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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Keeping the faith (or how to keep motivated in winter)

Autumn, a time when cycling looks less attractive....

When the clocks go back, there is a temptation to let the bike gather dust and wait it out until spring. With less or no light in the evenings it's more difficult to get out on the bike, but in my experience, some of my most satisfying rides have been after dark. Just think how good that pint will taste if you've earned it and have not just sneaked off to the pub instead of watching TV?.

There are always ways and means to ride. If it's hammering down, or very cold, the turbo trainer is king. It's not just an instrument of torture for professionals but a great way of getting the odd 30 minute session in, which keeps the legs ticking over. I would recommend getting a tough tyre to use on the turbo, it's not the place for those feather-light expensive summer tyres unless you like shredding cash. 

I find the turbo is very effective. However hard you ride on the road, you always coast on the downs and some of the flat bits. In an hour's cycling, you'll not do an hour's  pushing. On the turbo there is no escape. You just have to keep at it. An hour on the turbo, three times a week, is enough to keep better than minimally fit. Indeed, if the time is used effectively, you can do better than that. 

Bike Magic has a useful intro article on workouts for the turbo. Don't be put off by the reference to Lance's trainer! Turbo training ideas. The best accompaniment for the turbo is Absolute 80's Radio on DAB. Not too much chat and plenty of cheesy beats to keep those legs moving. 

If you are really short of time, then doing ten, 40 second max effort sprints with 20 seconds recovery after a 10 minute warm up and a 10 minute warm down at the end will take just 30 mins and improve peak fitness. Another session is to do 20 minutes just on your threshold, after the warm up. This is a good, if rather nasty, session. Threshold is that hardest effort you can maintain for 20 minutes, it should be hard and probably "stings" a little - enjoy!

Mountain biking at night

Are you sure? Well, yes I am. When I lived near Swinley Forest, I was the meeting point for trips to the Forest. When the nights drew in we got our lights out and rode. It was often hard, cold and wet but so long as one person wants to go, others followed. Human nature is a funny thing. One friend would phone around 4, tell me he'd be at mine for 5.30 and I'd better be ready. This worked well. If you need inspiration here is a video of night riding. It's easier than it looks! The investment in lights is expensive, but they double up as excellent road lights too. Bikeradar has a review of the latest MTB lights. My recommendation is to go for a helmet mount first and a bar mount as a backup. Just having a light on the bars can mean a lack of light just when you need it. You need surprisingly little light, if it's directional - as it really is dark in them tha woods.

MTB video clips

I have been "sort of" promising to do a guided MTB ride - there are still weekends free before Xmas - so you never know it might happen. So to provide some inspiration, I trawled the web and found some video's of three of my favourite trails. If anyone would like to meet up at Swinley Forest, Bracknell on a Saturday/Sunday this side of Xmas - let me know.

Swinley Forest - the Corkscrew
One of my favourite sections of trail in Swinley. It's possible to clean this section fairly easily in dry conditions and the main trick is to keep up some speed as stalling may mean "stepping off" the bike. I personally prefer natural singletrack to "over constructed", and this is one of the best, anywhere.

NOVA Trail - Ashton Court, Bristol
The NOVA Trail is a good example of a "blue" graded, man enhanced trail. It's had a lot of investment and and is linked up to new trails in Leigh Woods and those in 50 Acre Wood nearby. The trail flows nicely, it's one way - so none of those embarrassing "after you....not after you.......THUD!" moments and is well served by a car park, visitor centre and cafe. It's a good trail for experienced riders to go for a blast and for newbies to give it a go. Enjoy!

Croft Trail - Swindon   Croft Trail Maps
This is a man enhanced trail in Swindon. It's all volunteer maintained and shows just what you can do in a tiny space. This near 3 mile trail weaves in and out of the trees on a patch of land next to the M4. It's like a dedicated singletrack skills course. I like to ride here before going to a larger venue, it really tunes your riding up. This guy is pretty good, I'm still a minute slower than this, and I was really travelling. Three laps is a good night's ride and sure makes that first cider seem "earned". The "red" route is the way to go, the blue is flat and short!

Recipe of the week - Saltimbocca (leap in the mouth)

I went to Hove the other weekend, the day before doing a Comedy Workshop.......and stumbled upon an unpretentious Italian restaurant. It was excellent, though I did get stick for being tight and not including a tip. Hell, dinner with wine was 80 odd quid! Anyway, I had (veal) saltimbocca and it was excellent. Now I have no objections to eating rose veal (approved RSPCA care stds apply). If you drink milk you are condoning the production of rose veal....but anyway, I wondered how easy it was to cook. 

Well, the answer is, very easy. I actually used chicken breast  (thigh works too), You need to cut the chicken into large thin pieces and then flatten it by putting the meat between layers of cling film and hit it with a rolling pin. My pieces were about 12cm by 6cm and less than 0.5cm thick. Wrap each piece in a slice of prosciutto (Palma Ham) and secure with a cocktail stick, fastening a leaf of sage to each piece. Dust in seasoned flour, and fry briskly in a little butter/oil mix until cooked though, keep warm.

