HONC if your whinning.

I had a couple of surprises this weekend, neither of them offering the same kind of happy discovery that – say – finding Girls Aloud sprawled naked in a vat of custard demanding immediate sexual satisfaction.*

The first was that a windy and mildly damp road ride was not delivering on the expected purgatory. The second was the miserable reminder that HONC is indeed this weekend, and a moment of optimistic insanity had seen me enter the full and awful 100k.

Last year, I was able to pull out with a knee that was put out**, and while outwardly miserable that my chance to show outstanding sporting performance had been cruelly stolen by a proper athletic injury, inside I was more than a bit secretly glad.

I had much time to ruminate on the unfairness of my world as two friends, both with a pervy roadie bent, effortlessly accelerated up a Cat 1 climb. I didn’t so much accelerate as wheeze and sweat myself up this never ending ascent through the power of bloody mindedness and a compact chainset.

The outputs from this displacement activity was twofold; 1- this was the first road ride I’d done in a group of more than one, and it was just about satisfactory methadone for an MTB Dopamine junkie when the trails are horrible. 2- If I could put myself through five and a half hours of pain and suffering last weekend, how much worse could HONC be?

But I don’t ride bikes for a feeling of worthiness. That stuff kind of happens sometimes, but I don’t actively seek it out. It’s like piling into a punch up if someone sets on your mates, but not banging down a pub door, brandishing a broken glass and shouting “Oi, you’re all a bunch of raving losers, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”

I don’t like races much, and much as I love riding with my mates – so fully accept riding is as much a social thing as a sport thing – but that doesn’t extend to a thousand people, most of whom with Internet personas you’d want to punch repeatedly. I get bored of riding after a few hours, and mountain bikes on the road are so dull – taking the previous analogy – I’d probably just glass myself to make it stop.

And what little off road there is will be spectaculaly muddy. This part of the Cotswolds needs a long period of dry and sunnny weather before it becomes even slightly rideable***, and with so many riders, any good stuff will be clogged up with mucky grimness and bike handling incompetance.

I had a plan to slip about in the FoD again last night in preparation for Sunday. However, on reflection, I’ve decided to merely upend myself in the compost bin for six hours and see how that feels.

Honestly even the road bike seems like a more sensible option, and that kind of talk suggests madness is near. But this morning, into a rising sun, it felt like the first proper ride of Spring. Well it did once I could again feel my fingers and toes, because Early Spring temperatures are not that far from late Winter at 6:30am.

So shall I be wrapping myself in body hugging lycra and clearing my riding diary of dirt, humour and fun for the next six months? No, of course not, but road riding may not quite be the Devil’s own personal brand Tarmac Trail as I’d once suspected. Worrying times indeed.

And will I be whinging and whinning myself round a 100k of mud, boredom and two wheeled cockage come Sunday? Sadly, I believe the answer may be a yes. Unless I can tweak a hamstring on the way home. I’m never that lucky 🙁

* That’s the band members looking for satisfaction, not the custard. Just so we’re clear.

** Excuse 237. Full details available in Volumes 1-7 of Al’s great excuses for being rubbish. Also avalable as 4 DVDs or a bound set including an extra strong shelf.

*** Three proper summers would do it.

Different Strokes

First up a question: “What type of stroker are you?“. While awaiting answers which I am sure will include “Playful” “Rude” and “Heart”, let me focus the roving eye of smut onto something a little closer to the real point. Back in the day when I had hair under my crash helmet, two wheeled transport came with engines and regular accidents. And most of those engines, which also came with regular rebuilds, were of the two stroke variety. Motors that went “Suck-Squeeze” “Bang-Blow” as opposed to your four stroking “Suck” “Squeeze” “Bang” “Blow“*

Two strokes were known for a power band stretching 2 maybe 3 thousand revs. My old RD350LC would barely move below 6k whereupon it would rear skywards like a Lipizzaner stallion, right up to the point where the piston rings exploded. It wasn’t a relaxing way to ride; one hand hovering over the clutch lever, ready to cut the engine before your trousers caught fire, and the other hanging onto this amped up rocketship pawing at the horizon. I loved it.

