A Wet Wednesday in September

Today the only thing that was miserable was the weather, which wasn’t expected or forecast but ended up being very misty and a little wet. At least some of the people out this evening spoke or nodded some kind of acknowledgment unlike the miserable people from last Sunday. Granted there were a lot less of us out there tonight, probably something to do with the weather, but even so you get a friendlier rider on an evening than you do on a Sunday morning, in my experience anyway.

One of the biggest problems I have when riding in the wet is that I wear glasses. They either get misty as I breath upwards on them (I struggle to breath through my nose so have to breath through my mouth) or they just get misty with all of the rain / spray. Wiping them gives the obvious smear so I can see less than I could when the rain drops where on them, maybe it’s time to consider contact lenses (I’m sure I’ve said that before…).

This was a quick blast around the windmills after work so I had to get off on time otherwise I may not have been done when the light went totally making it difficult to see. What I hadn’t foreseen was one of the internal servers going down at 5.10pm, which I am responsible for, with me wanting to leave at 5.40pm fully changed and ready to ride. It takes about 35-40 minutes to get home and I wanted to be riding by 6.30pm to ensure I was done no later than 7.30pm when I knew the light would be gone. Couple that with the weather I really needed to get off on time but alas sever issues and the MD asking how to delete and email on his phone as I was walking out, I didn’t leave until 5.50pm.

Even so with everything against me I still managed to get riding just after 6.30pm, lights on, one set so I can see and the other set flashing so I can be seen by others – remember see and be seen!

Visibility was poor to say the least, the photo below shows just how misty it was, the wall in the photo is no more than 20 feet away from where I had stopped to wipe my glasses.

I had already decided from my last blog post that I would try and improve my overall speed and time around the whole course rather than concentrate on individual Strava segments. I also decided that I would take it easy on the descents and corners as I had blown my tires up that afternoon, plus they are the equivalent of an F1 car intermediate tyre, not a full slick, but only a few groves to let the water disperse rather than the usual knobbly MTB tyres that the bike came with. With wet roads and small puddles forming I didn’t want to push too hard and end up falling off, I had a bit of a moment just after I set off turning in the road where I almost fell off because I wasn’t concentrating or pedaling – you get the split second to sort yourself out, pedal or unclip, not moving and just balancing the answer had to be pedal, if I tried to unclip I would have been on the deck.

As I rode carefully my top speed was well down on the usual 30mph, but I managed to increase my overall speed, averaging almost 13mph, helped by a good final uphill segment where I told myself it was the last hill (apart from the other one) on the way back so I could push hard as I was nearly at the finish.

A good workout which is what I am aiming for at the moment with the shorter rides around the windmills, my next goal for a weekend ride is to break the 20 mile barrier, something I haven’t achieved yet.

A wet Wednesday in September - the view

A wet Wednesday in September – the view

Ride Details

Distance: 9.0 miles

Time Taken: 41:42

Elevation Gain: 434ft

Average Speed: 12.9 mph


Miserable Sunday Mornings

The weather on my Sunday morning ride wasn’t the best. A little windy, very misty but not that cold, although that’s not what the miserable part of this post is about. It’s the people.

Most times that I go out on my bike and pass another rider, either coming towards me or sometimes passing by, you get some sort or acknowledgment, a hello or good morning. But not today. I usually reply with something bordering on a mixture between hi and alright which comes out something like ‘aieeeat’ basically take out all of the consonants and just keep the vowels! If nothing else just a nod or a smile will do.

Today however, was busier than usual around windmills, lots of bikes and more than the fair share of horses. What I didn’t expect was how many of those out today would be miserable so and so’s who couldn’t even make eye contact, let alone manage to speak. Maybe it’s because I was on my MTB and they are all road bikes – the two sets of people out on MTB’s both spoke!

It doesn’t take much to raise your head and say hello, even if it is totally unrecognisable as a word in the English language like mine usually is, at least I make an effort to make a sound and nod polity. You always get the odd one who doesn’t speak, either can’t be bothered or looks down their nose at you, but today was more the rule rather than the exception. Come on people, we are all out there for similar reasons, lets at least be civil to each other. After all this is the North and we speak to each other, not like being on the tube in London where no-one speaks!

