster" bike. Because I had basic fitness from my commuting these 30+ mile rides turned out to be fairly easy (even with hills) and more notably when you push yourself to do a little further distance it was amazing how quickly it improved my fitness, to the point where I wasn't even registering my ride into work each day. Very quickly it got to the point that I felt quite comfortable doing 30+ miles and on a couple of occasions carried on for a little extra - I now knew that I had done the London Brighton 54 miles and it was not so much of a challenge - it was also important for me to ride close to the distance of this event just to be certain psychologically that I could do it.

Had I not been diabetic - I think this event would not represent so great a challenge - but the balance of:
1) Getting enough carbs during my ride,
2) Coupled with making sure I have enough insulin inside me to actually convert those carbs
3) At the same time making sure I don't have too much insulin so I hypo on the bike
4) Trying to factor in how much energy I am burning - dependant on the effort
5) The delayed reduction in blood sugar from post exercise (and I assume on such event during as it is going to take a number of hours)

All of this is to be honest a total nightmare - especially as I have no previous experience to use - this is my first proper endurance event. Common and practical sense says I should take the ride easy - but my own madness will not allow me to do this - so I guess we shall see!

Right now - I have all my gels, food, bike, lights, injections, blood sugar level tester sorted and ready to go. But the weather seems about ready to play it's last trick on me - the weather forecast is predicting rain for the night - of all the things I didn't want to deal with was rain and wind - the rest I can accept facing but I will be bitterly disappointed if the weather doesn't join in the fun and hold of the rain. There has been so much rain lately that even I gave up cycling into work in April - I just tired of being soaked every day. For about a month I hardly rode at all - not only was my fitness not improving for the event - it was actually getting worse! It got to the point that I bought a second hand turbo trainer to get some bike hours in at all.

I would say that out of all the things (aside from dealing with the diabetes in this new environment) the weather has been the most difficult to accept and deal with - only I could be in a country complaining about drought and then when I decided to train for the heavens to open for the wettest April on record and a more than average wet May. People were joking that it had rained non-stop since the hosepipe ban - but I knew it had rained non-stop the moment I signed up to do this event!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Baby Steps - Training for longer rides

Some of you may have read my earlier post about doing the London night ride - 65 to 70 miles overnight around London on June 9th.

It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I signed up for this - after all 24 miles a day commute is not the same as sitting in a saddle for 4 or 5 hours with non stop cycling and I am still horrified by the idea of doing more than two hills in a 24 hour period. But my way of thinking was, unless I set myself a target I would never push myself hard enough and take the time at the weekend to get the distances.

So I have made the commute into work every day - this itself is a step forward given the weather of the past two months. Additionally two weekends ago I did a 25 mile fast ride and then on the Sunday a 40 mile ride (with many hills). Last weekend I did a 54 mile ride (with more hills than I though existed in the UK) - I was determined to get over the 50 mile mark just to see how my body would react - strangely it didn't complain at all and I had no aches the following day.

The most surprising thing of these extra weekend miles is how much it has improved my commute - the miles now glide by with minimum fuss and plenty of extra speed and lack of tiredness. I really think this night ride has forced me to take a leg up in my cycling endurance, I have been shocked at how much improvement it has given me with what is in essence very little effort and the returns have happened so quickly. I have never know such a quick jump in ability of a sport for so little.

So although the jump from 25 miles to 50 might seem great - it really isn't that much of a step up other than in time and willingness to do it. I supposed it helps that my cycling buddy is a complete nutter, he loves hills (both up and down) with a passion that I can only summon for my immediate family. I tend to make it up some of the hills he chooses (like the 2 mile 10% one last weekend) by repeating the mantra that I will kill him when I get to the top, unfortunately by the time I get up the hill I am far too knackered to do anything other than breath - he on the other hand is having a leisurely lay in the grass waiting for me to turn up (on the flat he is cannon fodder to my more expensive bike though).