But as I got older and wanted to travel further than the end of the road, I became a four stroke man. Far more relaxing, especially with a big capacity twin cylinder throbbing away between your wedding tackle**. It’d pull your ears off from about 1 revolution a minute, until running out of steam about the time the 2 stroke was about to get snarly and interesting. Four strokes you rode on the throttle, two strokes on the gears.

There’s a point here, and we are getting to it. Most cyclists think they’re four strokes. Well let me qualify that, most BLOKES who ride Mountain bikes assume that their internal combustion engine is like that monster twin – powerful, almost infinite and torque-ier than a tractor. Which is why you see big gears being pushed in slow revolutions as proper men bend the terrain to their will. Let’s be honest spinning away like a demented hamster isn’t exactly macho is it? It’s all a bit, well, girly and possibly roadie.

As a rider with significant PSO***in my riding history and the logical reasoning that spinning faster must use more lung capacity, I’ve always been a Four Stroker. Until now. Because, counter intuitive as it may seem, you are at your most biomechanically efficient when spinning at 80-100 RPM. I’m normally knocking a zero off that on super steep climbs, with prominent forehead veins, associated gasping and a sore knee.

I have learned quite some stuff this week, and some of it from the factual vacuum that is the global Internet. Normally any search with a medical term will bring back results only two clicks away from a “you have incurable cancer” diagnosis. But I made an effort to chaff my way to the wheat, and then experimented practically on the dark side of the cycling moon. Monday morning I felt terrible, so decided to punish my lungs with a zero degree commute. That’s not zero degree gradient sadly, and the last of those had me flapping about on the station platform in the manner of a recently landed trout.

I don’t believe the desperate search for a ventalin, bulging eyeballs and chronic rasping cough nailed me up as the poster boy for “Go Cycling, it’s the healthy option“. Therefore the trip back was viewed with some trepidation – I could have asked for a lift from Carol, but that’s just giving up, accepting the thin end of the wedge, taking the expressway to gloom. So instead of treating every hill as a personal challenge to my mighty thighs, I decided to go long on leg, and short on lung.

Spinning fast feels silly, it probably looks silly, and we’ve already established it’s borderline homosexual but you know what? It only bloody well works. First big hill, I guiltlessly selected the little front cog and accelerated up the gradient. Tailwind or broken GPS I reasoned, until it happened again and then kept on happening. Emboldened by this cheating approach to speed, the final big hill was seamlessly segued into the way home.

It’s one I’ve been avoiding, basing my valley road rationale on its post winter slop and potholed brokeness. But this was just a shameless façade to hide the real reason that a 250 foot climb gained by a steep gradient wasn’t compatible with mono-lung. And if I’d attacked it as I normally do – Four Stroke, don’t change down, wind up the motor – then it probably wouldn’t have been. But in two stroke guise, I was constantly ratcheting the shifters so I could maintain a fast cadence. I sat and spun the whole way up and the world passed by acceptably quickly, and I didn’t pass out or pass into the next one.

This experiment had an interesting conclusion; the time on the clock showed my fastest ride home. Ever. Okay my previous best effort was on the heavy Cross Bike, but even so this was both unexpected and a bit bloody fantastic. I tried the same approach on last night’s MTB yomp up the hilly Malverns and it’s still a winner, although lumpy terrain and technical challenges blunt it somewhat. And we were taking it pretty easy in deference to my “Bungalow Peak Flow“, but even with all that I’m a total convert.

There will always be a time for some Manly Four Stroke action. But it should be an explosive sprint, not the default approach for every climb. And while I’m still a bit embarrassed at my dalliance with the granny ring, hey you’re carrying those gear with you so why the hell not?

Amusingly I went to see Dr. Leeches understudy who explained a lot of things I probably should have known about Asthma and vectors and management and all that stuff. Eventually we agreed leeches were off and we’d go with some high tech TCP gargling. Saves on pills I suppose – but he did finish with “riding your bike will do you more good than harm”.

