I’ve never been very good at praising myself. Achievements don’t land, or sit, for very long. It’s something I’ve learned the hard way, and whilst my tendency to just brush things off once I’ve done them is my default so in an effort combat that I’m just going to say this.
Well done me!
Yesterday I rode in my first ‘sportive’ event – a timed, closed road cycling event, not a race but not a ‘family fun’ ride either as there is a minimum time/speed – and whilst I wasn’t worried about being able to complete it, I did a lot better than I thought!
I rode the route on 1st August on a dry cool early morning, a few weeks later and the roads were slick with overnight rain and it was several degrees cooler, but thankfully it wasn’t pouring from the heavens so I didn’t need full waterproofs to survive. The start was a little chaotic, mostly because it wasn’t clear how to get to the start line.
Because there are a few thousand riders, the organisers used a field to funnel people at the start, with riders allocated to a specific ‘wave’ of start times. This was based on your estimated completion time (I’ll come back to that in bit) and is a perfectly good and oft used way to organise the start at an event like this. Alas not everyone, myself included, got information about how to get to that area and so a couple of hundred of us just headed down the road to where we knew the start line was thinking that there might be directions once we got there.
There wasn’t, so we had to wait around until the organisers sussed it out. It meant that instead of my starting time being around 7:45am, it was a full 30 minutes later. 30 minutes of standing around which wasn’t a great way to start the ride. We all eventually got going though, and with the start line a little way along the road from where we’d been waiting it’s not like we lost any time…
My starting wave, based on my predicted time, was the last one, wave E. However given that this ride was actually the one postponed from 2020, when I hadn’t really been cycling all that much, it’s safe to say that my predicted time when I submitted my entry – 4hrs – was a little off…
That said, it’s hard to compare times between when I cycled the route previously, and how it went yesterday – I started and finished in different places each time – but it was the official timing chips handed out and stuck on your bike that told the true story; for the 40 mile route I finished in a time of 2hrs 16mins and 18 seconds, and came in 97th place out of 589 riders.
I’m still not really sure how to process that as I didn’t think I’d even be in the top half of finishers let alone in the top 100. It’s not like I was pushing myself, we had wet and slippery roads to contend with, and I really was just out to enjoy the morning, gaining some experience of riding in a sportive, and just enjoying being out on my bike.
I’m already wondering what the next challenge is of course but, for a change, I’m going to let this sit a while, and be proud of myself because I should be.
As a sidenote, I was also gathering donations for Muscular Dystrophy and set an initial target of £400 (cos 40 miles). Currently I’ve raised £709 which is mind boggling and wonderful. So grateful to everyone that donated.
It’s fair to say that I’m enjoy cycling way more than I expected and as someone who has the habit of jumping into new hobbies quickly (and deeply) I’m even happier that the simple joy of exploring the local countryside has yet to abate.
I’m also happy to find myself capable of much more than I thought too, both physically and mentally, and oddly I’ve found it’s the latter that is the larger part of what I’ve had to overcome when it was the former that has played on my mind far more in the past.
Having gotten a new bike last year, and having made the most of the COVID lockdown quieted roads, I started cycling more regularly but then I seemed to stall. I got to about the hour mark on my rides, mostly on the same roads, and it was starting to get a little boring.
It took me some time to figure out what the issue was… why couldn’t I ride further?
In the past, I’ve done longer organised rides like Pedal for Scotland – cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh (bus back) – and whilst they are 40+ miles, they are a day out with a few stops for cake and food along the way, tackled by all abilities, and was more about the day itself than the cycling; it was a great event that unfortunately ended a couple of years ago.
What I realised last year was that the few times I did Pedal for Scotland, it became a goal, a reason to get out on my bike before it to make sure I could actually do it and, whilst I know I enjoy being out on my bike once I’m out, I still occasionally need that push, still need that goal, a reason to sling on my cycling gear, don a waterproof, and start spinning the pedals.
So, in the spirit of challenging myself and setting a goal, I signed up to ride Etape Caledonia last year but thanks to COVID, it’s been moved (twice!) and is now finally running this coming September. It’s a 40 mile route and, while it does include rest stops, it is a bit more serious than Pedal for Scotland with a suggested ‘minimum average speed’ of 13mph, which at the time seemed like a good thing for me to target, and so the training began.
My beautiful fiancee and her family are big cyclists – her brother was a professional cyclist for a few years – so I’ve had no end of encouragement and helpful pointers when needed, and this includes picking routes which can, in my limited experience, make or break things, that and the weather obviously.
