Windy Sunday cycling

The weather forecast didn’t look promising yesterday morning when I got up. The good news was that my younger son’s football match had been cancelled so I had all morning to keep checking the weather forecast to see if there was any sign of the minor hurricane that appeared to be in residence outside the windows subsiding.

The plan was to do another training ride with the Paris Trip crowd. For reference, a group of seven of us (all local Dads of varying degrees of middle ages and fitness) are riding to Paris in June. We’re planning on a three day trip which means approx 60-70 miles per day. Even though I am one of the more seasoned cyclists of the group and have plenty of experience of cycling further in one go, I haven’t really done a multi-day trip before, not properly. I did a trip to Switzerland last year that involved 3 days of cycling but the 10 mile day 2 ride up a mountain handily placed close to our chalet was more of a sightseeing trip than a proper ride. The 110 miles and ~50 miles of days 1 and 3 respectively were pretty full on though. Needless to say that, whilst I’m fairly confident of my ability to do the Paris trip relatively comfortably, there’s no harm in putting some miles in to make sure.

I was especially keen to get out yesterday as I have been in a bit of an exercise lull for the past few weeks. I did get out on the bike a couple of weekends ago but haven’t been to the gym in three weeks mainly due to the onset of gout in my left foot. I’ve never had this before and, frankly, would like to never have it again. Firstly, I’m not sure I want a condition that suggests that I’m a port-swilling, overweight old man; whilst at least some of that may be accurate, I’m not keen to advertise the fact! Secondly, it is, as the nurse at the Walk in Centre (or Limp in Centre in my case) pointed out, “incredibly painful” and, as she’s obviously a highly trained medical professional, she knows what she’s talking about.

There were a lot of Whatsapp posts flying about in the morning with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the afternoon ride being displayed so, given I had some spare time and wasn’t convinced that the ride would go ahead, I decided to go to the gym. In an effort to put some miles in, I decided to set a target of 20 miles on the exercise bike and see if I could do that in under an hour. Depending on your fitness level, that may or may not sound challenging but an hour on exercise bike at any speed is tedious at the best of times so it certainly seemed like a challenge to me even if only of my boredom threshold. The result was:

Quite pleased with that

I just scraped in by the skin of my teeth. Half way through I was breezing it and thought I might finish in a sub 55 minute time but the second half was a bit tougher! To be fair, this isn’t reflective of my usual road speeds – these particular exercise bikes do seem to flatter one’s ability but it’s always good to hit a target. Thanks to Avenged Sevenfold for the musical motivation.

After a few other weights and stretching, I headed home, confident in the knowledge that at least I’d some pedalling this weekend even though the ride was likely to be declared ‘wind stopped play’. The wind did seem to be dying down a bit though I noticed as I drove home and the Whatsapp messages were becoming more positive. A couple of short hailstorms did convince a couple to stay indoors but, surprisingly, two of the guys were still keen to venture out so, as as appointed ride leader, I felt obliged to join them.

The plan was to do 20-25 miles and I had picked a fairly flat route that looped through Cobham and Leatherhead, keeping to the back roads as far as possible and definitely staying off the top of the Downs. I did see a post on Instagram later that day from Evans Cycles in Guildford whose ride out was rudely interrupted by a large tree crashing down in front of them up on Ranmore Common so was glad we avoided that!

I headed out with Hugh and Matt into the wind ravaged English countryside and it all started just fine. Keeping to a steady pace and, despite a short detour to avoid a flooded road at Downside, we got the first ten miles sorted without a problem. After that, it was noticeable that Hugh was struggling to keep up once we turned back into the wind because he was riding a hybrid and the higher riding position was hindering his forward progress. If you look at the difference in profile between a tall and well shouldered guy (Hugh won’t mind me saying that given he’s a life long rugby player where that kind of build is an advantage) riding a hybrid and the same person on a road bike, the difference doesn’t immediately look that big. The truth is that it makes a massive difference. I remember doing one of the New Forest sportives a few years ago when I was still riding my hybrid. I had flipped the stem round and lowered the handlebars for a more aggressive riding position but, at one point, we hit one of the big open areas (there’s surprisingly few trees in a lot of the New Forest*) and faced a long straight road of a couple of miles into the teeth of a gusty wind and the two of us on hybrids basically ended up going backwards whilst our friends on drop bar bike at least managed to maintain some forward momentum! Anyway, I took up the position of leading windbreak – I’m told I make a sizeable hole in the air for those riding behind me – and we all made it safely round.

Matt and Hugh sporting team colours

I have to say that I was glad that I’d put bib tights on and a thick pair of socks. The wind was punishing at times but its worst aspect was the fact it was just damn cold. I had also put on a fairly thick jersey/jacket – the same one as sported by Hugh in the photo above – which kept me nice and warm in the wind but when, the sun did break through, threatened to toast me to a crisp. Getting the balance of clothing right at this time of year can be a struggle!