Changing subject slightly, I spend most of my time whilst I am riding thinking about the subject for my next blog post. I also compose parts of the text and take the odd photo when I feel like stopping. I normally stop in the same places so a lot of the picture are of the same view. What I wanted to talk about in this post follows on from a blog post I read the other day regarding Strava, if you get a moment it is well worth reading.

When I first started riding I did so to get fit, which is still a goal as I have a long way to go, sometimes I just ride to get out of the house for a change of scenery, but more often I find myself going out to beat previous Strava segment times. I change routes and miss sections out just to make sure I am heading in the right direction or will be in prime condition to tackle a segment. I have also found myself slowing down on certain sections that are not Strava segments, especially if they are uphill, just so that I can go faster on the stretches that are Strava segments. Sad really.

What it does do is provide motivation to try harder or go faster. But as I have said before I am finding that I am putting effort into parts of a ride, which makes it more and more difficult to consistently get better across the whole of a ride.

I am never going to be KOM on any hill, I am usually happy if I have beaten at least 50% of the riders on any section, men and women. I have a long way to go for some of the segments, others I am in a great position. But here in lays the problem. Am I becoming a slave to Strava segments? Am I basing everything I do on the performance I record on Strava? But then there are no settings to say how strong the wind was and no account taken for the wind direction. It doesn’t take into account whether I felt ‘up to it’ (which I really didn’t at the start of this ride and almost returned home after a couple of miles!) It also doesn’t take into account any other weather or road conditions specific to that ride. So why do I always want to beat my previous best on most, if not all segments that I ride?

I think from now on I will try to just ride, enjoy myself and see if I can go further – if I only have time for a quick eight mile lap of the windmills then maybe I should target my average speed across the whole ride rather than individual segments, that way I will concentrate all of the time and not just on the Strava segments.

The main things Strava is good for is measuring distance and time taken, those really are the two elements that I should concentrate on and are the basics of the ride details that I post on here every time.

Ride Details

Distance: 17.7 miles

Time Taken: 1:33:34

Elevation Gain: 1,064ft

Average Speed: 11.4 mph

Clunk, Clip Every Trip

After a long and fruitless search for a road bike I decided that, in the end, the bike I already have is adequate for the type of riding that I do. It’s not a shiny new road bike from Giant or Felt, but after looking for an age, comparing gearing ratios and component specs, the best way forward for me was always going to be to upgrade some of the parts on my current bike. So I have. Not only that, I’ve bought a new cycling jersey to make me more aerodynamic (it won’t of course but it does pull me in a bit around the middle so perhaps it will help).

I didn’t really know how I would get on with clip in pedals, but it was going to be worth a shot if I wanted to get faster, ride further and harder. Like most people I had the quick test in the garden, followed by the falling over still attached because I tried to unclip when almost stopped instead of whilst moving, something that I keep in mind all the time I ride now.

To go with my shiny new pedals I have also bought some commuting tyres. Basically slicks with a bit of a tread pattern instead of the chunky, knobbly tyres that you normally find on a mountain bike. Hopefully the combination of the tyres, pedals and SPD shoes would propel me to greater speeds around my most trusted windmill route, so it was time to give it a go.

Since fitting the new kit I have ridden the windmill route three times, with mixed results. I was initially happy with four PBs first time out on the way out (towards the windmills), but nothing on the way back in. Something to do with pushing hard on the way out but not having the strength or stamina to bring that speed home. Since then I have had no PBs just a few decent segments but nothing to shout about. One issue is that I have pushed hard on individual segments all around the windmills route, I just can’t put a good run together that has consistently good segments throughout. The only way I am going to do that is to get fitter, so that I can push hard on every segment, not just on bits on one ride and bits on another.

At least I know where my weaknesses lay now, I think the way to sort this is to take up running as that will improve my overall fitness no end. I did make a start but have given up for now. I will take it back up again when I can commit to doing the C25K (couch to 5k) three times a week. This is basically running and walking to get your fitness up enough to run a 5km distance in eight weeks.

The first two outings of this sequence I took the same route, drive near to (about a mile away), then cycle round the windmill course, for a change on my final ride of this sequence I stopped and took a picture which is below. It looks at the windmills but as I have never been this way before (slight variation along a back road) it has a slightly different viewpoint. There is also an image of the hill I had just come up, with a view of the valley in the background.

