Monday 15 July 2024

Longfellow knew

Three relics
Three relics
His poem was about a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead, but it could apply equally to cycling, for when it is good it is very good indeed, and when it is bad it is horrid.

This weekend just gone was supposed to be very good indeed. Three nights camping and back-to-back century rides. Booked in March, I envisaged mid-July to be clear blue skies, warm without being too hot, fresh air and fun. Shows what I know.

Pitching a tent in the rain on Friday was bad, but not terrible - at least it was a quick tent to put up, and had just enough of a porch to enable me to cook my night-before pasta-based meal. But that was about the last thing that went right the whole weekend. I certainly didn't sleep well that night, even after raiding the car for an extra blanket - it was cold! Mid-July and too cold for my two-season sleeping bag. I was awake every two hours, pulling the blanket back onto myself, and grumbling. But that was minor compared to Saturday's ride.

Up at 6.30, fed, dressed and on the start line five minutes before the 8am start time, I felt okay. It was still raining, of course, but I had my Altura NV2 jacket on and felt okay, warm and dry. And despite heavy legs off the line, by the time I hit the main road I was starting to loosen up. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only thing that was loose. As it had rained very heavily all night, the roads were absolutely full of all manner of grit, gravel and other detritus from the hedgerows. Despite my best efforts to avoid it, and having Gatorskins on the bike, I picked up a puncture after just 6.5 miles.

I've got pretty slick at changing inner tubes, generally, so even though it was a back wheel that had to come off, and it was peeing down, and I was stood in the gateway to some farmer's field, cursing like a trooper, it didn't take me too long to break out a new tube and lay it over the famer's five-bar gate, remove the punctured tube and hang that over the gate too, check the inside of the tyre for whatever had caused the puncture (I found nothing), put a tube back in, get the wheel back on and start pumping with my excellent Lezyne mini-pump. But the damn thing wouldn't stay up. Had I missed something in the tyre after all? No... in my sleep-deprived, rain-soaked, glasses-splattered, sweary hurry I had simply put the punctured tube back in, leaving the new tube hanging over the gate. What. A. Tool. And I don't mean the tyre levers (a Park Tool set, the best levers I've ever had, hands down). So off came the wheel again, out came the punctured tube again, and in went the new tube this time. Lesson learnt - pump the tyre up, at least a little bit, before you remount it. I usually do this anyway, and can't think why I didn't on Saturday.

Anyway, job done, and on the road again, cursing my luck (and the weather) for costing me 25 minutes and all the benefit of getting up early for a prompt start. Still, at least I'd had my bad luck for the day, I thought.

Except that 3.5 miles later, I had another puncture. I actually felt it go, it was such a sudden loss of pressure. Cue another gateway to another farmer's field, and the whole sorry process of tube replacement in the lashing rain again. This time I did find something in the tyre, a substantial cube of grit (mica, maybe?) had embedded itself right in and through the Gatorskin, leaving a sharp corner inside the tyre to do the damage. Little bugger, I thought. Still, I got my second spare tube in, inflated it, remounted the wheel and got going again... still getting drenched, still dodging the worst of the crap on the road, and now feeling vulnerable as I had no more inner tubes with me and my rear wheel was inflated less than I would like (brilliant though the Lezyne is, it can't get you to the pressure of a track pump).

I rolled into the first feed stop after nearly three hours, when I had planned to be there in under two. They had a track pump (thank you, support crew) and one (yes, one) inner tube left in my size. Seems I was far from the only rider to get a puncture. I wasn't even the only rider to get two. But at least I was able to press on with a little more confidence... so press on I did.

After 42 miles, my old friend Lower Back Pain started to make his presence felt. LBP is an infrequent visitor, I am relieved to say, but when he shows up, he shows up. At the lunch stop a few miles later, I broke out the paracetamol, more in hope than expectation, tried to stretch it out, and pressed on.

But trying to stretch out LBP is like pulling over to a service station on the motorway because you're feeling sleepy behind the wheel. The service stop wakes you up for a little while, but twenty minutes later you're back to feeling sleepy again. So it is with LBP. By 60 miles I was hurting and, to compound things, had added an extra discomfort in my stomach, perhaps by trying to push my core forward too much or too often, in a futile attempt to alleviate the LBP.

And it was still raining. And windy. And cold.

So when I came to a junction that offered the chopice with pressing on with the 100-mile route or bailing and switching to the 75, I'm sad to say I switched.

Now I know the Velominati's Rule #5. But I also know that I had booked the weekend of camping and cycling as a treat, and to enjoy myself ... and yet I wasn't enjoying anything about it. So I gave myself permission to bail out. 75 miles is still 75 miles, and in those conditions, and with those mechanicals, still something to have done. But self-permission or not, I felt a miserable failure.

It stopped raining for a bit, that evening in camp, and I had a walk around the grounds and tried to feel less sorry for myself. The LBP had not abated though, and I felt very tired. I had three layers on, yet longed to be warm. I tried to phone home to cheer myself up but no-one was answering. Still, I thought, maybe I could switch to a shorter ride the next day, perhaps the 50 (which would still help me raise my Eddington, after all)? But it wasn't to be; something I ate disagreed with me and I was unwell during the night, to the extent that when I woke up on Sunday I couldn't contemplate a ride at all. I got dressed, trudged to the rider check-in and scratched from the day's events, watching morosely as a sympathetic woman scrawled "DNF" next to my name. DNF? I didn't even start. What a way to go out.