Maybe there is something in this medical science eh. Anyway I’m off for a ride on my bike. Or, more accurately, a bit of a spin.

* You see know why I felt it was important to clarify EXACTLY what I was talking about here. I’ve noticed my readers don’t need much encouragement for smuttery.

** I can’t help myself either.

*** Pointless Singlespeed Ownership

The Grim-O-Meter.

This is my unofficial measurement of unpleasantness when bicycles meet rain, dark, wind, cold and mechanical catastrophe. So a 1 would represent a light sprinkle of mid-summer rain cascading over an un-jacketed rider, thereby souring an otherwise delightful experience of tanning and pedalling. Whereas a 10 would be the archetypal “dark and stormy night” attempting to fix a puncture with no tubes, a busted pump and bloodied thumbs while being frequently deluged by passing HGVs.

This morning was a strong six. Dark. Check. Early. Check. Wet. Check. Mechanical. Oh yes. After 30 minutes of sustained fettling, the screeching mudguard of doom now emits a piercing howl rather than a dull scratch. Ratcheting up the GOM score was some unrelenting rain triggered, as I moved the bike from indoors to outdoors, from an apparently clear sky.

A little music tends to ease the passage from night to day, but my MP3 player lay abandoned where I’d placed it charging the night before in a location impossible to miss at 6am. That’s an area of my commute that needs some work, as does about half of the road surface which is either pot-holed, subsiding or entirely missing. The only joy of mid winter riding stems from darkness hiding an ever more pretzled wheel set.

So whereas last weekend I strode the quantocks as a cycling collusus* stomping up climbs and gloating over early season form, this week has been payback. Firstly a Malverns night ride shortened first by apathy and secondly by sleet. My legs were fine, but the shop steward of the brain demanded a one-out-all-out withdrawal of labour.

We still poked a big pointy hole on the upside of 2,000 feet of vertical climbing, but sticky trails, too much great riding lately and a shared sense of can’t-be-arsed saw us lowside it home to avoid all the really hurty bits.

And we weren’t alone. At least not quite. Two weeks ago, I was lamenting the burgeoning flange of riders on my hills. But Tuesday saw just us and another pair who were talking a hell of a game in terms of a peak bagging epic** trudging through the plasticine trails, and sliding about in a generally not-very-good-at-cycling manner.

The signs of post Christmas apathy are all around. The fug of a microwaved pasty has already replaced the smell of fresh lettuce in our office. On the train – come summer – we struggle to position six bikes in a space for barely three. But this week there’s been just the one, with the rider receiving pitying looks from fellow passengers.

I know what they were thinking “Nice bike, shame he had to sell his car to buy it, because well you wouldn’t got out in THAT by choice. Or maybe he’s a nutter“. February is always a bastard month, not quite close enough to spring for light and warmth to permeate the times when I ride, nor far enough into the season to motivate yourself that this is training for summer events.

No month 2 is a slog. And there aren’t many of us still doing it. But great riding gear, fast road bikes and a level of bloody mindedness not to let this unheralded fitness slip shall keep me going. Although I expect the Grim-O-Meter to take a beating for the next few weeks.

* Other people who were actually there may have a different – and less glowing – opinion.

** But based on the physical evidence of them blowing it out of their arse on a flat section, I’m thinking they were fibbing. A lot.

It had to happen :(

I’ve been in denial about it. Displaced the horror of the situation by pretending that probability theory may be looking the other way. Ignored the signs, or should I say grim portents. But really, deep down I knew that eventually this sad – nay tragic – day would fall upon us.

What can this event be I hear you cry? The Hedgehog Ringmaster losing his vocational status of “grudgingly employed“? Worse, far worse. A plague of genetically modified potatoes rising up from their soily graves and falling, locust like, on innocent people and property? I wish it were so, when compared to the uncleanliness of what I am about to share.