So my goal for this year of cycling was to make longer distance rides and to have then be comfortable and enjoyable to a reasonable degree - I think now I am making great steps towards achieving this - I am now starting to reap the benefits of training my body muscle type. i have always been a Sprinter - max of 20 seconds flat out effort then a nice breather. By gradually forcing myself to up the cadence (now an nice average of 90) and keep to the lower gears rather than forcing and crunching the higher gears - my knees feel great and miles just melt away behind me, I was also taking out some of the slower club riders on the road at 40 miles. Therefore I am pleased to announce that I am getting better at this cycling lark!

So what about the baby steps in the title? Well I think I have taken the time to build up my general fitness - I have learnt about bike maintenance and build - I have taken the time to learn to pedal better and then to increase the cadence but as far as distance is concerned - I think I need to be more brave and just go for the longer rides earlier, some things require a bit of bravery and less of being a baby.     

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Cars that pull out in front of you from side roads.

This morning I was in the car and on my bike (obviously not at the same time). I drove about 14 miles taking the kids to school and then rode about 12 miles into work.

During the car drive I was very concious of the number of cars that pulled out of side turnings into my path. Maybe because I do most of my miles on the bike nowadays, I was suddenly more concious of the cars pulling out from side roads in front of me. The reality is when I was on my bike the same proportion of cars pulled out in front of me too (maybe even less).

So where is this all leading? Well I think the point is that drivers generally are fairly aggressive on the road and it is not a thing aimed at cyclists in particular - they do it to fellow car drivers to the same degree. Three things are different though;

  • Cyclists tend to stop more slowly - our brakes are not as good as cars (well at least a well maintained car) additionally when we slow down or stop it takes a lot more effort to get back up to speed again.
  • Cyclists are a lot more vulnerable in a crash (thank you captain obvious) and additionally we do not really have the option of swerving out of the way without considerable risk of potentially being hit from behind by a car overtaking us.
  • Cyclists often have a feeling of persecution (contentious I know) this may be because of the above two previous points - but I think we need to realise it is not just a personal thing - generally speaking, car driving on the roads is awful!

I think we need to start looking at how bad driving on the road is done by a significant minority of drivers in general rather than making it a bike Vs. car argument. 

If driving standards generally were improved I am sure not only cyclist would be very happy but also other car drivers. When I drive I see some atrocious acts of driving by some people on the road, it has always made me laugh in comments sections when the drivers lobby complain about poor cyclists and how they break the rules - and then blaming them for the accidents, yet these same drivers, daily on the road, are berating their fellow drivers for poor driving. Yet as soon as it gets to discussion time, it becomes a tribal matter with drivers and cyclists in opposing camps, with the main variation being that most cyclists are car drivers and most in the drivers camp do not cycle.

So why does it become so tribal? It becomes tribal because we allow it to. Often the theme of discussions seems to be driven by a sanctimonious few cyclists, who abhor the car, it's emission and the capitalist scum driving them. From the drivers side it is driven by the total petrol head who has no life, no driving skills (although he thinks he is Jackie Stewart) and no chance of getting laid unless he can trick a woman into his car with his impressive selection of "Max Power" stickers.

The army of us in the middle get drawn into these arguments and with the best will in the world discussions get polarised with digs from the trolls on either side to stoke the fires of argument. Forget reclaim the road - we need "Reclaim the Discussion" - the 99% of drivers I meet on the road are reasonable and considerate - yes they make mistakes and those mistakes put a cyclist life at risk. Yes there is a need for all drivers to exercise a higher level of patience but this is only going to be achieved by reasoned discussion. As for drivers without insurance, who  as a general rule I find to be the worst drivers on the road, they need far stiffer fines, as does what is currently called "Dangerous Driving" (or know to cyclists as "he almost killed me").

