Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Why do I enjoy cycling?

Why do I enjoy cycling?

As some of you will know cycling and I have a slightly checked history, while I was still living in London I was a ride leader for the London Cycling campaign. While I was leading a Sunday ride in Surrey a car shot out in front of me as I was descending a very narrow and steep hill, I was probably doing about 30mph when I hit it. I flew over the car and spent a month off work. Then after I had rebuilt the bike and had it sprayed Pink (hence the “Pink Panther”) I was riding to work when I hit some spilt hydraulic fluid and ended up laying in the middle of the road cut and bleeding. That put me off cycling for a while but after we moved here to Cambridgeshire that changed.

Soon after we got here I bought a Mountain bike so that I could explore the tracks and trails around here. I also found how nicely cycling fitted in with some of my other interests, photography and art. Now when I go out I have a GoPro hero camera fitted to my bars and another camera, sketchbook and pencils in my saddlebag. Although my MTB is carbon fibre I am old school in other ways, a Brooks leather saddle, Carradice saddlebag and panniers and often old style wool cycling shirts. These days I am more interested in distance than speed. I spend hours planning the route. Rather than take maps with me I use Trailfinder, an app on my iPhone which uses GPS and Ordanance survey maps to show your location. My phone is mounted securely on my handlebars so I can see where I am, my speed and other information.

Cycling is also important to me in another way, many of you will know I suffer from bouts of depression and the last couple of years have been really bad. Cycling helps me through this, I am not sure why, it could be the exercise, the challenge, just being out in daylight during the winter months certainly helps. I also think you get a feeling of wellbeing from becoming part of the environment in a way you never can traveling the same roads in a car. On a bike as you move through the countryside you blend in, you see things you would normally miss. Wildlife seems to ignore you; I have ridden down a local lane with a hare running a few feet in front of me for 20 or 30 seconds. A couple of weeks ago I rode up to within 10m of a buzzard who took no notice of me at all, I think they see a cyclist as a large animal like a horse rather than a human being.

Smell is another sense that benefits from being on a bike, in the summer it changes all the time as you pass wild flowers and trees in bloom, in winter you smell the soil, ditches and wood or coal smoke as you pass cottages. You also hear things that you would normally miss especially bird song.

At the moment I am aiming to get out on my bike as often as I can to get some miles into my legs, this will culminate in a cycling holiday at the end of May. I am planning to ride from Market Harbrough to Stourbridge in the midlands using the Towpaths of the Leicester, Grand union and Birmingham canals. I hope to do the 100-mile trip in 3 days, which should give me time to stop and sketch along the route. 

Over the next year or so I am also planning to document photographically scenery and buildings around the area where I live that are only really accessible by bike or foot before they vanish. A possible outcome of this would be to self publish a small book featuring some of the pictures, but that would be in the long term.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

"Shut up legs"

 Well it's been a (very) long time since I last wrote on this blog however that is about to change. This year I am planning a cycling holiday at the end of May so I need to start getting fit. For the trip which will be mainly off road I will be using my MTB rather than the Pink Panther, my trusty Condor tourer. This is going to make things interesting as the longest trip I had done on it was about 15 miles about half the distance I will need to do in May with luggage.

To get into training I have been going out on the bike a couple of lunchtimes each week and for longer rides at weekends,  It was initially quite tough to get going hence the title of this post a quote from the great cyclist Jens Voight. I have also been on a diet as I need to loose about 8kg and this means some days I am burning far more calories than I am eating.

Last weekend I rode out into the Fens to explore some old Drove roads. These farm roads were original constructed as routes to drive livestock to market and are now used as farm access. 
 The Fens themselves are a strange place until you get used to them, totally flat and at this time of year barren and in places waterlogged.
 The only breaks in the fields are where drainage dykes cut across them, these ditches are the only places you see any trees, normally Willows.

The roads themselves are in mixed condition, they are made up from concrete slabs which have been badly broken in places by tractors. They are also very muddy and at this time of year flood. This meant a lot of porterage in places as it was unsafe to ride through as there was no way of tell what lay under the water.

I worked my way across the Fens to Haddenham where I had  a coffee and some cake at the art gallery before retracing my route back to Earith, where the Ouse had broken it's banks and flooded the fields alongside it.

To add A few miles to the ride I came the long route back to the village which has a couple of nasty short climbs, after 4 hours riding they really hurt, but it did boost the totally distance for the day to 29 miles so it was worth it.