In between rain showers, mercifully lighter than the day before, I packed my stuff up, took the tent down and headed home. Was I falling out of love with cycling, I wondered? Had I ever really been in love with it in the first place? Or had I just needed ... something?

Later, as I cleaned the crap from my bike with Monkey Juice gel, and applied a layer of Weldtite Ceramic Shield, it occurred to me that maybe I loved everything about cycling except actually riding the bike? You know, pouring over Strava stats, making routes on Ride With GPS, the kit, lightweight carbon components and weight-weenieism, all of that. But actually riding? My stats will tell you that, since LEJOG, I have cycled less and less. Maybe I'm done.

But then I think about how Imogen Cotter is one of my sporting heroes of recent years, and how Ginevra Gargantini's is one of my favourite Instagram accounts, and realise that maybe I do still have an interest. And look at that last paragraph? I didn't get a bucket of soapy water out to clean my bike, did I? Even in a low mood, I broke out the Monkey Juice and Weldtite. Oh, and did I mention I cleaned the chain too, with my Park Tools CM-5.3 Cyclone Chain Scrubber?

Conclusion? We may have hit a rocky patch, but we're still together, just - me and cycling haven't consciously uncoupled yet. Watch this space to see whether we can work through our problems or whether a painful, costly, messy divorce is on the horizon...

A reminder from Geraint Thomas that sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail...

P.S. There are a lot of product links in this post, so a reminder's in order. I don't get given stuff for free, sadly. Everything I use here I paid for. If I say it's good, that's because it is good, not because I'm commercially obligated to pretend it is, simple as that.

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Headway

You'll remember my cycling goals for 2024?

  1. Complete 2,000 miles distance
  2. Complete 56,000 feet of elevation
  3. Record an annual Eddington of 16 miles
  4. Increase lifetime Eddington from 40 miles to 43 (requiring eight days of 43+ miles)

Here's an update after six months:

Still behind schedule on anything, but making headway at least. Have got some sportives lined up for this month, so am hoping that the next update shows more progress.

Monday 3 June 2024

Progression ... ish

Remember my cycling goals for 2024?

  1. Complete 2,000 miles distance
  2. Complete 56,000 feet of elevation
  3. Record an annual Eddington of 16 miles
  4. Increase lifetime Eddington from 40 miles to 43 (requiring eight days of 43+ miles)

Here's how all that is going.

So, behind schedule on anything, but making progress at least. Think the fourth goal is going to be the hardest to achieve.

Sunday 2 June 2024

Norwich 60

I'm not big on posting photos of myself, but here's father and son midway through the Norwich 60 sportive earlier today. The ride turned into 70 miles with there and back, comfortably the boy's longest day in the saddle to date.

Father and son on the Norwich 60 sportive 2024

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Progression ... or lack of

I made a widget in my Google Sheets-based Strava API-calling stats cruncher to help me more easily keep track of my progress (or lack of) against the goals I set myself for 2024. Here 'tis.

The first four bars show progress (blue) a a percentage of target (orange). The last bar shows how much of the year has been ticked off (green) against how little is left (red). As you can see, at this moment in time I am behind on everything... And as you can imagine, I will update the graph (and this blog) at various points throughout the year. I know, it's hard to contain your excitement...

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Goals

I'm not one for making new year's resolutions, but I have set myself some goals for this year. Now that 2024 is a quarter of the way through (already!), it seems like a reasonable time to share those goals, and check progress (or lack of). So here goes.

Goal 1: 2,000 miles in a year
This is going to be hard. I've only done more than 2,000 miles in a year twice before, once when I was cycling my commute every day (pre COVID) and once when I was training for LEJOG. By contrast, in each of the last two years I've done less than 1,500 miles. So this is going to be a stretch. In the first quarter of this year, I've notched 356 miles so, assuming an even distribution of mileage, I'm already 144 miles behind schedule...

Goal 2: 56,000 feet of elevation in a year
Again, this will be hard, and again I've only managed this amount twice before (as above, the commuter and LEJOG years). Last year I managed ~49,000ft. Oh, and I live in a relatively flat part of the country. Sigh. Assuming an even distribution of elevation, I'm already 4,000 feet behind schedule...

Goal 3: annual Eddington of 16 miles
You know the drill by now - this is going to be hard. I base that on the simple fact that I've only managed an Eddington of 14 in each of the last two years. But 16 would be a step back towards pre-COVID levels, so it's got to be a goal. My YTD Eddington so far is 10 miles...

Goal 4: increase lifetime Eddington to 43 miles
I started the year with a lifetime Eddington of 40 miles and, due to the perverse and excellent way Eddington numbers are calculated, need to notch at least eight days of more than 43 miles ths year to increase my number to 43. I currently have three sportive days booked, but I don't know where the other five days are coming from. So, it's going to be hard. Currently, I'm still on 40...