Drain excess fat and deglaze the pan with a big glass of dry white wine (I used Sav. Blanc) and about a quarter of a good chicken stock cube. Reduce until almost syrupy.  Add any juices from the warm saltimbocca and then add a blob of crème fraiche/sour cream, combine and heat through. Serve with some mash and green beans and spoon the sauce over the saltimbocca. I promise you will not be disappointed. The combination of ham, chicken/veal and sage is great. For those who like game, rabbit can be used too. Rabbit saltimbocca recipe I prefer my method of cooking - using a single layer of meat rather than the two used by a "Single Fat Lady". 

It probably won't happen to you, but I made a cake last week, I had left some basil in the fridge and I reckon that the butter icing and the sponge had a hint of basil about it. Not sure what Paul Hollywood would have said about my "flavour combinations".....perhaps it was my imagination

Until next time - try and get out. And if not, at least cook something nice

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cycles paths. over protective parents and Lance

Cycle path etiquette

I was on the Bristol to Bath cycle path the other day. For a change it was during the week and it was quite empty but for a few cycles, dogs and push chairs - but nothing to bother getting a nice ride (34 miles if you were asking) . It occurred to me that one of the slight problems with mixed use paths is etiquette. I have a bell on my bike. But when to use it and how do you judge the likely outcome of using it? I generally ring a double "ting" when within 50 yards or so of a walker and at the same time make a judgement over what will happen next. 

What would be nice is that people accepted the "ting" as a friendly "hi, just coming past" but from the expressions and actions I've seen ,I'm not sure this is the case. The most extreme reaction is to react as if wired to the mains and run randomly across the path as if they keep moving, you can't hit them. This is of course the reverse of reality. People with dogs fall into two camps, those who call their dog/pull in the lead and those who think that Fido is intelligent enough to stay out of the way. I can vouch that Fido is not and thinks that cyclists are new play friends to run around with. I go really slow if I see an untethered or uncalled dog on my route. 

Over protective parents?

But its the reaction of parents that bother me mostly. Not grand parents - who are old enough to think that cyclists are not devils on wheels trying to kill or maim their offspring. Last weekend, I "ting'ed" behind two adults with walking child and their reaction was to quickly block the path. I wondered what was going on, until the child was picked up and the parents slowly gave way. I suppose I might have been a danger to  the child, but I nearly parked my bike up this guy's backside. No one was in any danger, I cycle slowly past children as do most cyclists - we were all kids once.

I do see this a symptom of over protective parents. The news outlets seem to suggest that kids are in constant mortal danger. But such shielding of kids will only make them less likely to assess danger and risk themselves and so be over cautious or to take more extreme risks. 

Now before I say "back in the day" its clear that people of my generation had much more leeway to explore for themselves. And I think that supported self reliance and appropriate risk taking is a good idea. I enjoy speed and risk as much as the next person, after all I own a 1000cc motorcycle and can be seen "making progress" across the Cotswolds.

I do wonder if the over protective: what time are you back, I'll pick you up, take you to school attitude that some parents demonstrate is self defeating and will reduce the number of people who cycle? Some research has been done which suggests that compulsory helmets reduce cycling because "it must be dangerous" if helmets are needed. Now I am pro helmet, not compulsion. I probably had my life saved by my helmet. Hitting a tree stump with your head at 25mph is a good recipe for brain damage - but my Giro deformed like a good 'un and I just had concussion. (Which has worn off, ok, it was over 5 years ago)

Personally, I think getting into scrapes and losing skin is the best way of assessing risk. Pain is good for judgement. Risks need to be taken. Exposure to risk and reality a good thing. A few of those drivers in the rain on the M5 last week might like to think about that too. Air bags and ABS etc is no use if you hit that spray covered truck at 50mph, regardless of how good a driver you think you are, the insulation from risk in modern cars almost encourages poor decision making!


Oh dear. I feel personally let down by Lance. I wanted to believe that he was the man he said he was. I once wore a "Livestrong" wrist band (now safely "lost") I think we all knew that turn of the century cycle racing was involved with drugs but somehow I liked to think that it was "just dabbling" and that it really hadn't made such a difference.

I suppose I could not have been more wrong. But what bothers me is the denial and the facts - as reported in the press - that Lance was druggist in chief for his team and is reported to have bullied his team mates into the systematic doping that it is alleged went on in his team.

The evidence is clear that the peloton is at worst not drugged up much. Times over identical stages have increased since 2000, often by quite large amounts. But riders are still getting banned. I love cycle racing. The TdeF is one of the big spectacles in modern sports - but cycling is especially prone to cheating as it relies upon fitness and recovery more than skill and so the rewards from drug or substance abuse are greater than for say football. You can be as fit as you like, but if you are no good, it will never be enough. 

The stand taken by British Cycling is to be applauded and I believe that British Cycling is clean. I use the same sports science that they do (not so extreme) in terms of training and recovery products. In effect, smart eating. It must still be frustrating if you think that competitors are not playing by the rules. Blood samples are kept from winners for years now - so if anything turns up, samples can still be tested. This is I hope a good incentive not to cheat. I guess we'll find out over the years to come.

