The Art of Overtaking

Picture the scene.

You’re out riding alone, and it’s one of those head-down-focus-on-the-breathing-maintain-a-steady-power-output kind of rides. In other words you’re in your own world, and your mind is cleared of all extraneous nonsense involving work, money, or interior furnishings.
And then you look up briefly – a quick check of your surroundings – and you spot a fellow cyclist up ahead. Suddenly there is a decision to be made.

(Some of you may now be thinking what…eh? What decision? Read on my friends).
With innate cyclists brain engaged you start to process the data: How fast are they riding? How far down the road are they? How tired are your legs? How much fire do you have in your belly (great roaring forest fire, glowing embers, or the carbon remnants of a long forgotten camp-fire)?

You then make a swift decision and either chase down your new sworn enemy with immediate effect (the correct decision), or back off and allow them to silently ride away and out of sight. The simple and primal competitive instinct will not allow you to maintain the status quo for more than a minute or two without a response; one way or another.

I've spotted him...i'm going to overtake him! (Image: Denis Egan - Flickr CC)

I’ve spotted him…i’m going to overtake him!
(Image: Denis Egan – Flickr CC)

There’s nothing wrong with chasing down this silhouetted figure but don’t underestimate the forces at play here. The chase part is simple; unless you happen to have picked a fight with some local hotshot (who perhaps only appeared on your horizon because he’d slowed down briefly to check a mechanical issue), the extra shot of adrenalin from the thrill of the chase should help you to reel in your prey, and no cyclist in their right mind would begrudge a stronger rider from claiming their prize (Darwinian selection is at work here).

But making the catch does not mean ‘job done’.

The worst thing you can do is chase them down, overtake, and then slow down slightly. In doing this you are demonstrating that the act of overtaking is what this is all about, and that is not only an affront to a fellow cyclist but shows a lack of class; there’s a time and place for cheap points scoring, and it usually involves a bike ride with a good friend who you know was out on the beer the night before.

Once you’ve overtaken and exchanged brief pleasantries (a simple “‘ow do mate” will usually suffice in these parts) you are duty bound to continue riding at your scorching pace until they are a dot on the horizon behind you, removing all doubt or awkwardness.

If, however, you have made an error of judgement and bitten off more than you can chew – perhaps you’re up against the aforementioned local hotshot, or you just haven’t quite got the juice in your legs that you thought – you may find that as you barrel past, your new rival jumps on the pedals and responds, attaching himself to your rear wheel in a show of defiance.

You have got yourself involved in what is commonly known as ‘a situation’.

He’s saying, ‘I’m not having that!’ and you are now committed to a fight to the death. The very fact that this unknown racer feels confident enough to take you on suggests he’s feeling pretty strong. There’s every chance you are about to be beaten to a metaphorical pulp and you have no option but to take it on the chin.

After all…you started it!

You could, of course, allow him to overtake before you drop back quickly and silently and thus wriggle free from the situation, or you might make a quick and unexpected left turn down a country lane, acting casually as if you always intended to go that way; but you both know what’s going on, and it’s far better to go down with head held high than with your tail between your legs.

So you see; when you spot a cyclist on the horizon there is a decision to be made…roll the dice or cut your losses?

Feeling brave?

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The Hour Record (or, how to suffer on a bike)

The hour record is simple. 

The participant turns up to a velodrome with a bike and rides around it for exactly one hour. The cyclist who has ridden the greatest distance in those 60 minutes is the holder of the prestigious hour record.

Could there be a more pure test of athletic prowess?

Well, as it happens, the event has lost its sheen somewhat over the years due to wrangles and meddling with the rules and regulations, but as a method of creating the maximum level of sporting discomfort in the minimum amount of time, the hour record is hard to beat.

Multiple British national time-trial champion Michael Hutchinson, who attempted the record twice, in 2003 and 2004, suggested that it’s “like pushing a nail through your hand”. Eddy Merckx, the greatest cyclist of all time and a man known to be capable of enduring more physical discomfort on a bike than most, described the pain on being lifted from his bike in 1972 as “very, very, very significant.”  Continue reading

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La Vuelta Espana 2014: Froome’s elbows, the pipsqueak and the pantomime villain

Pro-cycling as a spectator sport lends itself to contemplation. 

During an average stage of a race like the Vuelta Espana, for example, it’s not uncommon for a lull in proceedings to settle in, as the riders kick back for a couple of hours steady riding before whatever beast of a climb the race organisers have found rears up towards the end of the stage

During such a lull, the mind can begin to wander.

And so it was that recently I found myself trapped in a conversation of ever diminishing returns about Chris Froome’s elbows. I say conversation, it was more a selection of statements from my wife, setting out in no uncertain terms just how she feels about Chris Froome’s form on the bike:

“What’s going on with Froome’s elbows? That’s just weird.” Continue reading

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Biking Behaviour (part 20) – The Super-Commuter

Cycling to work has, at least here in the UK, achieved new heights of respectability. 

There are the health benefits, the money saving aspect, the chance to avoid sitting angrily in traffic with steam coming out of your ears, and the fact that many work places run a cycle to work scheme, which allows you to buy a brand spanking new bike whilst paying no tax on it whatsoever; if the number of people who claimed the cycle-to-work tax benefits actually cycled to work, trust me, our roads would now be clogged up with bikes, not cars. 

But that’s another subject entirely. Continue reading

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Strava: top 10, or top 10 percent?

So it seems most of us are on Strava these days.

All good fun, of course, as long as you don’t get sucked too far in and become a Strava casualty!

Back in the halcyon days of 2011, or ‘the early years’ as I like to call them, in the days when many of us were yet to switch our cycling from analogue to digital, I used to aim for a top 10 slot on many of the local climbs here in Lancashire. Not only that, I could always count on having a handful of KOM’s to my name (the less well known ones, admittedly, but they were still mine).

I was no hotshot, but in the sparsely populated world of Strava I might just have popped up on the radar of the cycling community.

But no more, alas.

Now that every cyclist and his dog (to coin a slightly clunky phrase) are logging their achievements for the world to see, I find myself lost on the leader-boards – 73rd position out of 846, for example – vaguely respectable perhaps but still very much swallowed up by the mediocrity. Continue reading

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