A long time reader, and someone I’ve been proud to call a mate for many years has GONE AND BOUGHT A BROMPTON. Yes dear readers, a man who bestrides the MTB world as cycling colossus -having earned his wheeled spurs riding fast and furious* – has traded it all in for the unworldly wrongness of Lucifer’s folder.

I cannot bring myself to name him. In case whatever infection he has clearly been infected spreads through the power of electrons. But let me just say, that only earlier this year he was chastising us all for not finding places where he could rip downhill on his VP-Free.

And now a Brompton. And probably cycling clips, a beard, hemp clothing and an unhealthy interest in calculating mortgage compound interest. It’s all downhill now** my friend, illicit subscription in “Which Folder“, Titanium Hinge Upgrades, Dynamo’s and the sharing of cheery hellos with others who’ve fallen under the spell of that bastard union between a shopping trolley and a blind welder amped up on crack.

It’s a sad, sad day here at the Hedgehog. I feel like holding a wake. Instead I shall be holding a glass later and toasting my dear departed buddy whose gone over to the “other side” 🙁

* and often upside down and lost in the trees.

** unless you’re on Satan’s Scaffold in which case I’d be inclined to carry it on the grounds it’s safer and quicker.


I’ve largely given up on winning, although even that phraseology hints of some podium chasing form in some long past phase of my life. Loose vowels I’m afraid*, in that other than a brief dalliance with that cock-munching class who confused winning with counting money, and a much re-lived 13rd place in my first proper MTB race, I’ve always been closer to the back than the middle**

So tonight when under-commuted legs met over-sized hill, grumpy sighs and wheezy rasps charted my glacial progress into a stiff headwind – cheekily flipped 180 degrees since battering me this morning. So distracted by the world being against me, I was very nearly blown into the roadside vegetation by a pristine roadie flying by like a homesick angel.

Let us pause to examine this cycling mismatch before the inevitable excuses begin. My tarmac conqueror was a vision in white from his Sidi Road shoes through tight Lycra sponsored ensemble topped out by a£200 peakless helmet. His bike – and that word completely fails to describe the engineering miracle reeling in the horizon at frictionless speeds – was somehow even whiter, draped in expensive componentry, and sporting a set of tyres so thin I honestly thought they’d been pencilled onto the rim.

Now allow the eye of disdain pass over a rather grungy middle aged man bedecked in a flappy set of paint stained shorts, a careworn top of dubious vintage, a£20 helmet much repaired with packing tape and shoes clearly stolen from slumbering tramp. The bike was a perfect match, tired from many campaigns, heavy and made heavier by commuting accoutrements, held back by tyres knobbly and wide. On top of this rather unedifying spectacle was the legendary commuting sack, now divested of the emergency badger, but still the unhappy receptacle for the weighty laptop of doom.

Give up now” I thought. Preserve the few remaining strands of dignity by feigning a mechanical or hacking an arm off with a rusty multi-tool. I am sufficiently self aware in my old age to understand the frustrating dichotomy of ambition gapped by ability. And I know enough about bikes to realise that Mr. Shaven-Legged-Sculpted-Thighs was going to hand me my arse on a plate if temerity became my watchword.

And yet. And yet the last vestige of an overworked competitive gland fired up some anger and demanded death or glory. Death then probably as I snicked a couple of gears, took in a huge breath and went commuter racing for the first time in 18 months. And you know, I’d forgotten how to do it because a determined effort saw me close the gap to a blissful draughting distance where everything just got a whole load easier.

But it felt like cheating. And that’s odd because I like cheating. Always preferred it to hard work on the grounds it leaves more time for beer. Never really been troubled by feelings of guilt when looking for angles and bending the rules. Tonight though, it seemed the wrong time to die wondering and somehow losing worthily trumped winning ugly.

No idea if he knew I was there. He certainly did two seconds later as I waved like the Queen I can be while pulling along side. Duck like, all was serene where it could be seen, down below the legs were piston pumping at a rate that’d have Scotty chucking a big one regarding Dylitherium crystals. The next 45 seconds were horrible. Proper going to be sick, going to explode, going to just die right here horrible.