As ever, my stats, including YTD, Annual and lifetime firgures, can be found here.

Monday 19 February 2024

Almost good

Bike repair stationA new store has opened in the village. It's not the biggest, it's not the smallest. But it has a shiny new free bike repair station, as shown left.

As you can see, it's so new and unused that the handle of the stirrup pump still has the wrapping around it...

What else? Well, there are tyre levers, a set of Allen keys, a variety of spanners, and more, plus even a basic service stand, enabling you to life the bike up off the ground onto those two black brackets shown. It's probably not something or somewhere you'd want to do anything too serious on, but if you broke down and needed something, somewhere, well, this is brilliant... isn't it?

I hope so, obviously. But if you were cycling in the area and had a mechanical, how would you know this facility is close by? I note from the sign on the wall here that this is namechecking Sustrans and the National Cycle Network ... so maybe they have an app or a map that shows all such repair stations...?

...and maybe they do, but I'll be damned if I can find where? Anyone?

Friday 19 January 2024

In praise of Eddington numbers...

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington OM FRS (28 December 1882 – 22 November 1944) was an English astronomer, physicist, mathematician, philosopher and populariser of science. The Eddington limit, the natural limit to the luminosity of stars, or the radiation generated by accretion onto a compact object, is named in his honour. So says Wikipedia, whence I have more or less directly lifted the preceding lines. He also wrote a number of articles that announced and explained Einstein's theory of general relativity to the English-speaking world, and the Eddington number is named for him, being the number of protons in the observable universe.

All very interesting, but what do he and the numbers that bear his name have to do with cycling?

Well, Eddington is also credited with devising the other Eddington number, a measure of a cyclist's long-distance riding achievements. An Eddington number in the context of cycling, as opposed to astrophysics, is defined as the maximum number E such that the cyclist has cycled at least E miles on at least E days. It can be calculated over any period, and also over a cyclist's lifetime. Wikipedia goes on to explain that "an Eddington number of 70 would imply that the cyclist has cycled at least 70 miles in a day on at least 70 occasions. Achieving a high Eddington number is difficult, since moving from, say, 70 to 75 will (probably) require more than five new long-distance rides, since any rides shorter than 75 miles will no longer be included in the reckoning." In other words, the reason you'd probably need more than five rides to go from 70 to 75 is that some of the rides that got you above 70 may not already be above 75. Got that? The net consequence of all this is that improving your Eddington number gets progressively harder and harder...

But it's also exactly the performance measure I need. As someone whose work and life mean I do a lot of quite short rides, trying to increasing my average ride length is a depressingly futile exercise. But increasing my E number... that's do-able, I think. Not least because it is concerned with the miles ridden in a day, rather than the length of individual rides. In other words, if I ride four miles each way to work and back in a day that counts as eight miles towards my E number. Happy days.

The flip side of this "distance in a day, not distance in a ride" stipulation is that E numbers can be quite hard to calculate. I first saw it being offered on VeloViewer, and this website also offers to calculate it for you, based on your Strava activities. Me, I've already got my own Strava analysis tool, built using Google Sheets automation and the Strava API, so with a bit of trial and error I was able to add E number calculation into that. Eddington's own life-time E-number was 84. Mine, so far, is 40 ... but I'm not dead yet.

Sir Arthur Eddington - physicist and cycling nerd
Pictured: Sir Arthur Eddington - physicist and cycling nerd. Not pictured: the man's bike...

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Wrapped

"Wrapping" at year end is a big thing now, isn't it? So although the year is not quite over, with eleven days of possible activity left, here are some highlights from my Strava "year in sport" to date.

Strava stats for 2023Strava stats for 2023Strava stats for 2023

This includes anything and everything I've recorded on Strava, not just cycling, but even so a couple of things stand out. It's flat where I live: in the whole year I've only managed just over 93,000ft of elevation ... and a big chunk of that was climbing a very high mountain overseas. Astonishing, really, when you consider I notched the best part of 56,000ft in nine days doing LEJOG. And how is lazy, unfit old me in the top 4% of most active users by time recorded? Because I record nearly everything, even one-mile round trips to the village shop, that's how.

Actual cycling-only figures for the year to date include:

  • 1,436 miles covered (a whisker up on last year)
  • 47,648 ft elevation climbed (so a lot more than an Everest but still less than one LEJOG)
  • A longest ride of 149.55 miles, a lifetime PR ...
  • ... but an annual Eddington of just 14 miles
  • Over 122 hours in the saddle, probably 123 by the time I cycle home tonight
  • About half of this year's miles were done on The TankTM, just over a quarter on Old Faithful and just under a quarter on the Project Bike

I might write some more about Eddington numbers in the new year, we'll see. My lifetime Eddington is currently 40 miles. In the meantime, more of my cycling stats are always available here.

Sunday 17 September 2023

Insane in the membrane

I'm not big on posting photos of myself, but this is during and after the 150 mile Insanity Sportive today.

During the Insanity SportiveAfter the Insanity Sportive

Proof, if proof were needed, that the focus of my bike weight reduction strategy should really be to reduce my belly...