High winds and words of wisdom

In my experience the metronomic rhythm of a long ride with friends does a great job of promoting conversation, chatter, gossip and the gentle mocking of those you choose to spend time with. I’m no expert in the international variances of a good old-fashioned sense of humour, but it’s my belief that we British are the kings of cutting each other down to size with a witty (and often personal) comment.

But in amongst all the nonsense, from time to time I find myself struck by a phrase or an observation of such throwaway genius that it’s worthy of mild celebration. Whether it was due to the invigorating powers of the gale force wind we were riding into along the North Lancashire coast, I’m not sure, but whilst out for a Sunday ride recently I was on the receiving end of just such a slice of deep wisdom from a cycling friend of mine.

As it just happened to be the British National Hill Climb Championship over the border in Yorkshire on that day, we got to chatting about the science and technique of riding uphill quickly. It’s worth mentioning at this point that my friend is no slouch when it comes to hills (in the slouching department, compared to him, I’m very much your man) and so, assuming that my friend’s ability on the uphill is based on more than a commitment to the avoidance of doughnuts, I was interested to hear his analysis on such matters.

Hill Climb (Image: adamsmith1954 - Public Domain via Wikipedia)

Hill Climb
(Image: adamsmith1954 – Public Domain via Wikipedia)

I was expecting a lengthy discourse on power to weight ratio, nutrition, and the psychology of a hard and sustained effort, but instead I got this little gem:

“There are two distinct phases to my climbing technique”, he said, looking wise. “First, I attack the climb as hard as possible until I start to feel sick. Second, I try really hard not to be sick.”

Now come on – you try and tell me this little pearl of wisdom doesn’t just about hit the nail on the head. It turns out, after all, that my friend the skinny climber rides up hills just as unscientifically as me. OK, he’s significantly quicker due to…well, let’s not dwell on the reasons why (that could get painful…it’s probably doughnut related), but his approach is just as pig-headed as mine.

But as I said, an observation worthy of mild celebration. So how did we celebrate?

I let him buy me coffee and a sausage sandwich in the next café we came across. Which sounds like just the job on a biblically windy Sunday morning in late October except…brace yourself…the only coffee they served was…


Coffee and Cake: happier times from a previous cafe stop

Coffee and Cake: happier times from a previous cafe stop

I know. What a let-down. The sausage sandwich was top-notch but why would any café which considers itself worthy of the name lower itself to serving a freeze-dried granulated version of the world’s favourite pick-me-up? It just doesn’t make sense. Making great coffee is easy – it should be the minimum requirement of any café in a civilised society.

This isn’t the 1970’s, after all.

As we sat in silence, dumbfounded, I forced the drink down for its warming properties. My friend pushed his away in disgust and refused to let a drop pass his lips – it turns out he’s a man of principle. We left the café to battle the wind for a further 30 miles with all conversation reduced glumly to navigational necessity as we both tried, in our own quiet way, to come to terms with our loss.

We Brits are known as a nation of tea drinkers but the fact is that, when presented with a cup of tea, many of us will swill down any old slapdash brew. Here, now, in 2014, when it comes to coffee we expect a decent cup when we part with our hard earned cash.

No amount of insightful aphorisms from my friend the skinny climber can paper over that simple fact.

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Steady Rollin’ Man

Now that winter is almost upon us I find it’s time to grease the bearings on my rollers, lay them down on the kitchen floor, and rack up some evening winter mileage in the cosy warmth of my own home (well, I say ‘cosy warmth’, but anyone who has ever ridden rollers indoors will translate that more accurately as ‘steamy, humid sweat-box’.)

I’m very much a rollers man, as opposed to the probably more popular ‘turbo trainer’.

Rollers (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

At the risk of exaggerating my feelings on this (really…me?), the fixed and unnatural feel of the turbo trainer induces in me such extreme levels of boredom, that any shot of winter endorphins released by the act of exercise is far outweighed by the feelings of deep depression brought on by the thought of strapping myself in to that device and spinning my legs mindlessly for an hour. Continue reading

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Mental Bike Shopping

I’ve been doing a bit of mental bike shopping recently.

What I mean is, I’m in the market for a new bike. Or, more accurately, I’m in the market for a new bike frame to fit some beautiful Campagnolo components to. This is a perfectly reasonable position for a mildly obsessed cyclist to find themselves in, but I’m not sure how I reached this point.

Making the leap from owning two bikes that I’m perfectly happy with – a winter bike and a good bike – is not straightforward. At the risk of over analysing this, there must have been a point where I went from being happy with my lot and reluctant to part with a significant amount of cash on an upgrade, to where I am now…

…mental bike shopping. Continue reading

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High stakes, dodgy metaphors and Oleg Tinkoff

If you’re a fan of pro-cycling you will have become increasingly aware of Oleg Tinkoff, the wealthy Russian financier and boss of Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team. He is, shall we say, no shrinking violet (see my previous piece, ‘The World According to Tinkov’ for examples of his rent-a-quote behaviour with the media.)

In recent weeks, much of the talk around Tinkoff (and trust me, there is always talk around Tinkoff…he makes sure of that) involves his offer to stump up 1 million Euros to be shared between the big four Grand Tour contenders – Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali – should they take up his challenge of the treble next year, and go head to head (or should that be head to head to head to head?) in consecutive Grand Tours: the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta Espana. Continue reading

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Bike Envy and Wiggo Worship

As you may have gathered by now, I quite like cycling, and it seem this may be starting to rub off on my two boys.

As it stands, the one year old has decided to focus on mastering walking before he takes on the challenge of cycling unaided; a wise move, I suppose. Practically speaking walking, at this stage, is of far more use to him.

As it happens, a quick comparison between my youngest boy’s early walking style (small, wobbly steps, and an intermittent lack of balance) and that of your average cyclist mincing around your local café on cleats shows that he is clearly developing the early habits of a bike rider. His upper body certainly bears an uncanny resemblance to the fat and muscle free torso of your average Tour de France contender and to complete the picture, as a committed nappy wearer he can appear, at times, as if he’s sporting a pair of cheap bib-shorts with ill-fitting padding. Continue reading

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