The windmills

The windmills

Where I have just ridden up from

Where I have just ridden up from

The last three rides are listed below – all three started after driving up the first big hill just so that I can get used to the new pedals on more flat roads to start with, not that the road in the picture above is particularly flat!

Ride Details

Distance: (i) 8.3 miles (ii) 8.4 miles (iii) 11 miles

Time Taken: (i) 40:06 (ii) 41:01 (iii) 52:20

Elevation Gain: (i) 415ft (ii) 419ft (iii) 597ft

Average Speed: (i) 12.5mph (ii) 12.3mph (iii) 12.6mph


Proving a Point – To Myself

Last night I went out for a ride to prove something to myself and I have left myself in no doubt that two things are true.

I am fitter than I think I am, but not as fit as I would like to think I am. A bit pedantic maybe, but there is a point.

I took a route last night that I have been wanting to do since I came back from the knee issues of the past months. It is one that I have ridden a few times before, but always struggled with. I wanted to see if, with my new found power and leg strength, I could get up my ‘nemesis’ hill without stopping.

It’s not a long climb, just steep and winding. For Tour de France followers think Jenkin Road in Sheffield at the end of the second Grand Depart stage. Not that long and maybe not quite as steep, but one hell of a hill all the same.

Jenkin Road - Sheffield

Jenkin Road – Sheffield

I have always struggled to get more than 2/3 of the way up without stopping so wanted to see if I could get to the top, or at least to where I wanted to turn off and go off-road, without stopping. So I pushed myself to almost breaking point, telling myself that it was only a few more metres, I was nearly there, how good would I feel when I made it without stopping and some other stuff that I can’t write down!

I made it. Without stopping. But at what price?

I had used up so much energy on one small climb that over the next couple of miles, most of which is uphill, I had to keep stopping, taking a breather and then moving on.

There might be plenty of power in the legs these days, but I still have a long way to go with my fitness to be able to not just push myself up a hill, but to carry on and push myself through the rest of the ride. My chest becomes tight, I can’t get enough air in and my lungs are burning. My nose gets blocked so I can’t breath through it, so I have to gulp air in through the mouth which can sometimes lead to the odd fly or two being consumed!

So I am fit enough to ride around 15 miles without too many problems – last time I went out I broke 10 of my Strava segment records, but I’m not fit enough to ride hard for a couple of minutes and carry on without struggling to breath. Hence why I am not as fit as I would like to think I am.

I’m kind of happy though, I say kind of as a git on a road bike came past me that close he could have hit me (or I him had I stuck my arm out), not that I heard him coming, then his mate and some kid who must have been no more than 11. I’m happy because I am in a good pace but not happy because I know I can do so much better.

In order to get better I am looking at different kit, the dark side, a road bike. It won’t make my legs go any faster, it won’t make me fitter, allow me to ride up hills without feeling like my chest is on fire. But it might help me to go quicker, have less friction on the roads where I mostly ride.

If I do buy one there can be no more excuses!

Or maybe I should just buy some slick tyres for the mountain bike – sacrilege maybe?

I don’t ride for records, for PBs on Strava, but like most I like to see how I am doing against what I have done before. On this ride, although I went a slightly different way there and back I managed 3 personal best times, interestingly on the way home rather than on the way there, once I had got the breathing under control and felt less tired. It also maybe didn’t help that I decided to put my gloves on whilst riding along a downhill section towards the furthest point from home, a section that I can normally get a good time on.

Also interesting is that although the distance is shorter, the time taken and elevation gain is similar to my last ride, which shows that more hills and tougher conditions slow me down considerably.

Ride Details

Distance: 11.7 miles

Time Taken: 1:07:05

Elevation Gain: 792ft

Average Speed: 10.5 mph

No Car Required

A couple of weeks ago I got back out on my bike after a 4 month layoff. To do this I decided to drive up to my favorite windmill course, much like I did on the first ride I did just over a year ago. The ride went so well, with a few personal best segments recorded by Strava, that I wanted to get out again as soon as possible. However, with the Tour de France passing so close to where we live that we had to go and watch and a mixture of kids parties and shopping I didn’t make it out again until this weekend.