I try and do my little bit - at dinners, I talk to my driving only friends about the hassles faced on a bike and hopefully they will take more notice of the cyclist in the future (baby steps get there eventually) and as for cyclists who jump red lights at dangerous intersections (not at empty pedestrian crossing) I generally mutter "twat" loudly under my breath as they go through, maybe peer pressure will eventually make them think twice?

The only certain thing is, the more we allow discussions to be become polarised the less likely we will be friends on the road.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Build you own bike - go on I dare you!

My self build De Rosa R838
I haven’t really posted much recently – there have been two very good reasons for this. Firstly the weather depressed me so much after a month of continual rain – and ongoing until this week, secondly and more importantly I have been building a new road bike and this is what I want to talk about today in the hope it may give a few more of you the conviction to try.

First of all lets deal with why. Why go through all the trouble of building your own bike when you can pop in a shop and buy one ready built? There are two reasons I strongly recommend this approach both tangible and intangible. The intangible is simply the satisfaction that you get from doing it yourself – despite the fear your LBS and posters on forums give people about building your own bike, it really isn’t that hard. Secondly (the tangible) why should you have to have a bike that has components that have been chosen for you?

I think it first best to talk about the tangible in more detail. When a bike is delivered in to a shop the company that built it has been driven by one very important factor – price point. As I trawled around bike shops I very soon noticed that on road bikes from £2,000 upwards the frame very often was of a much higher specification than the components. Why would you have a bike with a frame costing £1,800 plus with components 3 or 4 iterations down the scale (e.g. Sram Apex, Shimano 105 or Compag Athena? The difference between these and a higher level groupset may only be £200 – so you spend £2,000 - £3,000 and yet you immediately feel the need to upgrade – surely it would be better to spend and extra £200 and have a groupset you want?

Companies making the bike may want to put on cheaper components but it might take the bike above the £3,000 price point! Don’t take my word for it any honest salesman at your LBS will agree with me on this point. And then of course soon afterwards you feel the need to have a groupset that justifies your frame and you then go and blast another £800 of hard earned money to get that groupset, good for the shops though as you keep on spending and replacing parts before they wear out. It makes perfect sense to me, to start with everything how you want it (within your skill and price bracket). Even worse is when I have looked at some high end carbon bikes they have cheap heavy alloy seat-posts, and who is to say that the bars they provide as part of the spec are at the correct drop for you, or the bar tape is what you like. The list is endless as to the items that you eventually replace. When i bought my first bike – I got what I thought would be a spec I would never need to change – within 2 months I was fiddling and changing a majority of the parts, eventually it became silly replacing items on a frame that did not warrant them..

Additionally, when you build your own bike it stands to reason it will not be your first bike, I had parts (saddle and wheels) that I had upgraded on my old bike – they where good quality parts and expensive – they would get very little use left on the old bike – so I simply transferred them to the new bike and put the original wheels and saddle back on the old bike (immediate £600 saving).

Another thing you are always warned when you buy a complete bike is that if you were to buy the parts individually they would cost a lot more – yes that is true but it doesn’t take a genius to source parts at well below the list price on the internet. For example the frame I bought cost me £800 – it’s list price was £1,700. The difference was that I bought an ex-display frame, not used on the road but it did previously have the original parts attached. I had serious doubts about buying a heavily used carbon frame second hand and I am nowhere near brave enough to buy direct from China / Taiwan which seemed like a lottery. Additionally I wanted a top quality carbon fibre not something built with cheaper materials – the only way I could guarantee this was to buy a known frame / build.

All in all by careful buying I saved around £1,400 on list price for the items I bought – because I was waiting for the insurance cheque for the personal injuries I received in a crash (this paid for the bike with some cash to spare) it gave me time to investigate the exact parts I wanted and time to find the best price (lots of eBay hunting and waiting).