It was good to get out on the bike and stretch my legs. I do hate it over the winter when the weather gets in the way of cycling. I do ride throughout the winter but I tend to avoid rain wherever possible – I cycle for enjoyment and I just don’t really enjoy the rain. Despite the fact that this year has seen a fairly mild winter, I seem to have missed more weekends than I would like for one reason or another. I do hate the feeling of having to start again, fitness wise, in the Spring.

All in all, a good Sunday.

Not sure about the new tyres

I’ve changed my GP 4 Seasons for GP4000s and I’m not sure about the reflective strip. It somehow makes the bike look a bit less stealth. I appreciate safety angle but it’s going to make it harder if I ever have to take on any two wheeled ninja missions.

I quite liked the all black effect of the old tyres. I’m sure I’ll get used to them. Hopefully.

The Big Dilemma continued

Well, the decision has been made a bit easier today. I had ordered a new set of Continental GP4000s for the Cannondale (more on that separately) and fitted them today.

The plan was to fit the outgoing Continental GP 4 Seasons to the Trek 2.3 which then give it more credibility as a touring steed – I don’t fancy the 23mms for a multi-day trip with variable road surfaces.

I got the front tyre on and refitted it to the bike only find that there wasn’t enough clearance. So, that’s pretty much that then! Anyone want a well cared for Trek 2.3 Alpha?!! 🤣

It’s sad really. The Trek was my first adult road bike and we’ve had some fun together, including two RideLondon events and countless other sportives. I just don’t really have a realistic use for it anymore.

What this does mean is that my only real choice for a touring bike from my current stable is, at least for the Paris ride in June, is the hybrid. Although, if I sell the Trek… Hmm…  I wonder…

The Big Dilemma

My two wheeled family

Choice is meant to be a good thing right? Then why does it seem so difficult and cause so much angst?

If, like me, you’re old enough to remember the days before the Internet took over our lives, you may recall the process that used to take place when choosing a holiday. The short version is that you would walk into a shop (that’s a building where they sell things for you youngsters) called a Travel Agents and you would speak to a human being who would, once your travel dates were identified, proceed to tap away at a computer screen and then tell you that were were two possibilities – one self catering apartment over a shop in Menorca and one half board option in a small hotel in the Costa Del Sol. They would then show you each option in a brochure and you would get to see one or maybe two small photos and a brief description of each. Armed only with that information and a price, you’d choose your annual holiday and hand over the cash!

Compare that to these days where you can go online, enter some dates and details about your party before being presented with a potential shortlist of 16,000 options. Each one will have a myriad of photos and write ups informing you of the wonders of the resort and accommodation. Several weeks later, you’ll have narrowed the search down to just a few and then you make your really big mistake and think “I know, I’ll check on Tripadvisor…”. It usually starts out well. Barbara from Darlington loved the resort and the accommodation was “spotless”. David from Falmouth thought it was a bit pricey but pretty good value. Then you read the review from Candice in Chelmsford. “Worst holiday ever!” screams the headline. Now what? Can you get a character reference on Barbara or Candice to try and see who is more believable? Of course not so, just to be on the safe side, you think you’ll pass on this one and try the next … and the next … and the next, all with similar results. Why is is that I am put off by one bad review out of one hundred glowing ones? Perhaps they’re all paid by the hotel? Perhaps they were given free holidays in return for a good review? Since when did choosing a holiday become a chore?

Interestingly, I never had a bad holiday before the Internet. I actually haven’t had a bad one since either but you get my point. A lack of choice is not always a bad thing.

Apologies for the sidetrack above but you probably know what I mean. There’s simply too much choice sometimes. the Internet has provided us all with more information than you can shake a stick at (what does that even mean?) and, sometimes, that’s just not helpful.

It’s the same with bikes. When I was young, you had a ‘Bike’. It may have been a Chopper, a Grifter, a BMX or some kind, a racing bike or (God forbid as a young male) your Mum’s old cast-off shopping bike with a basket. Whatever it was, it did everything. It didn’t matter if I needed to ride to Land’s End, do some stunt jumps or simply needed to pop round my mate’s house, the ‘Bike’ did it all. Nowadays, you are supposed to have a bike for every possible eventuality – you need a road bike, a gravel bike, a cyclocross bike, a hybrid, a touring bike, a fixie, a foldie and a mountain bike. I’m going to ignore the various sub categories and crossovers for the sake of simplicity(?).

In June, I’m cycling to Paris with six friends. We’re intending to do this over three days using the Avenue Verte route (or a variation of it) in France and the Downslink Way for the bulk of the UK leg as it starts near where we all live and its off road charms are preferred by a couple of the group who aren’t so keen on sharing their cycling with cars and lorries. Roughly 200 miles all told, mainly on tarmac or hard packed trails.

So, finally we get to the big dilemma – which bike do I use? You can see (just about) most of the choice I have in the photo at the top of the article. I could use my carbon, Ultegra and disc equipped Synapse, my old road bike – an aluminium Trek 2.3 Alpha with 105 or my trusty old Specialized Sirrus hybrid.