Buoyed by my new found power and speed I ditched the car for this week’s ride and went directly from home. This was a similar route to when I drive but with an added climb to increase the distance. I’ve been this way a couple of times before so I knew it would be about the right distance and within the time I had allowed so as not to upset the Mrs too much!

Having suffered from knee problems over the past 6 months or so I wondered if I might have the seat a little low, not much, but enough to stop me extending my knee far enough on the down stroke to cause the issue. So I decided to raise the seat by about an inch. I can still touch the floor (on tip toes) and extend my leg to almost straight when at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Worth a try at least I thought. I was right, it gave more power and my knees although sore, aren’t as bad as they used to be after a ride.

The one thing that I have learnt from my last two rides is that I needed to ride in a higher gear and stop changing down so far, thus using more power to go faster rather than pedaling faster to go faster. Having what seems like more leg power since I came back has helped with this theory and made for some interesting results.

This ride has a total of 13 Strava segments on it (I don’t set these as I don’t have a premium account) and to my total amazement I manged one 3rd best, one 2nd best and ten personal best times! I only missed out on one of the hardest climb PB’s by 1 second as I was chasing a guy on a road bike. He’d come past me just before you turn uphill at the point furthest away from home, I didn’t take offense, I often get passed by people on road bikes. But this time I wanted so see if I could keep with him up the hill for pace, to my surprise I was almost catching him by the end! I had taken my own advice, chosen a slightly higher gear than normal for this climb and stood up to use leg power rather than rapid spinning.

Looking back at the Strava data I have realised that there are two segments for the same climb, one shorter than the other. The shorter version, which is also the newer segment I got the 2nd best on, the older longer segment I got a PB on – which must mean I kept going harder for longer rather than slowing down nearer to the top (chasing other riders often helps with that!).

The only segment I didn’t get a top three is where I always take a bit of a breather, coming down hill after the steep climb – not directly after but close enough, it has a short burst climb which I knew I was in the wrong gear for but didn’t care, after all I am still just coming back and not trying to beat any records.

It will be very interesting to see how my next ride out on this course is and if I can get any quicker. There was a little breeze about on this ride and was thinking as I rode how much of a difference even a slight wind makes to your speed, especially when you always seem to be riding into it.

So from now on, unless I only have 30 minutes to spare, or I am going further afield, there will be no car required.

Ride Details

Distance: 13.8 miles

Time Taken: 1:12:33

Elevation Gain: 775ft

Average Speed: 11.4 mph

Back with a Bang!

After what seems like an absolute age – 4 months to be exact, I’m back.

I’m back on the bike and I have even taken the plunge and been for a run, more on that in a later post.

My knees have been causing problems for quite a while, since I rode the Triathlon course back in February my left knee has been giving me real problems and i just couldn’t put any power through it. After that my right knee had a similar problem but in a different place, more top of calf than knee really.

Something changed a few weeks ago, no more real pain (the right knee is still stiff but I think it’s more muscle than anything else) and I don’t have any problems at the moment with the left. I also started to look at the roads when I was driving, seeing how hard it might be to ride, looking for new courses or places to ride. I hadn’t felt like this since the backend of 2013 when I was out most weekends on the bike.

So it was time. Time to get the bike out, scrape the old mud off the gear changers, oil the chain and see how I went. I’ve been around the estate with my son a few times just to test the knee, but nothing more than half a mile at the most.

Not wanting to over do things first time out I decided to throw the bike in the back of the car and drive up towards the windmills. I’ve done this a few times in the past, not too close that it is only the 10km course I started on last year (yes it has only been a year since I started this) but close enough that if I have a problem I am never really too far away from the car.

So off I go, happy in the knowledge that this is just a training ride, enjoy the scenery, test the knees and see how I feel. I had noticed over the past couple of months that my overall fitness had dropped, walking up into Sheffield from work I was starting to get a bit panty, where before Christmas I was fine.

It felt good. Out on the road, peddling hard and using the top gear range more than ever. The only issue was the gear changer kept getting stuck so I was having problems changing the front derailleur up to the top cog. Not a massive issue but it kept sticking, taking longer than it should and slowed my momentum – but this wasn’t a race, just a test of stamina and strength.