I dared not look round as I was already spent and even the sight of the cycling Jesus right behind me could not have spurred me on. Best I could have managed would have been a hearty pebble dashing of his lovely team gear with a rather fine pie I’d inauspiciously downed a few hours earlier. So tired now, my default position of cheating seemed a good place to skulk back too. What with the alternative being A&E.

Although my turn off was some 300 yards distant, I came off the drops, passed the momentum baton to the freewheel and ripped off a Rimmer-Like Signalling Salute. If he comes back on the inside, that’s okay I reasoned. It’s fine, I’ve still won. In my own head anyway. But he didn’t, he was MILES back, miles I tell you, honestly sweeping away onto a new course, I almost had to stop so I could barrack him remorsely as his humourless form finally swept pass.

Rationally there’s an explanation. He may have had all the gear but I’m not sure he had an idea what to do with it. His level of spring chicken-ness was similar to mine from what I could determine of a face squashed between expensive clothing. I have to accept that maybe he wasn’t very good, and the very act of overtaking yours hedghoggingly had left him without the physical wit to respond.

But you know what? Don’t give a flying fuck about that. Don’t care one jot. No difference to me if he was a thousand years old. I won, he lost. Oldest game in the word and Christ I cannot tell you how good that felt.

Shallow? Like a tea spoon. That’s me 🙂

* I blame loose bowels from last week leaving me vocationally undernourished, but I can see that’s information you’d rather I’d not shared. That’s the hedgehog for you, we’re all shop front and tackle out round here.

** Feel free to insert your own sexual innuendo here. I’ve done it for you far too many times, it’s about someone else showed their smutty credentials.

Commuting rules..

.. not when it’s raining it doesn’t. Nor am I postulating on the stuff that used to keep me exercised both mentally and physically. What I’m talking about here are the hard, inflexible rules hammered into any cyclist whose spent time on the road and in the rain. The kind of thing you get wrong just once, before it’s hard-wired into your cycling psyche.

Except when your daily commute becomes a weekly or bi monthly event. Then you forget and bad stuff happens.

It gets dark. Check your lights. Long day, shorter daylight demands some form of get-me-home illumination. Of the four lights generally festering in my bag, two didn’t work at all, one flashed briefly before a spectacular – if brief – fizzling death while the fourth offered a dim flashing facsimile of something that may prevent a tractor squashing you flat.

Carry spares of everything. Including batteries. It’s worth thinking of them as fitness ballast to cushion the disappointment of these also being flat. The day I removed one of my two spare tubes, guess how many punctures I ended up with? My MP3 player was then added to the ever increasing pile of non working electronic stuff. It felt like I was riding directly under my own personal Electro-Magnetic Pulse.

Ensure you always carry a waterproof. Oh how smug was I with my trusty Gortex pal nestling amongst all the other crap I cannot bring myself to jettison. That smugness lasted exactly the time it took to remember I’d failed to re-proof though laziness and meteorological delusion* The result was a small lake pooling at the elbows and wrists that gradually – but persistently – drained through to create a feeling of clammy damp.

Mudguards look a bit gay, but… they are a marked improvement on – say – flappy wet shorts rythmically slapping your thighs with each pedal stroke. It put me in mind of sharing a small, cold bath with a Bavarian Laderhosen fetishist who’d just done a line of speed. My shoes have the same porous qualities as string creating a small watersports park for Lemmings in my socks.

Don’t go offroad because it’ll be drier under the trees. It isn’t. Rather than a wet arse, I ended up with a sandy, wet arse and crazy pebble dashing from ankle to eyebrow. And a shouty bruise delivered by that tractionless combination of thin tyre and thick mud. I’m writing to the Forestry commission to demand satisfaction on the issue of who put that tree there as well.