As for the intangibles – building the bike was incredibly therapeutic, I really enjoyed the experience of building the bike and even found myself taking more time than was necessary just because the experience was so rewarding. All the items I bought came with very complete manuals and fitting instructions. Generally the process I followed was:

  • Choose the best product for me – reading many professional and customer reviews
  • Wait and take my time to get the best price for a new part.
  • Watch a u-tube on how to fit the product
  • Read the manual
  • Install the item
  • Un-install the item
  • Re-install item getting it inch perfect

I also bought some additional tools I needed like a 2 torque wrenches, chain tool and proper wire cutters (mostly on eBay where I saved a lot) – I already have many other general items like spanners, hex keys etc. If you take your time and fit things with care I believe you do a better job then a skilled technician, mostly because the bike is your pride and joy and you will not accept even the slightest error (for example I adjusted my break leavers and bar tape about 5 times before I was happy with the set-up). The only item I didn’t install was the BB30 bearings – the tool to do this was about £90 (cheapest I could find) so it made sense to pay the LBS £10 to fit it. The other advantage of DIY bike build is there is now nothing on the bike that I don’t know about and understand in-depth. I can fix just about any issue now – though I still am not so hot with the front derailleur!

Obviously I would not recommend building you own bike if you have not had a shop bought one first – you need to know what you want and about how you cycle before deciding on the parts that best suit your needs.

Next post will be about the bike itself what it has on it etc. But I can recommend if you have the time / desire and are not in a rush, take the plunge and build your own bike, you will not regret it.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Another I told you so - house price drop!

So I told you in this post four months ago that house prices had reached a tipping point and why (it was all to do with the buy to let mortgage relief).

And here you have it - house prices fall at their fastest rate for 6 months in April. Really these things are sometimes just too easy to predict I think.

Now back to cycling.....

Monday, 7 May 2012

Customer Service and buying online.

As I have hinted here I am building a new bike (a later post on that and what I learnt will be coming) overall I have greatly enjoyed the process and learnt a lot but on one occasion the "buying on-line" experience left me more than a little frustrated. So sit down, grab a brew and let me tell you a story (and a warning) - I am not sure why I am writing this post - anger, a bit of bad publicity for the offending party or just to get the last two miserable weeks of my chest.

I have been building a new road bike myself from scratch - Wednesday two weeks ago, I had everything in place (De Rosa frame, wheels cockpit etc.) I just needed to order in the groupset. I decided on the Sram Force groupset with a Sram Red BB30 chain-set. I dutifully checked out prices and found Shiny Bikes was offering a good deal and fast delivery (next day) - I wanted to build my bike that weekend and was a very excited and happy chappy that all my plans were now coming together. Sadly the delivery didn’t come that weekend – I was mellow about it but disappointed – I figured it was the usual Parcelforce laziness (so much for the next day delivery, I had expected Thursday for the delivery or Friday at a push)!

By Wednesday the following week I was more than a little annoyed that the delivery had not come – so I rang Shiny Bikes – apparently they had packed my original order wrong but had forgotten to repack it. My call helped remind them they don’t only have to take my money, they also have to deliver the goods (Problem 1). So I called them the next day to confirm they had dispatched my order as I no longer trusted them to keep their word. "Yes" they confirmed and it would be with me for Friday – yippee. I took Friday off work so I could take the delivery and build the bike overnight and get the Bottom Bracket fitted at my LBS (the bottom bracket is one area I am not going to pay for the tools for).

By 6pm Friday I was sweating – still no groupset! So I called Parcelforce – apparently they had a 4 hour power-cut in their Coventry office so were unable to deliver that day - go figure? (Problem 2 – it was a Parcelforce error, but hey Shiny Bikes use them – it wasn’t my choice). So there then followed a 2nd weekend with no new bike – and my chance to get it to the LBS to get the bottom bracket fitted.