To my amazement I managed to beat 5 previous segment times in Strava and also get 2 2nd best times. I knew I felt good with good power in the legs but I never thought I would have been able to go that quickly after so long out. I knew I was pushing hard in some places but thought I was going fairly slowly especially as I was a bit knackered and definitely feeling it in my chest, lungs busting and heart pounding.

There have been many times in the past where I have thought I could go around the windmills course twice, but not today. Once was more than enough and I was ready to head back to the car and go home.

Only, and I say only as if I usually cycle for hundreds of miles, but I only did 8.5 miles but I was happy. Happy to have been back out after what felt like forever, happy to have gone so quickly on so many segments and happy that although I knew I had done some exercise, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I certainly didn’t feel too heavy legged and tired as I did when I first started.

Now I have been out once, I want to get out again. Life has changed slightly since I first started and since Christmas where I was getting out every weekend for a few hours. I may not get back to those levels for a while and may need to start going out on an evening, but I am determined to get back out and put some miles into the legs. I’m even looking for a road bike to get more power and speed riding on roads and keep the MTB for off road fun.

Ride Details

Distance: 8.5 miles

Time Taken: 44.50

Elevation Gain: 440ft


Pushing my Limits

I spent a lot of 2013 cycling on my own, going out when the mood took me and trying different things. When I started there were 3 of us, two on bikes and one running (sounds crazy now I know). Now the three of us are back together and the runner now owns a bike. The only problem for me is that the runner is still infinitely fitter than I am so I find myself between 10 and 15 bike lengths behind the others on a regular basis.

That seems to be my biggest issue at the moment, my fitness. I can ride for quite a few miles once I get my breathing right and get through the initial burst of activity, that is if I can rest a little – by slowing down or taking my foot off the gas a bit. The problem I have at the moment is the route we have been taking has meant that the initial mile up hill is then followed by another half mile up a very steep hill. I just can’t make it in one go and it nearly kills me every time.

What I need to do is get fitter so that I can get more air into my lungs and not feel like my heart is going to pump out of my chest every time things get a little hard. Some sort of high intensity or interval training might be in order I think.

Riding along ten or more bike lengths behind other people who are chatting away without a care in the world and seemingly taking it easy isn’t much fun, but what it does do is provide the motivation to get better, faster and stronger. I want to be able to keep up with the other two, not just catch them every now and then or when they stop for a breather to allow me to catch up.

I also think I may have found my limit in terms of distance. Although if we were on road bikes on a fairly flat route I think I could have gone further, but on mountain bikes, riding through mud and puddles, along roads and bridalways I think I reached the outer limit of my current range.

We rode up and over the hills behind where I live towards Winscar Reservoir which is above Holmfirth, we’ve tried this route before but my gear shift broke so we turned back. No such problems this time as we made it to and then around the reservoir, then down towards the Pennine trail (along an old railway line) heading towards Penistone. That bit was fun, riding through mud and puddles, keeping pace with the others and peddling constantly for a few miles at a constant pace rather than the quick, slow, quick of the hills we normally ride up and down.

Then it was time for the inevitable steep hill up, this one goes towards the back of the windmills route and was tough – for me anyway. Just over half way up written on the road was a message “no pain no gain” to which I smiled, nodded in recognition and made it all the way up without stopping.

The next bit of the ride should have just been a normal half windmills then home. But I was struggling, badly. There was nothing left in my legs, I tried to get myself up to the other two who were by now their customary ten to fifteen bike lengths ahead, but I just couldn’t do it, I was spent. This is the first time I’ve noticed not having anything left after a long ride. I’ve had it before when I had nothing in the legs just after I set off, but never as a result of pushing myself to the limit.

All in this was a good day out, tough on the legs and a little dull in parts when I was on my own but for the most part I enjoyed it. We went much further than I have ever been before, hopefully next time we can break the 20 mile barrier. Looking at the figures below we went much further but in a very quick time, compared to the last time that is, over 4 miles further but only about 12 minutes longer. This just shows how difficult it is to compare one ride to another using Strava or any other tracking system when you don’t ride on the same route.

Ride Details

Distance: 19.8 miles

Time Taken: 2:19:27

Elevation Gain: 1,598ft