Keep your tyres inflated. Because while there is a certain manly pleasure in rotating squashy rubber**, the downside is a tarmac faceplant caused by rapid deflation or geographical differences between tyre and rim.

All obvious stuff you would think. No more than common sense for the serious cyclist. And I too was thinking just that as spiteful rain lashed my unprotected form, my arse became increasingly exfoliated by a localised sandstorm, and my feet exhibited the first symptoms of trenchfoot.

Right at the point when I was considering lobbing the bike under a passing lorry and hitching home, the descending sun backlit hill hugging clouds and transformed the world into something Turner-Esque and rather splendid.

Deciding I could get no wetter, I headed upwards into the lightening gloom to find myself high above the house, close to twilight with no power in my lights, not much pressure in my tyres, and every inch of skin on the aquatic side of extremely soaked. The plunge home took in grass covered roads, slick, shale corners, blind bends and an immense amount of blinking.

Arrived alive, declared to disbelieving family how much I love bikes. Swapped cold water for warm and wetness outside for wine inside. Slackness on the riding front has happened again this August, and I had begun to worry that my long affair with all things two wheeled was coming to an end.

It seems not.

* It’s never rain that hard. It’s summer for Christ’s sake.

** It’s that mental image of the Bavarian. It’s got me thinking…

Waiting for the bus

You can keep your fancy GPS’s, chuck your heart rate monitors in the hedge and worry away at your statistics spreadsheet, because while you are working out where you lost that time, I am waiting for a bus. I know it was only last month my witterings on targets had me chasing virtual training partners all the way to work, and then spending the remainder of the day lying down.

But it became clear I must apply Al’s rule of achievement* to my heavy legged pursuit of stupidity. So now I’m measuring my progress by playing chicken with the “Bromsgrove Omnibus”. The first time I met this bus was nearly the last, as it aurally indicated a desire to pass on a road that I’d always assumed was adequately sized for only single file cows and possibly a MP3 driven bicycle.

He passed with inches to spare and a “I’ll get you butler” gesture expression which I deigned unworthy of a reply** and gave it scant thought until it became obvious this wasn’t just any bus, this was my PACE BUS. And if I could squeeze in front before a singletrack road some five miles from home, I could keep the miserable bugger behind me for a good couple of minutes. Now that’s sport right there.

So now I’m off the Hereford train at 18:37 clipped in and heading out via the squashy slalom of random pedestrianisation, immediately looking for ways to cheat the God of Time. First up is a cheeky trail through ledbury, much wooded, significantly dog walked and offering lippy roots to straight line difficult line choices.

Then out of the town and chasing nothing but my hedge painted shadow, gagging a bit on dusty clay vectored off busy tractor ploughs, loving the sunshine, feeling way stronger in my knee and lungs that three virtually bike free weeks could possibly allow.

But this is merely a pleasant aperitif before a meaty main course of Omnibus and tarmac that’s coming up in four miles if I can turn these pedals a bit harder. That’s the distilled and beautiful clarity of riding a bike – it’s the simple joy of smooth circles driving you on, the grin of sweeping bends, the whum of hard tyres on baking tarmac, the just-bloody-nobody-gets-why-bikes-are-so-fucking-fantastic that justifies an obsession.

And that bus that’s going to be hitting that junction at 19:01, so I need to be there first. By a quirk of geography, the cross in the road is visible from 45 seconds upstream, meaning if I’m not hitting that crest at seven o’clock or better, the bus ain’t waiting for me. So it’s back to standing up and clicking a gear combination that shoots staccato breath from an open mouth, burns muscles from ankles to hip and strains arms dumping sweat onto the bars.

6:58, big sodding river bridge coming up, can’t slow down, feel the tyre squirm into the tarmac, feel legs slowing down, feel lungs desperately screaming for more air, feel… feel… feel, this is the stuff of life isn’t it? This is why we do this, this is what makes us different to the bloke next door with his paintbrush and his paunch. This is what makes us a little smug, a little bonkers, a little more obsessed. Because this feeling needs bottling and selling.