I started off thinking that there was actually no choice at all – it was the hybrid all day long what with its more upright position, triple chainset and 35mm all round tyres (Marathons if you’re interested). Sorted? Wrong! A couple of the guys going mentioned they were going to take their road bikes as the route was predominantly tarmac or close and, well, they just look cooler. Damn. Perhaps I should take a road bike? There’s little of chance of me looking cool – I’m way too old and round for that – but perhaps I can manage slightly-less-uncool?

After a certain amount of consideration, I then switched my choice to the Trek. The return leg of the trip involves Eurostar back to London and the bikes are going by way of their luggage handling arm, Eurodespatch. Now, I’m sure all the people at Eurodespatch are lovely and caring and wouldn’t dream of treating our bikes with anything less than loving attention but, you can’t be too careful. The fact that they will only take two assembled bikes per train (I know, don’t get me started on that again) suggests that there’s a limit to how much room there is and they may have to resort to trying to fold or wedge the bikes in behind the driver’s seat or something. This thought process ruled out the carbon option completely, hence the Trek would be my steed of choice.

Hang on though… the Trek doesn’t have disc brakes. I like disc brakes; they work better in the wet, they don’t get clogged up if we have to cross any swamps or rivers (not that there seem to be any of either on the route) and they are much better at stopping you on long mountain descents where other brakes may start to fade (again, no mountains on the route). Also, the Trek only has 23mm tyres on it. I’d prefer a minimum of 28s or 32s ideally, just in case the occasional off piste bits get really off.

You obviously know what happened next. The whispers at the back of my brain started. “You could buy a new bike… with discs and 32mm tyres and everything!”. The N+1 demon had returned. Having been thwarted for over a year by the Cannondale, it had found a new point of attack, a new way to get into my head and my wallet. Somewhere out there in the world of bike retailers and Ebay, there was ‘The One’, the bike that would answer all my concerns and transport me to Paris in style and comfort whilst massaging my ego all the way.

AAARRRGGGHHH.

Now what do I do? After hours of consideration I’ve narrowed my choice from 3 to, errrr, 3! That doesn’t take into account the fact that the N+1 option which has about 100 sub choices! I need help. Perhaps I should just flip a coin?

A brief discussion with my wife suggested that the N+1 option should probably be discounted on the grounds that divorces are expensive and would cut down on how much celebratory beer or wine I can afford once I get to Paris. So, back to square one.

A question that did rear its head during the last week is what am I going to do about luggage. I had originally thought I’d just persevere with a rucksack and pack light. Discussions with other people have persuaded me that it may be worth considering some dedicated bike luggage – something I’m looking into at the moment. With that in mind, I’ve decided to defer the decision as to which bike to use until I’ve come to a conclusion on the luggage preference.

So, I’d like to apologise for wasting your time with all of the above only to bring you to the conclusion that I’m procrastinating. I will be writing about the luggage choices separately but promise I won’t do that without a meaningful conclusion. At that point, I’ll come back to the bike conundrum so I guess this should end with “To be continued…”

In the meantime, any advice on the bike choice, experience of similar trips and so on are always welcome!

Welcome to Fatsiclist

Firstly, thanks for visiting this page. I feel it’s only polite to introduce myself. My name is Simon, I live just on the edge of the Surrey Hills to the south west of London in the UK. I’m middle aged, not exactly thin and have a very patient wife and two (less patient) sons.

I’m one of what seems to be an ever growing (and widely mocked) tribe of born again, middle aged cyclists who are prone to wearing inappropriate clothing and generally holding up motorised vehicles on the roads.

When you consider that a mid-life crisis apparently used to involve getting an expensive sports car and a (presumably even more expensive) younger girlfriend, I feel that the current towards getting into cycling can be seen in a more forgiving light.

I started cycling again about six or so years ago when some friends suggested doing the London to Brighton overnight cycle ride. Having completed the Three Peaks Challenge the year before and discovered that having a target challenge to train for was healthy motivation, I was keen to sign up. I rushed out and bought a hybrid bike on the Cycle to Work scheme and never looked back. I managed to complete the LtB ride although it took quite a long time and I had to walk up Ditching Beacon.

Some years on, I’ve been truly bitten by the cycling bug and have embraced the concept of N+1 wholeheartedly. I’m currently on my second drop bar road bike, currently a Cannondale Synapse carbon disc model (pictured above) which is way too good for my meagre abilities but it was on sale and, well, you just have to, right?

The idea of this blog is to share what little useful knowledge I have picked up along the way of getting back into cycling and I hope to add some insight into kit, clothing and so on for any other potential Mamils who may be on the larger size.

I also love to take photos when I’m out cycling and share a lot of these on an Instagram feed. The good news is that very few of them feature me in them. The bad news is that my eye for a picture is greatly outweighed by my ability to capture them.

That’s it, that’s me. I hope this interests you enough to read what I hope will be a regular series of articles on cycling and life in general.