As I was absolutely guaranteed delivery for Monday – I took Monday off work, again, so I could build the bike and get it to the LBS for the bottom bracket – things were desperate now as I had a bike fitting arranged for Tuesday. Sadly the delivery didn’t arrive till 6:15 pm so the LBS was closed and I was going to miss my fitting (Problem 3). I had to cancel the bike fitting (luckily for me the place doing the fitting were understanding and didn’t charge me a fee (thanks guys).

Anyway I thought – at least the groupset has now arrived so I can build the bike and maybe persuade my wife to take it to the LBS the following day. I stopped eating my dinner when the delivery arrived and flung open the box – showing everyone in my family my new toys – sadly one of the toys was missing! Shiny Bikes warehouse had once again come to the fore and forgotten to deliver the bottom bracket (Problem 4). Well I reasoned at least I can build up the bike to a reasonable degree and then get the bottom bracket fitted a couple of days later when they actually deliver it. But Shiny Bikes hadn’t finished yet with their ruining of my day – whilst checking through the order I also discovered they had sent me the wrong cassette an 11-25 instead of an 11-28. (Problem 5).

So I called them back this morning – “so sorry” they say, we will fix it all. A little later I get another call – "sorry we have run out of Bottom Brackets and it will take a week to 2 weeks to restock" (Problem 6). I have seen how fast their next day delivery is – if they think something is going to take two weeks I will probably be drawing my pension before it arrives! Then just to cap it off they have also run out of the cassettes (Problem 7) – this they say they can get in the next day and will post ASAP – I wait with baited breath - NOT! It is incredible that they can allow themselves to run out of stock in the first place but then to sell what they don’t have in stock to a poor punter like me (who pays immediately) is disgraceful.

Just so you know I went to “HighonBikes” and got a replacement bottom bracket and cassette – I have ordered about 15 things from them and they really do deliver the next day (and it is free). I have a feeling Shiny Bikes needs a new warehouse manager – maybe someone who can read and count?

I have bought hundreds of items on the internet, never before have I know such a catalogue of errors, if it wasn’t so important to me I would have laughed. Anyway so many errors, I figured they would at least make it up to me with a discount – they did offer me a discount – yeay! 1.3% - Booo! Basically I got the cost of shipping back (which I am sure they are getting back themselves anyway) I have had bigger total discounts in a sweet shop.

I am not one of those angry people but in all honestly I feel like I have been treated like dirt, it has really made the whole new bike thing change from an exciting experience to total misery and a lot of additional cost. A cost that is worth it for something like a new bike, but not just to sit at the door waiting for the postman. I have always received excellent service from a myriad of bike sellers. I feel fellow cyclists look out for one and other – Shiny Bikes may be a symptom of the growing popularity of cycling – we now have our first person who acts like a second hand car salesman – all in all very depressing. Maybe you have had a good experience with them – I for one will not bother shopping there again, no company that makes that many errors on one order can be considered a sensible seller! I am going to need to get on my new bike just to dissolve the unhappy memories of what they put me through.

As an example of customer services, I ordered some shoes from Evans Cycle store - when they arrived they were the wrong colour - to cut a long story short it turned out they had the wrong colour information on their website. In order that I was recompensed for their error, they replaced my shoes with the next model up (extra £50 for no extra cost). We all make errors, but only real seller admit their fault and take corrective action. As buyers we should demand that level of service or take out custom elsewhere.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A must read blog post (by someone else).

This article LINK expresses my feelings exactly about the current Mayoral election in London and the cycling lobbying.

As you may have have guessed, I am into cycling in quite a large way and I commute to work in London most days. I also agree whole-heartedly with the aims of Londoners on bikes and Go Dutch groups. My problems has been with the fact that the group comes over and is to a greater extent left of centre, this has not been in an overt way and they are in a very tricky situation in balancing between the needs of cycling and party politics, and I don't think this has been achieved. This means they are going to alienate themselves if Boris Johnson wins the election. The truth of the matter is that only a very small % of people are going to use their first vote only based on cycling (though I will be using my second vote for this purpose).