I can see the junction, and I can see the bus lumbering up the hill heading for the turn and I can’t see anything else. Now it’s a straight run – slightly downhill – four clicks on the shifter, big gear, out of the saddle, ignore the cacophony of body complaint and charge down the tunnel of vision that displays just a short tarmac ribbon, an onrushing junction and a big red bus.

Briefly considering – and calculating it’s a reward that far outstrips the risk – that traffic may be steaming past the junction, I slow not even a little bit, swerve right as the bus turns left and give it a few final desperate pedal stamps to nip in front.

And then – pretty well spent – have a nice minute or two finding some breath for my lungs and oxygen for my legs while a frustrated man in a dodgy cap impotently guns his engine behind my serene form. There is a perfect symmetry there – people wait for a bus, and now the bus waits for me.

Look I know what you’re thinking. But honestly with my legendary limbo boredom threshold, I need something to keep me amused on the commute. It’s that or getting off the bike and jumping in with all those lovely lambs 🙂

* If at first you don’t succeed, redefine exactly what you mean by the word “Success”

** Mainly because I was having a rather trying time extricating myself from a drainage ditch much inconvinienced by a bicycle.

Buckle up

The old busy working excuse must again be trotted out, as the primary reason why the hedgehog has resisted any signs of springing out of hibernation since last week.

This ongoing ‘having to work for a living‘ issue has also had to fit around Random contracting Chicken Pox (the day after we brought the chickens home – coincidence? I think not), increasingly frantic activity around heating systems, frustration over floor heights, mental gurning trying to sort difficult electrics, and the imminent prospect of great big sodding trenches being dug.

Fear not, electronic therapy shall be rolled out as early as tomorrow with six hours of train time to fill. I’m very excited about the workshop/office/re-homing of the beer fridge which is currently being machined out of solid, er, woody stuff in a big shed in Hereford. And I know you’ll be almost as excited to hear some more about that 😉

In the meantime, let me leave you with this: slipping on the corporate disguise after riding in this morning, was an unusually uplifting experience. As I’ve had to tighten my belt another notch to stop my trousers falling down*. Okay my knee is pretty well buggered, and commuting at this time of year is fraught with issues around “thermal shrinkage”, but ANOTHER NOTCH and one that has never been used before.

This cheered me up so much, I immediately dispatched an enormous bacon sandwich to celebrate 🙂

* Still frowned upon in our offices. Seems a little old fashioned to me.


I’m not sure what is more stupid, racing against yourself or being unhappy when you lose. Commuting in London was also about targets – but only because you were one, and my idea of a result was arriving at work with the same number of limbs as I’d started out with.

Commuting here is different for many reasons. It’s hillier, safer and longer. Finishing via the Ledbury cycleway takes it to a tad under eleven miles, with 570 feet of vertical to get over. On the roadrat, it was a 50 minute pootle through pleasantly deserted roads, dispatched without getting too much of a sweat on.

The Jake is different, it may be from an older generation of race bikes, but a race bike it still is. It seems to falter and lose speed so quickly when you coast – becoming turgid and heavy. But crank it up and it flies, stiff and fast, needing just a nudge to change direction and super composed sweeping through bends.

Throw a GPS into the mix which shows your pace against a previous best time, and beepily nags at you to try harder. And try you do, staying on the drops, refusing to drop a gear and going for the gurn. I used to hate drop bars, but now they make sense – cutting through the wind and providing a stable platform so you can just pedal and go faster.

It’s not enjoyable cycling. There is no time to watch the rising sun slant stunningly through the orchards, you don’t wonder at the joy of being out of the car and into the rural air. At no point does your mind wander to great thoughts or pointless introspection. Because the bastard GPS is beeping out your weakness, and you’re more interested in looking for ten seconds than looking at the view.

Maybe you coasted a bit here last time, did I get off the drops, was it a gear down? No time to remember, just get the hammer down, accept it’s going to hurt, let rasping lungs and burning thighs fight over who gives up first. Chase buses, chafe at traffic, swear at wandering pedestrians – don’t they know I’m on for my BEST TIME?