Becca is a mobile dog groomer so has spent a lot more time driving around the West of Scotland than I have and she has been wonderful at suggesting routes for me to try, including which direction to go to avoid (or tackle) the steeper hills. Strava is my weapon of choice when it comes to planning routes; it’s maybe not the best but as it syncs easily with my Wahoo Roam bike computer it’ll have to do for now.
Becca’s local knowledge has been a huge boon. With the confidence of her directions, a GPS map in front of me, and even taking the time to drive the route in advance, I’ve pushed past my ‘limit’ of 1hr, blasted through 2hrs, and can now comfortably ride for 3hrs.
At this point the challenges change. Etape Caledonia is 40 miles, and by current average pace estimate, Strava thinks I’ll complete that (non-stop) in about 2hrs 47 mins. To put that in some context, when I first started training for it, the estimated time was 3hrs so I’m pretty happy with that progress with still a couple of months to go.
I’m even going to ride the Etape route in advance just to get my confidence a little higher because, as it turns out, that’s all I was really missing, confidence and self-belief. My legs have hauled me up some long horrible hills and I have to admit I’ve surprised myself at my ability to just keep going; the most recent horror was ‘Tak Ma Doon’ up and over the Campsies which took me 30 minutes of solid (slow) riding uphill (rated 9th hardest hill in the UK I think!)
All of this means that while I know I won’t be the fastest person at the Etape in September, I’m pretty sure I won’t be the slowest, but that’s really not what it is about. All of this, I now understand, is just giving me the confidence to go and ride the event without fear, to go and have fun out on my bike amongst our beautiful Scottish countryside.
Beyond the Etape there are other goals to look towards, 100km, 100 miles, and at that point I’ll likely stop because whilst I enjoy being out on my bike, the current estimated time for me to complete a 100km ride is 4hrs 20mins (100 miles comes in at 6hrs 45mins, so an entire day on the bike!), and that’s before the not inconsiderable event of the arrival of our new born sometime late October. By then who knows what free time I’ll have, maybe that 1hr loop will seem like a luxury!
Yes, it’s fair to say that I’ve got the cycling bug and whilst I’m mostly a fair weather cyclist, the desire to get out for a spin is starting to override the usual Glasgow showers. I’m not questioning all this, not overthinking it, just going with the flow and removing all the pressure from myself. It’s just what I do now, another thing to add to the growing list of what I am.
I talked about this before, but whilst my adoption of meditation into my life was a deliberate choice, cycling seems to have snuck up on me a little. The more times I go out, exchange acknowledging nods with fellow MAPILs*, the more I feel at home. No matter how high the hill I feel confident I will get there eventually, no matter how far from home I venture I feel more and more secure in my abilities on the bike, and in my head.
I won’t ever be fast, but I’ll always be happy!
Image (not of me!) courtesy of Fat Lad at the Back – a wonderful company with great products and a super supportive community of riders too!
As with most of my hobbies, I tend to fling myself into them wholeheartedly from the get go. I’m the guy who signs up to the forums, does copious research on the internet, takes notes as he goes, learns as much as he can as fast as possible, and then goes and buys the gear. The topic doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something I’m interested in; as a teenager a friend got me into fly fishing and so (as this pre-dates the internet) I got the books and magazines, talked to the owner of the tackle store, and got the best rod and reel I could afford, and enjoyed a couple of (mostly unsuccessful) years wading into the River Leven and casting away to my hearts content.
Looking back I know I spent a lot of my pocket money on that hobby, hundreds of pounds just to get all the things I thought I needed only to find out that I didn’t need them at all. Fishing can be a very expensive hobby (can’t they all) but the basic satisfaction of standing in the river, the quiet burbling of the water as it flowed around me, and the simple setup I started with remains a fond memory.
I’ve dabbled with other hobbies, been through the DSLR camera stage, with multiple lens and filters and goodness knows what else, and today I solely use my iPhone because the best camera you have is the one you have with you.
More recently my hobbies have had a more serious bent and have largely been based around my fitness. Driven by my advancing years and expanding waistline, not to mention a much keener sense of self that has developed over the past few years; I now have an established (almost) daily meditation practice, I’ve managed to get back to running again and, thanks to lockdown, I realised just how much I enjoy cycling. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before, the simple joy of freewheeling down a hill bringing that instant return to a truly child-like state (with all the OHMYGODWHATIFICRASH background noise of being adult, of course). And man, oh man, if ever there was a ‘hobby’ ripe for geeking out on, cycling might just be at the pinnacle.
Not being a millionaire, I’m a league away from the top of the range carbon road bikes (unless anyone has £10k to spare?) but with some research I found a ‘budget’ road bike with a good set of components, lots of great reviews from seasoned cyclists and trade websites, and so the geekery begins….