I think a better approach would have been to remove themselves from political sponsorship and rather than saying "vote XYZ because they have offered the most for cycling" would have been to say "XYZ has promised ..... we believe that this is positive" - nothing different in the message with respect to cycling but it distances the group from the political agenda. Despite the above criticism, they did do an excellent job in getting all the main candidates to endorse their aims - but now the relationship they have with the eventual winner of the election is important to get that endorsement converted into real actions.   

Cyclist need to remember we are only 2% of the voting public and although proper infrastructure may be important to us to the vast majority it just isn't. We need to be sending out a message about the benefit to others by cycling being safe. For example - more people on bikes means less congestion on the roads and public transport, proper infrastructure would mean more people cycling, imagine the changes to congestion is 10% of drivers went on their bikes? Imagine a safe route to school for your kids on a bike - no more having to take them in yourself every day or paying for public transport. 

There are lots of positive messages we can get into mainstream thinking - things most cyclist take for granted, for example, reduced healthcare bill from a healthier population. These are the messages we need to get into other peoples heads. Most people still think it is Road Tax not VED - most cyclist know this but most drivers don't, so how are they to know of all the other things we as cyclists take for granted.

In terms of lobbying we really need to start thinking about being in the shoes of the 98% and not get carried off in our own little world, this is basic negotiations tactics - sell you idea by focusing on the benefits of it to the other party.

So please read the LINK and let's get our message out to the 98% in a positive way.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

NightRider London Bike Ride

It is now time to take it up a notch.

I am one year into my cycling – I have progressed from total newbie to someone who is considerably fitter but feel like I have plateaued, I am much wiser as to how to spot danger on the road and far better equipped in terms of bike, components and clothing. And when I get my insurance cheque through and build the next bike I feel I will have a bike (all parts lined up and waiting for payment) that will meet my needs no matter how great given my current and future cycling needs.

The question then is how do I progress. To be realistic, it is fine doing my 22 miles a day on my commute but I will never really reach the potential that I would like to reach, also at 46 it is not going to get any easier, so really it is a case of now or never. Additional to this, weekends are just too busy (or I am too tired) to make the effort to go for a long ride and I really want to be able to do longer rides and be at a level of fitness where I enjoy them rather than them being a struggle and ultimately a miserable affair.

It therefore occurred to me that I was going to have to bite the bullet and sign up for a charity ride. I have been warned off the London – Brighton ride by people telling me it is just too full and the levels of cyclists too great – to me it just felt like it was not the right one to start with. I still may do it one day – just to say I did it, but it didn’t feel like the one I wanted to break my duck on.

So I have decided to ride on the Night Rider ( it is done with Capital Radio in supporting help a London Child. I will be riding for the Diabetes UK Charity (more on this later). The ride is 100KM (63 miles) around London at night time, taking in most of the main London landmarks – it seems like a fun idea, it certainly is different, and with a total of 3,000 cyclists starting at two different points (north and south London) so it should not be too crowded. The route is on the map below.

1. Crystal Palace – start / finish point
2. National Maritime Museum
3. Tower Bridge – break stop
4. St Paul’s Cathedral
5. City of London
6. Canary Wharf
7. Mile End Stadium – break stop
8. Emirates Stadium
9. Alexandra Palace – start / finish point
10. Hampstead Heath
11. Camden Lock
12. ZSL London Zoo
13. Regent's Park
14. Covent Garden
15. London Eye
16. IWM London – break stop
17. The Oval
18. Houses of Parliament
19. Hyde Park
20. Royal Albert Hall
21. Battersea Power Station

I am doing the ride with two (I hope three) other friends – all of a similar age and all of them have done long rides before (so no pressure on me then)!

In later posts I will go through the training schedule I have decided upon and also give a link for anyone who may want to sponsor me (pretty please). Also I want to go through why I am riding for Diabetes UK (I am Type 1 Diabetic (I inject 4 times a day) and have been for nearly 30 years) and the lessons I learnt in stepping up and training for an endurance event whilst being diabetic).