It’s idiocy. And you can’t win. You can die by a thousand cuts. Weighted down tomorrow by drizzle, tired legs and excuses, I’ll get bested by my virtual self. And it’ll bother me.

Somewhere in this world of lunacy, I might be getting a little bit fit. More likely it’s a tailwind 😉

You shouldn’t be allowed…

Taken by phone while removing pedal from my ear.

Somewhere in my DNA is a corrupted genetic strand, triggered when some self-important cock ends announces how their view of the world is somehow much more important than yours. This chemical imbalance invariably leads to a spittle-flecked sweary invective, and a fight or fight a bit more response desperate to put the fat* oaf on his lardy arse.

I am thinking of this as my “Yorkshire Gene

The situation manifested itself again on Monday from a starting position of already quite irritated. I had been herded into the furthest nook of a train carriage significantly encumbered by bicycle, and was now sat hard on the floor with a pedal in my ear. Exhibit A – pompous arse – declares “Bicycles aren’t allowed on this train” aiming a pudgy digit in my direction.

I tried – I really did – to be reasonable pointing out that the physical evidence was clearly not in favour of his argument. He attempted to wriggle mentally sideways** suggesting my bike took space that would be better made available for humans. I parried that it was hardly my bloody fault London Midland had gone all Chilten-esque and lost half of their rolling stock.

A side bar here. How the fuck can you lose two entire train carriages? What kind of conversation preceeds that? “Bob, have you seen 120 feet of metal, kind of square, wheels on the bottom, windows in the side?” / “Nah, Bill had it last, he’s probably left it at home“. I am finding things like this increasingly disturbing as if someone “up there” is stroking a cat and laughing at me.

Anyway fat boy stupid refuses to let it lie and tediously rambles on at a volume pitched to annoy just about everybody. Eventually – and predictably – I snap. “Look fucknugget, I am sat in possibly the most uncomfortable space ever***, it is pissing down with rain outside, my decent waterproof is at home and I have ten miles of wind, cold and dark to look forward to. So how fucking much do you think I care about whether there is sufficient room for your fat arse? And on that point, my bike and I would barely cast a shadow on your huge behind, so if you want more space I suggest you lay off the fucking pies”

That’s not verbatim. I’ve taken out some of the swearing. The silence which followed was quite shocked. I am sure there would have been some uncomfortable wriggling and shuffling of feet had their been any room. Which of course there wasn’t.

I spent the rest of the journey ex-communicated, and moodily staring out into a darkening sky. At each station, I’d wearily wheel the bike off into the gloom – and while waiting for the stream of grumpy humanity to disembark – measure the weight of the rain and the depth of the cold before shivering on back inside.

By the time Ledbury railed into view, I was properly miserable. But the now almost empty train still hadn’t finished with me. A gentlemen of some antiquity accused me of deliberately oiling his trousers with my grubby chainset. No sniggering at the back, there isn’t a hidden meaning in there, however much you want there to be.

Within thirty seconds of his complaint, he must have been feeling that a slightly raffish stain on his pensioner slacks was not at the top of his list of problems. Which now included an angry middle aged man explaining shoutily that he would find the form to claim back his dry cleaning bill UP HIS ARSE. Which shouldn’t be hard to find AS HIS HEAD WAS ALREADY UP THERE.

This isn’t the first time it has happened. Or the second. And probably unlikely to be the last either. One day someone is just going to lamp me, and it will make me think twice. Right now I’d settle for thinking just once.

* Not always, but mostly. There is something about very fat people that makes them either extremely jolly or bloody annoying. Sometimes both.

** Absolutely no room to actually move any limb whatsoever. They tried to add more people at the next station leading to an impromotu entire all-carriage rendition of Scotty and “She’ll na take any more Capt’n”

*** Not quite true. I had forgotten the brutal torture that is Ryan Air’s 5mm inter-seat policy.