Recipe of the week - Great British food revival

I saw Michel Roux Jr supporting the British strawberry. Michel is a British as I am, being born in Britain and basing his cuisine on good local food. Its just a shame I can't afford to eat in his restaurant!

None the less this strawberry souffle recipe looks fantastic. I would recommend looking at the programme which examines the development of better strawberries for the supermarket. This may avoid having little choice but to buy "Elsanta's" which taste of turnip. Always look carefully at the variety and don't just opt for the cheap big berries - they will taste of very little. This recipe will be much improved using a good strawberry. You just have to wait until next year to try it unless you can get some good frozen ones. I'll be on the lookout for some next week!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Is there anyone there?

A bit of cycling "cod" philosophy....or "Faking it"

Whilst writing a Blog, it can easily appear you are alone with your thoughts and musings. I'm pretty sanguine that I mainly write for myself. Expressing yourself can come in many forms, but writing, at least, has the benefit of allow me to see what it was I was actually thinking at the time as opposed to spouting off. At this point, you might be thinking "what on earth is he warbling on about this time?"

Well, it struck me that in cycling, like life, we are really all alone. I certainly don't mean that we are in some Matrix style "reality", where everything is illusion. No, what I mean is that is it hard for anyone to know what its like to be "you" and for you to be "them". This is why cycle racing or just hammering your mates is both a physical and mental challenge. You are alone in your world of pain as you grind up that 3+ km climb (out of Nailsworth, for those interested in next year's Sodbury Sportive...), and whilst you know that your fellow cyclists are in a similar world, you can't be sure who is going to make it to the top first.

Many a time, I've known I'm not the fittest cyclist in a group (certainly the oldest) but I've kept up or got to the top of a climb or been fastest in the singletrack. This is a skill I call "Faking it". Using the slope to your advantage, looking more tired than you are,  braking in a strange place to put off a follower. Faking it is a skill that cyclists develop over the years. I mean who wants to be last at the cake shop, if "tail end Charlie" is going to buy the coffees?

So, if I was to strike off into philosophy again, cycling is a bit like life. The confident are often covering for their fears and the fearful are being true to themselves. Admitting what you can't do is hard. But the first step to improvement is an honest assessment of your strengths AND importantly, your weaknesses. Becoming a better, fitter, lighter cyclist requires an assessment of where you are right now. I have found it quite liberating to admit (in life terms..) that I am rubbish at parking cars and have a useless memory for places and maps. (This might come as a worry to those who follow me round ski resorts....but I am a good faker!) My next task is to make an honest assessment of what will make me a better cyclist.

Actually, that assessment has not been hard. Pushing a small dog (as I call my excess weight) up a hill may be good for the soul, but pretty bad for my pace and my now ageing knees. So once I get over eating Canadian sized portions, I need to get back on the straight and narrow (and no, that is not my favourite singletrack in Ashton Court) and eat less and do more. Well, we'll see!

Sea to Sea (C2C for the text generation)

Ok, if I am going to improve, I do need a target. The JOGLE fell by the wayside in a combination of  injuries, and failing fitness. I was reminded the other day that I was pretty lucky to cancel as the two weeks ear marked for the ride were amongst the wettest we've had in this "summer". I think after 5 days of continuous rain and wet cycling clothing, I would have arrived home courtesy of the rail system, rather than leg power. 

So, instead of the JOGLE (which is parked, not abandoned, perhaps for a joint "holiday"...) a C2C looks do-able, and indeed fake-able. The C2C for the uninitiated, is a ride from the Far West (of Wales) to "near Holland" (Suffolk) crossing from sea to sea. I am planning to leave from St Davids in Pembrokeshire and aiming for Southwold. 6 days, 60 odd miles a day, getting flatter as you go East.

Before I actually commit, I will be spending a couple of weeks riding as often as rain allows, to see if anything falls off. Not off my bike, but off me, even 6 days is a long time, if you've got a dodgy leg! 

Recipe of the week - pancakes...not with sugar and lemon

Whilst in Canada for my hols, I was offered pancakes for brekkie by my kind hosts and indeed pancakes, bacon and maple syrup ended up on my plate, all at the same time. Looking at the recipe used, it looked a lot like a Scots Pancake, only given that I was in North America, it looked a lot like a Scots Pancake on serious body building drugs!

So this Pancake Recipe is from James Martin. It looks good and includes all you need to know for a real "heart stopper" of a breakfast. Indeed, guests may get offered this for brekkie, next time anyone comes to stay as its easy and the batter can be made the night before. Enjoy (but do go for a long cycle if you indulge!)

Winter maintenance

Ok, so its not actually winter, but the challenges are the same. No salt on the roads yet, but I think its probably as well to be prepared. So if you have the time, I would recommend doing this:

 - clean chain and lube with winter chain oil
 - fit mudguards if you can, a face full of muddy slurry is never fun or healthy
 - if you have a winter bike, service it now and do the above if required
 - get a garden sprayer like this fill with cold water - use to remove salt and mud after every ride

If you were wondering, cold water is recommended by Motorcycle Magazines to clean off salt as hot water may increase the reaction between salt and metal. A quick sluice takes no time. Useful for cleaning the bike properly too. And chasing cats off your lawn