This can be as simple as looking at any accessories your bike came with – mine came with lights but they are more ‘to be seen’ than ‘to see with’ and so I’ve upgraded them. Same for the bell (although I went for style over substance and I’m already regretting that a little, a quiet bell isn’t much use), and I’ve already changed to clipless pedals over the standard flat pedals provided. With a dark blue bike with very subtle orange accents, I’ve also gotten two bright orange bottle cages, and two orange end caps (the bits at the end of the handlebars, oh yes, there is nothing you can’t customise on a bike!), just to make it look a bit smarter.
Then there are the practical things you’ll need, inner tubes should you get a puncture and a pump, or perhaps it’s time to look at CO2 canisters which are faster (a real consideration if you are fixing a puncture on a rainy day). You’ll need tyre levers too, and it’s probably wise to have a small multi-tool just in case something works its way loose. Ohh and where are you going to carry all this? Do I get a handlebar bag? Or perhaps an on-frame bag? Or one that mounts under the saddle? Or maybe a carrier that I can throw in one of the bottle cages for shorter rides??
What’s next? Ohh yes, clothes! Yup, I’ve joined the ranks of lycra wankers. Why? Because it’s the best thing to wear if you are on a bike for more than an hour, because you need padded shorts and something that won’t chafe. And yes cycling tops are specifically useful too because you can’t really have pockets in your shorts, so those pockets at the back of the top are super useful, holding a lightweight waterproof (hey, it’s Scotland, even on the sunniest days it still might rain an hour later), my phone, and a few snacks to keep me going.
Ohhh snacks, a banana is fine, but maybe it’s time to look into gels, and is that just water in your bottle or is it an electrolyte replacing, caffeinated combo to make sure you don’t run out of energy?
For the safety conscious among you, yes I wear a helmet, and the rest of my ensemble includes cycling gloves, and cycling shoes (that clip into the pedals), and glasses with interchangeable lens (including clear ones which stop your eyes drying out too much on dull windy days). And yes, all of these little things make a difference, I’ve got the research to prove it.
And so it goes.
Truth be told there isn’t really much I need to add and the only thing I’m considering next is a proper bike fitting – a couple of hours with an expert making sure my seat height, handlebar height and position are correct – and this is only because in September I’m tackling Etape Caledonia and will need to do a fair amount of training for that, so I’d rather not open myself up to niggles and injuries just because my seat isn’t quite at the right height.
After that, who knows? With bikes still being largely mechanical and easy to upgrade there are all sorts of things to consider. Do I want to upgrade the chainrings to something with a wider range? Will a new saddle make a difference to my comfort on the bike, would it help me go faster? I have not, yet, gotten a bicycle computer, nor have I added power meter pedals as that seems a little OTT, and anyway the next key component should really be the tyres, or maybe the entire wheels could be lighter and faster. There really are so many things to consider.
My geek is well and truly on, it’s true. The more I read the more I wonder if changing THAT thing will be worth it for me or whether it’s only really the pros that would even notice. There is an entire subset of cycling geeks obsessed with the weight of their bikes, with each single component examined for any potential gains that could be made. It’s the kind of thing the Sky/Ineos team do, look for the smallest gains everywhere and by the time you add them all up you’ve made a leap forward.
I’m not quite there yet, although this all does feel a little different to my past deep dives into various hobbies. At the simplest level I have a bike, I know how to ride it, and all I really need to do is get out on it for as often, and as far, as possible. Everything else really is just noise, something you realise when you are cycling and all you need to do is focus on the road ahead. To that end the instant enjoyment is what I think will make this a longer lasting hobby, and in time I may even start to consider myself a cyclist.
I know myself well enough that I will make little changes and tweaks to my bike over time but I’m doing my very best not to fall into a well known cycling equation that is (semi) jokingly used in every cycling forum I’ve looked at.
The correct number of bikes for you to own is n+1. N equates to the number of bikes you own, therefore you should always be looking to acquire your next pride and joy.
Given that my new bike is still less than a year old I think I’ve got a ways to go before any n+1 thoughts. Although I’m largely going to have to ignore the fact that my (to be) in-laws are all cycling enthusiasts and will very much be prime enablers of any future bike purchases.
For now I’m more than happy with the bike I have, the joy I have using it, and the eagerness to which I look forward to my next ride. That’s the key for me, get to a place where I’m happy and comfortable and I know this hobby will become more than that, if it hasn’t already. With warmer days approaching I know I’ll be itching to go out more and more often, and my bike is always waiting patiently to whizz me along on the next adventure.