So please come back for later posts and updates.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Lezyne Super Drive front light review

Let me start this by saying that (as regular readers of this blog will know) As of February 2012 – I had spent four of the last 6 months unable to ride – this was partly due to a (non-cycling related) broken rib and also a lot due to the fact that I had been t-boned at 25mph buy a car making a right turn (think of it as making a left turn if you are from a country where they drive on the wrong side of the road).

Between the above, and the fact that in September last year a driver made a left turn into me whilst I was cycling down a dedicated bus (cycle) lane, and you can see why I feel slightly more cautious on the road – this lead to two items being purchased 
a) A helmet that I will actually use as it is not too hot to wear (LINK
b) A Lezyne Super Drive front light.

So that’s the reason for the purchase dealt with – now why did I choose this light? Well there was 450 reasons for this purchase, namely 450 lumens.

So what is 450 lumens? 450 lumens = one bright light that gets you seen, it is bright enough to cause a pause in the thinking of any driver pulling out from a side road, that delay means they are less likely to think they can chance pulling out in front of you, requiring you to slam on the anchors and curse to no one in particular about what an idiot the driver is. In essence - bright light means you get treated with more respect.

450 lumens also does not come cheap though – the retail recommended price for this baby is £100 (well £99.99 but let’s be real) I am sure you can get it a bit cheaper though. This is a lot of cash to pay for a light, certainly the people in my office think I am a little crazy paying so much for a single light. But really how much of a price are you willing to pay to avoid an accident or severe damage to your bike? Also the price is less than many other less bright lights.

The size – this is about 6 inches long and pen like – well a thick pen. But it is definitely not too bulky for the handlebars. It is quite heavy when compared to the cheaper plastic lights you can buy – but this is down to having a metal surround (therefore strong) and a very large lithium ion battery. What I really didn’t want was a separate battery pack – too much weight and too much fuss – so although not the lightest kid on the block this is still acceptable given its performance and the weight is down to having high quality and strong case. The case itself comes in either black or silver.

The light has 4 settings High, Medium, low and medium flashing. Being that I don’t tend to ride off road much – I tend to use this light only on Medium flashing setting. In this setting the battery seems to last for about 3 to 4 hours. The rechargeable Li-Ion battery provides 1.5 hours of juice on the full 450 Lumen mode.

You have one rubber button on the top to select the light mode you want (this can be done with gloves on) and underneath it has a rubber bung to the charging point. One complaint I have about this light is that the recharge point is a little difficult to access though by no means impossible. It uses a standard USB mini connection to recharge the battery – so you can probably use the charger you use for your phone (unless it’s an iPhone) on this light – therefore it is likely you can recharge this light at work and at home.

The useful function of this light is if the battery is going low it automatically switches to low constant setting – not sure how long this will last for as it has only happened to me with 10 minutes of my ride left but it lasted that time with no issue.

The handlebar mounting is also better than most as it allows you to swivel the light left and right. Because of its brightness I would definitely have this light pointing slightly to the ground or you will have blinded drivers swerving into you. Although the light mount is well thought out I have found an issue with it becoming loose on the handlebar – you need to tighten it very tight and then not adjust it up or down or it will work loose. This is mostly because it is holding a greater weight than the average light, so get the angle right and tighten it hard then it should be OK with no more moving. To be honest the only way they could improve this is to make the tightening nut have larger handles.

So that’s all the serious stuff – now let’s have a look at one of the fun elements of this light – when on flashing mode (although at half power) it lights up the road signs for 200 or 300 meters ahead of you – it is quite fun because if someone has just overtaken you and they are obviously faster than you – it is fun to watch them still push on at a panic because they think you are still right behind them – in reality it is your light and you are free-wheeling a long way back – just for the fun of this, the light is worth every penny!

Mambo Score 8/10